Beware of Trendy Enemies

“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.”

~Henry David Thoreau

Ah, trendiness. Even though we understand that from a marketing perspective moderation doesn’t sell products, it’s still hard to shut out all of the differing messages from magazines, celebrities, and tv commercials. We watch as they tout the latest trends knowing full well that in 6 months they will be pushing some new, and most likely contradictory, one. As a culture that is inundated with media, moderation and balance often take a back seat.

This is no exception in the health and fitness world. Indeed, if they keep us thinking there is always a new or better way to do something we will keep buying their products. In the ’80s, low fat was king. So everything from dairy to dessert became good for you as long as they were fat-free. Then there was low calorie, then low carb, now gluten will kill you! Paleo says to eat like a caveman. Dr. Oz says to eat smaller meals every 2-3 hours. Never skip breakfast….unless you’re intermittent fasting?! Zone and Atkins and vegans, oh my!

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Sure don’t.

And we wonder why we have the highest rates of both eating disorders AND obesity in the history of our country. As Dan John puts it, “Take a walk through the grocery store and you’ll notice yesterday’s diet crazes are today’s staples”. So how do we even begin to know where to start?

Let’s take a look at a couple of the biggest “enemies” of today. But first let me remind you, the more restrictive the diet the less sustainable it is. Focusing on one small habit at a time proves most effective in reaching and maintaining your goals. So I’ll be giving some suggestions for possible small habit changes.

Public Enemy #1: The Evil Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates have gotten quite the bad rap. Here is why you don’t need to fear them.

Indeed, many people who try low-carb dieting are initially pleased by an immediate weight loss… which is mostly water and glycogen. So, in the short term, it seems like low-carb diets are superior.

But does long-term evidence support low-carb dieting?

Research says no. Over the long haul, any differences between low-carb and other diets even out.*

More important is quality and quantity and how you feel with each. As far as quality goes, minimally processed, whole and fresh foods are best. Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for quantity. Most of us will do well with some. A cupped handful for women and 2 cupped handfuls for men is a great place to start. However, this will depend on your goals, genetics, and lifestyle. For example: the more sedentary you are the less carbohydrates you will need. Pay attention to how you feel when you have more or less: Are you low energy? Do you feel less bloated?

Small habit #1: Limit carbs to a cupped handful per meal. (If that seems too hard, make it easier! Limit them in one meal. Have 1 potato instead of 2. You get the gist.)

Public Enemy #2: The Dreaded Non-Organic Food

I used to get so overwhelmed by the organic vs. non-organic talk that in college I ended up in the middle of the produce section calling my mom crying because I couldn’t afford organic fruit. According to the Environmental Working Group, the health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. And ultimately, conventionally grown fruits and veggies are still better for you than most of the stuff you’d end up replacing them with. My approach now is to buy organic when it is within my means. I have my priorities based on the stuff we eat the most and this list. If not, I wash them off before I eat them and leave the rest up to God.

Small habit #2: Eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal.

Public Enemy #3: The Rebellious Breakfast Skipper

For years and years, we have been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That is until recently when intermittent fasting became the only thing anybody was talking about, ever, in the world…at least it felt like that in the fitness world, anyways. So which is it?! Research seems to be finding that ultimately eating the right foods in the right amounts is much more important than when you eat them. So, do you wake up hungry? Eat breakfast. Does eating breakfast feel a bit like pulling teeth? Skip it! But listen to your body. Pay attention to your energy levels and hunger ques. If you skip breakfast then end up tired and dragging by 10 am, try eating a small breakfast for a week and see how you feel. No matter which works best for you, try this small habit out.

Small habit #3: Eat until you’re 80% full. In other words, you should feel satisfied but not stuffed.

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Ever felt this way? Me too!

Whether you’re reading what the latest actress did to get in shape or the newest fad diet, one thing you’ll start to notice is there always seems to be one common denominator: protein. Protein always seems to come out on top. I found this very interesting.

One recent study asked: Do low carb diets work because they restrict carbs or because they tend to increase protein?

Over the course of one year, the researchers compared four different conditions:

  1. normal protein, normal carbohydrate
  2. normal protein, low carbohydrate
  3. high protein, low carbohydrate
  4. high protein, normal carbohydrate.

