It’s natural to look at people who appear in great shape and ask things such as: What are they doing to achieve that body? What do they eat? How can I do what they do?
It’s great to learn from others, try new things, and look for external inspiration. However, there is a big difference between learning from someone and copying them.
Take meal plans as an example. When an athlete or celebrity posts their current eating plan on social media it can be tempting to think that following their exact plan will result in looking like them. However, this is unlikely to hold true.
Why? Because your nutritional and lifestyle needs are likely to be different to theirs. In many cases, they won’t even be remotely similar! The types of food, energy requirements (calories) and macro and micronutrients that YOU need is going to completely depend on you:
- What is your starting point? (current food intake and body composition)
- What are your goals and timeframes?
- What foods do you like to eat and feel confident to cook?
- How do certain foods make you feel?
- What are your eating patterns?
- What is your activity level?
- Do you have any intolerances or specific micronutrient needs?
More importantly, it takes time to create and build new habits around food, eating, and supporting lifestyle factors (e.g. sleep, stress, exercise, mindset, family, medical issues etc). So even if there’s a strong need for you to change the type and quantity of food you’re eating, this will take time, many small steps and ongoing personal experimentation (i.e. figuring out what works and doesn’t work for YOU!).
The biggest factor that determines someone’s ability to succeed when it comes to changing a dietary habit is their ability to adhere to it over time. Making radical overnight changes or trying to copy someone else usually doesn’t result in long term adherence.
Additionally, you don’t know what other factors are enabling that person to look the way they do (e.g. exercise levels, sleep, stress management, supplements etc) not to mention that levels of hydration plus really good lighting and photography can significantly enhance how someone appears in an Instagram photo!
Most athletes and sports models will have cyclical variation in their diet and may even have an ‘on’ and ‘off’ season when it comes to how they eat, train, and look. The ‘super clean’ 1200 – 1500 calorie meal plan they just posted is not necessarily what they’re actually eating every day! And those super cut abs are unlikely to be visible 52 weeks of the year!
Don’t get me wrong. I love to see what and how other people are eating (I’m a fitness foodie geek). But when it comes to applying this to myself and what I’ve seen work for others, I find it more helpful to keep a ‘big picture’ perspective.
Instead of trying to copy exactly what someone else is doing (or what they appear to be doing) ask yourself these questions:
- What can I learn from this person and how can I apply this to my specific context?
- What is the good stuff they’re doing that I could be doing more of?
- What are the underlying beliefs, habits, and skills that are allowing this person to eat like this? How could these help me improve my eating?
- Based on what I have learnt, what is one small change I could make?
For example, you may notice that this person is eating 10 servings of vegetables, across 4 meals (eating more vegetables is key to weight loss and good health). If you’re currently eating 3 servings of vegetables per day across 1-2 meals, then a better starting point for you would be to increase your intake to 5 servings of vegetables across 2-3 meals. Once you’ve nailed this, you could then increase further.
Even when I reflect on my own personal nutritional journey, this would apply. If I wrote down what I currently eat in a week, and gave it to myself five years ago there is absolutely no way I would have been able to follow it or adhere to it. Maybe I could’ve done for a few days, but then it would’ve become too hard, I would’ve given up and felt like I’d failed. I wouldn’t have been ready, willing, or able. I got to my current point through small steps, slow changes, and lots of ongoing experimentation!
So absolutely learn from others, ask questions, and seek inspiration, but remember to be YOU, and eat for your needs and lifestyle!
Happy eating 🙂
Jade Osborne | Lifestyle Coach