Hey it’s Kelsey from HIITBURN.
The question for today: Is there a difference between Nutrition for Looks vs. Nutrition for Health + Longevity?
The truth is: It depends.
It all depends on the approach you take, but you CAN have both.
There are some approaches that will give you the look you are after, but is really not good for your long term health. These approaches will give a sort of instant gratification, but long term let down.
There are other approaches that can give you both the looks you are after, and also provide you with long term health benefits. So, let’s dive in.
First let’s talk about an approach that can help you achieve the look you are after, but potentially can have some short falls in the long term. It’s a popular trend right now and it involves counting calories and macronutrients (AKA macros). Some people do find success with counting calories and macros, but with the majority of the population, there are negative outcomes in the long term.
When it comes to losing weight and getting lean, a lot of people have heard that it’s all about “calories in, calories out.” The idea is that you simply have to burn more calories that you are taking in to lose weight. While in theory, it is true that you have to burn more calories than you consume, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Simply counting calories does not take into account how the body metabolizes food. For example, The body metabolizes and uses oatmeal differently than it does Oreos.
You need a variety of food in order to help the body function properly. 2,000 calories of McDonald’s will metabolize differently than 2,000 calories of nutrient dense, whole foods.
Often in counting calories, food quality is disregarded and food choices are reduced down to the types of macronutrients it contains. This is where a lot of “counting macros” comes into play.
There are approaches out there that focus solely on counting the macronutrient content (protein, fats, and carbs) along with calories in order to meet ratio goals for the day. If they hit the ratio of protein, carbs, and fats they are supposed to get and hit the number of calories they are allowed, it doesn’t matter what type of food is eaten.
So, this approach is saying that you can eat anything/whatever you want if it fits your macro ratios, you can have donuts, Doritos, or fast food every day – if it fits your macro ratios.
In theory, it sounds cool, right? In practice, not so much.
Manipulating calories and macros so you can eat Ben and Jerry’s ice cream everyday can work to make you achieve certain fat loss goals. However, while body composition is an indicator of health, it is only a piece of your overall health.
People can find early success when counting macros, but it can easily turn into obsessive behaviors and anxiety around food. It can achieve certain fat loss and muscle gain goals for a short amount of time but it can be considered nutrition for “looks” since macro counting doesn’t take food quality or your body’s hunger cues into account.
This, again, is where the idea of a “calorie is a calorie” doesn’t tell the whole story.
When talking about daily habits, replacing whole, nutrient dense foods with low-quality, processed foods for the majority of your meals is not a good idea for long-term health.
Even if these processed foods have the same exact macronutrient profile, these foods often have tons of added sugars, sodium, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, and artificial ingredients that wreak havoc on your body.
Things like trans fats, artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives can all have negative effects and lead to problems like cancer, and other diseases.
In addition, foods that are highly processed often absorb extremely quickly into the bloodstream leading to abnormal insulin responses and swings in blood sugar. This causes energy crashes, and will leave you feeling hungry quickly leading to overeating and additional cravings.
A common practice in the macro counting approach is to use artificial sweeteners because they often don’t have calories and don’t impact the macro ratios.
Research has shown that artificial sweeteners cause greater weight gain unrelated to caloric intake, Artificial sweeteners can stimulate your appetite, increase cravings for sweets and carbs.
The artificial sweeteners activate your appetite, which can’t be satiated without calories, so you are left with the cravings and hunger on-going. They can also affect the release of hormones, insulin, and leptin which impact how your body uses and stores fat.
Overall, while some processed foods may be “macro friendly,” they potentially have lots of additives. The additives may not necessarily affect your macro ratios, but they do affect how the body responds to the food and affects your overall health.
What approach can lead to BOTH the look you are after AND long term health?
So, when it comes to nutrition for getting BOTH the look you are after AND long term health:
stick to nutrient-dense, one-ingredient, Whole Foods.
By eating more nutrient dense foods it allows your body to function at its best which will give you more energy for a more productive day and better workouts. It will also slow down digestion, keeping you full for longer and allowing your body to absorb as many good nutrients as possible.
