healthy habits

Musings on mindset.

Mindset shift:


What if, instead of feeling guilt over the fact that you're a human adult who likes to eat and drink certain things that may or may not be "healthy", you objectively looked at how those things could be a part of your diet without being the hinge upon which you're "on plan" or "off plan?"


Pay attention for a single day. What rituals/habits do you participate in that bring you a real sense of satisfaction? This doesn't have to be food-related, and it doesn't have to be Pinterest-y and woo-woo, either. Maybe it's your morning cup of coffee. Maybe it's the feeling of hopping into the shower after a long workday. Maybe it's a square of chocolate and a cup of tea before bed. Where could you create moments like this if you don't have any? What mindless habit could you work on giving up that would make space (be it time, energy, calories, money) for a moment of peace and clarity?


What if you could find a non-food-related response to success achieved, hard day ended, tragedy survived? What might that look like?


Most of us have a specific vision in mind when we consider our goal achieved - whether it's a way our body will be shaped or a task we'll be able to accomplish. Think about how you'll feel when you've achieved it? Will the method you took to get there be one you can maintain?


What if you designed your nutrition to fit your life instead of forcing your life to fit your nutrition?

"I was able to make a real and permanent switch in my eating habits."

Brit's Story: 

When I first met you at the FUELhouse nutrition seminar, I was skeptical to say the least. Not because of anything you said, simply because I felt like I had tried everything and done a reasonably good job of educating myself and was seeing absolutely no results. Also, because I wasn’t coming into [Recharge] eating a bag of cheeseburgers every day, I was really unsure of how what seemed like small changes would really help. What I loved about what you were saying was that it seemed so simple – but that also make me hesitant. I had always felt like the only way that I’d make big changes was if I made BIG changes and tortured myself on a strict plan like every other cleanse/diet/regimen that I’d followed. Funny that they didn’t work, but I still thought that there was some magic formula and if you ate one extra apple (ok…being honest I probably mean cookie here) on a day with no carbs, you’d explode. You suggested a simple formula to think about at every meal and made it okay not to follow it strictly. I loved the idea that you presented immediately that it was your goal that at the end of 60 days, we didn’t feel like falling face first into a pizza, because that is how I’ve always felt when gutting it out at the end of a cleanse. One of my favorite parts of the experience was realizing that I didn’t actually know if we were just starting week 8 or if it was “over” because I’d already decided that there was no such thing as “over”.

[Since I started working with you and training at FUELhouse] I've lost 13 lbs and 5 inches around my waist, a pretty amazing start! But more specifically, I feel like I’ve made a gigantic step in the way I look at meals – especially when it comes to protein. It was certainly not the first time that I’d heard that I needed to eat more protein, but when I calculated how much protein you suggested I eat (2/3 my body weight in grams/day), I saw that number and thought there was no way I’d get there – especially not every day. So making that first shift was definitely the hardest. Thinking about figuring out how to get to that number, especially without eating mammals, was daunting. But once I realized I could do it and started seeing my body change, it got easier. Now I feel very much like it’s a part of how I eat without thinking about it. I look at every meal and menu differently and realize that just because I was not an “unhealthy” eater before, I am now eating in a way that is healthy and fuels me to accomplish my goals.

I loved the idea that you presented immediately that it was your goal that at the end of 60 days, we didn’t feel like falling face first into a pizza, because that is how I’ve always felt when gutting it out at the end of a cleanse. One of my favorite parts of the experience was realizing that I didn’t actually know if we were just starting week 8 or if it was “over” because I’d already decided that there was no such thing as “over”.

