January in Review: Keeping Things Simple
This year, I am kicking off the year-long “Making the Changes That Matter” project, and now that the first month is in the books, let’s review the first theme of “Keeping Things Simple.”
First, build an awareness of the “hyperpalatable” food habits in your life. Do you notice how much of our food culture is built on super-tasty, salty, oily, and/or sugary foods? The magical high-calorie combination of sugar, fat, and salt is the base pyramid of most of our commercial eating. These foods effectively disable our “off switch” for eating, making it difficult not to overeat.
Even worse, eating too much of these foods on a regular basis can train our brains to maintain a higher weight than is healthy for us. Part of this process is driven by the fact that hyperpalatable foods create more cravings than they satisfy, and we regularly overeat in pursuit of satiety.
Week 1 was all about learning to identify and avoid too much hyperpalatable eating. Does this mean that you should eliminate it completely, and never eat pizza, pasta, ice cream, or crackers ever again? Of course not – we can’t live in “clean eating caves” where social lives go to die. Instead, the goal is to minimize our dependence on commercial foods and to transform our routines so that they are treats and not a way of life.
If you have been following along with this project and implementing the strategies, you may have noticed that cutting your intake of hyperpalatable foods caused you to eat less, but also feel hungrier, and perhaps even experience more cravings. The forbidden fruit is the most appealing, right?
This is where many people crash and burn on diets. However, there is a solution.
Getting enough protein and fiber will radically increase your fullness and satisfaction, keeping your mind off of food between meals. Your blood sugar will be more stable, your digestion will be more efficient, and your mood and mindset will be improved. Best of all, you will find that your dependence on (and cravings for) hyperpalatable foods automatically lessens.
Week 2’s strategy was, in short, to eat more fruit and vegetables every day, and to shore up protein intake with 10-20 grams of the important macronutrient at every meal or snack. This gives you the double whammy of literally filling up your stomach, in terms of volume, and also reaping the benefit of a low-glycemic diet that gives you slow-burning, lasting energy.
Based on feedback that I received from participants, this strategy made a dramatic difference in soothing cravings!
In Week 3, we shifted to mindset. I talked about how smart eating strategies are more like aikido (the Japanese martial art) than dieting. In aikido, the goal is to flow with your opponent’s energy and use momentum as part of your strategy.
In that spirit, we want to avoid over-taxing willpower (as dieting often does), and instead want to preserve it as a precious mental resource. We want to work with ourselves and our natural tendencies, instead of against ourselves and our biological and emotional wiring.
When we see willpower as a cup that can be depleted, instead of as a weak muscle that needs to be strengthened, we can have our compassion for ourselves and our foibles, and take better care of ourselves as a result.
Week 3’s strategy was to engage in more proactive behaviors that protect and conserve willpower, like (1) planning, prepping, and packing food, and (2) avoiding extreme hunger.
In Week 4, we continued our discussion of willpower in terms of optimizing our eating environment and setting ourselves up for success.
There are three key scenarios that can be “cleaned up” for long-term success:
(1) How our kitchen is organized can have a huge impact on our eating. Whether hyperpalatable foods are present and/or visible can make or break good intentions.
(2) How we interact with the food culture of our workplace (where we spend much of our time) is just as important as the environment of our home.
(3) Finally, how we create our daily routines, especially after work and before bed, can tremendously impact the amount of calories we eat per day.
I started January with the statement, “Plurality should not be posited without necessity.” Why is this so important?
If you walk into the “Diets and Nutrition” or “Health” section of any Barnes and Noble, you will see rows and rows and rows of books that all proclaim to have encapsulated the silver bullet solution to our weight loss woes. Each book “zooms in” on one narrow aspect of weight loss. High protein. High fat. Low fat. Low protein. Low carb. No gluten. No dairy.
You will also notice that many of these books are contradictory.
If you have tried the lifestyle recommended in any of these books, you may also notice that they are difficult to live with over along period of time, and may be vulnerable and fragile in situations like travel, holiday eating, and busy times in life. This creates the diet cycle of yo-yo weight loss and several sets of clothing sizes.
My posit to you is this: what if it could be simple? What if it could be easy? What if, instead of a strict set of rules, you could adopt a smart set of skills?
Don’t fall prey to silver bullet or “snowflake” thinking. Be cautious about trying radical dieting techniques, believing that somehow you are different or defective, and that you need self-punishing and restrictive diets in order to lose weight.
Repeat after me: the human body is wired to be healthy. It is wired for survival.
Let common sense prevail, and do the simple things first, before you implement more complicated solutions.
Instead of focusing on what works for some people, emphasize behaviors that work for everyone.
- Avoid heavy foods that elicit overeating, and limit your dependence on packaged foods.
- Focus on eating sufficient vegetables, fruit, and protein.
- Learn to cook for yourself in the way that’s appropriate for your lifestyle.
- Set yourself up for success by creating healthy eating environments at home and (up the extent of your influence) at work.
- Don’t let yourself get too hungry.
- Don’t under-eat at meals, and be smart about packing snacks.
- Create routines on a daily and weekly basis that create promising conditions for success.
- Be flexible, creative, and self-compassionate in your approach.
Why is it so important to keep it simple?
If you can master basic skills of keeping cravings at bay, eating well, and having positive regard for yourself, you never have to do a cabbage soup (or grapefruit, or banana, or South Beach, or Whole30) diet ever again.
Old, self-limiting beliefs sound like this:
“I have no willpower.”
“I have no self-control.”
“I have a slow metabolism.”
“I can’t stop eating once I start.”
“I am addicted to food.”
“I can’t lose weight.”
New beliefs, however, sound more like this:
“I am in the driver’s seat of what, when, and how much I eat. That doesn’t mean I’m impervious to the influences of my environment, though, so I need to be smart and proactive in my approach. But I know I can do it.”
You can do it. I have had clients say to me, more times than I can count:
“I thought I could only lose weight on super-low-calorie diets. This is so simple.”
Flip the switch. It can be simple.
And remember, if you want to participate in the weekly strategies, all you have to do is keep a daily journal and e-mail me answers to the weekly questions in each blog post. E-mail me if you want to participate in this open-source healthy living project!
All you have to do (and remember, participation is free!) is:
- E-mail me immediately to let me know you’re participating
- Each morning, take 5-10 minutes to keep a daily journal of 1-3 pages to word vomit what your previous day was like
- E-mail me your answers to the reflection questions that will (starting next week) appear in each blog post
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