Fitness Friday: Live free or diet!

Cameron Spencer

Man seeks to change the foods available in nature to suit his tastes, thereby putting an end to the very essence of life contained in them. -Sai Baba

Welcome back to another edition of Fitness Friday, fight fans, as we gear up for this weekend's UFC on FUEL TV 9 event at the Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, which immediately makes me think of crappy furniture and Swedish meatballs.

Mostly Swedish meatballs.

That's because I love food, making "diet" one of the most frightening words in the English language. To me, dieting is the deprivation of food and well, that shit just ain't gonna happen 'round these parts. So how do I keep myself from ballooning up to 300 pounds?

At one point, I couldn't.

That's because I was like most folks in that I ate when I was happy, as well as when I was sad. When I got fat, I tried to live on salad and dry tuna and became a miserable bastard, then lost 10 pounds of water weight in one week, celebrated with a cheat day and put it all back on by Monday morning.

Sound familiar?

Now that I'm fit and trim, friends and family frequently ask me, "What should I be eating?" And my answer to that is, "I don't have the faintest idea." That may sound unsympathetic to the plight of the heavy, but it's better than being ignorant and thinking "Gee, if they just ate what I ate, they wouldn't be so fat."

It's not that easy.

I developed a healthy eating plan that works for me, but it would probably send a lot of people running for the hills. Is it a smart move to tell a person with peanut allergies to snack on peanut butter? Or to include shredded wheat in a meal plan designed for someone with Celiac disease?

How about giving flax seeds to a dieter with diverticulitis?

It's also unrealistic to think people can regularly eat fish and chicken when the economy sucks. Who can afford to drop $200 at the supermarket every week? And try asking someone with a full-time job to cook a big, healthy dinner every night, or waste a Sunday afternoon whipping up giant portions that will taste like the container they've been rotting in after five days in the refrigerator.

Eating well is an uphill battle.

The only absolute we have in the world of weight management is caloric intake. Too many calories makes you fat. Too few puts your body in starvation mode. In that case, you won't lose weight AND you'll feel like shit. Fun, right? A good meal plan is like a good workout, it's balanced.

Would you go to the gym every day and do nothing but bench presses?

Of course not. So why limit yourself in the kitchen? While I can't tell you what to eat (only you know that), I can tell you how I figured out what works for me. To accomplish this, we'll first need to establish three very basic, but important factors.

Let's start by determining the following:

1. Your daily caloric intake

2. Your weekly food budget

3. Your daily exercise routine (if any)

I keep my caloric intake as close to 2,000 calories daily without going over. I also exercise 5-6 days a week. That may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that as a writer, my ass is glued to an office chair for about 10 hours a day. With a food budget of around $100 a week, I can use basic math to figure out how much I can buy.

Then I hit the supermarket and see what I feel like eating. If the contents in my cart add up to dramatically more (or less) than 14,000 calories for the upcoming week, then I need to reevaluate. Likewise if I'm over budget, but if I'm lucky enough to have money leftover, I'll start upgrading from store brands to name brands.

Oh, hello Chobani.

Anyone who shops for food and doesn't know the difference between what's good versus what's bad is either unable to read or just full of excuses. It's pretty much common sense and for Pete's sake, they have the ingredients right on the labels.

When in doubt, sound it out.

Have you ever been cooking and asked your partner, "Honey, do we have any Titanium Dioxide?" No, so why would you bring it home? Read those labels. I try to use a three-point system. If I can count three different phases a food has undergone before getting into my hands, it's worthless.

See that dirty sweet potato on the produce shelf?

Chances are that's pretty damn close to its original state. That's why fruits and vegetables, organic if possible, should be a big part of your diet. Don't like the taste of broccoli? Work your way down the aisle until you find a green you do like. No, dousing it in butter does not count.

Here's a quick look at what I ate yesterday.

Meal 1:
Cottage cheese (1/2 cup)
Museli (1/2 cup)
Black coffee (1 cup)

Meal 2 (Post workout):
ViSalus Shake (2 scoops)
Coconut milk (8 oz)

Meal 3:
Flank steak (6 oz)
Sweet potato (1/2)
Organic carrots (1 cup)

Meal 4:
Blueberries (1/2 cup)
Almonds (1/4 cup)
Plain Greek yogurt (1 cup)

Meal 5:
Chicken breast (10 oz)
Okra (2 cups)

I try to keep my carbs down in the second half of the day and I'm not afraid of fats, but sugar is my mortal enemy. Sure, I get cravings during the week, but to combat them, I keep a cheat sheet. When a craving strikes, I write it down and tell myself that on my cheat day (Sunday), I can have it.

Having something to look forward to keeps me on track.

Since Sunday is never more than a few days away, I don't feel tempted to give in. What's funny is, when my cheat day eventually rolls around, I often look at the list and think "Yuck, I wanted that?" Usually it's something dumb, like a chili dog at a gas station convenience store.

It's also important to factor in how much exercise you do when determining how much to eat.

On a day I go heavy at the gym, I'll add another meal or drink a second ViSalus shake between meals four and five. Not only can my body afford it, it requires it (I'm burning more calories). Plus, one of the great things about the ViSalus shake is that it's the supplement that isn't a supplement.

Wait, what?

I can't take pills. Just the sight of them puts a lump in my throat. I also don't like those 50 gallon drums of chalky protein powder, adorned with a label depicting a strong guy stabbing a weak guy in the parking lot of Gold's Gym. I get it, you're hardcore, but can I just get some damn nutrition?

The closer I can get to real food, the better.

One of the main reasons I hooked up with ViSalus is the versatility of the shake. Some folks use it strictly for weight loss (two shakes a day plus dinner). I like it post-workout because it's rich in amino acids like luceine, isoleucein and glutamic acid, among others (see the nutrition stats here).

It also has less than one gram of sugar per serving, so I don't have to worry about it screwing up my weight management. No lactose or gluten to make my stomach wonky, either.

On days I don't work out, or when I travel, it's got enough nutrition to replace a meal. If I'm really hungry, I gussy it up with some extras, like PB2 powdered peanut butter paired with a banana and a sprinkle of coffee grinds.

Hey, don't knock it until you try it.

Speaking of, I'd love to hear what you're trying in the kitchen. I know a lot of our readers are healthy eaters, so how about dropping some knowledge in the comments section below? Tips, tricks, recipes, horror stories ... if you got it, I want to hear it.

Bon appetite!

Fitness Friday is sponsored by ViSalus. Opinions expressed are solely of the author. For more information on the ViSalus line of products click here.

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