Most Frequent Healthy Eating Questions – Part 1

Healthy-Eating-101When I first start working with a client on nutrition, I get (and expect!) lots of questions. It can be overwhelming to figure out how to plan out your meals, learn to eat better, and still have sanity and a social life. Many of them struggle with the details and spend huge amounts of time planning things out. Seriously, some spend hours! I know I did in the beginning and it was a lot of trial and error.

I can now do this in my sleep for the most part but will never forget the struggle. I love to simplify the process whenever possible. Simple means that you’ll have less stress, lower frustration levels, higher feeling of being in control, and more confidence in what you’re doing. It also means you’re that much more likely to stick to it.

You can absolutely do a crash course and tackle everything at once, but it might be easier for you to do this in steps. Build a solid foundation a little at a time. I thought I’d answer some of the more common questions that I get and hopefully make your healthy eating journey a little smoother and shorter in the process.

The first step is to figure out how much you should be eating on a daily basis for your goal. This involves both calculating the correct number of calories but also how much in the way of protein, fats, and carbs you need. There are many ways to do this including online calculators and nutrition coaches, so I’m going to assume that you’ve gotten your numbers already and go from there.

How do I meet the goal macros and calories I’ve been given?

The best place to start is where you are right now. Track all of your meals for 2 – 3 days as a baseline. Don’t change your eating or do anything special. Just eat as normal and log everything. I use My Fitness Pal, but there are several others like Fit Day, Spark People and Lose It. I really suggest weighing and measuring everything so you have accurate portion sizes, but eyeballing will still work for your baseline.

Once you have 2 – 3 solid days, do a comparison to the goal numbers you have for your protein, fat and carbs. See where you fall short or go over, and start to make minor adjustments to portion sizes to come closer to your goal numbers. Again, you don’t have to change what you are eating for every meal. Just try changing the portion amounts and see what that does first.

As a side note, I always suggest to ignore calories and focus on meeting protein, fat and carbs. Food labels are notoriously incorrect on calorie math. If you only look at your macro numbers and meet them, you won’t go over on calories.

I’m always short on protein so how do I get my protein up without going over on fat?

If you are under on protein, see which meals don’t have a good protein source and add one. If you’re like most people, check your snacks first. They are typically heavy in carbs and fat but lacking in protein. If all of your meals have a protein, then increase the portion size on a couple until you are closer to goal.

To keep your fats down while adding protein, choose lower fat cuts of meat like skinless chicken breasts, lean ground beef, lean turkey, fish like tilapia, flounder, and cod. Other low fat but meat-free options are non-fat Greek yogurt, egg whites, protein powder, and tofu. You can also bump up protein with less processed carb choices like Ezekiel bread, whole grain wraps, and beans/legumes.

How do I know what to eat with each meal?

The basics of meal composition are pretty simple on a high level. Depending on whether you are male or female and the amount of calories you need to eat daily, each meal should be 1 – 2 servings of protein, 1 – 2 servings of carbs, and 1 – 2 servings of veggies. It’s good to have a serving or two of fruit daily as a carb serving, as well as a serving or two of healthy fats each day.

So with each meal think “protein, carb, veggie.” On a more detailed level, eat what you like that falls into those categories. If you hate seafood, don’t eat it. If you love broccoli and carrots, eat those. It’s good to get a variety of foods to spread the nutrients around and balance your diet, but it’s also important to like what you eat. Don’t like it, don’t eat it. Like it, eat it. Done. 🙂

I’m vegetarian/vegan so how do I get enough protein each day?

Many people have the misconception that vegans and vegetarians can’t get adequate protein. I’ve found that unless someone is purposely avoiding protein, it’s really not that difficult to meet minimum requirements even without tofu and dairy products. There are many factors in play but most people can eat somewhere between .8 x goal weight and .8 x current bodyweight each day in protein. Again, this is a wide range and not intended to be exact numbers.

Protein can be found in varying levels in countless non-meat sources including greek yogurt, protein powders (egg white, hemp, pea, whey), nutritional yeast, quinoa, lentils and more. Other choices like brown rice, Ezekiel bread, wheat berries, frekeh, and whole grains have higher amounts of protein than the more processed counterparts. As a bonus to giving up meats, you also get health benefits from less processed food choices. Unlike animal based protein sources, plant based proteins come in conjunction with carbs. This is something to be aware of as you plan out your macros.

These are some of the more common questions that I get on meal and macro planning. I have a few more that I’ll answer this week so stay tuned. If you have questions you’d like to see answered, let me know and I’ll work them in. 

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