What Does it Mean to Have Sustainable and Consistent Nutrition and why is it important?
Eating in a sustainable and consistent manner is a way to show kindness to your body and hold yourself accountable to a healthy self – physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. It doesn’t matter if you lose weight in 3 months if you’re going to regain it (plus more) after. All the weight cycling can be damaging and stressful to our bodies.
Our nutrition coaching philosophy at IronMVMNT is long-term focused and centered on what is realistic.
While we do 12-week cuts and masses for athletes, we also take time for the most important, and more underrated part of a nutrition plan – Maintenance.
As nutrition coaches, we strive to be what some may call “nutritionally agnostic.” Meaning that we recognize there is no single best diet or way to eat.
What is healthy and sustainable for one person might look much different for another person. There are some foundations that don’t change from person to person, but there is a lot of room for preference and biological and biochemical needs that vary.
There are many factors that play into someone’s intake, but we’ve identified a few areas that are key to sustainable and consistent energy that most people aren’t talking about!
1. Eating Patterns that Work with Your Biological Needs & Goals
Hormones are an important piece of the puzzle to consider when creating a meal plan, but unfortunately aren’t always taken into consideration.
Your nutrition plan should be able to support stable energy without experiencing an energy high followed by a relatively quick drop (often referred to as riding the blood sugar roller coaster).
Even sleep has an impact on our hormones and cravings, which can spiral into even more hormone concerns. If someone is consistently getting poor sleep, their hunger and satiety hormone levels aren’t going to be optimal – often feeling more hungry and taking more food to feel satisfied.
Your nutrition plan should provide enough fuel needed for your activity levels and performance goals.
At times, especially in the beginning, we might shift more towards a cut, and sometimes a mass, but most of the time, the focus should be on creating a doable maintenance nutrition plan that aligns with activity levels and performance goals.
Regardless of your lifestyle, your nutrition should support you with energy, whether you’re chasing PRs or kiddos, or both.
Eating patterns should also align with the physical energy you have to prepare whatever food you need (or have a plan of care to use when you don’t have the time or energy). If you come home from work starving and low on energy, it’s going to be pretty challenging to make a balanced meal at that point if your meal plan is too complicated with preparation needs. But if you have some healthy meal components on hand that are relatively easy to prepare you can reduce the risk of unpredictable or erratic eating.
We need to take a realistic look at your energy levels and create a plan you can do and a plan to fall back on. Whether that means prepping a few major macro staples on the weekend, using a meal prepping service, or another game plan is based on the individual.
Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) also fits into eating patterns that support biological needs and goals. MNT is defined by the CDC as a “nutrition-based treatment provided by a registered dietitian nutritionist.” It includes “a nutrition diagnosis as well as therapeutic and counseling services to help manage diabetes,” and other nutrition-related conditions. At IronMVMNT, our RDN may provide MNT depending on need and location of athlete.
2. Eating Patterns that Work with Your Routine & Environment
A plan that supports your health and goals is great, but only if you can implement it on a regular basis. Sure, we might need to shift around some priorities to prepare meals, but it should still be regularly doable in your normal energy and time bandwidth.
You don’t need to spend all day doing #sundaymealprep in order to eat well throughout the week. Instagram can be a little intimidating at times with pictures of perfectly prepped meals all spread out, but you don’t need to do that! And while your eating patterns may need to be a little extra individualized and intentional if you have long days or irregular schedules, it’s still possible to eat well and in line with goals if you have a plan for those seasons in your life.
Consistent and sustainable eating patterns also need to take into account the environment of your kitchen, cooking abilities and appliances, and even storage space. If your refrigerator is consistently pretty full for a big family, it’s probably not realistic to think you’re going to prep every individual meal container for the whole week on Sunday.
Overall environment, both inside and outside the home is also something often overlooked in nutrition coaching. Inside the home, family support (or lack thereof) can easily make or break nutrition goals when starting out.
Outside support in places like work and around friends is also important while building healthy habits.
Eventually, we can get to a place where we don’t need as much support to eat well, but it is pretty important in the beginning stages of working on healthy, long-term nutrition goals for many people.
3. Emotional Hunger, Mental Energy Stamina, & Relationship with Food & Self
This part of the picture is usually the most challenging and one of the most common areas that keep people from their nutrition-related goals.
There is a ton to unpack but let’s break down the biggest pieces.
There are many reasons why someone might eat beyond their biological needs for energy and health. A common one is when true hunger occurs and that person just doesn’t have the opportunity to eat a healthy meal or snack at the early and middle stages of hunger. For most people, this situation leads to intense hunger and accidental overeating while trying to find anything to eat (which usually isn’t vegetables and lean protein). This is the ravenous eating some people experience after getting home later than expected or those who don’t have balanced food available. This can be a pretty regular occurrence for some. At the point of ravenous hunger, carbs are usually the first choice even though it usually backfires. The body is smart and knows that is the quickest macronutrient to break down for energy!
