What Works & What Doesn't Work: Part 1...Nutrition

Megan Dahlman
June 22, 2016

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Does Your Nutrition Strategy Actually Work?

​There is nothing that breaks my heart more than seeing unsuspecting mommas spending time and money doing something that doesn’t actually work. As you should be well aware, the fitness and nutrition industry is chock full of “solutions”. Some things are good, but many solutions simply don’t work or they’re flat out bad for you…either for your health or for your state of mind.

That “core” video that gives you ripped abs in 8 minutes? It will probably trash your spine. That juice diet that so-and-so-celebrity is raving about? It will make you feel miserable and ultimately hate healthy food.

With both fitness and nutrition, the big idea that simply does not work is obsession and extreme restriction. All of your red flags should go up when it requires you to devote a substantial amount of time and mental capacity for it to work. You should also be concerned if it’s requiring a drastic shift away from your normal routine. These big changes are so hard to sustain when sustainability is what really counts.

Ultimately, for changes to occur, sustainability is what matters most. 

With nutrition, there are many tactics that simply do not work.

Feeling restricted in any way. If you are following a plan that cuts out this, cuts out that, says don’t eat this and don’t eat that, I will tell you right now that those things will immediately become cravings. You will constantly be thinking about eating the restricted foods. You will feel trapped and constricted. You will fail to learn how to develop a lifestyle of healthy eating.

Counting. Whether it’s counting calories, counting carbs, counting protein or counting portions, if numbers are involved it simply won’t work. You will become a slave to these numbers, feeling like your meals must always fit within a certain value. In the end, food becomes numbers and stops being actual food. Certain foods become “bad” because they have a lot of numbers and certain foods are “good” because their numbers add up right. This is a very bad game to play with your food. And completely unsustainable, once again. (Read more about why you shouldn't be looking at Nutrition Facts.)

Being incredibly scientific. As a nutrition coach, it’s tempting to become uber-scientific with nutrition. How many minutes following a workout should you eat an exact ratio of protein and carbs? What foods should you eat with other foods for optimal absorption? What is your basal metabolic rate and exactly how many calories in what proportions should you consume to achieve your goals? Wow. So clinical and ridiculously tedious. This makes absolutely no sense for the average individual. If you are simply a mom that is wanting to feel leaner and healthier, you do NOT need to be bogged down with these details. Most of them simply don’t matter.

Having a timeline. Sorry 21-Day Fix, Whole30 and any other diet that puts you on a timeline. These sort of work, and occasionally someone will be able to learn enough about good nutrition in this time frame to carry it on for the rest of their life. There are certain things that are beneficial with these programs, but being on a time frame creates the “all-or-nothing” mentality that simply does not last. It’s like giving something up for lent…all you can think about is when it will end and you can have your stuff again.

Darn it. Were these all the things that you thought actually worked? I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but like I said, I want to see you actually succeed.

Let me tell you what nutrition tactics actually do work.

Don’t attempt “all-or-nothing”. When you try to eat perfectly, you will fail. Every time. You need strategies for encountering real life situations. Eat healthy most of the time, but make sure you have some balance and moderation. Relax a little and you may actually enjoy eating healthy, instead of feeling miserable.

See food as food and not numbers. Choose foods based on their categories, not on their numerical values. Are you eating protein or 350 calories? Are you eating vegetables or 45g of carbohydrates? When you learn to choose foods—a protein, some produce, some healthy fats—you can take this knowledge with you anywhere. Camping, at a restaurant, at your niece’s birthday party…in all of these situations, if you know what foods to choose you won’t go wrong.

Don’t measure. It’s better to eyeball it and then listen to your body. For many of us moms, we need to keep our portions in check. Of course, eating too much, even of the good stuff, can make it difficult to feel lean and strong. Begin listening to your hunger and fullness cues, pushing the plate away before you’re totally full. Learn to eat a little bit less if weight loss is your goal. Learn to eat a little bit more if weight gain is your goal. This sounds overly simplified, but we always make this far more complicated than necessary.

Make it simple. Contrary to the clinical view of nutrition, for most of us it’s far better to keep it simple. Learn a couple healthy eating habits and then tweak it if necessary. Start by “Eating Your PRO’s”, choosing a protein and some produce with every meal. Add in some healthy fats like fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado. Always choose whole grains, but never eat them in place of the PRO’s. Drink lots of water. And that’s all you really need to know right now. When you master these basics, then you can start thinking about more complicated things like cheat meals, servings of vegetables, and how wine fits into the picture.

With nutrition, sustainability is king. If your strategies allow you to easily encounter everyday life, confidently choosing foods that are good for you time and time again, then you can do this forever.

Remember, obsession and restriction is a tempting approach to nutrition…it makes you feel like it will work because you’re doing so much.

But ultimately it just doesn’t work. Walk away from the "all-or-nothing" mentality, stop counting and measuring, and reach for much simpler nutrition tactics. It may feel slow at first, but ultimately this is what works. 

Stay tuned for Part 2...I will be sharing exercise and fitness tactics that simply don't work and what actually does work instead. 

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Trainer, nutrition coach, and Christian mom — in a culture that’s obsessed with “gym-selfies” and a number on the scale, I’m passionate about helping moms discover what it feels like to actually love their bodies and thrive in them.
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