Learn How to Eat on Purpose for Weight Loss, Health & Performance
Learn How to Eat on Purpose for Weight Loss, Health & Performance, by Coach Matt Hartsky
When we talk about Eating on Purpose, really what we are talking about is a shift in perspective.
When I begin talking about my nutrition coaching perspective with folks, often the first thought that crosses a lot of people’s minds is the name of a certain diet. What about Atkins, Zone, Whole30, Gluten-Free, Paleo, South Beach, or Ketosis? I try to get away from worrying about a named diet so we don’t have a preconceived idea of what we should be eating, and we just look at the principles of what the body needs.
What we have become accustomed to is the breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack mentality, or our societal norm of when meals should happen. And we debate about things like, “Should we eat breakfast or should we not eat breakfast?”
But we forget the fact that our body does not regulate itself based on times our society says is convenient for eating. I mean if we severed our head from the neck our body cannot reason and say I’m hungry I want this, or I need this. It has no idea what breakfast, lunch, and dinner are. The body only functions through processes, and through those processes, it determines that it needs fuel or has excess fuel onboard and works to store it.
The body also recognizes it needs certain kinds of fuel to be able to do certain kinds of activities, whether that’s inside of our body within the cells and organs or whether that’s performing physical exertion.
Getting away from that breakfast, lunch, and dinner mentality is a key for many people who are interested in weight loss, improving their health, or taking their performance to the next level. The knowledge that our body functions based on food as fuel, allows us to start working on ideas like meal frequency and feeding the body with what it needs when it needs it. One of the first things that we need to understand with fueling the body on purpose, is the kinds of food the body needs.
The body needs macronutrients as its primary sources of fuel, and our macronutrients include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. There are a couple of interesting things about those macronutrients that better describe their roles in the body.
Carbohydrates, for instance, are our primary source of energy and they are stored in the body in the form of glycogen in our liver and are also commonly known as blood sugar or blood glucose.
Protein is our primary source of recovery, mainly through its breakdown into amino acids. Protein is not stored in the body so we need a regular supply of it to help us recover from activity.
Fats are an essential nutrient that helps the major organs to function at their best and also aid in optimal hormone regulation. There are several types of fats the body has at its disposal including body fat which is stored in tissue and around our organs, as well as fat we eat in the form of saturated unhealthy fats and unsaturated healthy fats.
Since carbohydrates are one of the most often talked about nutrients, let’s look at their most basic role in our body- to supply energy. When we are performing any activity, our body prefers to use blood sugar available in the bloodstream from foods that we recently ate. If we don’t perform much activity, there will likely be extra blood sugar floating around and it will be stored in the liver as glycogen for use later on.
Unfortunately, the liver has a storage limit and when it becomes full and glycogen levels are topped out the body needs a place to put that excess blood sugar floating around. Rather than eliminating it through waste, our body is designed to try to be as efficient as possible with its fuel and stores excess energy as body fat. It’s important to note, this is the simple answer to how we over-fuel in the area of carbohydrates. This over-fueling is much like the way the fueling system works in your car.
Can you over fuel your car? Yes, the gas tank only holds so much, right? The same is true with the liver. The body can only hold so much sugar and it only stores so much, and then the rest of it is going to be converted to fat. You can overfill the car on gas and you can overfill the human body on carbohydrates. If only our extra carbs ended up on the ground like extra gas would with our car! But it is this simple- We only want to give the body the number of carbohydrates it needs to fuel our basic needs and activities.
Read this article for more detailed information on how carbohydrates work as calories to fuel your body: https://transformingstrength.com/personal-training-tips/how-to-lose-weight-the-complete-guide/
When we wake up in the morning we know that we are going to need to fuel for the day, whether it be for working at our job, exercise, chasing the kids around, or whatever that looks like for you. It makes sense again to use the car analogy: If I am going to take a road trip to drive16 hours, I am not going to wait two or three hours down the road before I get gas the first time. I am going to fill up right away before I leave for the trip so that I don’t run out of fuel in between. It’s the same idea with our body’s fuel. If we don’t fuel right away or we try to perform or go about our daily activities without fueling beforehand, we are going to end up with low blood sugar at some point during the day, leading to mood swings, headaches, brain fog, cravings, and possibly poor food choices.
