It’s hard to say who first uttered the words “you are what you eat” but whoever it was really hit the nail on the head. The smart money is on Hippocrates, the ancient Greek who is attributed to kick starting the concept of modern medicine but, whoever it was, they were one smart cookie!
Assuming this utterance predates our knowledge of biochemistry, it’s quite amazing to think that someone figured out the effect that food has on our very molecules.
When you eat, the food you consume is broken down into its constituent parts. Protein is broken down into amino acids, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, and fats are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol.
Once broken down to their base level, the nutrients can then be utilized by the various systems of your body. In essence, whatever you eat becomes part of you hence the truism you are what you eat.
If what we eat becomes part of us, surely it makes sense to eat the most nutritious foods possible and keep the consumption of nutrient-devoid junk food to a minimum. Lots of us put the best quality oils and fuels into our cars in an effort to promote performance and longevity and then routinely fuel our own bodies with food that supplies energy but nothing else.
Poor fuel or oil in a car can result in mechanical breakdown which results in expensive repair bills necessitating the need for spare parts. Unfortunately, when our bodies break down, it’s not so easy to just slot in a new part. Poor nutrition can affect any number of the systems that support life – it’s a case of eat junk, look, feel and function like junk.
Does this mean you have to live a life devoid of junk food and can never enjoy a Twinkie or candy bar again? Of course not! However, if you want to eat for health and/or performance, you should endeavor to eat well at least 90% of the time.
This 10% leniency means that once or twice a week, you can enjoy the foods that are commonly thought of as being unhealthy safe in the knowledge that they will have very little impact on your health or fitness. This doesn’t give you license to over indulge in junk food – remember 10% is 10% of your total food consumption for the week.
This type of strategy means that no food is ever taboo and, as such, means you should have no trouble sticking to a healthy eating plan 90% of the time. Plan your treats, look forward to them and then really savor and enjoy them – you’ll deserve them!
To further minimize any potential damage from your 10% indulgencies, time your treats so that you exercise hard before your chow down on Pizza on Friday night. If you have trained hard enough, your body will be literally craving food and will make use of the calories you ingest. This means you can really have your cake and eat it, contrary to the popular expression that says you can’t!
This 10% rule makes sticking to a healthy eating plan much easier. No one likes being told they cannot eat certain foods and doing so is all-but guaranteed to cause cravings. As soon as you are told “you cannot eat this food”, that’s the exact food you crave – even if you didn’t want it in the first place. This is human nature and is as common in kids as it is in adults.
The secret to long term dietary success is embracing a pattern of eating that is sustainable and, in my opinion and that of numerous nutritional gurus, allowing yourself 10% latitude per week allows just that.
No food is permanently off the menu, merely consumed in moderation. If nothing else, giving yourself a break from time to time means that you can err, like all humans do, and not feel bad about it.
And don’t even think of these 10% breaks as being cheating; that suggests you are doing something wrong. Instead think of them as treats that you have earned for good behavior. Calling a meal during which you eat some unhealthy food a cheat gives it a very a very negative connotation and that isn’t a healthy attitude to have about food or nutrition.
You really are what you eat but, that being said, food is supposed to be enjoyable. Enjoy your 10% but remember, you have to earn it by eating nothing but nutritious food 90% of the time. Like my mother used to say, if you don’t eat all your vegetables, you can’t have any ice cream!