Get Ya Mind Right: Ways To Shift Your Thinking Around Nutrition and Exercise
So, you’ve decided you want to change your habits. You’re putting your foot down. First and foremost, you have to decide WHY you want to make changes and dig deep into that. When you feel discouraged and frustrated, you have to always come back to your WHY. Maybe you’re sick of feeling bloated, fatigued, and all around lousy. You may not be happy with your body composition and want to feel better about yourself. You may want a better relationship with food. You want to live an all around fuller life and feel motivated to go after your goals. I can assure you, these things will all come with time. Let me be the first to say… Congrats! I’m excited for you! You're going to be pushed out of your comfort zone and I hope you're ready for that.
However, there are a few things to be aware of when you make the decision to embark on this journey with your body. First, it's okay to feel overwhelmed, but I’d like you to decide that you’re committed to this process and realize that it is indeed, a process. You have to trust your body and trust the process. You can even think of yourself as your own experiment because there are going to be bumps in the road. It's a lot of trial and error. There are ways to make this process simple and effective, so it’s important to start with the basics instead of venturing into extreme diet territory right off the bat. I don’t condone an all-or-nothing mentality because time and time again – it fails.
We’ve all heard the phrase “moderation, not deprivation” but do we actually know why this works? I used to go hardcore into a strict meal plan or an elimination diet like Whole30, Paleo, Gluten-free, vegan, low fat, high fat, counting macros, carb-cycling, and fruitarian (what?) without realizing the detrimental effects that it had on my mindset. I guess you could say I’m an extreme person.
Now, I know that those diets have worked wonders for a lot of people. They treat disease, hormone issues, help shed fat, and reveal unknown allergies. To those of you that have had revelations because of changing up your diet and eliminating the foods that don’t agree with your body, hats off to you! I’m glad you were able to use food as medicine. I’ve also benefited mentally and physically from following some of those diets and there are still foods that I choose to avoid based on the way they make me feel. The right whole foods for your body make you feel good. Period.
I’ve even developed cravings for my favorite whole foods. Weird, huh? I get super amped on eggs and avocado in the morning. My mouth waters for my chicken salad with homemade mayo, clementines, and sweet potatoes. Mmmmm. I know that I feel energized, happy, and satisfied when I eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods and a lot of vegetables. This realization has made decision-making around food easy for me.
I’ve also realized something about myself that really helps me with productivity and anxiety. I don’t like having unnecessary chatter in my brain. Chatter like “is this doughnut really worth it?” … “Do I want to start my day with a sugary, carby pastry thing that’s going to send my blood sugar to Timbuktu and back?”… Most of the time, the answer is no. It’s not worth it. I have goals to tackle and I don’t want any brain fog putting a damper on my day. I don’t see the point in zooming in on the temptation and obsessing over it because I see the bigger picture… But sometimes it is worth it. Anything with peanut butter and chocolate is probably worth it.
That being said, although I have to give a shout-out to elimination diets for refining my palette and allowing me to feel what true energy feels like, I was too extreme and they ended up leading me down a dark path. There's always another side of the coin. I began to develop an intense fear of “bad” foods that gave me anxiety, put stress on my brain and body, and only made me feel worse in the end. It was a hard lesson to learn. Out of pure desperation, I’ve learned to hack my own psychology and realize that it doesn’t have anything to do with willpower and a cheeseburger will not kill me.
I’ve had to let go of the dogma that I had attached to food. Mindset is very important when it comes to our eating habits and I don’t believe in depriving myself if I’m really craving a treat or a particular food. For me, being on restrictive elimination diets for too long lead to binging. I think a lot of folks experience the same thing, and I’m sick of people beating themselves up for not having enough so-called “willpower.” Thus, we circle back around to the concept of moderation. Now, you might be thinking… “Moderation? There’s no way. I take two bites and I want the whole thing! Hell, gimme the whole kitchen!” That’s okay to feel that way! I used to feel the same way. This process takes time.
