It’s spring! Almost time to hang up your winter gear for another year and break out shorts and tank tops. And just around the corner is summer!
Uh oh. Three months until summer? Now you’re a little worried. You haven’t been eating the best lately. Time to clean things up! Maybe you need to work on your nutrient timing a little better and push some carbs to after your workout, or actually, why not just drop some carbs to get the leaning out process sped up?? Forget the fact that you haven’t been tracking what you’ve been eating for a few months and have most definitely been eating more than a few handfuls of m&ms every night. My justification for these slumps in my diet are usually stress related. I am very much a “stress eater”, and sometimes I feel so busy and overwhelmed like there aren’t enough hours in the day, or my kids are going through an extra clingy phase that requires a lot of my attention and energy. As I’m coming out of my slump, my immediate thoughts are usually directed at my food intake and what I need to change to “get back on track”. Can you relate? Have you been there? We wonder whether to drop 10 grams of carbs or 5 grams of fat to speed up the leaning out process when, for most of us, the key to success really comes down to one simple thing - consistency.
I say “simple” because it is a simple concept - you need to be consistent in your macros (and therefore total calories) in order to know whether your current numbers are leading you in the direction of your goals or not. Be consistent in your food quality to provide your body with the nutrients it needs and in your view of food as a means to fuel your workouts and everyday activities. You don’t have to eat the exact same thing every day, but be in the habit of tracking your meals so I can see what you’re eating when I look at your food log. This helps identify trends and connect the types of food you eat with how you feel and perform. Being consistent in your nutrition gives you (and me) important information in order to determine whether any changes need to be made to food quality or quantity. Sticking to your food plan throughout the week and then devouring a whole bag of popcorn on Saturday night…snacking on your kids’ food or finishing the last few bites of their dinner…meeting your friends for “just one drink” (and appetizers - and maybe one more drink) on Friday during happy hour…is not being consistent.
While consistency is a simple and straightforward concept, rarely is it ever easy. For most of us, nutrition falls down the list of priorities, usually somewhere below family, work, spending time with friends, sleep, and any other daily obligations we have. I’m not here to tell you to adjust that list of priorities. I know how hard it can be to find that balance between what you WANT to focus on and what you HAVE to focus on or how appealing that bag of Cheetos looks after a majorly stressful day. Trust me, I’ve been there. The purpose of this post is to give you some tools to help set you up for success, with the goal being consistency, NOT looking like [blank] CrossFit Games athlete or achieving a certain degree of leanness or hitting a PR on your clean and jerk. If you implement the five points I’ll discuss below into your daily routine, you’ll have a good method of creating new habits to help create long term success.
1. Create behavior based goals. You will set yourself up for a greater chance of success if you make behavior based goals rather than outcome based goals. Behavior based goals focus on actions that you have complete control over (“I will drink half of my bodyweight in ounces of water every day”) compared to outcome based goals (“I want to lose 10 pounds”). Outcomes can be affected by so many things in our lives - you have a huge project due at work or your kids get sick, which means you can’t go to the gym that day. Or you’re really stressed out or traveling a lot or are having trouble sleeping, which makes setting aside time to train really difficult. You can’t MAKE your boss give you less work or MAKE your kids not sick. You can’t MAKE your body do things it doesn’t want to do. Switching your mindset to focusing on your behavior puts you completely in charge. These type of goals allow you to form habits and learn skills to put into practice on a daily basis. Building on those habits and skills will help you create a step by step process to achieve your desired outcome - consistency.
2. Be positive. Building on the first topic, it is important to focus on positive changes - I CAN or I WILL - for yourself rather than negative ones. Think about the last time you decided you were going to clean up your eating or “get healthy”. You probably told yourself you were going to stop eating cookies or chips. You weren’t going to give in to late night snack cravings. You would not touch that ice cream in the freezer. I have two issues with that approach. First, there is some inherent quality in most humans that, as soon as something becomes forbidden or off limits, they we immediately want that one thing. And second, not only are we now wanting that one thing we are not allowing ourselves to have, we are also putting ourselves in the position to think about that one thing all the time because we’ve made it our goal. A better approach is to focus on creating positive change. I will eat protein with every meal. I will eat a green leafy vegetable three times a day. This puts your focus on implementing positive habits rather than trying to suppress negative ones.
3. Control your environment. Now let’s talk about that ice cream in the freezer. Ice cream is not a bad food. It will not make you a bad person if you eat it. I like to think of foods as either helping you work towards your goals or not helping you work towards your goals rather than assigning some moral value. I think we can all agree that ice cream is one of those foods that falls into the “not helping” category, so my question is, why do you have it in the house? Tempting foods become really really tempting the easier they are to obtain. It’s pretty easy to open the freezer and grab the container, but if you had to Google an ice cream shop, look up directions, get in the car and drive there, would you still want that ice cream? Control your environment by removing tempting foods from the house. Don’t buy them. Don’t sit near the candy dish at work. Stand far far away from the dessert table at a party. [DISCLAIMER: completely avoiding tempting foods and situations is not something that you can do for your entire life; you will need to come up with a way to handle being near these things. This article is more about developing habits to set you up for the most success, which is why I recommend to eliminate those temptations at the start.]
4. Build a support system. If you live alone, work from home, and aren’t a very social person, it’s really easy to do what you want, buy what you want, eat what you want. If you have a family, co-workers, or are someone who likes to go out with friends and be social, you have to deal with the wants and needs of these other individuals in your life. To embark on a nutrition or diet overhaul, it is important to have the support of everyone in your life who you consider important to you. I think sometimes we are hesitant to announce a goal like that to other people because we’re afraid of their judgment or are afraid to say we’re doing this big thing with the chance that we may fail. If you keep your desires and goals to yourself without the support of your closest loved ones, you are setting yourself up to fail from the start. You need your husband to be on board with not buying Oreos anymore and your kids to suck it up and start eating some vegetables. Or your friends to not give you a hard time when you decline a beer on Friday night. Make them understand the importance to you, and they will be there to keep you in check.
5. Prepare to fail. This might be the most important rule of them all. Following a nutrition plan seems like an all-or-nothing situation for a lot of people; they either adhere 100% to the plan or make one mistake with a Snickers and then pretty soon they’re 800 calories over for the day. We are human and make mistakes, and that is ok! The question isn’t IF you are going to mess up, the question is WHEN you mess up, what are you going to do about it? That is a really individual question, so I will just give you some suggestions that I’ve found work for me. Drink water, get outside, play with your kids, read a book. Anything in the “distraction” category is my go-to until I realize I am not really hungry. I may be bored, lonely, tired, or any combination of the three, and once I understand the real motivation behind my behavior, I can address the actual cause.
I think this list is useful no whether you follow Paleo, Whole30, macros, “eating clean”, or any other nutritional philosophy. It’s easier to gauge success if you are consistent with your plan. Do you have tips or tricks that have helped you in the past? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!