I love that you met me where I was at, even though that was a tough place. I basically told you that I’d give it a shot, but that I was doubtful that I’d see any great results based on my past trials and failures. I recognize that I was a tough cookie, because I felt like I had been doing most things right when it came to eating and working out, but that for whatever reason, my body was immune to my efforts. You asked me to trust you, but didn’t force anything on me. You were so incredibly supportive about every aspect of my journey. Instead of just telling me to start eating more meat for protein, you worked with me to find protein sources that I felt okay about making a regular part of my life. Instead of telling me to stop eating dessert, you helped me figure out that 3 squares of really delicious dark chocolate would help me more than hurt me and you made it ok for that to be a part of my life on a regular basis. You never pushed anything to the extreme and I never felt deprived. With your suggestions, there was always room to have a glass of wine or celebrate a special occasion with a few bites of really amazing desert. You gave me some flexibility to live a normal life, to still go out to eat and not have to tell people I was on some weird cleanse and having that was a huge part of the reason I felt what you taught was sustainable. The fact that I didn’t have to follow a strict plan is the primary reason that I felt like I was able to make a real and permanent switch in my eating habits. Now when I hear people tell me they are miserable because they’re on a diet, I feel sorry for them because I know it doesn’t have to be that way. I never once felt like I was on a “diet” – I only felt like you were trying to gently help me change my whole perspective…and you did.

Brit and Winston, loving life!

Brit and Winston, loving life!

Now - I am so grateful for your ongoing support. Even just being able to bounce my struggles with the Scandinavian Swimmers (ed. note LOL!!!!) that my boyfriend refuses to stop buying has been a great source of support. I really appreciate that you know my issues and my struggles and are willing to help me to still adjust things to continue to be successful.

I’d honestly recommend you to anyone – whether it was someone who had never even thought about trying to change or whether it was someone who felt they’d tried everything and had no success. Since I was in the second category, I know that you were able to help me there, but your approach is simple enough that I think anyone with an honest desire to change their eating habits would benefit from work with you. I think that the most important thing people should know is that you’re not going to tell them exactly what they can and can’t do. You’re not going to tell them exactly what to eat for every meal for 2 weeks and then just expect them to be “fixed”. You are going to meet them where they are and help them figure out how to make sustainable and long term changes and tweaks that will change the way they eat forever, but it’s not a “diet” and they shouldn’t expect that.

In the past, what I think I wanted someone to tell me exactly what to eat and figured there was a magic formula. But that didn’t work because I can’t always cook and sometimes I don’t have time to go to the grocery store – so your method allowed me to continue living my normal life but also making big changes in the types of foods I was choosing. It also allowed me to keep from “failing” – and not feeling like I was failing kept me from giving up. I would want to tell anyone that worked with you to TRUST YOU…that was hard for me, especially because I didn’t really see how eating so much more protein would actually help me to lose weight and inches, but you totally nailed it.

 I am eternally grateful for not only the change that you and FUELhouse have brought in me, but for your patience and kindness during the process. I was so dubious that I would see real results – I’m still kind of shocked – so you had an uphill battle. Thank you for sticking with me, for encouraging me and for continuing to help me change. You absolutely and totally came into my life when I needed you most and I’m so very grateful to know you!

"Whatever You Look For, You'll Find." #OneThing About Mastering Your Mind

Subtitled: When a large man in a kilt stands in front of you and bends a full size wrench in half with his bare hands....you generally listen to what he has to say.

Meet Iron Tamer Dave Whitley, wearer of the kilt, bender of the iron, breaker of chains, lifter of the (maybe/probably Hammer of Thor), and welcome to part 5 of my #OneThing series, in which I reflect on the amazing weekend I spent learning from the best and brightest in San Diego at the Strength Matters Summit. The topic of Dave's conversation? Unleashing Your Superhuman Self...a topic that felt especially near and dear to my heart as I spent a good part of the weekend contemplating how the hell I would pull a 10,000 pound truck the weekend AFTER at California's Strongest Woman. 

The clarity with which we define something determines its usefulness.
— Tony Blauer

When we set out to make a change in our lives, why do we succeed? Why do we fail? What makes us take action in the first place, and what happens in our brains in that perilous first few weeks when we, for whatever reason, stop doing the shiny new thing? 

