Why Working Out Extra Hard Won't Make Up for a Poor Diet
Here’s why you can’t exercise your way out of a poor diet.
What to do when working out alone is not producing the results you want. If you have a weight loss goal, you must change your eating habits. Healthy eating habits are crucial (in addition to working out) to help you achieve your weight loss goals. It's not the same as when we were in our 20s and we could eat whatever we wanted. Those days are long gone.
It wasn't until I was in my early 30s that I realized that I couldn’t continue to out-train a bad diet and keep eating whatever I wanted because I didn’t see any changes in my weight even though I worked out. I was listening to a podcast by Rachel Hollis where she interviewed Kelly LeVeque (author of book called Body Love that is fabulous!) This podcast interview was such a lightbulb moment for me! Kelly brought to life the importance of proper diet and adequate nutrition. These elements are the key to weight loss progress.
I had been trying to out-train a poor diet for all these years. So fast forward about three years, and I don’t do that anymore. I've come a long way with my knowledge about nutrition, fitness, and my overall mindset about how to change the way your body looks and feels. If you have body composition goals or are looking to lose fat or lose weight, build muscle or gain weight, just know there's so much work you must do on your nutrition.
I wanted to share a couple of guidelines that might help you. These are some specific things I share with my one-on-one coaching clients.
The 80/20 Rule
You may have heard of the 80/20 rule - that if you want to change how your body looks and performs, 80% of that is what you put in your mouth, and 20% is your workout.
80% of these changes are going to come from your nutrition. Why do food choices matter? Let’s think about it like this - you have to treat your body like a car.
You have to think of your food, like gasoline for your car. If you have a premium car, you put premium gasoline in your car, not coconut oil. It's the same with your body - you must fuel it with high-quality food. Our body completes many different functions, and it's insane how many processes our body does automatically. So if you're putting crap in your body, you will feel like crap. It's the same as if you put something that isn’t gasoline in the car; your car engine will start to break down over time. It's all about fueling your body with the proper nutrients and giving it enough protein, fat, and carbohydrates to run at optimal levels.
When it comes to intermittent fasting, the biggest goal is to keep your insulin levels low. Insulin is one of those hormones that's highly processed when you eat something as simple as carbohydrates - a regular potato, white bread, chips, crackers, or cookies. You get a big spike in insulin because your body is trying to process that sugar. That's what insulin does - it helps your body process things to sugar.
If you have a big spike, you will crash almost immediately - maybe 30 minutes to an hour later. Have you ever had that feeling after lunch, where you're like, “I'm so tired. I need coffee. I need a nap.”
The Four Things Every Meal Needs
We should fuel ourselves with foods that won’t cause this huge spike in insulin. So let's consider what we actually eat. I want you to think about every meal and snack you eat and whether they consist of these things:
Think about these four elements when building your breakfast, your lunch, your dinner, or your snacks. Make sure you are getting all the nutrients and the things you need to feed your body well and avoid these crazy spikes of insulin. Let’s delve deeper into these four crucial nutrients.
Protein is the building block of life. It helps keep you full. If you are eating less, doing intermittent fasting, or trying not to snack every two hours, protein is your best friend and helps you build lean muscle. So you want every single meal or snack to be high in protein. Now we're not going to get into what percentage you should eat because that's not my jam. This is just what I generally do.
Some examples of high-quality protein include fish, chicken, turkey, eggs, pork, and lean beef. If you follow a plant-based or vegan diet, some examples of proteins include plain or Greek yogurt, black beans, navy beans, lentils, cannellini beans, pinto beans, tempeh, and soy.
If you grew up or were dieting in the 90s, there was this huge aversion to fat - everything was low or reduced fat. Fat is essential to keep you full and satisfied. Good quality healthy fats are needed. Every meal must have good quality fat.
Some of my favorites are avocado, peanut butter, almond butter, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, almonds, walnuts, pecans, chia seeds, and hemp seeds, and also really high-quality grass-fed butter. My favorite brand is Kerrygold butter. Those are some things that you can add in small amounts to your food to really help you feel satisfied after a meal.
Fiber is the part of plant-based foods that the body can't totally break down. So it will pass through your body, partially undigested, and it helps keep your digestive system clean and healthy, eases your bowel movements, and flushes out toxins and cholesterol.
Some of my favorites are beans, broccoli, spinach, or other leafy greens like kale or collard greens, brown rice, chia seeds, almonds, old-fashioned oats (not instant oatmeal), and whole-grain bread. Be careful with the whole grain bread. Make sure the first line of the ingredient label reads 100% whole wheat flour. My favorite brand is Ezekiel bread which is very healthy.
Greens are self-explanatory but think of any green vegetable full of nutrient-dense vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Some of my favorites are spinach, kale, collard greens, broccoli, and green beans. Remember, the darker the color, the better it is for you. So if you’re choosing between Romaine lettuce and Arugula or baby spinach, the latter will be better for you because they are darker than Romaine lettuce.
Foods You Should Avoid
I'm not a fan of restricting or cutting out entire food groups. Let's think about limiting these and eating them only for special occasions. These include foods that can cause an insulin spike like sweets, alcohol, simple carbs like white bread, white pasta, chips, crackers, and things that are crunchy and come out of a bag - crackers, cookies, pretzels. I don't care if it says organic or gluten-free; they are still simple carbs.
Of course, you want to live your life. There will be times when you’ll go get ice cream with your kids, need a pumpkin spice latte or want a glass of wine. However, let’s keep these few in moderation.
Once you've reached your goals and can maintain them, things are different for you. But when changing your body composition, you have to change what you're eating. I know it sucks, but you must make that decision yourself. When starting out, change what you eat and increase the quality of your foods.
You don't have to be perfect. We don't have to hit every single meal, every single snack 100%. So when starting this, think about what’s good, not perfect. I want you to enjoy your life, and there will be times when we have birthday cake and wine; I get that. That's a part of life. Enjoy the celebrations. But then come back the next meal or the next day and get right back on your plan. I promise you that if you want to change your body, you cannot out-train a bad diet.
Remember the 80/20 rule - 80% of your effort is your diet. I hated that saying, “abs are made in the kitchen.” But they are - I can tell you my abs show the most when I'm eating clean. It's when I’m following intermittent fasting, making sure every meal has protein, fat, fiber, and greens, and avoiding sweets and alcohol. That's when you can see my abs!
I'm telling you this through my experience and my clients’ transformation. It DOES matter what you eat, and you cannot out-train a bad diet.