“What should I eat to get healthy?”
This is a common variant of questions I receive on an almost daily basis about nutrition. Generally I answer:
Here is the full video post about how the answer to most fitness-health-related questions is “It depends.” (with a mild shoulder shrug).
Now, in the realm of nutrition, the answer is “IT DEPENDS!” (with arms enthusiastically thrown up in the air).
Individual body chemistry, emotional state, past experiences, activity level, definition of “healthy,” and lifestyle are just a few of the plethora of factors that play into the eating style that works best for someone achieve “healthy” status.
That said, I thought I’d share my experience with eating a high-fat, low(er) carb eating style for the past year; it’s pretty fantastic, actually.
The decision to try it out was driven by an increasingly upset GI system and since what I was eating at the time (wide range of vegetables, meats, fruit, beans/lentils, etc.) wasn’t helping, I figured it was time for a change.
I am NOT on a ketogenic diet (which is starting to gain steam and popularity in the health/fitness world) because I found that it doesn’t make me feel great. Most ketogenic diets require pretty high fat content (~80-90% of intake), moderate protein (~10-15%) and minimal carb intake (~2-5%). Because I like iron and picking up heavy junk, I need more than the standard definition of “moderate” protein as well as a touch more carbohydrates to help me recover.
There are a LOT of resources out there that can help if you wanted to try a higher-fat eating style- all of which a much better than me. I will list out below what I changed and my experiences but I highly recommend the folks I link at the end of this post since they have more information than I can cram (or want to cram) into this post and, honestly, are much more knowledgable than me.
Granted, I started with a pretty healthy base, like I said, I was eating a whole-food based diet with all the stuff you’re “supposed” to eat so the change in eating habits wasn’t terribly difficult. It really came down to changing the proportions of what I ate, taking out a few foods that were problematic (some fruits, for example, were wreaking havoc on me) and adding in a bunch of tasty ones (chicken thighs, higher-fat beef, bacon, cocoa butter, more coconut oil etc.)
I don’t count macros (carbs, protein, fat) specifically, but I can give you a rough estimate of my daily break down before and after so you can see the difference.
Eating this way has pushed me into a fat-adapted state, meaning I’m generally burning fat for energy as opposed to glucose (carbohydrate) throughout the day. It took about 2 weeks for my body to shift (and it was a weird two weeks, let me assure you) and once I did, I noticed the following:
1. I dropped about 10 pounds unexpectedly. Some of that was water weight, but it was a bit of a shock to drop that much that quickly (about 2 weeks). It took me about a month to gain it back and figure out what my maintenance intake should be. I’ve found it’s also easier to stay on the leaner side without much effort or change in training.
2. My meals, because they are much higher in fat, are much for satiating. I don’t feel over-full, but it’s a good stick-to-your-ribs feeling that sustains me much longer between meals than before, which ties into my next point:
3. I don’t get “hangry” any more. You know the feeling, you turn into the velociraptor from Jurassic Park after going a few hours without eating. I used to have to eat something every 4-6 hours, I would get headaches or shaky or just straight-up hangry; now I can go 8-10 hours without eating if I wanted and without experiencing any of those other things either. I feel hungry, but it’s a much calmer hungry. It’s really, really helpful on days where I’m really busy or we’re traveling and I don’t want to pack a lot of food. I can just have my regular breakfast and last most of the day without having to eat if I don’t want to.
4. Now I actually crave fats and protein more than carbs. I think that’s a big hurdle for a lot of people trying to lose weight or maintain a weight loss is the craving for carbs that can sometimes take over your brain. Typically, large quantities of carbs are pretty easy (about half-way down, read about the “bliss point.”) to consume in one sitting (chips, cookies, etc.) but it’s often weird/hard to eat a large amount of either fats or protein all at once so it’s much hard to overeat your caloric needs for the day.
5. I still get a decent amount of vegetables in my daily intake, and I stick to the lower carb ones (like kale, sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, etc.) which also tend to be nutritional powerhouses. Yay for antioxidants and indole-3-carbinol!
6. My meals are WAAAAAAAY tastier. Chicken thighs, coconut oil and cream, 85% beef, and bacon… need I elaborate?
So, what is healthy eating?
Moving to a higher fat eating style has been really good for me, is it good for you? It depends.
Lots of people do well with it, and others don’t (my husband is one who needs a higher carbohydrate intake). Give it a try and see how you feel.
Your foundation, regardless of what your body composition/health goals are, should be whole-foods based diet: lots of veggies and fruit, lean protein sources, and minimizing the amount of junk you consume. That stuff doesn’t change; the proportions are the things that you can tinker with to optimize your daily intake for your health goals and desires.