Monthly Archives: November 2017

A Step by Step Guide to Cultivating A Diet Free Lifestyle

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Today I am talking about having a diet free lifestyle without talking about food all that much. Is that possible?

You may have been hoping for a step by step guideline that said at breakfast you eat eggs and veggies or a carb or protein source but today we are going about this in the complete opposite way.

In essence diets are simply the kinds of food that a person eats. In fact, people all over the world eat differently (different diets) and maintain a healthy and fit lifestyle.  Except in modern society diets are referred to more in terms of restrictions of certain foods, food groups in attempts to lose weight or change the body.

And restriction itself is the farthest thing from the answer to sustainable weight/fat loss or body change.Yet so many people are tempted by meal plans, the newest diet, cleanses, food rules and detoxes even when the reality is that they just do not work.

The perfect way of eating is very grey but as humans we really, really want it to be black and white. Like if someone could just tell us what to do, we would follow it. We all do it. I have done it.

We blame being lazy, having no time, needing to be told what to do, and having no self control as the reasons why we just can’t stay on track. Here in itself is where the problem starts. The mindset behind eating. The perception of what you should and shouldn’t do and the reasons you tell yourself you can’t do it.

Our culture has engrained this all or nothing approach as if there is no middle ground, as if there is no other way.

You are either all in on a diet that allows certain foods and bans others or you just give up and eat with abandon because it won’t really matter anyways.

I like to look at it this way. Our culture is responsible for putting out this type of information 100% and we each have 100% responsibility to do something about it. I took this equal responsibility concept from a recent read The Big Leap.

To put it simply, it all begins with the way your perception and how you choose to react in any given situation.

So let’s start with a refresh on your perspective.

Meal plans, rules and restrictions create dependency and don’t even give us the opportunity to fend for ourselves when diet foods are not within arms reach. Office parties, social gatherings, nights out with friends. What are you really suppose to do if you show up and there is only chips and dip and you are starving?

You could:

  1. white knuckle your way through the party
  2. eat ALL the chips and dip
  3. eat a few chips and call it a day

Most people rarely ever choose #3. It is usually a, followed by 1, a binge later on, or 2, followed by a period of guilt, remorse and shame and then back to your strict ways the next day because you already screwed yourself for the day anyways so why bother making good choices for dinner? Even worse if it is a Saturday night, you might just as well wait until Monday.

It creates a viscous cycle that keeps us tight on plan for a time, and then inevitably we will fall off, experience guilt and then get back on the same plan.

It’s tempting though, I get it. It feels organized, it feels in control, it feel like you are disciplined enough to achieve success. I will start by breaking down 4 steps to help to break the diet cycle.

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Feeling stuck in the diet cycle is a learning experience. It won’t go away until you learn what you need to know. And you will learn it once you adopt these strategies.

Step 1: Consider the sustainability factor

The success of a diet does not only depend on results, it depends on lasting results. So often I have people tell me things like this.

“The Whole30 really makes me crave sugar less.”

“Weight Watchers works when I do it.”

“I feel great when I go gluten free.”

The question always remains, “How long did that last?”

Because short term results are all good and well but what is the point if you can not make it last. Whenever I get tempted by the latest diet or food trend or seeing some fit chicks meal plan I ask myself, “Am I willing to eat like this forever?” If the answer is no, I know I check myself and turn back to trusting myself and my process.

Step 2: Habit awareness is more important than you think.

What does this look like? First off eating is highly automatic and in order to break poor habits you have to plan, prepare, and actually stop, think and contemplate about the foods you are choosing to consume and why.

It could be as simple as swapping out your morning donut for greek yogurt and fruit or as complicated as working to intentionally fight the stressed out binge in the moment. The more you start to pay attention, the better chance you have at learning where you are most likely to give in and have the power to actually do something about it.

In the book The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, he has a habit loop theory that suggests that you can’t simply get rid of bad habits you can only replace them.

