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Nutrition Tip #2: The Secrets to a Balanced Approach to Eating, Or How to Deal with The Munchies!

Posted Oct 18 2008 4:09pm

In my last post, I promised that I'd delve into coping strategies for staying on track in your eating plan. So now I'm going to expand on that topic. (See, I try my best to keep my promises!)

So, as I mentioned in my earlier post, it's important to develop realistic, measurable guidelines & coping strategies that allow you to successfully work through your weak moments. This way, you can have a plan of action that builds on your successes, while still satisfying the occasional food or beverage craving. (See my next post for more specifics on this.)

So what are some of the ways to do this?

(1) Preplan your meals. By this, I don't mean that you need to suddenly become a five-star chef at Canyon Ranch or Miraval, & cook all of your meals yourself, or pre-plan your meal plans ten-weeks in advance. Rather, I'm talking about planning what you intend to eat that day, the next couple of days, or that week. This is a more realistic approach.

While we're on the subject of cooking, I know there are going to be days when you don't feel like cooking, or don't even feel like slapping a meal together (low-fat cheesesticks & apples for dinner, anyone? ;-) ), but you can still eat healthy foods that don't take a lot of preparation or cooking time. In fact, whole foods (like veggies, etc.) are often healthier for you raw, & also even easier to prepare when they are simply sliced in two. If you are unexcited by the prospect of eating a plate of raw veggies as part of your dinner, or plain fruit for dessert, let me remind you that if you're planning on eating your meals at home, that you'll either have to step into the kitchen, shop in the supermarket, or get take-out or delivery, to find a more interesting & yet-still-healthy alternative preparation. It's usually going to be a tradeoff between your time & your tastebuds. (But hopefully not your health!)

Anyhow, back to what I was saying about preplanning meals: It's a good idea to preplan , & not wait until you get satiety signals before you stop eating. (Of course, it can often take up to 20 minutes or so for satiety signals to reach the brain.)

Also, it's a good idea to preplan what specific appetizers, desserts, etc., you're going to eat. If you are at a restaurant, you'll particularly need this strategy. This is particularly true of buffet-style eating, but you can still make it work, if you scope out the buffet area & make reasonable provisions.

(2) If you are planning to eat a sugary, fatty, or highly-caloric "treat," make provisions in your nutritional plan to accomodate. By this, I mean it's a good idea to specifically preplan what you don't eat after eating a "treat" like this.

For example, if I'm at a Mexican restaurant & decide that I'm going to eat the chips & salsa they bring out before the meal, then I'll make the decision to scale back my intake of other like carbs in my meal. Perhaps I'll choose the chicken fajitas & not eat the fajita bread, etc.

All & all, it's a matter of making minor adjustments & food exchanges. That way, you'll feel satisfied but also stay on track.

(3) Set reasonable, specific, measurable food guidelines for yourself to stay on track with your nutritional plan & weight management. (Sounds a lot like strategies used for general goal setting, eh?!)

The reason I recommend setting guidelines is to help you self-monitor your known nutrition "problem areas." Most people I know have a tendency to repeat "food abuse" patterns, particularly when it comes to certain less-than-healthy "comfort foods" & beverages. So, if you are aware of your weaknesses, it only makes sense to set up guidelines to help you manage them in a healthy & moderate way. That way, you don't entirely go without, and avoid the BOING-BOING-like explosion that results from denying & repressing yourself into a tightly-coiled metal spring of a human being for far too long. And we surely wouldn't want THAT to happen!

The general thinking is this: If you establish guidelines for various "problem" food types, you are less likely to abuse them.

Translation: Set a "food guideline" which allows you to negotiate a "deal" with yourself.

For example, I will allow myself a specific, measurable amount of sweets on a weekend day, but then I return to eating healthy during the week, so I break the craving. (I've seen some people follow the same guideline for their alcohol intake as well.)

Another tactic I use is more specific, & pertains to ice cream: I allow myself no more than one scoop every 3-4 weeks; and if I'm having ice cream at home, I make sure that my 1 scoop of Breyer's low-fat ice cream doesn't not exceed the height of the rim of the bowl. (I use a medium-sized Corelle cereal bowl.) This ensures that I allot a reasonable portion size, but still satisfy my craving, as not to go batty & wreck my entire nutritional plan! ;-)

Also, here's yet another good, specific "coping mechanism" that might work for you: if you can't remember the last time you had Food Treat "A" or Beverage Treat "B", then you might want to allow yourselves these items on a periodic basis. For example: I can have chocolate in "X" quantity, and "X" number of times. This way, if you put boundaries around your temptations, it puts them in a more reasonable light. After all, who in their right mind likes to think of things is terms of what we can't have! If we CAN have treats, then that temptation doesn't seem so bad after all......

