I keep saying this during conversations with clients, friends and strangers (pro tip – when you meet people while out for dinner or at a party, don’t tell them you’re a trainer unless you wanna hear their excuses for eating bad food in front of you. Ps – I don’t care, eat drink and be merry!). The conversation starts with how someone is trying to cut something out of their diet or is trying to eat better in general. We talk about what foods you can use to curb cravings or keep hunger at bay. By the end I always end up saying the same thing – food should be boring.
Variety is blessing and a curse. We can use it to maximize our nutrition by adding all sorts of fruits and vegetables for a wider range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. But we can also become a slave to change. If we don’t know how to use herbs and spices and bring new life to old staples, then the healthy meals we eat become dull. This inevitably leads us to using foods that appeal to our tongues more than anything else, like sugar, salt and fats (the deep fried kind). When in doubt, deep fry it! Am I Right? No! That was a trick question!
We have made an art form out of pleasing our taste buds by exploiting our tendency for fatty or sugary foods that long ago would replenish much needed nutrition and energy reserves during times of rarity. It’s an amazing feat really – the highly manipulated use of foods to mesmerize nations into quiet acceptance of illness – mass suicide by muffins, also known as breakfast cake.
It’s not fun to eat the same thing for lunch everyday. Trust me I get it. I love going out to eat, I truly enjoy trying new foods or new combinations and I occasionally indulge in the fatty, sweet and salty goodness that tempts everyone else. But here’s the thing, food isn’t supposed to be fun. Its meant to sustain, nourish and build community. I do think that cooking and eating together is important. Removing this part of the equation will again push us towards fast food. When we don’t know how to cook, when we grow up without the knowledge of what is good for us, or where it comes from then we end up forgoing the whole thing.
The food itself can still taste good. But it shouldn’t have to tantalize our taste buds every gosh darn meal. I truly believe we all need to find a way to live with boring – to live with less. One of the best results from trying intermittent fasting for me was to remember what it was like to be hungry. Truly hungry. I mean, I’ve been hungry here and there but rarely has it been so apparent. I usually get to the point where my body says ‘hey, I think you’re forgetting something” but not the “For the love of god, feed us” point. It puts things into perspective. It awakens this deep genetic imprint, a feeling and reaction that our ancestors lived with on a fairly regular basis. It reminds me of how many people at this very moment don’t have enough food. Those people don’t give a damn about variety, they just want to survive.
I’m not saying that we need to return to this extreme. Don’t starve yourself and don’t limit your diet to bugs and mushrooms (sounds kinda good though). But cycling your meals on a weekly or even monthly basis is a good place to start. This is very effective for weight maintenance. Why? It allows your body to balance. When your nutrition intake is predictable your body can find hormonal balance, your digestive, lymphatic and immune systems work better and cognition and mood stabilizes. Of course, this is only true if you are eating foods that have enough vitamins and minerals and fuel your activity level. But we can figure this out a lot easier if you eat the same things. If you change your meals up all the time then its harder to track where/when your deficiencies are coming from.
If you want to lose weight, eat the same meals every day. Want to bulk up? Same thing. Are you trying to balance your hormones to get pregnant? Same same! Is it boring? Hell yes it is! But I really think it does us all some good to bring it back to boring.
The key to avoid committing crimes in the name of boredom is to cycle your meals. Start with 1 week. Plan out your meals for the entire week. Keep them simple so that your prep and cooking time isn’t insane. For example, I make a bean salad every week. I eat it at lunch and dinner. The size of the portion depends on whether I have something else prepped or not. Sometimes its a side and sometimes its a main. Here is the recipe –
- 1 cucumber
- 2 bell peppers (different colors)
- 2 cans of beans (Kidney and black)
- 1/2 cup of olive slices (black and green)
- 1/2 avocado (I add this after, so I get this amount each serving)
- Small amount of Feta (optional)
- juice of 1/2 lemon
With this super simple meal, I get plenty of protein, fiber, slow carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients and it’s cheap! Yes, if I made a baby with my girlfriend it would probably come out as a bean but I’ve become accustomed to this meal as a major staple of my diet and my digestive system loves this. When I remove it from my diet everything goes wonky.
I usually don’t eat this on the weekends. This seems to be a good cycle for me I get a bit of variety a couple days each week but the rest of the month(s) its the same. I actually look forward to it now! For those of my clients that are trying to lose weight (and we are on a macronutrient counting phase) keeping the same meals on rotation makes this whole process so much easier. We count everything out once and then they just repeat the same portion. If I try and get someone to count macros on a “free diet” it inevitably fails. Without mild OCD, almost no one can keep up this attention to detail for several weeks or months.
So, Is this sustainable? We have been reprogrammed to expect change and eat according to taste. I think it is if you don’t take it to an extreme. If you can cycle your foods 80% of the time and then allow for days or weeks where you focus on variety then you will be doing well. Once you’ve figured out your meals and taken into consideration adequate levels of macro and micronutrients you can rest easy knowing everything is accounted for and all you need to do is eat and move on. The time spent searching for a recipe is no longer an issue, you won’t be as tempted to fill your meals with easy carbs and before you know it your weight will begin to shift. As always though, if you have intense fitness goals, then you may need to be more consistent than 80%. If you don’t know how to manage your nutrients, hire someone to set out a plan for you.
Before you begin, find about 10 recipes that you really like. Try them out, experiment with spices and cooking methods to see what you enjoy the most but remember, keep it simple. Scrambled eggs are an easy breakfast. You can add vegetables and spices such as turmeric to keep things interesting. Try adding some heat! Spicy dishes release endorphins. If you find the right amount this may make a boring baked chicken into something you look forward to!
Example week for a moderately active client of mine. Portions will change for each oerson so I have not included measured amounts here.
- Breakfast – 1 piece of Kamut toast with avocado & 3 scrambled eggs 1 serving of fruit (alternating the type of fruit daily) – for slight changes of flavor they alternate between adding chili powder, turmeric, or just salt and pepper to the eggs. The kinds of veggies they add to their scrambled eggs depend on whats in their fridge but the base meal stays the same.
- Lunch – Cucumber, mushroom and tomato salad with spinach, kale, flax seeds, feta and entire can of tuna. Big portion. On training days, they add avocado and a turkey burger they prepared earlier in the week (no bun)
- Grass fed beef tacos and baked vegetables – 1 on a wheat tortilla and 1-2 others on a lettuce shell with hot sauce and a light sprinkle of yeast to give it a cheesy flavor. We alternate this with a black bean “sloppy joe” mix for weeks where they want to eat a more vegan diet.
- Snacks – nuts – change the type of nut regularly. Veggies and humus, fruit
1 day per week is a variety day – Anything goes as long as they stick to the same portions of macronutrients and include lots of vegetables. We switch up the meal plan every 2 weeks as that seems to be this clients’ particular threshold of food boredom.
Trust me, if you want results you need consistency and the easiest way to remain consistent is by keeping it simple and dropping your need for variety. Sometimes boring is best!