YOU MUST DEFINE SUCCESS:

What is the current situation? Have an honest conversation with yourself (hint: this is where a coach can be REALLY useful in compassionately helping you sort out how to break down your goals in a manageable way, and if you're prone to falling victim to your own bullshit we can gently help you out there as well). If you suspect that your nutrition could use some work, this is a great opportunity to spend a couple of days journaling your hunger and food intake to see what's really happening. Feeling plateaued in your fitness? Assess the past few months. Are you a serial program jumper? If you've stuck religiously to a program, is the best fit for what you're actually trying to accomplish? 

What does success look like? Get detailed and descriptive. How will your success carry over into other areas of your life? Do you see yourself leaner and stronger? Do you see you and your family enjoying homemade pizza night together once a week instead of mindlessly zoning out in front of tv with delivery? Do you see yourself closer to being out of debt because of the money you've saved? Do you see yourself sleeping more soundly and waking up more refreshed?  Write it down. Repeat it when things are going well AND when they aren't. 

Define your WHY. A HUGE gap when it comes to most nutrition and fitness programs. I use the 5 Why's to help my clients really start to attach their goals to their values. It's easy to say "I'm gonna stop eating sugar" or "I'm going to run more," but when you start to dig into the real reasons you're pursuing this new activity it helps with keeping you motivated when things get hard. If we tease out the fact that you're cutting back on pizza BECAUSE you want to lose weight BECAUSE you want to be healthier BECAUSE your father passed away of a heart attack at a young age AND you want to be healthier for your kids, that will feel a lot different than cutting back on a pizza habit BECAUSE you know you spend way too much money on takeout food and BECAUSE you want to get your finances under control. Overall, it becomes a lot easier to "remember the long game," as OPT says, and keep you motivated for the long haul. 

Change your attitude. Dave pointed out that the primary cause for success or failure is our own self-image. When we talk about our future selves using the language we've always used in the past, we set ourselves up for failure. If you embark on a new journey counting the minutes until you get a sugar craving and fail, because that's what you've always done, that's what you'll continue to do. Using that image of success you wrote down earlier, reaffirm that you're ALREADY THAT PERSON using actions rather than outcomes.

Example: "I've always struggled with cravings and have battled my weight for years. I'm doomed to be overweight forever. I may as well just order pizza tonight. I'm so tired." 

Instead, try this: "I'm a person who exercises regularly, and who eats vegetables and protein with each meal. I model healthy behaviors so my kids will develop a good relationship with food as they grow up. I'm mindful of my intake of foods like pizza because  I know they're delicious but don't leave me with a lot of energy to play with my kids." 

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
— Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

 

Build in compassion. Most of us have spent our lives idealizing a future in which our perfect self shows up for business, day after day, with nothing ever going wrong. Kids don't get sick, the landlord doesn't suddenly raise the rent, the car doesn't get broken into, you get the big promotion and continue to be Wonder-Person, cooking freshly prepared perfectly balanced meals every day for your eager family. You Have Your Shit Together. And when that inevitably doesn't happen, we throw up our hands, declare that it's too difficult, and promise to start again on Monday (which of course means I will TOTALLY order cheese fries tonight, because hey! #DietStartsMonday!) 

What if your path to achievement included compassion for yourself? 

What if you talked to yourself the way you'd talk to your kid? Or your puppy? Or your friend? 

What if, instead of demanding perfection and failing, you started small and worked on consistency? 

What if you made it easier on yourself rather than harder? 

What would you do if you knew you could not fail; and what could you accomplish if you set yourself up to be successful? 

"Leave One Bite." #OneThing About #OneHabit That Clicked

Welcome to part 3 of the continuing series "One Thing," in which I do my best to process the Niagara Falls-like amount of information I took in at the Strength Matters Summit I recently attended in San Diego. We got to sit in on about 30 hours of lectures over three days, delivered by some of the most notable individuals in the health and fitness industry - in order to keep us focused and not-overwhelmed (hah!) our hosts suggested that after each presentation we go back to our notes and circle One Thing that stood out or particularly resonated with us. 

