Comparison to six months ago // Nutrition
Nutrition is probably the most important factor in any fitness journey. Knowing what to eat, and how much, can make or break your progress. There is so much false information out there, whether it's given to us from the media, our friends, or even our schools, that can mislead you. The key to knowing what works and what doesn't is one's understanding of the basic fundamentals; once you are knowledgeable of the principles of calories, and learned in the function of macro-nutrients (and other smaller factors), you can identify which foods really are beneficial for you. Of course, there are no foods that will suit everyone's goals. For example, peanut butter is a calorie dense source for fats and protein, suggesting it is well suited to a bulking phase, but not so much a cutting phase. As well as this, diets such as veganism, keto, paleo, all have their own standards of which foods are best. For me, six months ago, I was particularly new to understanding what my body (and soul) needed to consume to perform optimally.
I had a rough idea of what foods I should have been eating. A year or so prior to this point, I had already significantly progressed with cutting out junk food, sugary drinks, and alcohol. I had become more practised in saying 'no' to impulses, as well developing my home cooking skills. Yet I was struggling to see physical changes. I thought that, in eradicating "bad" foods, from my diet, my fat loss would only progress. The concept that I was not aware of back then, however, was my calorie intake. By cutting out certain foods, I had reduced my daily calorie intake without realising, therefor decreasing my body fat. But as I was still eating excessively, I was still consuming too many calories to produce the changes that I had been expecting. A common assumption when aiming to eat healthier is that you can simply swap a "good" food with a "bad" one, like swapping a tub of ice cream for a bag of dried fruit.
These swaps can be ineffective if you are oblivious of nutrition statistics: 100g of Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough ice cream contains 270kcals, whereas 100g of dried mango can contain 330kcals. Don't get me wrong, there is greater nutrional value in dried fruit in comparison to ice cream, but it is never as simple as merely cutting something out, or swapping it.
The reason I put "good" and "bad" foods in quotation marks is because I disagree with the idea that one food can be better or worse than another. A food's calorie density does not dictate whether it is good or bad for you. It's carbohydrate quantity does not do this either. Nor the protein, fats, or micro-nutrients. It is all of these values together in correspondence to your goals, as well as personal preference, that should guide you.
Another thing that I had learned over the past six months was how to eat in a sustainable way. When I first began to track my food, I had fallen into the habit of being excessively strict. For approximately three months, I had only allowed myself two untracked meals where I ate what I was craving. I knew this was becoming an issue when my cravings had started to take control of me emotionally. One day, I had given in to eating a cookie at lunch, just one. To compensate, I reduced the calorie goal for dinner by a few hundred calories, to ensure that I remained on target for the day. Then, when weighing out the appropriate food I intended to eat for dinner, I almost cried at how little food there really was- this was sparking a nasty relationship with food. After some adjustment, as well as adapting my training, I have now grown more confident in eating more flexibly. I used to believe that one calorie dense meal was enough to upset my progress: I thought every last bit of it would be stored as body fat. But, just as one healthy meal does not suddenly make you healthier, an unhealthy meal does not make you unhealthy. Now, I have found a rhythm that suits me well: I remain disciplined with my calories and macro-nutrients, but every week I choose to enjoy a meal composed of anything that I am craving. I refrain from calling this meal a "cheat" meal. The word "cheat" implies that it is something morally wrong, and suggests that nutrition is something that you can win or lose. This is not how I choose to perceive my food; I intend to enjoy everything that I eat, and eat it with a purpose. This purpose can be to support my physical state, or my emotional state.
I feel that I have significantly advanced my knowledge of nutrition; I am confident that my knowledge can aid me to attaining any goal I choose. However, there is always potential improvement that can be made- I have still to educate myself on meat vs vegan options, and learning how to select the most ethical options, and more. Though, compared to six months ago, I can proudly say I have come a long way.