This scenario is true even if we have adequate stores of energy in our liver. It’s a little bit more complicated of a process for the body to start using those fuel resources than it is to start fueling it right away and give it what it needs through blood sugar. This is usually about the time in the conversation about Eating on Purpose when people start asking me about the ketosis diet and training the body to use nutrients like our fat stores for fuel sources.
Here are my thoughts on any nutrition strategy that takes your food to an extreme by eliminating an entire primary fuel source or employs long periods of starvation: The human body is an absolutely amazing organism, it’s an amazing machine that can adapt to many harsh circumstances.
For example, we can feed the body all kinds of junk and sugar and alcohol and it continues to function. Things that it was never meant to consume. It finds a way to process those things and we can continue to live day after day.
But NOT optimally.
We could be a couple of hundred pounds overweight and the body, amazingly enough, continues to function properly. So, just because we can force the body to adapt to a certain way of eating, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best way of eating for it. You could plug in any other extreme diet here and the scenario still applies.
There are also so many variables to look at when talking about complete and optimal nutrition. Every single person out there is a little bit different, so what they may need could be very different from person to person, goal to goal, and situation to situation.
What to Eat on Purpose
What I recommend to you is using this Eating on Purpose nutrition coaching philosophy and its principles with that in mind.
I am going to share with you the basic blueprint for what has worked for most of my personal training and weight loss clients over the years, and that is balanced fueling of the body with what it needs when it needs it.
I am going to assume, we are on the same page with the understanding we want to begin our day with fuel. As the day goes on the energy needs for most people are going to vary, but in general the later in the day we get, those energy needs are going to decrease. When we get into the night-time hours and our energy expenditure is going to be much lower yet. We could view this as a downward trending line. With this decreased need, our fuel intake should mimic this downward trend because we just don’t need those sugars. If we do choose to eat those sugars at night, as many people do with desserts, when our energy expenditure is lower, that tends to be when those sugars are stored as body fat. To summarize this idea, we try to fuel earlier in the day and before activities like workouts, but as the day goes on, our carbohydrate intake should taper off to zero.
While we try to keep carbohydrates focused on our specific energy needs, protein is a vital fuel we try to keep balanced throughout the day. Protein’s most essential role in the body is to provide the amino acids we need to build and repair. Since we don’t store protein or amino acids, we need a balanced and steady supply throughout the day to ensure we take in enough based on our needs and goals. So, if you are exercising and training you will need to keep your protein intake much higher than a sedentary person.
A huge benefit of eating protein while trying to lose weight is that it is very difficult for the body to convert proteins into a sugary substance that could be stored as body fat. So if we are going to eat more of one of our food macronutrients to keep us full without harming our body composition, and to help our body lean up, it’s going to be protein.
In addition, a balanced nutrition plan is going to make sure there are healthy sources of fat coming from our clean oils and fatty fishes or nuts, and things of that nature so that we are not getting the processed and harmful saturated oils and fats into our system.
When to Eat on Purpose
When we talk about meal timing, I have already alluded to my belief that we should be eating every 2 to 3 hours, to give the body small, clean, and balanced fuel.
One of the main reasons for higher frequency meal timing is to help balance blood sugar. Instead of having breakfast, lunch, and dinner spread out to the point where blood sugar levels can take big dips, slow down our calorie-burning process, and promote fat storage, we can take steps to keep it more balanced by simply eating more often.
Starting the day off with an early meal and following it up every 2-3 hours will help us avoid the pitfalls that often occur in the late afternoon and evening. Those are typically the times when a lot of people crash, feel low in energy, headaches come on, have distracting cravings, and then binge on junk food, pop, and other unhealthy choices that do little to provide nourishment and only help to contribute major amounts of sugar that spike insulin and promote body fat storage.