I’m not going to front. My mindset shift didn’t happen overnight. It’s been about a year of mental work and practice. It’s a combination of awareness, self-compassion, and physiological changes in my body. The following tactics are things I still do in order to combat binging, cravings, and food obsession. They take work and are not quick fixes.
1) Ask yourself the right questions.
It’ll most likely take you a little while to find a groove with this, but give it a chance. Your brain needs to quit labeling foods as “good” or “bad.” Just look at is as fuel that will make you feel a certain way.
You’ll need to ask yourself questions like:
“How is this going to make me feel? Is it worth it?”
Make a quick decision and move on. Maybe the answer is yes. Eat the damn cheesecake then. You’ll soon learn how certain foods make you feel, and then you can consciously decide whether or not you can afford to feel that way.
If you’ve discovered that you are intolerant to specific foods, you’ll know exactly which ones negatively effect your digestion, sleep, and moods. Listen to your body and decide if it’s worth it.
2) Allow yourself little treats – and slowly savor them
The name of the game is satisfaction. If I want something sweet, this could mean a couple bites of a decadent dessert or a piece of dark chocolate with a spoonful of peanut butter. For savory treats, I might do a hunk of artisan cheese or some bacon with avocado. I like my treats to be fatty and satisfying. I eat them slowly and enjoy every morsel. But you’ll have to figure out what works for you.
When our brains have established a scarcity mindset, we’re much more likely to binge. An example of this is when you’re on a strict diet and you give yourself a “cheat meal.” For me, these were excuses to binge. I’d go balls out and probably undo my week of healthy eating habits because I knew it’d be a whole week before I could have any treats.
So many things were off limits that when I allowed myself to have something, there was no turning back. Game over.
Now, I’ve established that nothing is off limits anymore. It's MY choice and I've taken that power back. I no longer ferociously attack a cheat meal and begin to binge. Goodbye deprive and binge cycle.
3) Have some self-compassion why don’t ya?
We’re human. We’re going to mess up. You can’t hate yourself into a body you love, so when you make a mistake, just let it go. Especially when you’re learning a new skill. Eating mindfully and creating healthy habits is a challenging skill to learn for most of us. You can’t expect your habits to change all at once or even in a month. If you mess up, don’t dwell on it and move on. You’ll have another meal to make better choices for yourself.
Also, a lot of us use food as a coping mechanism to deal with our unwanted emotions. I know I did. Food makes you feel good for a few minutes and if you’re like me, it distracts you from whatever anxiety or boredom you maybe feeling.
Realize that when you start changing your habits and mindset, you’re going to need another coping mechanism. It helped me to do some research on emotional eating and get to the bottom of why I felt the need to eat while I was bored or anxious. If you find the root cause, you have a new level of awareness and it’s easier to tackle next time you find yourself in a situation where you might want to sabotage the goals you set out for yourself.
4) Don’t overdo it with exercise!
Whaaaa? Sounds insane coming from a personal trainer, right? Nope. I haven’t lost my mind. I don’t believe in extreme dieting nor do I believe in extreme exercise. In fact, if you don’t exercise on a regular basis already, I recommend the bare-minimum amount. Ease into it.
I’m a huge fan of weight training. If it’s done properly with effective programming, all you really need is 2-3 days a week in the gym. The rest of the days, go for walks. I don’t think running (unless you LOVE it) or spending endless amounts of time on an elliptical is the best route to take. You’ll just end up feeling ravenously hungry and craving sugary foods because of this new level or extreme activity.
If you’re following effective programming in the gym and mindfully eating nutrient-dense food, you will see results. I’m talking about real strength training with proper rest times and sets.
If you’re not familiar with this and you’re serious about your goals, hiring an online coach is a great place to start. Let someone else do the legwork for you. It’s cost-effective, helps you avoid injury, and gives you accountability. Also, building muscle is really fun. I promise.