What, When, How
When it comes to your diet…fueling your body, improving performance and manipulating body fat, there are really three levers you can pull:
- What you eat (or don’t eat)
- When you eat (or don’t’ eat)
- How much you eat.
We can boost or restrict our diets by pulling 1, 2 or 3 of these levers at a time.
- What you eat – dietary restriction, macronutrient strategies, or supplementation (DR)
- When you eat – time restriction or macronutrient loading (TR)
- How much you eat – caloric restriction or overfeeding (CR)
Caloric restriction is the most common diet (Bernstein, weight watchers, premade diet meals), followed by dietary restriction (counting macros, zone diet, keto) and then time restriction (intermittent fasting). But intermittent fasting (IF) is actually the easiest way to control your diet.
Since everyone is already maintaining some sort of “fast” while they sleep, they have a running start at IF (around 8 hours from bedtime until they “break fast” in the morning.)
It’s not hard to extend that fasting period from 8 hours to 10, by avoiding snacks past 8pm. Ending your feeding time at 7pm and waiting to eat until 7am gives you a 12-hour daily fast.
This is a really simple strategy compared to the calorie-counting, weighing, macro-balancing or ingredient-sleuthing that goes into most diets.
A note to consider:
People often ignore their hunger cues, (work through lunch or skip breakfast) and then wonder why they ignore their fullness cues (eat way too much after dinner). Honouring fullness AND hunger cues go hand in hand with healthy eating. Eating is often viewed as an inconvenience, rather than one of the best ways to promote deep health, consistent energy, mental focus, maintain a calm demeanour and excel at sports/exercise/fitness etc.
For ultimate healthspan, people should eat minimally-processed foods, with a mix of vegetables, fruit, protein, and healthy carbohydrates at regular intervals and drinking enough water. Your body thrives on consistency. Most people, according to Dr. Attia, should be doing at least CR, TR or DR at any given time; should be doing two of them sometimes; and should be doing all 3 occasionally.
The opposite is to eat as much as you want of whatever you want to, whenever you feel like it. This is the standard North American diet, and it leads to the Sickness end of the Fitness-Wellness-Sickness spectrum.
Many leave their diet to chance: how they feel, and what’s easy and tastes good. (And in Urban Centers, Food Deserts are a real problem as well.) Whereas those with a healthy “diet” have constructed their environment and habits to promote wellness and deep health in a way that is sustainable for the long term. This doesn’t mean they don’t move along a continuum. For example, 6 weeks out from a competition they may choose to eliminate alcohol and have very few low nutrient, high calorie foods before settling into more “relaxed” nutrition habits after the event.
Eating for Fat Loss or Health
The best fat-loss strategy is a small calorie deficit brought about by sustainable changes over time. Excellent progress is losing .5-1% body fat every 2-4 weeks, Average is losing 0.5% body fat every 4 weeks and slow is less than 0.5% body fat over 4 weeks. An optimal fat loss strategy also includes drinking enough water to allow for necessary chemical reactions in your body to break down body fat.
Eating for Fitness
The best fitness-boosting nutrition strategy is to focus on high quality food to assist in recovery after workouts; , and to provide energy for workouts. An optimal strategy includes enough water to avoid dehydration. When eating for Fitness, the majority of your meals should be high quality with room for some lower quality food/drink choices sometimes.
Eating for Performance
When training for peak performance, you should include very few to no low-quality food and drink choices. Diets that are too restrictive can’t be sustained long-term, but that’s not the goal of those seeking to peak their performance for competition anyway. This is another example of how competition and improved health are sometimes conflicting goals.
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