(4) Be gentle with yourself & stay focused on your health & nutritional priorities. It's so very important to keep reminding yourself of why you are exercising & eating healthfully. And all the while you are reinforcing this principle, it's important to maintain perspective & be gentle with yourself.

I don't beat myself up if I'm not perfectly following my nutrition or exercise plan. I just hop right back into the saddle & keep heading for the horizon. The point is to stay focused on your most essential goals, & regardless of setbacks you might face, to stay on the path towards those goals.

(5) Determine in your mind what you want for yourself & visualize a picture of it for yourself. This of course speaks to you to the idea of visualizing your overall health goals to strength your resolve, thus your overall likelihood of success.

This isn't new, but studies show that it still works wonders. So ladies, if you like, please go ahead & visualize yourself fitting into that cute pair of jeans you've been eyeing on the shelves of your favorite store, or that itty, bitty, yellow-polka dot bikini. 8-) Fellows, picture yourselves all buff & defined, while wearing your favorite running jersey or whatever inspires you to fitness & health.

On a personal note, I do find that lately, since I'm so focused on what I want -- reduced body fat, lean muscle mass, & health -- that's it's become rather easy to say "no" to temptation. What's really happening here is that I'm saying "yes" to myself & my goals, & "no" to what I don't want (i.e., fat & low-energy!).

It's like a little light bulb has gone off in my head, and for the first time in a very, very long time, I'm able to move forward in this particular arena. I think it's because I just want to achieve my goals so damn bad! Also, after all the hard work I am currently putting into my running/workouts, I don't exactly feel like slapping the fat I've just lost right back onto my body! ;-) I swear that hell will freeze over before I do that!!!!!



(6) Decide what you can live with & also live without during your training period.

Although I try not to make too many absolute, hard & fast rules, (which, in my experience, usually only leads to rule-breaking or sometimes even a complete fitness/nutrition meltdown!), I will, in some cases, make exceptions.

For example: As another helpful strategy to further enhance my training & weight loss, I've been abstaining completely from eating high-glycemic index foods like pasta & potatoes, and from drinking alcohol during my training period. Now I'm not a complete teetotaler, but I do try to limit alcohol intake during my training.

Now, I'm certainly not recommending you live like a monk or follow the same exact guidelines that I've made for myself. Rather, I encourage you to make up your own reasonable guidelines, and focus on what works for you.

(7) Take up a hobby that keeps your fingers busy. This is an especially good tip to follow if you find you are an unconscious or nervous eater. There are plenty of helpful hobbies from which to choose, so take your pick -- knitting, crossword puzzles, card & board games, cat-petting (which, if your cats are anything like mine, can sometimes be a full-time job!), etc. Having a hobby to do (even if you're doing that hobby in front of the TV!), can often help to curb overeating resulting from mindlessness or boredom. 8-)

(8) Eat mindfully & chew your food slowly. Again, this is related to the previous tip. Be present while you eat, so you can fully taste & enjoy your food.

We all know the pitfalls of unconscious eating (or rather, over eating!), whether it be while TV-watching or sitting in a dark movie theatre shovelling in the popcorn. (Eek! Horror & suspense movies can be particularly dangerous in this regard. ;-) )

So, if you make a point of being aware & intentional in your eating, & decide to put yourself in a good food situations/environments, you can ensure a positive, healthy outcome.

(9) Re-evaluate your plan & re-assess your progress from time to time. Even the best laid plans can sometimes go off-track, so be sure to check in with yourself from time to time, to make sure you're still going in the right direction. If something you're doing isn't working for you, then re-assess its value & find a new strategy.

Occasionally, in my running blog, you'll see that I talk about finding new strategies or plans, or re-evaluating existing things I'm doing. This is a healthy thing to do & I also advise that you incorporate this awareness into your fitness training & nutrition plans, to maximize your successes.

Additionally, when it comes to the topic of weight management, I will check how my pants fit to make sure I'm staying on track & that the numbers are headed in the general downward direction. I also hop on the scale from time to time, but I find that the "pants check" technique is far healthier for my mental state! ;-)

In summation: Planning is the key to good nutrition & weight management, & is the common theme that ties all of these tips together .

I hope you've found these eating strategies to be useful. Many of these tips are what healthy eaters use to maintain nutritional balance as well as a healthy weight.

I wish you lots of success in your efforts to maintain or improve your overall health. As always, I welcome your comments & questions.

Have a happy, healthy afternoon!
-C

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