“So, since you work out every day, what’s your diet like?”
This is the question that keeps coming up over and over again — asked by Instagram followers, friends and family alike. When I decided to make fitness a personal commitment and work out every day, people naturally assumed that my diet was going to change.
I became known as the fitness enthusiast friend who is obsessed over her health and fitness. And people expect someone who is serious about fitness to follow some form of restricted diet.
That’s why when I tell them that I eat everything, my answer always evokes a bit of a shock. By everything, I mean literally everything — including carbs, junk food and desserts.
The reason is simple: there is no one-size-fits-all approach — for eating and also for fitness. I know because I learnt the hard way.
I used to follow all sorts of diets blindly, even taking various slimming pills and detox products. That was a different me altogether. Now, I know better than to dive head-first into a diet or magic bullet that whisper promises of solving all my woes.
There is none. Instead, find out what works for you through trial and error: explore the different ways of eating and working out that you will be able to keep on doing for the long-term.
Everyone’s built differently. Maybe you’d feel sluggish and bloated after eating a meal full of carbs. But for others, eating carbs are a source of comfort and their systems are able to digest and break it down so they feel great.
Maybe eating a ketogenic or sirtfood diet makes your energy levels skyrocket and feel amazing. But for others, it could make them dizzy, unsatisfied and hungry all day.
So after going through all this drama, I’ve come to realise a few things that have really worked for me personally — for both my physical and mental well-being. And in this article, I’d like to share them with you.
Either make a diet work for you or just don’t.
I personally do not recommend being on any form of restrictive diet for life. Then again, most of us only do strict diets for thirty days or less anyway — because it’s just so tough (temptations everywhere) and downright inconvenient.
In Singapore, our general life expectancy is about 30,000 days (82.8 years). So thirty days translates to a mere 0.1% of our entire life: hardly enough to make a dent.
Instead, we could pick a diet that makes our body feel good — and maybe make it a yearly affair. For me, I do intermittent fasting occasionally, on and off, for health reasons.
Intermittent fasting (IF) has become one of the most popular diet trends for a while now (you know it’s become mainstream when your Dad and his friends do it too).
There’s been a large body of research from the New England Journal of Medicine supporting the health benefits of fasting — improve biomarkers of disease, reduce oxidative stress, preserve memory and promote learning. When we don’t eat, our body goes to our fat stores for energy — and fatty acids (ketones) are released into our bloodstream. This helps to promote brain functioning.
The premise of intermittent fasting is to put your cells under mild stress, so that they adapt and enhance their capabilities in the process.
Stress is often seen as a negative, but exacting mild stress is perhaps the only way to make something stronger. That’s how fitness works too — by exercising vigorously and stressing our muscles and cardiovascular system, we will grow stronger and fitter.
There is more than one way to do intermittent fasting, but the typical approach is the 16/8 method: fast for 16 hours daily and eat within the 8-hour window. For instance, eat your first meal at 12pm and then your last by 8pm.
Honestly though, IF was pretty uncomfortable for me in the beginning because I was not used to skipping breakfast. But slowly, by the second week, my body got used to it and I actually feel less bloated — even shedding a few kilos in the process!
I don’t mind doing IF occasionally to help regulate my appetite especially after a vacation. While there is good evidence that IF can be effective for weight loss, some studies have shown that intermittent fasting is no more effective than simply eating less.
For me, I will not doing intermittent fasting long-term as I feel that eating everything in moderation and working out regularly is a more sustainable approach — not to mention more fun, too!
Eating carbs is okay.
Before you berate me with things like, “carbs are evil!” or “carb-free is the way to go!”, here’s my disclaimer: I was once — like you — obsessed with following a carb-free diet back in my uni days.
When I tried going carb-free for the first time, my weight went down by 3kg in a week and I was ecstatic! But alas, my weight would shoot up by 5kg by the next — and the fluctuations continued.
I continued on, tempted by the fast results it gave me, even if it came with abnormal weight fluctuations. I didn’t know better then.
In fact, studies have shown that body weight fluctuations are associated with metabolic disorders, increased risk of cardiovascular disease and even risk of mortality.
The lose-gain-lose-gain cycle can for add burden to the cardiovascular system, slow down metabolism, and slowly but surely, make it increasingly difficult to lose weight.
Having personally experienced these cycles, I can attest to this. I remember the day when it stopped working for me: after savagely removing carbs from my diet for two whole weeks, I did not lose a single kilogram.
I’m the kind of person who loves my rice and bread, so I was extremely upset by the fact that I didn’t get anything in return for my “sacrifice”. The mental roller coaster following each lose-gain cycle was real.
After going the long way, I know now that I can still gain strength, build muscles, keep fit and healthy — without torturing myself and give up my favorite carbs. On days when I work out less, I would reduce my carb intake.
I find that this way works really well for me for the long time. Best of all? I don’t have to struggle with my love-hate relationship with carbs any more.
Don’t skip meals.
Contrary to popular belief, studies have in fact showed that instead of losing weight, skipping meals can cause you to actually gain weight.
I used to skip dinner in order to lose weight. Although I did see some results, it was terribly difficult. You see, I was a bit too determined to keep to my weight loss plans at that time.
I would go out for dinner with friends at the restaurant, only to decline all food and drink only water the entire night. I watched greedily as they ate, but refused to eat myself, wielding health as my shield. Just when I patted myself on the back for sticking to my “principles”, I would experience awful hunger pangs (pains) before bed.
And then at other times, I would cave and end up eating a whole lot more than usual. I would then go home feeling bad and beating myself up about it after.
My weight fluctuated madly. I felt tired all the time, physically and mentally.
I finally accepted that skipping dinner was not a sustainable way for me to keep healthy. On the contrary, I felt far from healthy.
Once I stopped skipping meals altogether, I immediately felt better and have never attempted it again. Having meals at regular intervals in moderate proportions has helped me tremendously in achieving not just my fitness goals, but also helped improve my social life, my relationship with food and my happiness.
My top five healthy diet tips
If you’re a foodie like me and want to improve your relationship with food while keeping healthy, here are my personal tips:
- Eat everything and don’t give up anything: I eat carbs (my fav), snacks and desserts.
- Eat less in quantity: I reduce what I normally eat by 30%. As a result, I would be 70% full — i.e. I can still eat but I already feel satisfied and I won’t reach a point where I’m too uncomfortably full and bloated.
- Eat less fried food: For me, I cut down potato chips a lot. I try to load up more on healthier food options like brown rice, vegetables and lean meat, so I would feel satiated and won’t feel like snacking after meals.
- My three tips to reduce (not eliminate!) snacking: 1) pack potato chips in small bags so you won’t feel tempted to just finish the whole bag; 2) keep snacks in high cupboards; 3) buy healthier snack choices, e.g. fruits and Greek yogurt.
- Cut down on sugary drinks as much as possible: Sugary drinks like your usual BBT is usually loaded with a lot of sugar and it’s not natural sugar at that: it’s highly processed. But if you can’t live without bubble tea, opt for 0% sugar and limit to one cup per week.
Like how fitness is a long-term marathon, it’s the same with your diet — it has to be sustainable too. We can’t expect long term lasting results after a mere short sprint.
There is always going to be a newer, “better” diet trend, popularised by media or celebrities. But unless you truly have feel-good effects from following the diet and are ready to commit to it on a longer term basis, it’s unlikely that any results will last.
After all, it’s tiring to chase after diet fads.
It’s okay to not have a diet.
It’s honestly so liberating to eat anything you like — while practising moderation. Try out my tips and let me know if you do! I can’t wait to see you enjoy your food while keeping fit and being the best version of YOU.