YOUR EDITOR FEELING THOSE SUMMER VIBES!
Elite athletes eat to fuel their bodies for optimal performance and inherently understand the concept that food is fuel. They generally don’t eat something just because it tastes good. They train their bodies like machines, and are not putting bad gas in the tank. Many of the rest of us, however, have gotten away from this basic concept. TV commercials tantalize with images of irresistible fat, sugar, and calorie-laden foods. We order what is most delicious on the menu. We fuel our mouths, but not our bodies.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all had the performance driven motivation of these athletes? What if it were effortless? For those trying to lose weight, it’s generally thought to be a matter of willpower to resist those foods that have put on the pounds. But what if those foods had no appeal, because not eating them felt so much better that eating them?
I recently shifted to a Paleo diet, which includes meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, and nuts — but no dairy and no grains. That means no bread, which I would have considered impossible a few months ago. But when replaced with delicious and satiating healthy fats like nuts, avocado, and coconut, the temptation has kind of disappeared — especially when my body has leaned out using its fat stores instead of sugar for fuel.
I recently sat down with our contributing nutrition editor, Sarah Wragge, for a discussion on this topic of food as fuel, and how changing our mindset is what ultimately changes our bodies.
STYLE OF SPORT: I always talk about athletes, and ways to integrate how they train and eat into our own daily lives. We’re talking about food as fuel today as an example. How does that apply to your clients who come to you to lose weight?
SARAH WRAGGE: I think in today’s society we have lost sight of the fact that food is actually fuel — and because it is fuel, it should be real food. We’ve gotten lost in trends and diets. We’re eating weird protein bars and shakes. We foul ourselves up when we eat things that aren’t actually food, because they don’t provide that sense of fullness and satiation. But if you just eat real food, in the proper order and combination, then everything falls into place.
SOS: We eat to satisfy our taste buds… ‘Oh, I want that chocolate cake. It’s tastes so good. I have to have it. If I can’t have it, then what else can I have as a substitute?’
SOS: I think the hardest challenge for anyone trying to lose weight is they still want those things like chocolate cake. And listen, I speak from experience so I’m not preaching here. I’m also not saying we can never have those things, but I’ll tell you what’s been really interesting is in the few weeks that I’ve shifted to the Paleo diet you outlined for me, it’s shifted my mindset. I really don’t want bread, because I’ve trained my body to burn fat, not carbs, and I don’t want to screw that up.
SW: I just reordered your diet. I pulled a few things out, added a few things in, and I imagine your energy went up and your pounds went down.
SOS: My cravings went down, and my satiation went up, and yes – and I’m seeing my abs pop again! The key is not feeling deprived when you change your diet, and wanting to eat in this new way because it’s just as satisfying as the old way.
SW: I think it starts out with your choice in the morning. If you start your day on the wrong foot, it’s going to throw you off for the rest of the day. Like if you wake up and you’re craving carbs – maybe it’s during your cycle, or you had a hard workout the night before – it’s really about choosing the right carbohydrate.
SOS: So what foods do you recommend for breakfast?
SW: For my clients who are trying to lose weight, I would rather they get that carbohydrate from a banana or fruit, than a piece of whole grain toast or a bowl of oatmeal.
SOS: Why is that? Those foods sound so healthy.
SW: They are, but the reason is it’s going to set you up for a stabilized level of blood sugar throughout the day – and efficient elimination. But you have to ask yourself what kind of day do you have ahead. If you are going to a SoulCycle class, a simple carb like fruit will get you through, but if you are doing a high-intensity boot camp workout or strength training, you may need something more complex.
SOS: Regardless of how I’ve changed my diet this summer, when I go skiing next winter I’m still going to have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, because I need those complex carbs to power me through the morning.
SW: Exactly, but the oatmeal should be properly combined. Don’t have it with fruit or you’ll clog the runway, so to speak. Combine it with almond or coconut milk, and maybe some raw sprouted nuts. Overnight oats are an even better option.
SOS: What’s the difference?
SW: They’re not cooked, so you get all the nutrients. You can just put oats in a bowl, pour in some plant based milk, maybe add chia seeds, and a little maple syrup if you want. Put them in the fridge at night, and in the morning you’re ready to go. I also like sprouted grain toast as an option, or even better, sourdough. It’s fermented so it digests more easily.
SOS: You’ve mentioned food combining. Many of us remember the bestselling book, Fit for Health, which made it such a huge diet trend in the 80’s. What is food combining exactly?
SW: Food combining by definition is separating protein and starches. Fruit should always be eaten on its own. Your body has enzymes to break down protein and enzymes to break down starches. When those two enzymes are together, they have a bit of a battle, and that’s what slows digestion. Because fruit ferments quickly in the digestive tract, it does not play nice with either.
SOS: Why has this diet trend stuck for you?
SW: I got into this lifestyle because I was dealing with my own health crisis. I hired a holistic nutritionist who put me on an elimination diet. She pulled out all the inflammatory foods like dairy, gluten, and sugar. I stopped drinking caffeine and alcohol. One of the things she made me do was food combine. Within two weeks I was a different person. This is part of the reason I became a wellness coach and nutritionist. Now when I really want to get lean – like let’s get superficial for a second – to get skinny and look good in a dress, I will hardcore food combine. It just works.
“If once a week you go out and have a piece of bread from the bread basket… big deal. It’s better than telling people they can never have the bread at a restaurant. Then they feel guilty when do. It’s just not realistic – or very fun!”
SOS: When you’re working with clients to lose weight by changing how and what they’re eating, do they struggle with those changes? Do you find this approach of food as fuel works?
SW: I think the answer is twofold. I want people to understand that food is fuel. I also want them to have a burger if they want it — but not every day. People are coming to me to reach a goal. They are already in the mindset of wanting to change. They’re already at the point where they’re sick of themselves and are like, ‘Sarah, pull me out of this hole. What do I do?’
SOS: Although I would argue everyone is when they start a diet. How do you keep that momentum going when they start to drop some weight and feel less desperate?
SW: I never use the word diet. It is truly a lifestyle shift. We all have moments when we slip up- and it’s okay. This is real life. Sometimes you look on Instagram and you see people you think are so perfect all the time and it’s just not true. I don’t judge. We just get back on track. I always say consistency wins.
SOS: If you’ve had weight issues, foods like pizza, ice cream, and burgers have become “cheat foods”. Our brains have gotten so screwed up about food and I think the ultimate challenge is rewiring that. If once a week you go out and have a piece of bread from the bread basket… big deal. It’s better than telling people they can have the bread at a restaurant. Then they feel guilty when do. It’s just not realistic – or very fun!
SW: My approach is during the week is to look at food as fuel — like you’re an athlete in training. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you have to get through the day and perform. Then on the weekend it’s okay to go off and indulge a little bit.
SOS: A mom taking care of her kids all day requires as much energy and focus as a CEO running a corporation. And the patience you have to have! If you’re cranky or tired because you’re not eating right, that’s not going to be so great when your two-year-old is driving you crazy.
SW: Intermittent fasting with a two-year-old is a joke!
SOS: I love this conversation – both the physiological and psychological approach to eating. Whether it’s losing weight, or training for a marathon, it’s the same. Healthy eating becomes the thing you want to do because you feel so much better. When you’re eating foods that are both satisfying and satiating it’s effortless, and your body becomes more efficient calorie burning machine — just like those athletes in training!
FOR MORE NUTRITION TALK WITH SARAH WRAGGE: