ASK ANDY: How Should I Diet To See Lasting Changes In How I Look and Feel?
If you insist that everything you consume must be interesting, delicious, and pleasing, then you will never feel, look, and perform the way that you want to unless you’re willing to change your diet.
I should probably say that again in a different way: if we want to create change, we must accept that the majority of our intake will be good fuel and then we reserve special meals, snacks, and drinks to be our treats instead of our norm.
I know, changing your diet sounds daunting. The fact is, most of us are accustomed (pre-programmed from childhood, unfortunately) to eat whatever is quickest, easiest, and tastiest, and not what is BEST. So, change is always tough.
I encourage folks to make a couple of changes at a time — don’t be too drastic. Attempting to make a broad, sweeping change is almost impossible to maintain over the long haul. Our (bad and good) habits have been built up for years — indeed, sometimes over a lifetime — and they are STRONG.
So, since we want our positive change to last and become our lifestyle (not just a temporary diet) then we need to progress steadily, not try to do it all at once. Remember, think about how long it took for you to get out of shape — it probably took years, right? So, don’t expect to reverse all of that overnight! There’s no such thing as a magic pill.
If 80% of your intake is clean, useable fuel, then our bodies can handle the 20% delicious, junk-food treats. This can also be thought of as 4 out of 5- such as, if for 4 days you intake clean, then the 5th day can be a treat day/reset/reboot day. You can (should) plan out your week in advance, or at least give it a bit of thought.
You may have heard of “fitness people” doing meal prep on a Sunday. This doesn’t have to be as crazy as it sounds — just pre-think your food and drink needs for the week and have good options at hand so that you are prepared. Otherwise, we find ourselves “starving” all of a sudden and we make bad choices. This is why fast food is a bazillion-dollar industry (and they don’t care how we feel/look/perform, by the way.)
Think of your metabolism as a bonfire. Fire needs two things: oxygen (exercise) and fuel (intake; what you eat and drink).
If a fire has no oxygen, even if it has a lot of wood, it will go out. We must exercise, in some way, every day, to stoke the fire. More on exercise later.
To keep a fire burning hot all day long, you must regularly add good, burnable wood all day long. You can’t deprive a fire of wood, just like you can’t add a whole bunch of wood all at once and think it will burn all day — your fire will eventually die. For our metabolic fire, this means not simply better calories, but spreading our your calories and good-fuel intake more often. Important note: you cannot starve your body and think it is good for weight loss! Not only is that unhealthy, but you are actually stopping your metabolism because our bodies go into conservation mode and try to hold onto our fat stores for survival…
The Big 3: Chicken, Broccoli, and Brown Rice
Like fitness pros and Hollywood action heroes who are prepping to appear on film looking “shredded” (think Hugh Jackman as Wolverine), if you ate only chicken, broccoli, and brown rice for every meal for a certain amount of time, that would help you look your very best. But thinking of that plate is also a great “framework” for a meal. In place of chicken, you can sub in any lean protein, grilled fish for example, and then maybe asparagus for broccoli, and a sweet potato or some quinoa.
Of course, if you don’t eat meat, you can substitute in whatever you like.
Drink Up (sort of)
When it comes to water, please drink more of it. And pretty please, make water the ONLY option for your kids. I know, I know, those little monsters will complain and cry and yell at you that you used to let them have Coke and juice and sports drinks and Slurpees, but listen, they NEED water.
I’ve coached thousands of kids over the past 25 years, and I seriously believe that the majority of kids are walking around in a permanent state of dehydration — which affects everything! And there are so many other challenges in our kids’ lives these days without them getting all messed up by these sugary drinks. Obesity, diabetes, inability to focus, dehydration, the list can go on forever.
Parents, are you still reading? That last one is tough, right? But here is the even tougher truth: We parents are the example for our kids — all of us. If we drink water with meals, they will drink water with meals — eventually. I promise. (One big secret: don’t have any other drinks in the house! When they get thirsty, they’ll drink water!) Of course, you can flavor the water a bit with slices of lime/lemon, etc. or bubbly water to liven things up. Make other drinks an occasional treat, not the norm.
About Those ‘Healthy Drinks’
Are you currently in Kona and competing in the Ironman Triathlon? Are you headed to NFL training camp anytime soon? Well, then you should have a Gatorade or Powerade or whatever. But for the rest of us? NOPE. Honestly, I work out multiple times a day, and I can’t tell you the last time I had a “sports drink.”