Emotional hunger is another reason someone might eat beyond their true energy needs. Sometimes, we find it easy to cope with food because it provides feelings of safety and comfort. It’s something tangible, something we can physically feel that can help take our mind off things, and it’s something that can trigger happier times/memories and chemically make us feel better.
Surprisingly, there are many pros to emotionally charged eating (if there weren’t any, we wouldn’t do it), but sometimes the cons outweigh them, and only then can we begin to make a change to minimize it. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with linking emotions with eating, and it isn’t always a problem. It all comes down to having a healthy relationship with food that supports you and your health (physically and mentally).
Growing a healthy relationship with food is scary and uncomfortable for many. And if it were easy to regain, everyone would have done it already.
A healthy relationship with food has a several values that a normal healthy relationship between people does. While there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, there are values and areas where we can focus and work on.
1) There needs to be trust that your body will give you the appropriate cues regarding hunger and fullness, trust of the body to feel those cues, and trust of the mind to recognize, acknowledge, and interpret those cues appropriately. This can take years, especially if cues have been suppressed and/or overridden by over-stimulating foods engineered and designed to be difficult to stop eating.
Mutual Respect & Good Communication
2) There also needs to be mutual respect of food, your body, and your mind and ability to take them all into consideration and have 3) good communication of mind and body into a dynamic interplay of instinct, emotion, and rational thought regarding nutrition choices.
4) Honesty in cravings is also a big deal. What’s really triggering them? What will soothe those cravings? Writing out the pros and cons of soothing with that specific food requires a great deal of honesty. Many people feel shame around their cravings, so being honest and digging into those cravings can be uncomfortable.
5) Support is also important in a healthy relationship. Creating plan for nourishment is important, as there are times, like when under chronic or intense stress, intense training, or illness, when we can’t rely on hunger cues alone to adequately nourish our body. It requires some intentional thought beforehand when you’re feeling well rather than waiting until you’re experiencing those times. Creating a care plan to use when needed can even look like meal planning for the week to come in order to give your body and mind the best chance at nourishment.
6) Just as a healthy relationship with people, having a healthy relationship with food can also incorporate playfulness. Eating doesn’t always need to be centered on the “food is fuel” idea. It’s ok to have fun and enjoy foods with healthy boundaries that take into account trust, honesty, and mutual respect into consideration.
Your mental energy stamina is also something to be aware of when focusing on long-term consistency.
Just as physical energy is needed to prepare food, mental energy is also needed to choose those foods and prepare them as well as when reflecting on data from the day.
That data (which can include wins and perceived fails) is going to give you a hint at what the next step/game plan might be in order to create a more individual plan. Imagine what you would want in a helpful coach or treat yourself as you would a friend – holding someone accountable but still showing grace and helping your growth.
It’s also important to recognize the grey in nutrition and health, even if you aren’t comfortable with it yet. Getting away from all or nothing, black and white nutrition beliefs can be a very healthy thing.
4. Taste and & Food Preferences
Even if you choose foods and an eating pattern that supports all the points above, it won’t matter if you don’t like the food you’re eating. Remember, we’re thinking long-term here.
We mentioned earlier that food is fuel, but it’s so much more. And it’s 100% ok to enjoy your food. In fact, it’s vital for long-term consistency.
We don’t want to take away the fun and joy that food can bring. This can be a little confusing for some because we tend to link “fun” and “joy” to foods that are usually referred to as “junk”. But highly nutritious food can also be fun and bring joy too.
Having variety in meals is important for most people to avoid taste bud burnout, so experimenting with different styles of cooking and a variety of seasonings are a way to keep things interesting and ensure a wide variety of micronutrient (vitamins, minerals, phytochemical) intake.
We do acknowledge that there will be some seasons in life where keeping the variety to a minimum is encouraged to reduce decision fatigue and increase consistency.
Some people come to us with a limited willingness to broaden food variety due to taste preferences. However, we do see taste bud turnover and subsequent adaptation to healthier foods once making healthier changes. Having some clients begin to crave vegetables just because of their dietary changes is one of the coolest things!
Wrapping up, all areas we mentioned are nuanced and can be more thoroughly explored. Our other blog posts are focused on one topic. The goal of this article is to give a birds eye view so our readers can see how everything fits together.
If you want to get off the dieting roller coaster and finally have a plan that you can do consistently (not perfectly), then be sure to grab our Meal Prep Cheat Sheet that outlines key areas in this blog and provides some powerful “how-to” tips to get started on a healthy and consistent meal planning framework so you can stop the frustration around dieting and have the freedom and energy to power through the day and show up as more authentically yourself without being controlled by food and cravings.