Interestingly, the two groups eating the high protein lost the most weight.

And the real kicker? Varying the levels of fats and carbs seemed to make no difference to body composition.*

So there you have it. Might I suggest, if you don’t eat much protein, this is the best place to start.

Small habit #4: Get some protein in each meal.

The battle is not so much about organic vs. non-organic or low carb vs. low fat. The battle is choosing real food over convenience while it’s staring you in the face down every aisle and on every street corner. The battle is practicing moderation in the face of enormous portion sizes and ever available junk food. Most importantly, the battle is learning how to eat FOR YOU.

“Every man is the builder of a temple called his body.” ~ H.D.Thoreau

*Precision Nutrition blog – Carb Controversy: Why low carb diets have got it all wrong

Helpful Tips from One Sugar Addict to Another

When I asked my clients the other day what their biggest struggle is when it came to their health, I grimaced at the resounding reply of SUGAR. How am I supposed to talk about this when I have my own sweet tooth that often feels out of control?!?! Then it hit me: maybe this makes me MORE qualified to talk about it because I understand it. Oh boy, do I understand it. If most of you are thinking, ‘Oh sure she “struggles with sugar,”’ this past holiday season I took down almost an entire double batch (I think Joel may have had a few) of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies in about 2 weeks’ time.

Seriously, this is how I feel about food that doesn’t contain sugar…..

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So I’d say I’m qualified to talk on this subject, no?

Now that I’ve established that, the question is: how do we break the hold that sugar has over so many of us? I’ve tried a lot of things, but here’s what works for me….

Start small

One of the best ways to make a change is to pick 1 habit you want to change and focus all of your energy on that one habit for 2-4 weeks. Write it down. I write my goal in my calendar and track it there. (I can’t be the only one who gets a high from checking stuff off, right?!) Make it realistic and make it easy…. so easy, in fact, that you have no doubt you can do it!

For example, I knew I needed to start dealing with my sugar habit. So I started small. My goal was to have only 4 sweet treats a week. I figured that’s still the majority of days per week that I get to have my precious… ack! Sorry, a sweet treat. That first week I stuck to the number, but I went all out when I could have it. I’m talking Dairy Queen Blizzards, multiple graham crackers dipped in copious amounts of peanut butter and dark chocolate, and I honestly can’t remember the others but you get the idea. Did I beat myself up about it? Nope. Cuz I had stuck to my goal. However, I also knew that this kind of behavior wasn’t ultimately going to get me where I wanted to be, so I made slight changes each week that inched me more toward that ultimate objective. The next week I was still allowed 4, but one of those sweets could only be 2 squares of dark chocolate. Of course, if you really struggle to make your goal on the first week then there’s no need to up the ante the next week.

Some of you might be thinking this sounds too hard while others might find it too easy – the point is to choose something that feels attainable for you while still moving you in the right direction. If you’re like me and you can literally hear the chocolate calling to you over the sound of the TV, I’ve found this to be one of the easiest ways to start. If you’re the all-or-nothing type, I give you this little factoid: according to Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less, when only one habit is adopted per month, success rates can be as high as 80%. However, when we get too ambitious and attempt to adopt even just 2 habits simultaneously, the success rates drop to below 20% for either habit! Wow….yowza….

Most of us have taken years to build our bad habits, so don’t expect to change them overnight. Don’t be afraid to relax into it and set yourself up for success!

Mind over matter

In my experience, the process of habit change is made drastically more difficult if you don’t figure out the Why. Why am I so attached to sugar?? One of the things I started to realize (as my head cleared and the sugar shakes subsided) is how much I associated sugar with happiness. I was so emotionally attached to sugar that I would often think that this or that party would not be fun if I couldn’t eat dessert. No matter that these parties were often filled with some of my most favorite people in the world, good conversation, fun games, and laughter. That realization hit me like a bomb. What a ridiculous way to think!! Sugar has no power to actually give us the satisfaction that we crave…ever. While I knew that in my head, my heart (and stomach) had decided otherwise.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love food. I believe we were made to enjoy food or else God wouldn’t have given food its flavor or us our taste buds! “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil.” But the two had become so connected in my head that I could no longer separate them.

