Do you ever hang out in coffee shops, sipping your double Americano – no cream or sugar – nibbling on air, and staring around you at the local color, silently tallying up the calories in their triple vanilla lattes, hand forged donuts, scones, and delectable baked treats, marveling at their slim waistlines while silently cursing your own slow metabolism, crappy genetics, and complete inability to even look at carbs without packing on pounds?
Does it seem like no matter how carefully you watch what passes your lips, how committed you are to a workout routine, or how dedicated you are to losing weight that the pounds just refuse to budge? Or maybe you lose a few, but they bounce right back as soon as you look the other direction? Or, even worse, the more you watch your diet, do you actually GAIN weight?
First, let me say: It’s not your fault! Chances are, you’re following great advice – the advice of someone who used their principles to either transform their own body or to help clients make tremendous changes. The problem isn’t usually the diet or exercise program, the problem is usually the mindset. You see, until you’ve got your head in the right place, it truly doesn’t matter WHAT food program you follow: Atkins, Zone, raw food, vegetarian, vegan, fruitarian…it honestly does not make any difference. You can gain or lose weight on all of these (and while the comparable health benefits of these diets are debatable, that’s not the point for this post).
At one point in my life, I lost 30 pounds quite easily and with very little effort. I wasn’t ‘training’ at the time, nor was I on any exercise program. I moved my body but only when I wanted and as much as I felt like doing. I ate plenty of food, and while I was not eating wheat or gluten, I did eat a good amount of carbohydrates from fruits and gluten-free grains. Fast forward a few years when I was training for kettlebell sport competitions – a seriously demanding weight lifting sport – and was on a demanding schedule for both lifting and eating. I wrote down every workout and every morsel that went into my mouth, working hard to meet the nutrition requirements laid out for me.
Shockingly, working out 5-6 days/week and eating an ‘appropriate’ diet, I GAINED 30 pounds! And while some of it was muscle, much of it was not. I was horribly dejected to discover I’d put on 3% additional body fat. Not only was I gaining weight, but I didn’t feel all that great either. My mood and energy were low, my body ached, and I felt heavy and unhappy. Suddenly, I was not having fun anymore.
After giving it my all, I was pretty disillusioned with the diet and exercise approach to health. After all, I couldn’t possibly try harder! I essentially gave up – I didn’t train and I didn’t think much about my food. While I didn’t continue to gain any weight, I sure didn’t feel very well either. Finally, I reached a point where I couldn’t take feeling like crap anymore and I started to clean up my diet, only I didn’t go on any program for follow anyone else’s plan.
And this is what I want to share with you today…the SECRET to having the body of your dreams is definitely NOT in following someone else’s advice. That’s a surefire path to weight gain, low energy, and disillusionment. Don’t get me wrong, you need to know what foods will feed your body and soul and also what foods rob you of your life force energy, but this is best done through experimentation and personal awareness.
Diets, programs, and regimes give you a framework within which you can experiment to see how your body responds to various foods or combinations of food. It is helpful to have a mentor who can help you find out what works for your system and educate you about common allergens, nutritional deficiencies, etc. Where you’ll get yourself in trouble is if you go on a plan that tells you to eat x for breakfast, y for lunch, and z for dinner. Planned out menus are great for a guide, but maybe you’re not hungry when lunchtime rolls around. Or possibly you’re starving at 11:00 with an hour to go before ‘lunchtime.’
Eating when you’re not hungry or forcing yourself to wait when you’re truly starving puts you If you start to notice your body’s rhythms, you’ll know exactly what you need to feed yourself and when. Going on an all or nothing diet (i.e. all protein no carbs) is another great way to throw yourself out of balance. For example, I do best on a lower carbohydrate diet, but when I’ve been super active either mentally or physically, I generally need to replenish with some fruit or even gluten free bread, quinoa, brown rice pasta, etc. The point is that I KNOW what my body needs and when. I don’t have to ask anyone else what I SHOULD be eating.
Learning to listen to your body’s impulses and knowing what eat is a process of trial and error. It takes a while before you know how you’ll respond to various foods, and as you continue to learn and refine, you’ll get better at knowing what works. Here are some tips to help you get started:
Figure out what your staples are and keep those on hand at home. When you get hungry, make a mental rundown of the ingredients in your house and figure out what you can make that sounds good. If you need to stop by the store and pick up a couple of additional ingredients, go for it.
This helps you to begin listening to your body in the moment. If you plan on eating a big fresh salad for Tuesday’s dinner on Sunday, but when Tuesday rolls around it’s pouring rain and freezing cold, you’re probably going to be looking for something a little more warming than salad. Keep yourself in the moment.
Watch people eating in a restaurant sometime and you will notice that as soon as one bite is in their mouth, they’re poking around on their plate, gathering the next bite. Put a forkful of food in your mouth, chew it slowly, and really taste it. Swallow before you start looking for your next bite. You’ll get ten times more satisfaction out of your food this way, and you will probably notice that, with time, you’ll eat less.
In a society that touts fast food and meals ready in three minutes, we don’t set aside time to enjoy eating. Eating is one of the most primal impulses we have (we cannot survive as a species if we don’t nourish our bodies).
Satisfaction from food is more than just a full stomach. Just like with a fabulous vacation, anticipation is part of the joy of eating. Look forward to your meals (side note: in order to look forward to your meals, you need to enjoy your food…if you’re downing green slime because it’s ‘good for you,’ but it tastes horrible, stop!). Prepare them with love (you can do this even if you only have 15 minutes for lunch, trust me). Taste every bite, and when you’re done, be DONE! Emotional dissatisfaction with your meals motivates you to snack. When you feel full and nourished, snacks are just not as appetizing.
For example, if you notice you want to take a nap after eating dairy, or eggs seem to give you a bout of nausea, you may want to avoid these foods. But not to worry, if you adore cheese or eggs are your favorite breakfast of all time, just reserve them for occasions when you aren’t going to have to be particularly active. Just recognize that eating these foods is a trade off – you get to enjoy something delicious, but then you have to process it out of your system.
If you have a violent reaction to something, you might want to consider cutting it out completely (because feeling like crap just isn’t fun no matter how good that food tastes).
Only YOU know what it’s like to live in there. The space in side your skin is yours and yours alone. It is not for anyone else to judge that space or to tell you how to care for that space. Do not let anyone else’s judgments of ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food influence your choices. Eat what makes you FEEL good.
Put these practices to use and watch your body start to transform. While it’s not 100% effortless, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of happiness with both your food AND your body.
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