How to cultivate healthy eating that works for you

  I get asked on a regular basis what my recommendations for dieting are. Let me first say I hate the word diet, probably because I spent most of my life on one. I really do believe that you must look at how you eat as a lifestyle whether you are trying to lose weight or not. It changes your attitude towards the process. All that being said, I don’t adhere to a diet. Weight Watchers was the program that I chose to help me figure out how to eat when I started my journey and it has shaped how I view nutrition. To me it was in no way a diet because it never asked me to give up any kind of food at all. When I started I was determined to not have to give up the things I loved and in the beginning,  I would have a Butterfinger for dessert several times a week because it was still within my points. Was that the healthiest decision for my body, no, but did it help me to stay the course, absolutely. I don’t eat that way anymore, or at least if I do its rare, but what I would like to share with you are the things I have learned along the way that helped me lose 130 lbs. and maintain that loss now for 8 years.

You can’t make changes unless you know what needs to be changed

 How many times have you spent Friday and Saturday eating and drinking your way through the world only to wake up Sunday feeling regret? You make the decision that Monday will be a new day and spend it googling diets, you find a book, blog, TedTalk on a certain diet, feel like its doable and jump in Monday morning.  You start your week feeling great, you own that diet like a boss. Then Thursday comes around and you didn’t sleep well, or your kid is sick, you have a project at work that the deadline just got moved up and you are worried it won’t get done. Stress kicks your butt and you just don’t have time to think about this new-fangled way to eat. Slowly, but surely you drift back to your old habits and that diet becomes a distant memory. You feel disappointed in yourself because you can’t seem to get it together. I am here to tell you that you aren’t a failure, you just haven’t taken the time to get to know yourself, your eating patterns and your triggers and planned how to eat around…! What a novel idea. When clients come to me with a weight loss goal or just a desire to learn a healthier way of eating, the first thing, I tell them to do is keep a food journal. Not where they are tracking calories or macros or anything, but just somewhere where they are writing down what they eat. Everything. With no judgement. In addition, I ask them to keep track of what time they eat, how they feel going into it and how they feel after it. I ask them to do this for two weeks. That time frame is important. Most people when they know they are going to have to see what they are eating will actually be more disciplined for that first week, but the second week generally makes them more relaxed and typically displays how they truly eat. Consider this research on yourself. When you become aware of your eating patterns you can see that everyday at 3:30 you lose your mind from the stress of work and head to the break room for one of those packaged bear claws. You see that when you have a fight with your spouse the first thing you do is head to the fridge even though you aren’t hungry. You come to realize that it doesn’t matter the day, at 9 pm every night you have to have popcorn while watching tv. Knowledge is power people and what happens with most of us is we eat mindlessly through our life. We are so focused on everything else what we put in our body becomes secondary, ritual, and not something we are present for. If you learn about you and where you succeed and struggle then you can create a lifestyle that supports your success, not hinders it.

Clean it out

Now you have some information and you can see that you have patterns and many of them involve your home. What is supposed to be our sanctuary is often a minefield of temptation. You have to clean out the crap that you know will tempt you. Food talks to you, I swear! It calls you from the living room and if you don’t answer it just gets louder and louder.  When we are at home there are so many patterns we get into around food, whether it is to deal with stress or to relax that are not the healthiest. If you don’t keep chips in your house the likelihood is that you won’t at 8 pm drive to the store and get them. If you do, then that is a craving that wouldn’t be denied, and I say give in and move on. An example in my own life is cereal. Cereal was a massive source of comfort for me my whole life. I could never just eat one bowl, if there was milk left in the bowl, I would have to put more in. When I started focusing on losing weight, I made the decision to no longer keep cereal in my house. I am just powerless against it. That means my kids don’t get cereal and guess what, they are fine. I have even come to have “cereal week” twice a year where we allow the kids to pick a kind they likel and I even have a bowl myself. It doesn’t hold the same power anymore, but that is because I don’t keep it around, if I brought it back on a regular basis it would become a problem for me. Get real with the things that you know you would have to white knuckle with everyday and get them out.

Plan, Plan, Plan

Especially in the beginning you have to plan, you have to grocery shop, you have to prep. Discipline does not just appear one day it is a skill that is developed through action. Start developing that skill now. Most Sundays I roast vegetables, a lot of them. These become lifesavers during the week, when I have little time for lunch between clients, I am able to throw those in the microwave and have a delicious, healthy, filling lunch that will get me through the rest of the afternoon. This requires planning on my part, it doesn’t require tremendous effort just some planning and helps to keep me successful throughout the week.

Find Balance, but not excuse

This will be controversial, but I am not a fan of eating plans that eliminate entire food groups. Whole foods (yes even carbs, gasp!) that are not processed provide our bodies with important energy and nutrients that we need to function at our peak. You must find a way to eat that is sustainable for life. Please read that sentence again. This is for LIFE! Not until you hit your goal weight, fit in the dress, go to the reunion, etc. Why would you work so hard only to give it all up at the end and go back to a way of life that made your body and often times your mind feel like crap. That is why I believe giving up entire food groups is a recipe for failure because it isn’t realistic that for the rest of your life you won’t eat some bread.  What I do want to make clear though is that sacrifice is part of this journey, for life. Yep, read that sentence again. You will have to eat less, you will have to learn what it feels like to be hungry, you will have to go to parties where you won’t get to eat every damn thing you see. No, you are not giving up coconut cream pie for the rest of your life (thank God) but you can’t have it all the time anymore because it isn’t good for your body. You will have to learn how to eat less of what isn’t healthy for you and more of what is.  

Keep Writing, Be Flexible, Be Mindful

If you haven’t gotten the hint yet mindfulness if the central key to success when it comes to cultivating a healthy lifestyle. You must be aware of who you are, how you eat, how you live, what you do, what triggers you, what works for you, what makes you feel strong mentally and physically and the only way to do that is to be present in your life. That is why I believe so strongly in continuing to write down what you eat. This can be simply for information, to track your macros, to count calories or points, or simply how much and what you are eating. The specifics are for you to decide based on the information you have gathered about yourself. That is where flexibility comes into play. Your needs, body, and life situations will change which means that changes may need to be made in how you eat. While I enjoyed my evening Butterfinger for some time, it eventually got in the way of my success and I found other healthy ways to satisfy my sweet tooth. If you are mindful and aware of what is going on then when you hit a plateau that would normally frustrate and possibly derail you, you will be able to look at how you are eating and find ways to adjust and areas that you can improve upon that will help you move forward.

Remember this is a journey

I have said it a million times here. There is no destination here except a healthy life. You won’t be able to change all of your habits at once, nor should you expect that of yourself as it is a recipe for disaster. One day at a time you take steps that get you closer to the image of what a healthy life means to you. As you travel down this road celebrate every single victory, no matter how small. Recognizing forward motion is so crucial to maintaining that momentum. This is life people and there will be peaks and valleys. There will be times when you feel like you are doing everything right and you are not seeing success and times that you feel like you are struggling, but somehow keep moving in the right direction. You have to make the decision right now that regardless of what life may throw at you, you are committed to this journey, that you will be committed to the process, forgiving of yourself when you need to be and encouraging when you are doing what you know works. I promise you the work is worth it. It’s not about weight loss, rather it is about living in a body that feels good, that functions in the way that it should and allows you to live life not having to battle it. It is about freedom. Wishing you all the best in your journey!