The human brain likes effortless and most people have been wrapped up in bad habits for so long they no longer realize they are doing them. In essence the key is to be aware and learn to change your routine.

If coming home from work is leaves you immediately in a stressed out binge at the fridge door, the idea is that you occupy your time with something else the moment you walk in the door.

This takes time, patience and lots of trial and error before you find success.

Step 3: Nutrients and portions.

What if you said goodbye to all the food rules you have tried or been taught and focused on just two concepts? Eating foods high in nutrients and portion control. What if you started to pay attention to how you felt eating by navigating the space between deprived and an all out binge?

You know this. More veggies, less pop tarts, stop at 2 pieces of pizza.

I am completely aware it is not this simple but unless you have a uber specific physique or endurance goal or just want to get in the best shape of your entire life you don’t need to make it so complicated on yourself.

This does take a little bit of introspection and work and while it might feel more difficult in the beginning than someone telling you to have chicken breast and broccoli for lunch it provides you with the tools that you can take wherever, whenever.

Step 4: Practice The Self Trust Solution

The ability to stop turning to meal plans and food restrictions begins with the ability to turn inward and learn the tools and insights to trust yourself any time, any place, with any food.

The best way to trust yourself is to trust yourself and see what happens because “How-to’s don’t work if you don’t talk about gets in the way.” This is a quote from Brene Brown.

Diets don’t give you the tools you need to move forward. They don’t address things like willpower, habits, stressful/emotional eating, moralizing food or finding way to eat moderately and mindfully.  They try to give you a complete life overhaul in week 1 and give hope that you can make a lifetime of change without addressing other obstacles.

You get blasted with changes and information and then are left hanging on how to implement anything.

The reality is this cycle will continue unless you are given the tools to break it. It all begins with your mindset and the willingness to make that the focus and let go of food rules and find what I like to call food freedom.

Here’s a quick recap.

  1. When tempted by a diet ask yourself, “Is this a way I can eat forever”
  2. Focus on changing one habit that you feel is most detrimental to your health by replacing the routine.
  3. Focus on nutrients in your diet and portion control.
  4. Practice trusting yourself around food without being on a diet.

 

The death of labeling food good or bad

 

I don’t eat carbs because they are bad.

I only eat good foods like vegetables and lean protein.

I was bad last night and had dessert.

Have you ever used one of these phrase?

I am confident that the slow death of labeling food as good or bad and that is what I want to talk about today.  It’s not really the classification of the food itself that bothers me it is the emotional impact associated with food labeling, especially with women.

Good just doesn’t represent a healthier choice it represents a strong control and an inherent self worth of being good enough. 

Bad doesn’t just represent a lesser nutritional choice, it represents a lack of self control and a lack of worthiness.

But classifying foods as good or bad is a poor strategy for a lifetime of eating. Sure there are foods that are more nutrient dense than others but bad doesn’t mean off limits and good doesn’t mean a free for all.

Personally I remember ten years ago when I picked up The Eat Clean Diet Cookbook and within weeks I had eliminated all “bad” foods. Things like bread, condiments, anything with an ounce of sodium, anything with added sugar, desserts, and focused on “good” foods like fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, brown rice, chicken, and ground turkey meat.

I didn’t even like the term cheat meals. Why was I going to intentionally eat “bad” food? On good days I was good and happy, on bad days I was sad and shameful.

Even with these rigid guidelines I could never find a middle ground. It was always on or off. Good or bad. I had months where I was able to adhere but any results I saw never felt worth it because it was always so stressful and consuming.

After years of focusing on moderation, mindfulness, and the mindset that goes with food labeling I now have a better understanding of why food labeling can push us towards poor food choices and away from better ones. Its completely fascinating and it begins like this.

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Fries, bacon, and chilli. So bad? Or just food?

Being good gives ourselves permission to be a little bit bad.

Or so willpower researcher Kelly McGonigal says in her book The Willpower Instinct. As humans, we like to moralize our choices. We like to feel like we are doing the right thing and making the right choices so we do our best to convince ourselves of that.

