I’m going to tell you something, and you may be shocked. Drum roll please… I eat ice cream sometimes. Gelato specifically, it’s my fav. And cheesecake, like on my birthday last month. And even chocolate, because every 20-something girl loves chocolate, it’s science. I know, I know -- you’re totally shocked. A nutritionist eats things full of fat, sugar, processed ingredients and insane amount of calories sometimes? Sometimes, yes.
Every time I’m at a social gathering and indulge in something less-than-nutritionist-worthy, heads literally explode and I hear comments ranging from “oh my God you eat things like that?” to “how do you look like that and eat like that?” -- there’s flaws all in, out, and around the logic of those statements and I’m going to break them down for you really quick. Partially for my sanity, but mostly to help you take better control over your approach to nutrition as well.
First, I eat things like that sometimes. I’m a BIG advocate of balance, and my clients know this well. If you hate what you’re doing, you’ll grow resentful and create an unhealthy relationship with your approach and possibly foods. Anything that doesn’t bend will eventually break, and your “diet” should allow for flexibility.
Balance is open for interpretation, but with something like sugar, it’s fair to assume it should be consumed far less than the higher-priority, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables (especially the green ones), lean proteins, whole grains and fruit.
Next, I’m not actively trying to lose weight right now. I’m eating for maintenance, which supplies my body enough calories to train hard, be less strict with my calorie intake and/or macronutrient distribution, have plenty of energy, and hold consistently at the same body weight. If your primary goal right now is to lose weight, it’s also fair to assume your balance should be more strict than the person who is trying to maintain. Note: you can still eat delicious things and lose weight, but as a general rule of thumb, less frequently.
Furthermore, maintaining is pretty easy (especially once you’ve been doing it a while). Basically: keeping abs is generally easier than getting them. So don’t fret if you are trying to drop pounds, you’ll have even more flexibility once you’re trying to maintain, too.
The 80/20 approach means eating nutrient-dense food 80% of the time, and enjoying other things 20% of the time. Of course, these percentages will vary based on if you have specific goals you’re working toward, but for maintaining weight and overall wellness, this structure works well for most people. So if you’re absolutely just craving that doughnut, consider it part of the 20% for that week. Keep in mind: in order to stay within that 80%, you want to get right back on track after an indulgence -- be mindful of that, and don’t let one meal turn into a weekend.
It’s so important for your mind, body and overall health to not beat yourself up when you do indulge. Way easier said than done, I totally get it. But the practices below really help me keep that “guilt” in control.
I make the meal count. I don’t eat indulgences in my car, alone at home (unless that’s your happy place, no judgement), or at the office. Don’t let your circumstances dictate your decisions; you can always find an excuse: it’s so-and-so’s birthday, but there’s a work happy hour, someone else is in town and your aunt is having a baby shower -- if you indulge every single time something comes up, you’re probably further from the balance concept we just addressed. You are in control of your nutrition choices, the food sitting on the break room counter is not.
Try to eat well most of the time so you can really enjoy the pieces that don’t fit in the “most”. Do you ever eat something and think “man that wasn’t worth it?” — “it” being the calories. I strive to avoid that feeling. If I’m going to splurge on something sweet, it’s going to be planned and in-line with what I’m really craving. This notion can be applied to events, too: if you know you’re going to a dinner party, eat well most of that week to allow yourself to embrace whatever delicious items are available in that scenario. Be in control when you can, so that when you aren’t it doesn’t set you back (thus, ladies and gents, an example of the 80/20 approach).
Another thing that really helps with the breathe component is meditation. I used to think meditation was rah-rah yogi stuff and totally not for me. Since I’ve let that assumption go, I’m in the process of writing a piece on how much guided meditation has positively impacted my, and many of my friends’ lives, but in the meantime, know that I use an app called Headspace. Download it on any smart phone -- your first 10 sessions are free. It REALLY helps with the whole “letting things” go thing. Seriously, look it up, right after you finish this post.
Lastly, work hard! My clients know we don’t call them cheat days, we call them reward meals (not “cheating” because you’ve earned the indulgence, this is a lifestyle not a diet, and it’s not full days). Reward meals are earned for, you guessed it: following the plan 80% of the time, not making excuses, and working hard.
Truth be told, in addition to the ongoing comments aforementioned during the introduction, the inspiration for this blog post came from a conversation with my CrossFit coach. On the first Friday of each month, our gym does Fran (a famously terrible workout in the functional fitness community). After everyone sweats their heart out, our coach brings in something fun like snow cones or a waffle truck. It is his intention (and him and I are quite aligned on nutrition-based things) that members eat well most of the time, work really hard during the workout, enjoy the indulgence with their fellow CrossFit friends, and then don’t stress about it and get right back on track the next day. Hmm… it’s almost like, that is what I just outlined as my approach, too! :)
I hope you find these concepts helpful and apply them to improve your mental health, quality of life and relationship of food. Cheers!