One of the reasons I was most excited to attend the summit was to hear Josh Hillis and Georgie Fear speak about habit coaching. I've been following them both for awhile now (they're both masters of using the psychology of behavior to help people dial in their nutrition) and anyone who has worked with me in the past year or so knows that habit-based nutritional practices have pretty much become my M.O. for helping clients develop plans to achieve their health/body composition goals in a way that's sane and sustainable. 

As a group, we worked through a sample Nutrition Assessment form (a basic intake form that's a way to assess the quality of your current diet. Caveat - there's really no way that's perfect, but a questionnaire that asks about general food frequency combined with a dietary record paints a pretty good picture of where someone might be struggling/lacking and where they're already successful. The first set of questions were pretty generic:

"How frequently do you eat orange veggies/pasta/chicken/eggs/bread/cheese/etc?" (Options for answering ranged from "Never/less than once per week" to "more than once per day." 

Easy stuff, especially if you're like me and are pretty in tune with thinking about what you're eating (for better or worse). 

So what resonated particularly? 

Assessing BEHAVIORS. And one in particular...

Quick side note. Behavior change, I think, is one of the key aspects that's missing from the education of most coaches, nutrition or fitness or otherwise. It's one of the things that originally drew me to certify through Precision Nutrition - half of my Level 1 course addressed science and physiology but the entirety of the second half discussed the psychology of coaching and behavior change. (My NSCA book spent a whopping half chapter on it.) God knows there are plenty of terrible coaches out there who assume that a lack of results can be attributed to laziness or a refusal to just eat the right things (Disclosure: I totally used to be this way too.)

Recognizing the need for behavioral overhaul has been a game changer for my coaching business, and for my own nutritional practices as well. Because in the end, it's really not about simply providing my people with the perfect list of "good/clean food" and "bad/dirty food," and, in all actuality, continuing to chase this perfect list usually means people end up on a rollercoaster of poor adherence and therefore, bad results. After all, it's pretty easy to Paleofy cake and ice cream these days. And even if you have a medical reason to be avoiding certain foods (gluten, for example), you cannot eat an entire gluten free pizza or a pan of paleo brownies in one sitting on a regular basis and expect to feel, look, and perform your best. 

I think we're all in agreement here, right? Right. 

So, what was the #OneThing that resonated with this portion of Josh and Georgie's respective talks? It was actually kind of obscure. One little question on one little page of that sample Nutrition Assessment: 

How often do you stop eating, even if food is left on the plate?

 

For some reason, this question stuck out to me. I was intrigued. So, for the last few weeks, I decided to start paying attention and note a few reactions that popped into my head. Here are a few that I jotted down.

  1. -------------- (This means, I didn't have a reaction because I wasn't paying attention. Probably because I was hoovering my lunch between clients, while answering emails and checking Facebook. Or eating hummus while watching a movie. Ahem).
  2. "I'm still hungry...." but only because I rushed through my meal and didn't give my brain time to catch up to my stomach.
  3. "I'm still hungry..." because I was actually still hungry, maybe because I'd under-eaten in some form or another earlier (note: this usually happens when I don't have my act together in the AM and train fasted, or come in low on protein. Not the case for everyone, but it's something I know about me).
  4. "This is too good, I don't want to stop eating it." 
  5. "But this is the last time I'll get to eat (special dish) at (special restaurant) in (special city I'm never coming back to)!"
  6. "I need to eat all of this so it doesn't go to waste."
  7. "Seriously, it's just one bite, how could it possibly matter?"
  8. "But I need these carbs/fat/protein, I'm supposed to eat x number of grams, today was a training day." 

Clearly, there's a lot to unpack here (and I'm the professional!) So, why can something as simple and seemingly inane as simply leaving a bite or two behind at each meal help you lose fat/weight, maintain your current weight, or simply develop a healthier relationship with food?