When we do something that we view as “good” and label it as such, like eat a healthy breakfast or choose not to skip our workouts we are actually more apt to make poorer choices or skip workouts at a later time because we let our good behavior let ourselves of the hook for  a later time.

It is almost like our good behavior cancels out our bad behavior and sometimes it’s not always something we are aware of.

There is a term in psychology called The Halo Effect in which we justify our choices, looking for any reason to give into temptation. In the dieting world researchers have even coined a term in relation to food, The Health Halo.

When we eat something “good” it subtly justifies an indulgence of something else.

Eating a salad makes it ok to eat dessert, bread, and wine in large quantities.

Adding vegetables on the side makes an entire pizza ok.

Eating appetizers only for dinner make unlimited alcohol not so bad.

Saying no to the bun makes it ok to have all the fries.

Good choices make the bad ones not so bad. However more often than not many of us would have been better off just ordering the cheeseburger instead of eating a salad and then eating all the appetizers, drinks and desserts that come along with it.

We lose common sense when we label foods as good or bad and look for any reason to give into temptation.

Moralizing choices can come in many different forms.

It can be viewed as what you could have done but didn’t.

I could have had 3 martinis but I only had two.

It can be justified in the fat free ice cream.

Well it is fat free so I can have more.

If can rewarding yourself with your workout.

I had a hard workout so I deserve a big meal.

Awareness is the first step of change.

This is a mental practice that begins in awareness. When I work with clients on changing habits I encourage them NOT to go crazy trying to change it at first because typically the harder someone pushes to change, the harder it will push back.  I have them start by noticing what they are doing when they are doing it and practice an internal dialogue. 

“Hey, I just worked out and I am crushing this meal because I feel like I deserved it. Interesting.”

Then practice shifting it to what the reality of the situation is. “I am not eating this meal because I have been good and I deserve it, I am eating it because it looks good and I am choosing too.”

The idea is with time and practice you will slowly started to notice that your food choices are not about you being good or bad, it is not about the food being good or bad, it is simply about what you are choosing to do.

Viewing it from this perspective takes away some of the power that food has over our emotional state and our need to give ourselves permission to give in. Eat a cookie because you want to, not because you deserve it.

It is short sighted to operate in a state of thinking that we just need to be more strict and stick to virtuous foods that imply that we worthy of having it.

Food is food. Some of it is way more nutritious than others but when we can stop thinking about it as some sort of moral licensing we can start to view food as what might be best for our health, goals, and state of mind.

We can take our halos off and not give in to mind games that contribute to the food and eating struggle.

I am super excited to share that I am opening enrollment to my 5-Day Mindset Makeover Food Edition Course for anyone who feels they are overwhelmed, inconsistent, anxious, or always feel the need to start a new diet or plan.

It is totally free and you can sign up here!

3 ways cheat meals are failing you


When I go out to dinner and have a cheat meal I feel the need to eat everything because I don’t want to take home leftovers and be tempted by them when tomorrow I have to start over.

Can you relate? For me I was never a fan of cheat or treat meals but I experimented with them over the years because it kinda made sense.

When I worked hard all week to be compliant and disciplined with my eating it felt very natural to feel like I had earned a reward and some freedom in my eating choices for a meal or even a day.

It felt sensible, innocent, and harmless. What I have noticed over the years, through my own experience, and the experiences of others, is that cheat meals seem to do more harm than good.

From a psychological perspective there is a term called moral licensing that pretty much says being good gives yourself permission to be bad.

Making “good” food choices all week makes you feel good about yourself therefore making you more likely to give in especially when you have conflicting desires like, “I really want to be good but I also want that cheeseburger and fries.”

As humans we often like to moralize anything that matches our impulses to make ourselves feel better. It is like a protective mechanism so we can minimize uncomfortable feelings.