Smoothies sound healthy, but they can be calorically heavy and filled with sugar — not to mention many places use all kinds of artificial ingredients that I can neither pronounce or spell. Example: Certain smoothie franchises create drinks which range from 300 calories all the way up to almost 1,000 — with 125 grams of sugar! For comparison, a Snickers bar has 215 calories and 20 grams of sugar.
Now, I’m not a stickler for numbers — I believe you can absolutely drive yourself crazy trying to keep track of your macros. But I do encourage you to pay attention and know what you’re consuming.
A final thought: I’ve been in a thousand gyms over the past three decades, and I always see nice folks who come in, do something slowly for 20 minutes, and call it a day. They have probably burned about 100 calories. And that’s great! But, then they stop at the smoothie bar on the way out and get a super-mega strawberry smasher, which has 500 calories, artificial chemicals, and 80 grams of sugar. So, these folks are effectively gaining weight at the gym, unfortunately.
When it comes to diet soda, it’s a tough one. Do some research into it. I know, it tastes good and you think you are being healthier… but look into the effects of the chemicals which are found in some diet sodas.
Energy drinks, too, are a touch choice, especially for a former cop who was working late nights for years. Personally, I can give testimony to high blood pressure, Increased/erratic heart rate, and severe dehydration being a few symptoms that I experienced when I was in the habit of drinking too many cans of Monster, Rock Star, Red Bull, Xyience, etc. I had to stop.
Now, I really try hard not to drink them at all, but every once in a while — like a cross-country drives — I do. If you are hooked, try to at least drink less.
Look, I know, caffeine, we all need the caffeine, right? But I’m a believer that natural is better, and organic is even better than natural. So, if you need caffeine, find a better source? In moderation: organic (undoctored) coffee and tea might be better options. But I’m not a doctor, just a guy telling you my experiences and those of whom I have helped.
Sugar is powerful! I believe sugar is one of the most difficult addictions we struggle with as humans. We are programmed at an early age to expect something sweet after a meal, or before bed, or when we do something good. But sugar is HUGE in weight gain, behavior, energy fluctuations. And parents, think about how much sugar affects us, as full-size humans who are already developed. That is multiplied in the smaller, still developing bodies of our kids. When we think about “fuel” some kids are putting into their machines, it’s no wonder they are all over the place or extremely moody or other signs of poor health.
Here are a few ideas for snacks:
- Any vegetables – we honestly can’t eat too many vegetables…
- Unsalted nuts
- Popcorn cooked on the stove
- Dried fruit
- Celery/apple with peanut butter
- Rice cakes with peanut butter
- Anything with Peanut Butter (maybe not anything)
- Healthy food bars (I’m partial to “Garden of Life” brand)
- Healthy shake (be careful here)
Final Diet Hacks
These may sound obvious, but we are trying to avoid something, then we cannot allow it in our house…
- Brush your teeth right after each meal — this will physically/psychologically cut down on your desire for something sweet immediately (and it’s good for your chompers).
- Take a full glass of water with you to bed. Drink half as the last thing you do and drink the other half as the first thing you do the next day. Hydration is critical to metabolism.
- Long-term goals are fine, but they are more likely to fall by the wayside as you get into the granular challenges of everyday life. An example might be: “I want to lose 50 pounds in 2021.” That’s great to say, but can easily be forgotten by February because the reward is too far off.
- Identify a short-term goal(s), which can repeat itself, but rewards you with affirmations for your newfound good behavior. Example: “I am not eating any dessert during the work week.” This gives you five days of self-discipline, with Friday night to look forward to a big piece of chocolate cake. It will taste so much better. Trust me.
Andy McDermott is a proponent of basic truths about health and wellness, based on lessons he’s learned personally over a lifetime of fitness. He got his first personal training certification in 1999 while working at Bally’s gym in Chicago. He completed the 40 Hour EXOS Sports Performance Mentorship, TRX Instructor certification, and earned his third-degree Black Belt in tae kwon do. While serving as a police officer on the Tactical Response Unit of the Phoenix Police Department, Andy served as Subject Matter Expert/Lead Instructor in Physical Training of all Arizona Law Enforcement. He’s won the National Championship at the US Police and Fire Games in the event called Toughest Competitor Alive. He played professional soccer for seven seasons after graduating from Northwestern University. He also holds the US Soccer National Coaching A License. Andy has published more than 100 articles and videos for national media publications. Andy posts fitness challenges on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.