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Ditch old-school approaches for these modern—and way easier!—alternatives.
Great nutrition intentions do not always lead to successful results. That’s pretty obvious by now. It’s why we read stories of “Biggest Loser” contestants and celebrities gaining and losing weight all the time, and it’s why every new year comes with hundreds of headlines touting the hottest new diets that’ll finally help you realize your goals. It’s not that triathletes lack dedication to turn intentions into practical actions—in fact, it’s the opposite. Triathletes so eager, willing and motivated for change may take the dietary tweaking a bit too far. Here’s how to modify your good intentions so they set you up for success instead of setting you back.
The idea: Follow a diet plan
Improve it: Create a sustainable eating plan
According to recent research from Baylor University, “dieters are doomed from the start” because of listed food rules and avoidance. Diets trap you when you are vulnerable, and they convince you to trust the diet protocol through misguided interpretations of nutritional research. For example, many diets name carbohydrates as the enemy—all breads, grains, dairy and legumes are bad. Sure, manufactured carb-containing foods lack nutrient density, but a healthy diet should include real food carbohydrates as ditching them altogether is often unsustainable in the long run. Bottom line, traditional diets, like Whole 30, don’t teach you how to eat but how to succeed with restrictive eating.
If you intend to make a dietary change for weight loss, create a style of eating that’s sustainable. Take immediate responsibility for lingering unhealthy habits, which have suddenly become a bigger issue, and commit to making small changes. For example, if you find yourself making poor nutritional choices at mealtime, be proactive and prepare your meals ahead of time. Stick with a change for more than 4–6 weeks as breaking bad habits require a mix of strong motivation and time.
The idea: Skip dessert. Permanently.
Improve it: Indulge in moderation
With a global epidemic of obesity, excessive sugar intake has been linked to weight gain as it provides a significant source of calories with little to no nutritional value. Sugar has also been shown to elevate dopamine levels, which control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, similar to many abusive drugs like tobacco, cocaine and morphine.
Intense cravings for sweets are among the biggest pitfalls among dieters, as it can be a real struggle to break a sugar “addiction.” But forcing yourself into a complete sugar withdrawal is a huge mistake because deprivation triggers binging. So instead of avoiding desserts, aim for balance between eating healthy foods and enjoying foods that may not traditionally be considered healthy, like a bite of decadent chocolate cake. Prioritize your dessert-eating occasions, like a moment of celebration with people you care about. Never indulge alone, and choose quality over quantity. If your sweet tooth hits hard after mealtime, replace a sugar-laden processed food with a naturally sweet treat like dried figs, fruit or dark chocolate.
The idea: Go low carb
Improve it: Pick the best carbs
Feeling unhealthy and blaming irresistible holiday foods? Don’t. Never feel guilty about enjoying holiday foods—being indulgent a few times between October and December will not lead to ongoing weight gain. Swearing off carbohydrates because you ate too many cookies, cakes and savory dishes is nothing more than a quick fix as you try to gain temporary control with extreme self-discipline.
Instead of vowing to avoid the entire carbohydrate food group, choose nutrient-dense carbohydrate-rich foods, like oats, fruits, beans, whole grains and vegetables. Going low carb may assist in weight loss, likely through water loss and a massive decrease in calories, but it can be counterproductive to your health and performance goals if followed long-term.
Remember, a diet that makes you feel deprived will never last. As an athlete, carbohydrates have a place in your diet. A respectable 50 to 80 grams of carbohydrates per meal (3 to 5 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight per day, or 816–1,360 calories a day for a 150-pound person) will help you stay on track with your nutrition and energized when you train.