When looking at keeping your system running smoothly, try to avoid the “snack” mentality and treat each eating session as a meal that has a specific purpose: to fuel your body!
Calories, Macros, and Whole Food
Many people have tried to lose weight and get healthy by counting their calories and/or macros. If you are comfortable with this approach, that is great. Unfortunately, over the years, most of my wellness clients have hated the idea of counting and tracking their calories. Because of this, I have moved to a system where I calculate the calories I need them to eat from each macronutrient and then prescribe the corresponding whole food quantities for them to include at each meal. This typically involves a measuring cup or food scale in the beginning, but most clients can eventually transition into knowing what their portion size should be. For example, an average-sized chicken breast weighs about 3 ounces. No need to keep measuring it.
This system allows us to get dialed in around the specific needs and goals of each client without overwhelming them with the burden of counting calories or macros.
For instance, a person might be working out and they are going to have a 25-gram fast-digesting protein shake afterward, a couple of hours after that I may recommend a half cup of rice, three ounces of chicken, and a half cup of broccoli. From there, we would go on throughout the day recommending similar whole food amounts where the person only had to use either a measuring cup or a cheap food scale to be able to come up with the amounts of nutrients to eat at each meal.
Log It to Learn It
Even though the whole food system is fairly basic, it is important to write down the when and what of our daily food and drink intake. The more changes you need to make, the more this is true.
I recommend avoiding using apps like fitness pal or other options that focus on the breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, snack scheme. Instead, keep it old school and simple with a small notebook with what you eat, how much, and at what time throughout the day. It can also help to make note of any challenges or victories you had surrounding food.
Part of the tracking process is knowing where we start and measuring our progress along the way. If our goal is weight loss, this is even more important. Unfortunately, the scale is the most commonly used tool for tracking weight loss. I say unfortunately because it is often abused and extremely unreliable.
It will take at least a week of consistent healthy eating designed specifically for your body, needs, and goals to cause you to burn 1 pound of body fat. Because of this, there is no point in weighing yourself more than once per week.
If you are only able to use a scale to track your weight loss progress, be sure to keep its feedback in perspective. Your body weight can fluctuate greatly and is often influenced by hormones and sodium levels. When it comes to using the scale as a weight-loss tool, weighing every 2-3 weeks generally tends to show a better picture of what is happening with body fat.
If available, I would encourage you to use a free body scan now available in many areas, have a qualified professional use skinfold calipers to measure your body fat, or pay for a Dexa scan. This will allow you to much more accurately track the progress you are making with your fat loss.
Once you have an accurate assessment of your progress you can then make whole food adjustments to your daily eating, if needed. When looking at making and adjustments, keep in mind it is also important to note how well you are sleeping, recovering, and performing to make sure you aren’t losing weight too fast.
If you would like additional tips to help you take control of your health, check out this article: How to Lose Body Fat Fast With 10 Simple Steps
Planning & Preparation
To successfully learn how to Eat on Purpose it is extremely important to learn how to plan and prepare. If you get up tomorrow and try to randomly just eat clean, it kind of feels vague to us. Even if I try to imagine that right now, if I didn’t have any meals prepared for tomorrow, or any food ready to go, it just feels like I would kind of be guessing and wondering what I was going to eat next, and probably feel like it was a struggle to eat healthy from meal to meal.
To avoid this struggle and set yourself up for success, you have to own the 6 P’s: Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.
Grab your notebook and jot down the days of the week. think about your schedule and make note of days that will be a challenge for cooking. Think about your daily routine and where you can plug in your whole food meals and where a protein shake might have to be the best option. If struggling with what your meals might look like, google has millions of healthy recipes available and we have dozens of those right here: https://transformingstrength.com/recipes/
You know you will need a clean protein like any red meat, eggs, fish, lean pork, chicken, or turkey at each meal, so that can be a great place to start your meal planning. You’ll also need your clean carbohydrates. Healthy unprocessed examples are oats, quinoa, rice, and sweet potatoes. Also, look at having dense vegetables on hand for healthy fiber and micronutrients. Examples are broccoli, asparagus, Brussel sprouts, and leafy green vegetables for salads.