The point of this is not to say “don’t ever eat sweets or processed foods.” Actually, our point is on the contrary. We want you to be able to enjoy lots of foods freely, without having the stress of tracking, or needing to “earn” treats. If you want to have a treat every once in a while – have a treat! No calculations or macro manipulation needed. Have the treat – no guilt or stress! Focus on eating whole, nutritious foods most of the time and then having treats periodically won’t be a problem.
It’s important to understand overall that balance in nutrition is incredibly important.
Focusing on high quality, nutrient dense foods most of the time is great for a healthy lifestyle.
In addition, having treats every now and then is totally fine because: BALANCE.
When nutrition becomes too rigid, it then starts overtaking your time, mental and emotional well-being, along with potential physical health problems depending on the approach.
This is why you will often hear us talk about using a balanced nutrition approach where you choose whole, one-ingredient, nutrient-dense foods for most of your meals, and then periodically have meals where you are more flexible in your choices and have treats.
So, here are three tips for eating to both look great, feel amazing, and be healthy for the long term.
1) Focus on Food Quality Over Quantity
This is truly as simple and effective as it gets. Focus on the quality of your food first and foremost.
For example, let’s compare two whey protein powders.
Gold Standard Birthday Cake Whey Protein Powder
The front label say it’s 100% whey, but if you look at the ingredients on the back, it also contains:
artificial flavor, sugar, corn starch, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (contains trans fats), confectioners glaze, red 40, blue 1, sucralose (artificial sweetener), acesulfame potassium (artificial sweetener).
The front label says “Organic Whey Protein”
The ingredients on the back:
organic whey protein concentrate
While the Birthday Cake protein may sound yummy, the added ingredients are not good for you to have on the regular. On the flip side, Vital Proteins sticks true to providing quality protein in that is organic and one-ingredient: whey protein. When you have this type of protein, you can add other delicious whole foods to it like berries, banana, nut butter, and honey to make it extra tasty, without any artificial junk. Vital Proteins Whey is a great option for your post workout fuel or a quick snack on the go.
2) Stop Focusing on the Numbers Only
While calories and understanding what macros are is in general is important, the calculation game isn’t really helping.
Don’t worry about trying to piece together a puzzle of low fat brownie or low calorie chips, and stick to whole, one-ingredient foods the majority of the time.
Instead of puzzling together foods based on calories and macros, get a balance of foods whole foods that include protein, carbs, and healthy fats.
For protein, focus on foods like:
Chicken, beef, fish, eggs, greek yogurt, and organic protein powder like Vital Proteins
For carbs, focus on foods like:
Rice, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, oats, and fruit
For fats, focus on foods like:
Avocado, nuts, seeds, cheese, olive oil, and grass-fed butter
When you buy packaged foods, stop getting stuck in the numbers on the label with comparing the calories and whether one brand has one more gram of fat or carbs than the other. Move your eyes down to see what ingredients are in the food to help make the decision much easier.
3) Practice Balance
Eating nutritious foods most of the time is a great habit because you can allow yourself the flexibility to enjoy treats regularly when you don’t have harsh rules.
Honor your hunger and eat when you’re hungry, until you are satisfied instead of trying to calculate what your body “should” have. This can take practice but learning to listen to your body and eat more intuitively can be freeing mentally, emotionally, and also help improve your long term health and results.
We like to teach a balance of 80/20, which means 80% of the time focus on nutritious, whole, one-ingredient foods, and 20% of the time enjoy other types of foods and treats that you desire. 80/20 doesn’t necessarily need to be ‘tracked’ but it can help puts some structure around the point of eating nutritious foods MOST of the time while still enjoying periodic treats.
When you practice balance you don’t feel deprived, which means you’re more likely to stick with the plan long term…
It’s normal to want instant gratification with quick results, but the reality is – this is your only life. Not only do you want quick results and to achieve the look you want, but you also want to be health and happy in the long run.
Find the nutrition approach that is best for you and your individual needs. The one that allows you to not only get results, but creates a lifestyle of feeling great and being happy!
To try one of our favorite high quality proteins, check out Vital Proteins Whey!