As my first post, I’d like to share an email that one of our users sent in recently. Jack (name changed for privacy) works on an oil rig and doesn’t get to have a lot of control over his eating choices, but still wants to cut some bodyfat. I saw this sort of situation all the time as a personal trainer and figured this response might be useful. Here’s his (edited for clarity) email and my (extremely cleaned up) response:
Right chaps ,
Firstly this is the site I’ve been needing and looking for to help me with my targets. Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to cook and prepare my own food for 2 weeks each month; I work on an oil rig where the food is prepared by chefs. Currently I have about 25-30% body fat and I really need to get back down to 15%-ish, but it’s very difficult without direction. I try to maintain a calorie deficit but it’s hard to keep track of.
Most of the time there will be a ‘healthy’ option, however I really struggle with determining how many calories I’m eating or what choices to best make whilst I’m on the rig. I end up eating mainly salads and try to cut carbs, but I don’t understand how to balance with what is put infront of me.
Is there a good way for me to enter what I eat and track calories? I know it’s a big ask but if not, do you know of a good site to use along with your site so I can manage my situation properly?
Thanks for your awesome words! It’s definitely a tough situation, so let me give you some tips from ETM and then some personal thoughts.
Eat This Much Tips:
We have multiple databases: recipes built from the USDA Nutrition data, Prepackaged/Restaurant foods (Mostly North American), and then custom foods. If what you’re being served is easy to classify, you can search it from the sidebar and then drag the foods into appropriate meals. If meals are served ‘family style’ you can always play around with the serving sizes on the generator screen to visualize your calorie intake.
If you’re not so fortunate, but your dietary choices are pretty consistent, you can ‘build’ custom recipes from our ingredients to get reasonable estimates of calories and macronutrients. Obviously the more information you have about a meal the more accurate you can make things, but even a rough-estimation is better than nothing.
You could also ‘simulate’ your oilrig diet by entering the foods you normally eat and setting them to ‘always recur’. Regenerate the whole day or particular meals and the generator will do it’s best to suggest recipes that get you closer to your daily targets. Since you’re shooting for a calorie deficit this is probably less of an issue, you’ll probably be trying to figure out what foods to avoid.
From my experience working with lots of people who have ‘fallen out of shape’ there’s often more factors than simply deciding they no longer liked exercise. A guy like you, with a higher intensity job, could be holding onto excess weight for less typical reasons. If your job requires a lot of physical work, I’d shift focus to getting in as much ‘good’ stuff as possible. Relax on the details and save yourself the stress. Moving around 6+ hours a day can help with blood sugar spikes and other negatives from less-than-ideal food, but it can’t give you nutrients you haven’t eaten. Since an accurate count of calories used is going to be hard to get, the only thing you know for sure is the minimum amounts of things you might need.
So I’d look at it like this:
- Take the high end of protein recommendations, 2 grams protein per kilogram body weight
- Aim for 7 servings of fruits/veggies (this is the tricky part for you I’m sure but it could save your life)
- Make sure you have a reasonable amount of healthy fats (if you eat meats and use good cooking oils you might be okay – otherwise: avocados, nuts, yogurt, extra virgin olive oil/coconut oil, flax meal, chia seeds, nut butters etc etc)
- Once you have these under control, you should be pretty certain you’ve covered your bases re:not dieing.
- After that just see how things fit into place and adjust accordingly
- Increase carbs if you can’t finish workouts/work,
- increase fats if you’re worried about Testosterone dropping (lack of motivation, bad sleep, depression, no morning wood)
- Lower protein as a last resort, if you’re gaining fat then calories need to come down, but you don’t want to beat up your body and be miserable at work
In a situation like this, where you don’t control the process, it’s more important to give yourself a good framework for making decisions than sweat over making plans. Because things outside of your control can change your diet, it’s easier to just know what you’re looking for, than to try to avoid everything that looks ‘unhealthy’ and give yourself a migraine.
If you’re in a more white-collar type of job on the rig, I recommend the same sort of diet philosophy – but you also should find a way to move for 3-5 minutes every couple hours. This will pay off not only in calorie burning (a little bit), stress relief (a surprisingly big deal), and Fitness – but also blood sugar levels. Increasing your insulin sensitivity/ glucose tolerance can help a lot with the last stubborn bits of fat before you consider yourself ‘lean’. Avoiding high sugar snacks between meals can help with this as well.
Sorry for throwing a lot of stuff at you, I just get excited when I have the chance to talk about this sorta thing. The short story is that focusing on what you can control is the least-stressful way to work on your diet. Until you are eating enough to cover all your bases, there’s no way to know why your body isn’t responding, and simply cutting calories can be frustrating and even costly for someone whose job is physical in nature.
This article was written by Michael Chronley, CSCS, Fitness & Nutrition Advisor.