Once you have your food strategy in place, it becomes much easier to plan your trip to the store.
Let’s say you have your list of recommended foods on hand, preparing them can oftentimes seem like an adventure in itself, so let’s tackle this challenge next.
If you have a crazy schedule like the one at our house, trying to meal plan and prepare day by day is just super unrealistic, and I believe that for most folks and their schedules. So what I choose to do is meal prep on the weekend without really meal prepping.
Here is how that works. I do not want to spend a minute of my life preparing meals for the sake of preparing them. I don’t set aside four hours on Sunday night and say, “well I am going to prepare all of my emails all at once on Sunday evening.” That would be a drag and I feel like it would be a waste of time.
Instead, I choose to take leftovers to the extreme. For example, on Saturday night I may go out and fill the grill with as much chicken as I can stuff on it. At the same time the chicken is grilling, I’ll have vegetables steaming in the steamer, a dozen sweet potatoes baking in the oven, and a big pot of rice or quinoa on the stove. We have all of those things for our main meal – then the rest of my family won’t want much of that for leftovers throughout the week, so it’s all mine. On Sunday, I do the same thing; I usually choose to have something like steak. I’ll grill up as much steak on the grill as I can and then I am switching up what I am doing inside of the house. I might have a couple of dozen eggs inside the steamer cooking. I may cook up some different vegetables. But the bottom line is this: when I am going to be making meals anyways, I try to do it in a way where there are lots and lots of leftovers.
This strategy probably accounts for two-thirds of my meals at work throughout the week. When we do cook individual dinners throughout the week, we also plan to make extra and have those leftovers for a couple of days to be able to switch in and out with the options from the weekend.
Along those lines, get creative with your meal prepping. Plan on having leftovers, and take that preparation seriously because that effort is going to go a long way towards getting you shifted into the Eating on Purpose nutrition philosophy. It will allow you to stay focused, avoid hurdles, and enjoy more success.
The Secret Weapon of Consistency
When I was a younger athlete I was always reading, watching, listening, and talking to successful athletes to figure out the edge, that secret, that thing I was missing that was going to help get me to the next level as an athlete.
As a younger adult, I finally came to realize if there was a secret, it was consistency. What separates most successful people from others, is the ability for the successful ones to plug away at a goal and do the small things they need to do to be successful and do it all of the time.
The idea of placing a priority on focused consistency has been a part of my life for quite a while now. I believe there isn’t anything in life we can be successful at, including Eating on Purpose, without consistency.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
I wouldn’t expect to be very successful at work if I was scheduled to work 40 hours, but once I hit 32 hours of a productive week told the boss that because of the success I had for the prior four days, I think I’d just spend Friday on social media. I wouldn’t expect to be employed there very long.
In my marriage, Let’s say I made it the first five days of the week with my wife, giving it 100% and working with her on all of the things we have to do to make sure the family runs successfully throughout the week. Whether it’s shuttling kids here and there or cooking meals, cleaning, being kind, and doing nice and sweet things for one another. If I got through those first five days of that and then said, “I am sorry honey you are on your own for the next 2 days and I am just going to sit here in bed and watch TV.” I wouldn’t expect that relationship to work out very long.
It’s the same thing in the exercise world. If we only do it part-way we’re probably not going to see a lot of success. A few days of effort each week is going to make for really slow fitness progress.
If you are only dedicated 4 or 5 days out of the week to Eating on Purpose, clean eating, and following the principles we’ve discussed in this article, you are probably not going to be successful with it. If you do only give it 80% effort and see some progress, just realize that it’s going to be much slower than if you were 100% dedicated to it and giving it your all.
I’m more than happy to connect and answer any nutrition questions you might have. Let’s talk about learning to Eat on Purpose. Let’s discuss weight loss. Let’s chat about eating for performance goals. Most importantly, let’s get you on the path to better eating habits and move you closer to your goals. If you would like to work with me directly, you can learn more about personal training here: https://transformingstrength.com/individual-coaching/