Hi, my name is Ariana and I’m addicted to Instagram.
I wake up in the morning and while I wait for my second alarm to go off I scroll through my feed. Before I know it I’ve hit the snooze button twice and I didn’t even get any extra sleep. I often catch myself at multiple times throughout the day opening IG without even being aware of it. The really sad thing? About 50% of the time when I need to open an app that’s on the same screen as Instagram, I automatically open Instagram.
However, there are worse things I could be addicted to. Like porn or crack. I’ve actually found IG to be really helpful on my health and fitness quest. I’ve found some crazy workouts on there, re-created some delicious recipes, and gotten a kick out of funny memes that only a gym rat would understand (curling in the squat rack, anyone?)
I might even be bold and say that Instagram has been an educational tool for me. There. I said it. I see so many posts about different exercise techniques, diet methods, and other health and fitness-y type things I never knew existed until I started using IG. Now that being said, I don’t use Instagram as my sole source of information. I see a post about something and then search for other sources of information, whether it’s the internet, books, magazines, or the knowledge of others. I can honestly say I would know much less about the world of health and fitness than I do now if it wasn’t for Instagram.
Strange how the world works, hey?
Now if there are any other Instagram addicts out there like myself, you may have noticed some trends that occurred over the past few months. When I first got on Instagram, the Paleo and Primal diets were the big thing. They still have their followers (and their ideas still make sense to me), but eating like our early ancestors by eliminating grains, legumes, and dairy (or at least non-grass-fed versions) was quickly replaced by “clean eating”.
The basis of eating clean is eating whole, natural, and unprocessed foods, the way Mama Nature intended food to be. None of this genetically-modified reduced-fat avocado (yes, they exist!), fortified-with-artificial-nutrients-after-real-nutrients-have-been-stripped kinda business. Sounds pretty legit, right? I’m confident in arguing that foods in their natural state are more nutritious than those have have been repeatedly processed, and I don’t believe we’ve been genetically modifying our food long enough to understand the long-term implications. The thing with clean eating though is that there is no standard guideline as to what is considered “clean” and “unclean”. Paleo lays it all out for you; early humans gathered nuts and seeds, therefore nuts and seeds are Paleo. Early humans did not hunt Pop Tarts, therefore Pop Tarts are not Paleo.
But no. Everybody and their mother has a different idea as to what’s clean and what isn’t. Pretty much everyone can agree on the whole and unprocessed foods I mentioned above, and the 7-ingredient rule is pretty common one to follow: if an ingredient has more than 7 ingredients on its label, don’t eat. Many go so far as to say if it even has a label don’t eat it. But beyond that, discrimination in the food world is our oyster. Many say that dairy isn’t clean, so no cheese, milk, or yogurt. Wheat is unclean, so no bread or baked goods unless they are gluten-free, and even then you have to be careful. Non-organic food is unclean. Genetically-modified crops like corn and soy are unclean. Eggs are unclean. Meat is unclean.
What the fuck am I supposed to eat then?
Aside from the obvious lack of clarification in the clean-eating world, there are a few other drawbacks here. Many clean-eaters don’t track their food intake because they feel that because they are eating natural foods they can eat as much as they want. It’s the processed foods that are making us fat! Now I’m not saying everybody needs to open a Myfitnesspal account and start counting their calories every day, but there are two major things wrong with this kind of thinking: #1, nuts, avocados, coconut oil, and other healthy fats are STILL FAT and therefore calorically dense. You can sit on the couch and consume 1000 calories worth of potato chips in one sitting, or you can sit on the couch and consume 1000 calories worth of raw almonds in one sitting. If you’re not using those extra calories, they’re gonna have to go somewhere. And it’s likely going to be your fat cells.
#2. Back to my tracking food intake point, many proponents of clean eating are also very active. Ever heard the “eat clean, train dirty” phrase? Many of those that actually are training dirty, aren’t tracking their food intake, and are only eating chicken breasts the size of their hands with a side of veggies and a 1/4 cup of rice aren’t eating enough to support their training. I track my food not for weight loss purposes, but for sustainability purposes. I may not be an athlete, but if I want to train like one I damn well better eat like one. There’s recent debate on the whole “starvation mode” idea, but it’s one that I believe. If you are consuming substantially less calories than your body expends, it will begin to slow down its metabolic processes so it becomes less efficient at burning calories. You have to work harder to burn more. So people notice a stall in weight loss progress or even *gasp* weight gain! So what do they do? Train harder, eat cleaner and leaner. And the body slows down even more. It’s a dangerous cycle.
