With the unofficial kick off to summer just weeks away, the frantic scramble begins for the beach body and the coveted six pack abs. Let me save everyone a lot of aggravation. You can work your abs as hard as you want; do all the senseless cardio you want; train like an unchained beast. But if you are lazy and unstructured with your eating, it won’t matter. Not only can you not out train a poor diet, lean, structured abs are not built in the gym; they are built in the kitchen.
I Love to Eat
It’s no secret. I love to eat. My love of food goes all the way back to my childhood years. Growing up in an Italian family, food was everywhere (and still is) and if you didn’t eat they thought something was wrong with you. I was never forced to eat anything I didn’t like if I at least tried it and I was allowed to be a kid, with the occasional Tastykake or trip to the fast food joint as a treat. Dinner was a family event that we all sat down to and breakfast and lunch were normal parts of the day. I feel sorry for today’s generation because I’m not convinced that that happens very often if at all. Meals are rushed and ordered through drive–thru windows. The enjoyment of dining is lost in big chain restaurants where the food and service are mediocre at best. And snack food is handed out like a fifth food group. But my expertise is not in how to improve the family dynamic. Rather, it’s on how you can improve your own health and develop the physique you want by simply improving the one small room of the house with no fitness equipment – the kitchen.
Home Improvement 101
Despite the erratic eating and scheduling conflicts of the modern Amercian home, most of the time spent home is in the kitchen. But allow me to also say that I’m not talking new countertops, flooring or lighting. I’m talking about creating an environment where good intentions meet reality. That begins with a well stocked kitchen.
A well stocked kitchen begins with a well planned grocery store trip. If it’s not part of a healthy, balanced diet, it shouldn’t even have a chance to make it through the front door. A kitchen stocked with the makings for healthy meals and snacks will keep you on track, even when late-night cravings strike. If it’s not there, the inconvenience of having to go out to get it should override the want over the need. It’s time to clean house
- If it has the words high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the ingredients, lose it. Common offenders – snack foods, sodas, baked goods, frozen meals, breakfast bars, condiments. HFCS is a manufacturer’s dream (it’s cheaper) but a metabolic nightmare.
- Frozen dinners/lunches. If you can honestly identify all of the ingredients listed on the box, kudos, but God speed to you. Replace with home-made portioned meals. Spend some time on the weekends to cook up healthy meals, and then freeze them in portioned containers. Then throughout the week you simply need to reheat and enjoy.
- Fruit-flavored yogurt. I hate to break this to you, but that small individually packaged yogurt is going to do more harm to your waistline than you think. More than 50% of the calories in fruit-flavored yogurt come from sugar. Replace with plain low-fat yogurt, Greek yogurt, or low-fat cottage cheese and even chop up some of your own favorite fresh fruit and stir it in.
- Frozen breakfast food. French toast, waffles and pancakes are popular items in the freezer aisle. Don’t fall for the pretty photos and tasty-sounding names. These items are highly processed and contain loads of unnecessary sugar. Replace with: Sprouted Whole Grain Bread and Muffins. It is just as easy to throw a slice of sprouted, whole grain bread into the toaster as it is a frozen waffle. Spread it with some natural peanut butter and pair it with a piece of fruit. Now that’s a much healthier breakfast.
- Canned soups. The amount of sodium in a can of soup is staggering, considering that most will eat a whole can whereas the serving size is generally only half the can. The recommended amount of sodium is 2,000 mg or less per day. Same goes for frozen dinners which are loaded with it.
- Packaged crackers, snacks, cookies, etc. This should be a pretty obvious one, but third only to cigarettes and soft drinks as the most bought items at the supermarket, the health of our nation drops with each crunch.
- Artificial fats and sweeteners. I suppose the logic here was that if the original is bad, than a synthetic one must be better for you. Keep the butter (salt free) if you must; ditch the Equal, Sweet and Low, etc.
- Fresh and/or frozen vegetables. The produce drawer in your fridge should be overflowing with colorful nutrient-rich veggies. In fact, your fridge should hold more veggies than the drawer can hold. Veggies are filled with fiber, vitamins and nutrients and are a vital part of a healthy well-rounded diet. And frozen vegetables are frozen at the point of harvest. Same nutritional profile as fresh vegetables and eating ANY vegetables trumps eating NO vegetables
- Fresh and/or frozen fruits. The same goes here as with vegetables.
- Lean meats. Skinless chicken breast, lean ground turkey, white fish – are just a few of the numerous choices when it comes to lean meats.
- Miscellaneous snacks and such. Raw nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, etc. Not every snack or “treat” needs to come in a colorful bag or be dyed with chemicals to look pretty and appetizing. And a lot of great flavor can be achieved from using fresh, natural herbs and spices without adding tons of salt and calories
As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” Eat great, you’re going to look and feel great. Eat so-so, you’re going to look and feel so-so. Eat poorly…you get the picture. There is always going to be room for the things you love but shouldn’t eat frequently. Moderation is healthy and permissible; just don’t get caught in justifying what you think you should be allowed versus what you really need to second guess. Before buying into another desperate fad exercise plan or gimmick, I encourage you to raid your kitchen every couple of months as a way of keeping yourself on track. The exercise will and should be the easy part.
Til next time, train smart, eat well, and be better.