21DFX – Days Thirteen through Fifteen

21DFX - Day Thirteen through FifteenAs promised, no more daily workout diary on this program. Instead, I’m going to talk about a much bigger component of fitness, health, weight loss and all that other hoopla – nutrition.

21DFX and it’s predecessor, 21DF, are unique in the world of home fitness programs in that the nutrition component isn’t just a pamphlet or guide book easily ignored or discarded. It’s a system that’s designed to educate the user about appropriate portions and macronutrients without making their eyes glaze over and their brains shut down in a desperate effort to avoid learning something new (seriously, admit it, if you’re over 30 that’s pretty much what you always do unless someone is paying you to expand your horizons – or threatening to fire you if you don’t).

So, why’s this important? Because, as our grandparents tried to tell us, you are, quite simply, what you eat.

Now, this grandmotherly bit of folk wisdom does have its drawbacks. In particular, it helped to promote the unfortunate connection made by the US government, the AMA and plenty of other well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) folks in the 1980s who encouraged us to believe that dietary fat was the same thing as body fat – that if you ate one you became the other, in spite of the fact that this ignores the basic biochemistry involved in digesting food and runs counter to millennia of adapted human nutrition (bear with me, I’ll stop with the nerd-speak in a minute).

Suffice to say, eating dietary fat does not make you fat. Overeating and undermoving makes you fat.

If you want big and/or strong muscles you need to do three things:

  1. Exert yourself with sufficient intensity to produce enough stress on your existing muscle fibers that they strain and tear (in microscopic ways) which will stimulate your body to rebuild them, stronger and denser than they were before.
  2. Eat a nutritionally rich diet that provides sufficient protein (the raw material your muscles, organs and connective tissues are built from), carbohydrate (the near-term fuel your body will use to allow you to perfect the exertion mentioned in #1 above), dietary fat (the longer term fuel that will allow for extended exertion, as well as the building blocks of the hormones that regulate all your cellular processes, and the means to dissolve critical micronutrients like vitamins A, D, E and K) and plenty of necessary micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
  3. Get plenty of sleep (which is when your body does that rebuilding that makes you stronger, faster, more agile, etc.).

Seems simple, huh? It is. And it isn’t.

It is because it’s common sense that people have known for centuries, even when they didn’t know the details of the biochemistry behind it. Farmers knew it. Generations of men and women who worked every day using their bodies to provide for their families knew they needed to eat well to be able to work well. Things seem to have gotten goofed up when most people started working in buildings instead of in fields.

I’m not one of those reactionaries who pines over the bygone days of human beings being somehow magically more connected to the earth. First, I’m more of a punk rocker than a hippie (to be honest, hippies give me hives). Second, the modern world IS a big improvement over the past. We do, however, seem to have made a mess of our food system, and most people simply have no idea how to feed themselves properly anymore.

This is where Autumn Calabrese’s 21DFX and 21DF nutrition plan come to the rescue. I started using the 21 Day Fix portion plan last year when my wife got the program. At first I was super-skeptical, but as I waded into it I realized how clever the whole thing is. Every person I know who has used it has had the same reactions:

  • That’s a lot of food, I don’t know if I can eat all that in a day.
  • Um, I have never eaten that many vegetables in one day.
  • So, that’s what a portion of pasta actually looks like?

There’s no magic at work here. There is no trick to this. It is simply about getting to understand that the average plate of food for most Americans contains an overabundance of calorie dense and nutrient poor stuff like pasta or rice, that we, none of us, are eating enough vegetables and fruit and that we are cramming what protein and dietary fats we do get into one big meal at the end of the day.

The other big revelation… even for me, a self-described nutrition geek… was that our biggest problem, and the main reason why so many Americans are overweight, have health problems related to their diets and suffer from other lifestyle ailments is that we eat mindlessly.

When I started my fitness journey – which is a nice way of saying when I started trying to stop being a fat, out of shape guy who found walking more than few blocks painful, and who, if chased by a bear would be easily caught and eaten by said bear – I started working on being much more mindful about what I ate, but even at my peak of managing it on my own I was still pretty mindless compared to the level of mindfulness that 21DFX and 21DF impose.

Now, that’s not to say you need to carry brightly colored containers with you everywhere for the rest of your life. I found that after using the containers for a couple of months the knowledge of portions has become something I can eyeball very well, and I became much more conscious of what I should be eating. I do find though that I need to rein myself in every few months with a refresher, so having the containers is nice.

To sum up – if you want to be fit and healthy, and maintain that in a sustainable way, you need to get a handle on nutrition, period.

The often quoted phrase says you cannot outrun or out-lift a bad diet, and if you’re interested in fitness and health you have probably accepted that. The question is, do you really know what a good diet looks like? Do you know what to eat and how much to support your goals?

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