ENTER NEW INSTAGRAM TREND: METABOLIC DAMAGE.
I woke up one morning and just like everyone had Binge Eating Disorder (also from clean eating; eating chicken breast, sweet potato, and broccoli 7 times a day would make me binge on 8000 calories worth of shit on the weekend too), everyone all of a sudden had metabolic damage. Restricting the foods they enjoyed which lead to binges combined with excessive cardio caused 1000 of girls to wake up with a damaged metabolism. I don’t know the real science behind metabolic processes and how long it actually takes to damage your metabolism, but I have a feeling that eating and doing cardio like a robot for two months won’t give you metabolic damage, but that’s just my opinion.
So of course something had to come in to save the day and fix everybody’s metabolisms! IIFYM, or If It Fits Your Macros, made its debut some time ago, but it really gained popularity after many people realized that eating a typical bodybuilder’s diet is unsustainable for the long-term. The idea behind IIFYM is that we all have a general number of calories we should be consuming on a daily basis that varies with our age, activity level, and genetics. Those calories should be filled with the appropriate blend of protein, carbs, and fats that again is individualized. There are numerous equations out there you can use to ESTIMATE your daily caloric expenditure, and then as long as you know that 1 gram of carbohydrates is equal to 4 calories, 1 gram of protein is 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat is 9 calories, you’re set to start following your macronutrient intake! You want 50% of your calories to come from carbs? Divide the number of calories you want to eat per day by 2, then divide that number 2, then that number by 4. That’s how many grams of carbs you should be eating. Make sense?
The nice thing about IIFYM is that as you track your food for the day you can work in treats here and there as long as you’re still hitting your micronutrient goals. ie. getting enough fiber, vitamins, iron, etc. Got a couple hundred calories left at the end of the day? Eat a Pop Tart. Want to go to Chipotle for dinner tonight? Eat the body builder diet during the day and save up your macros! But as nice as this sounds, like all things, IIFYM has its drawbacks as well. The main one being that the average person doesn’t want to track their food intake! And fair enough. It really isn’t that time consuming, but for many it’s not seen as sustainable for the long-term. We also have to be realistic here. I love white cheddar popcorn. And I know that there is no way in hell that if I save some room for a serving of it at the end of my day that I’m going to stop at just that one serving. I don’t have Binge Eating Disorder. I’m just human.
So what’s the best way to eat, if all of these ways have flaws? Well , the vague answer is that it depends on your goals. Are you eating for health? For athleticism? For abs? For just plain enjoyment? Our diets are very personal and individual, and what is considered healthy is relative to your place in life at that specific time. Somebody eating purely for digestive health would have an EXTREMELY different diet than an endurance athlete. That same endurance athlete would have a completely different diet than a body builder. Right now I’d say that a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder is not healthy, and that a side of roasted vegetables is. However, let’s pretend I was stuck in a kayak in English Bay for 2 weeks. When I finally made it back to land, that Quarter Pounder would definitely be healthier option for me, in terms of providing energy, than would a side of vegetables. Get where I’m going here?
You need to find something that will work for you and your goals! It may be one of, a combination of, or none of the above. The whole “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” thing really does apply here. What’s going to get you where you want to be, while at the same time allowing you to keep your sanity? I’m sure that if for the past year I only ate egg whites, chicken, white fish, and steamed green vegetables I’d be shredded right now. But would I be happy? Definitely not. I tried the Paleo thing in stages but it didn’t work for me. I love oats and yogurt too much. I did the strictly clean eating thing for awhile (with my own definitions as to what was clean and what wasn’t of course) and found my cravings for junk food to be really high. So about 6 months ago I decided to start following IIFYM and haven’t looked back. About 80-90% of my diet still consists of the foods I consider to be clean, and some days I inadvertently eat Paleo by not consuming any grains or dairy by accident, and then if I want things like pizza, or a cookie, or dessert, I make room for it. And sometimes I don’t make room and just eat it anyway. And I’m still reaching my goals.
I’m going to be a broken record and again say FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU! Are you loosing sleep trying to think of what unclean foods you ate during the day because you don’t track your food intake? Well a lack of sleep can raise cortisol levels, which can increase fat levels. And if you’re eating for fat loss, you better think about making some changes. I’m by no means an expert on any of this; I’ve done lots of research and lots of self-experimenting. I’m happy to point you in the right direction, however ultimately you know your body best, and deep down you know what you need to do!
So I’m curious to know…have you found a way to eat that has allowed you to sanely reach your goals? Do you have any crazy diet stories you’d like to share? I’d love to hear!