  1. It helps create a caloric deficit. The mack daddy of fat loss, is, of course, burning more calories than you take in. The trouble with planning to restrict calories is that it usually doesn't work, or it works and then stops working. Most of us usually attempt too big a deficit, which can lead to reactionary binging (sound familiar, hello weekend warriors!) OR, react to the mere suggestion that something is limited by promptly craving it more. It seems so small, but if your weight and/or body composition has remained stable for more than a few weeks, you're eating at caloric maintenance. Simply shaving a few bites off of each meal (stuff adds up!) can tip you into enough of a caloric deficit to start seeing changes again. And you can do it while still eating foods you enjoy.*** Hey, the Okinawans have been using this practice (hari hachi bu - eating til 80% full) for centuries, and it seems to be working pretty well for them. 
  2. It helps you fight the lure of the Scarcity Mentality. The Scarcity Mentality is your brain, still stuck in the caveman days, convinced that food is scarce and when you find it, you better eat it all to stock up for the inevitable coming famine. The trouble is, these days, there isn't any coming famine, and the calorically dense "treats" have become commonplace, whether you live in a great food/beer city like Seattle, or work in an office that celebrates birthdays seemingly weekly. It's true that, in some cases, we might be better off abstaining from certain foods entirely, but I think a much more reasonable approach is to learn that the food is just food. It can be enjoyed, without having emotional power over us. And the practice of leaving one bite behind is a really good place to start. 
  3. It's applicable under any circumstances, anywhere, no matter what you're eating/drinking. You can leave a few bites on the plate whether you're at home or at a restaurant. You can leave bites of chicken and broccoli, McDonald's french fries, movie popcorn, pizza, nut butter, or hummus and, unless you're really vocal about it, no one will even notice that you're doing it. Which means you don't have to feel alienated at the table. You don't have to turn down dinner with friends or social events. You don't have to turn down Grandma's pumpkin pie or the Christmas cookies you get once a year. You just have to eat with intention.
  4. It forces you to think beyond "perfection" and, in turn, helps to break the cycle of "on the wagon, off the wagon" dieting. You're not failing, because no matter how far from your plan you deviate, you're still coming right back to the practice of leaving something behind. If you've struggled with going "off plan" from a highly restrictive diet in the past and had that moment where you've said "fuck it, I may as well polish off the pizza/cookies/nut butter/chips and restart on Monday"? This stops the cycle in its tracks.
  5. You can keep scaling it at your own pace until you find the "sweet spot." Consistently leaving one bite at each meal and still not seeing progress? Cool. Can you leave two bites? How about three? Which brings me to my next point....
  6. ***It forces you to slow down and pay attention, both in the moment and during the rest of the day. Yep, you don't have to restrict the types of foods/food groups you eat HOWEVER, what you'll probably notice as you start noticing this is that it becomes harder or easier depending on how your meals are constructed. If you're eating nothing but a bagel for a snack, leaving a bite behind will probably leave you a bit...unsatisfied (if not immediately, definitely a few hours later). If you eat a breakfast that combines a good source of dense protein, healthy carbs, and greens or fruit for volume, you may notice that your hunger between meals becomes much less of an emergency and much more manageable. If you find that you're starving within an hour after walking away from the table, you might need to up your protein or fat by just a little bit. You might notice that a morning workout means it's a lot harder to walk away from your lunch without gobbling up every bite. You might notice that certain foods are a LOT harder to walk away from than others (hint: they're probably manufactured like that on purpose). While you're feeling this out, a food journal can be helpful in connecting input to output, but as you become more attuned to your hunger signals from day to day, there's no need to keep meticulous track unless you feel like you've plateaued. 

CHALLENGE: Over the next couple of days, explore this for yourself. Don't even worry so much about actually leaving the bite behind, just pay attention/jot down how you feel about it. Does it make you feel stressed? Defensive? Do you roll your eyes because it feels stupid and pointless? Cool. Because I felt all of those feelings, too. Or maybe you've done this your whole life and it comes naturally to you. That's cool too! If you try it for yourself, what do you notice about the results? I'd love to hear your insights. Shoot me an email at meg@ironandspice.com or comment below with what you learned.