To combat this, I would decide ahead of time that at the next party I would not splurge even though I still had some cheats left. And you know what I found? At the end of the night, I was still alive. Not only that, but I was mentally freed up to engage with and really enjoy all of the many other blessings I was surrounded by. How liberating to be at a party and not spend half of the time mentally waging war over ‘to eat or not to eat’! I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. Plus, my stomach felt a lot better the next morning!

I’m not saying you need to do this every time, but try it every once in a while. You might be surprised by how easy it is when you know going in that indulging is just not an option.

Diversion

Often times – when I find myself craving something sweet – I’ve learned that if I take the time to listen to my body I tend to realize that I am not actually hungry at all. The hubs and I have coined the term “mouth hungry”, meaning that my stomach feels satisfied but my mouth is still craving. This most often happens to me at night, when I have mentally relaxed and am watching TV or hanging out with friends. Most trainers would tell you to turn off the TV and go to bed or go for a walk. Well, here it is: I like my stories! And I live in Colorado, so it’s too fargin’ cold to go for a walk right now! What I can do is see it for what it is: a mental craving. I make the decision right then and there to stop letting these thoughts take over and focus instead on the show. If I’m at a party, I focus fully on the people and the conversation. Usually, once I let go and focus my attention elsewhere, I start enjoying the show or company more and the craving passes.

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If, however, the craving is really strong, I will also find ways to distract my mouth. First, I make sure that I am drinking enough water. It’s amazing how easily a craving can be dealt with by a glass of water. After that, gum is one of my go-to’s while Joel likes tea. We also love oranges and berries, but I try to save those for the times when I’m actually still hungry.

(One caveat: I do actually love going for late night walks in the summer time. And there are plenty of times where I would say that if you’re not watching something that’s good on the ol’ tele, turn it off and pick up a good book or hit the sack. These are just what things that work for me, but again, you have to find what diversions work for you.)

Create Accountability

Find someone who will hold you accountable. My husband does this for me. Spouses are great for this because they are usually around you the most, but I will caution you that this can backfire. You have to find that person that will be persistent and know the right thing to say at the right time – whoever it may be. Otherwise, the next thing you know, you’re both headed to Dairy Queen because someone feels bad telling the other person ‘No’ OR you’re in a fight because you’re sure he just called you a cow. Those examples were just off the top of my head…. never actually happened to me before. 😉

Another option would be to get a friend that you check in with every night, even if it’s just over text. The power of accountability can be awesome when you find the right accountability partner. It just takes a little trial and error sometimes.

Plan Ahead

Here’s that whole moderation thing again. If I know I’m going to have a dessert, I try to eat a meal higher in protein and lower in carbs and I stop eating before I normally would. Because nothing is very enjoyable when you’re eating it on an already full stomach. Believe me, I know. During the holidays, I try to eat really clean at home so I can splurge and enjoy a few extra treats at parties and get-togethers. As with so many things in health and fitness and LIFE, it’s all about balance.

ENJOY IT

Last but not least, when you do finally partake in whatever deliciousness you choose, don’t waste the calories on something you could do without. Make it something you really really love. Then savor every dang bite. You’ll be amazed at how much less you will want when you take the time to really taste your food. Then be done with it. You won’t gain 5 pounds from one dessert. You won’t have thrown away all that you’ve worked for. (You just might even benefit every once in a while from giving in to that sugar craving.) So enjoy it and then move on. End of story.

I hope these tips are helpful to you. My ultimate goal is not to never eat sugar again, but to be free of the unrealistic expectations I have placed on this particular food group. I’m not there yet, but it is getting easier. Even though the physical cravings have subsided for the most part, I have easier weeks and harder ones. But I refuse to be controlled by it.

Unfortunately the all-or-nothing mindset seems to almost always leave people frustrated and back at nothing. Sure moderation isn’t sexy and it takes commitment and discipline, but with it comes freedom. I love this quote from A.J. Heschel: “Self respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.” Nothing in this world worth having is easy to attain – and that applies to our nutrition as much as to our fitness, our jobs, our relationships, or anything truly important in life.

I love this little guy!

I love this little guy!

Have some tricks or tips of your own? I’d love to hear them, so please share below!