One of the side effects of working the night shift is trying to find information to track your nutrition that is geared toward our specific circumstances. Not to mention the more you learn about eating right the more you find it is harder to sort through it all. I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called “What the Health” and it led me to the understanding that nutrition is more of a fluid constantly evolving and changing idea. I didn’t agree with many of the points in the documentary for the reasons it promoted one side of the story but that isn’t what this article is about. What I wanted to cover this week is more based on the universal idea that if you are going to choose to be healthy than “You can’t track what you don’t measure.” And by measure I mean you need to learn to track your nutrition.
Choose A Diet that works for You
With the overload of diets out there it is hard not to become overwhelmed with the information. Over the years I have subscribed to a few different philosophies of eating as well as a few ways to track your nutrition. When I first started on the path to being healthier I had a paid subscription to Men’s Health and each month when the magazine came I would clip articles from them on eating a certain way. I didn’t completely have a plan in mind but I began to learn what was healthy and what wasn’t. We have all probably taken some sort of health class in our life so the information isn’t totally alien to us. But if you strictly follow the governments own dietary pyramid you really might find yourself a little misguided. That said I learned one very hard truth over the years that I still struggle with to this day. Eating healthy is more of a mental game than about the food you eat. Once you have grasped what is healthy and what isn’t healthy it really is simply a matter of sticking to it. It is the sticking part that is the hardest. Especially harder when you work the night shift and you food options are greatly diminished. However, on the positive side of things, it is much harder to binge eat a McDonald’s burger if McDonald’s is closed. I posted previously about the current diet trend I follow, but the key is that I follow, you really need to learn what works for you, and what you will stick to.
Two diets that I very strongly believe in and support fully for a healthy lifestyle are Paleo or Primal. Both are very similar in their template while Primal is a little looser. I tend to go back and forth with both and as long as I stick to them I am able to remain strong, lean, and better yet have energy.
The Paleo diet essentially allows lean meats, fish, veggies, some fruit, tree nuts (not peanuts) and seeds, little starch, and no sugar. This excludes… grains, legumes, white potatoes, dairy, and corn. Think about it this way… the things that are excluded are the food items that people are more often allergic to or just have issues digesting. White potatoes and corn just turn into sugar.
The primal plan allows foods like the Paleo diet but includes some dairy. Such as creams, butter, Greek yogurts, and some cheese (but don’t go overboard).
I have posted previously about the Paleo style of eating so I won’t cover that here. But if you want to go back and read more about it then you can go here. The key take away from these two ways of eating is that it is less about the calorie and more about what is in your food.
The Downfalls of Most Diets
Most popular daily diets look at overall calories as the main factor in weight loss and weight gain. Most diet gurus generally prescribe a one-size-fits-all breakdown of fats, protein, and carbs. A classically trained Registered Dietician will tell you that protein should be around 10-15% of calories, carbs should be 60% (and mostly from whole grains) and fat under 30%. This macronutrient breakdown stays the same regardless of how much weight you need to lose or what other goals you might have. Using the calorie as a method of tracking might be well and good for the short term in getting you started but it will begin to fall apart on math alone in the long haul. The human body uses these macronutrients for a variety of different functions, some of which are structural and some of which is simply to provide energy. Diets that fail to take into consideration your bodies natural homeostasis regulator, hormones, will more than likely fail. That is why you should pay more attention to the quality of what you’re eating and less to the quantity. That isn’t to say the quantity doesn’t have a role, but it is far less important than it has been made out to be. I find the reasoning behind this is people want something to track, and then perhaps something to blame. The other issue is that many diets push cutting things, even the Paleo diet does this. As soon as your told you can’t eat something you instantly start to crave that thing.
Track Your Nutrition the Right Way
I usually geek out of tracking what I put into my body. Sometimes I will spend a little more time than I should on it instead of just trusting what I am eating is healthy. I have tried a few different trackers over the years and each has come with its own pros and cons. One key thing you need to understand when you start tracking though is your body is like a thermostat. It wants to maintain its comfortable temperature. For example, if say your body is comfortable at 75 degrees. If you suddenly tell you body to get comfortable at 65 it will begin to fight back. Now if you tell your body that this week you want it to be okay at 74, and then next week at 73 it is more likely to listen to you. The reason for this is that your body wants to maintain balance and sudden disruptions to that balance throw it off. Any tracker you decide to use will give you the option to either gain or lose weight based on certain calories. I am not saying to not fill this out but stick to a conservative goal. Only 1lb at the most either way. This will give you a general idea of what you should be eating. Once you have a general idea then you can begin to focus on the macro nutrients, proteins, fats, and carbs, and even deeper the micronutrients.
Two Decent trackers are
- MyFitnessPal I personally have used this tracker for about a year. The app allows members to log food from anywhere and has a food database of 3,282,000 different kinds of foods to choose from (customized recipes can be added to the database), and all changes made via phone are also made on the website. But unfortunately, it still is heavily based on the calorie. It will show you macro breakdown but this isn’t the front and center feature. And the macronutrient breakdown is lacking.
- MyPlate by Livestrong Basically the same as MyFitnessPal but with a slightly nicer Interface and still with the reliance on the calorie.
My personal choice to Track Your Nutrition.
What this app lacks up for in fancy features the other apps have live forums, or social integration, this app more than makes up for in macronutrient tracking. I recently started focusing heavily on trying to up my Vitamin D intake, and I thought I was doing okay, it wasn’t until this app that I found exactly where I was deficient. And then some. When I signed up for it I got some very useful emails that I initially would have just deleted without a second thought. But it was helpful. When you track your foods a lot of apps will use a barcode that will then populate based on the specific brand that you are trying to enter. What this app promotes is instead of telling it what brand of chicken you are trying to eat, just enter chicken. The information contained on labels is limited at best by what either company chooses to list or the government makes them list. Searching for chicken breast instead lets the app know exactly what it is, and then gives you the macro and micro nutrient breakdown. Beyond that, it teaches you as well to move away from products and move more toward real food. If you simply eat 6oz of pasture raised chicken breast and 6 asparagus spears then you are eating real food. Or you can choose to pick out a frozen bag of chicken and asparagus that may be loaded with other things. It also teaches you to eat in season. Eat what is available and fresh to you at the time.
Just check out all of the available information.
If you take one thing away from this entire post it should be that you need to focus on the quality of your food. Focus on the available nutrition in what you eat. If you do that you will not need to slam energy drinks to stay away on the night shift. You will find yourself with more energy than you are probably used to. Whether you choose to track your nutrition or not. It should just be another tool available to you if you choose to use it.