Whether people realize it or not cheat meals have a significant impact on the way we think about food, eating, and ourselves. Here is how.

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I have to eat it all otherwise I can’t cheat again until next week….

Cheat meals turn eating into a measure of worth.

The name cheat meals has commonly been changed to treat meals to take away the negative connotation that people are being bad when they indulge out of their normal regime.

Ironically the word treat seems to imply that we are deserving for having a good week or staying compliant to a plan. I wrote an entire blog post about labeling food as good or bad which you can access here, but ultimately we start to apply it to our self worth which is completely absurd.

When I eat good foods I am good. When I eat bad foods I bad.

When I stick to my diet I am in control and successful. When I fall off of it I am not.

The less we can associate food with labeling the more we can eat food based on how we feel, whether or not we are hungry, and how much we really need.

Food labeling encourages a black or white way of thinking like there is no middle ground. It encourages this arbitrary standard of perfection with eating that is impossible to sustain.

Here are 3 ways cheat meals are setting you up for failure.

They don’t take into account how you feel in the moment.

When I experimented with adding cheat meals into my diet I found that even after my week of good eating, I didn’t always want a cheat meal but I ate it because I deserved it and if I didn’t eat it then, I would have to wait an entire week to have it again.

Can you see where this completely ignored any awareness in regards to my body and only focused on rules and restrictions I placed on myself?

I also had times where cheat meals would turn into all out binges or a days worth of cheat eating if I messed up I might as well wait until tomorrow to start again fresh. Like the scenario at the beginning of this post, no cheat leftover could be left in the house because it would ruin tomorrow if I was trying to start clean. It didn’t matter if I was hungry or a certain food would make me more satisfied I just went along with this mentality.

This is equivalent to getting into a fender bender and than ramming your car into a wall anyway. You have the option to fix yourself mid binge.  You have the option to bring more awareness to the moment and realize that you have the power and choice to switch gears. You have the knowledge that every choice can make a difference.

They perpetuate the all or nothing mentally.

This is essentially what this entire post is breaking down. The idea that eating has to be perfect and on plan or you fall off the wagon all together. I don’t even like the idea of a wagon. You are never on or off the wagon you just are.

Overdoing it one night just to wake up the next day and hardly eat until dinner time is a prime example of getting caught up to two extremes and never finding that middle, moderate ground.

I had a client tell me the other day that this whole perspective I talk about, practicing to navigate eating in between the extremes of deprivation and overindulgence sounds great in theory, but it is hard.  Really hard. I couldn’t agree more.

But just like with every hard endeavor in life you practice. You fail. You try again. It is really hard to accept this with a concept like eating but it is no different. You practice. You fail. You try again. Repeat this 20 times and maybe on the 21st you will get a little better and the next times and the next time.

How to break the cheat meal cycle.

I know you may be wondering what in the world you are supposed to do next. The question I like to ask people is this: why do you feel the need to have a cheat meal? Usually it is because people have been depriving themselves too much during the week. The more deprived you feel, the more likely you will be to overindulge at some point.

What you eat tomorrow is highly dependent on what you eat today. So while you might feel great restricting food all day, feeling strong and in control don’t be surprised if that night or that weekend you overindulge more than you cared for.

The answer is to feel more satisfied during the week so you don’t feel the need for cheats and treats.

Add some toast to your morning egg whites.

Add cheese on your salad instead of just chicken and lettuce.

Eat a piece of chocolate every single day.

Why not feel more satisfied every single day of the week so you don’t feel like you are missing out or need to go all out on the weekend?

Perfect eating never leads to long term success. Consistency beats perfection and you may just be surprised how much easier it all feels when you learn to trust yourself more around any food every single day and not wait until the grand designated cheat opportunity.

If you find these tips helpful be sure to snag your spot for my 5-Day Food Mindset Makeover Course. It is totally FREE and full of strategies like this to help reframe the way you think about food and eating and break constantly searching for the next plan or diet. Sign up here!