best diet

3 Common Healthy Eating Approaches That Actually Keep You Stuck

photo by Bethany Michaela Photography.

photo by Bethany Michaela Photography.

Eat clean. Stay on track. Make the right choice.

The diet industry is full of popular catchphrases designed to keep us “in line” in regards to food. 

These narratives dominate how most people -- possibly you included -- approach nutrition and body transformation. 

Unfortunately, these approaches set you up for failure. They prevent you from reaching your goals. And they (potentially) leave you worse off than where you started. Psychologically, physiologically, spiritually.

For this reason, it’s worth exploring why conventional diet dogma fails, and more importantly, what to do instead. That way, you can implement your healthy eating and weight loss strategy long term.

At a fundamental level, mainstream diet talk promotes a black-or-white eating philosophy. To use three popular catchphrases as examples:

  1. “Eat clean” = some foods are good (“black”), while others are contaminated and will make you fat (“white”). Keep your body purified by eating the non-offensive stuff. 
  2. “Stay on track” = there’s one path you want to be on (“black”), and it’s mutually exclusive with everything else (“white”). Don’t veer off track, because you’ll lose control.
  3. “Make the right choice” = in every food choice, there’s an objectively “correct” one. Be a good little dieter and use your willpower to select it.

Black or white. All or nothing. All in or all out. Yes/no, good/bad, clean/dirty.

The problem with black-or-white dieting -- besides the fact that it inevitably becomes miserable -- is that it makes no sense.

Think of it this way. 

We all know that eating is something we have to do until the day we die. So if we want to eat healthy long term, we need a healthy eating strategy that matches the longevity.

But here’s the rub: no one, not one person, is capable of “eating clean” or “staying on track” forever.

LIFE HAPPENS. Carbs happen, birthday cake happens, 4am pizza on your girls trip to Vegas happens. It just does.

If you’ve developed a healthy eating philosophy that accounts for these inevitable occurrences, you can navigate them with ease and grace.

If you haven’t yet integrated these realities, the transgressions can feel haunting. When you “mess up,” you probably devolve into guilt mode. You’re rife with shame. You might even feel horrible about yourself. Gluttonous and perhaps obsessive. (See how dieting can actually set you back from where you began?)

Some women end up binge eating. Others get anxious. Some pound out extra cardio to repent.

And then to “undo the damage,” we start restricting again -- back to the black-or-white. 

Repeat cycle.

I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I want to live! So, the question becomes: what should one do instead? 

In a phrase, devote to gray. The middle ground. The unsexy-seeming, “imperfect,” no-instantaneous-results gray.

Gray is where sustainability lives, because it accounts for us being human. It accounts for life happening.

To be clear, embracing the gray is not to discredit the importance of eating healthfully and taking care of your body. It's definitely not a license to eat mindlessly. It is to say that our commitment to eating well must be tempered with realism.

Here are 3 tips for overcoming black-or-white thinking and living in the gray:

  1. Let go of the idea that weekdays are a time for discipline (“black”) and weekends one for indulgence (“white”). The “gray” option is to eat as similarly as possible each day of the week. Sometimes, this will mean eating a brownie on a Tuesday. Others, it’ll mean ordering chicken and a green salad when everyone else at Saturday night dinner is getting pasta and cheesecake. The day of the week should not define what you put on your plate.
  2. Use empowering language. Your body hears everything your mind says. Words like “cheat,” “bad,” and “clean” (the flip side of “dirty”), reinforce the good/bad food binary. Neutralize food and describe it for what it is, not by a value judgment you’ve ascribed to it. 
  3. Make food choices on a moment-to-moment basis instead of based on past ones. Just because you were "bad" this morning ("black") doesn't mean the day is ruined, giving you free reign to keep eating poorly all day or week. (This thought pattern is common, and often results in bouts of unhealthy eating followed by severe restriction, or the "white" zone.) The "gray" option is to be present, check in, and remember that every moment offers a new choice. Otherwise, you'll lock yourself into an oppressive cycle that ends up feeling like food prison. Ain't no one got time for that.

Living in the gray takes guts. No doubt about it. It requires digging in, facing your fears, and being a perfectly imperfect eater. Go there anyway. The freedom that awaits is so worth the work.

-V

The pooch. The flabby arms. The tummy.

Most women have The Thing

You know, the thing.

The one they always focus on in the mirror. 
The one they hope other people won't notice.
That aspect of their appearance they'd most like to do away with. 

Fully. Forever. Never to come back.

I bet you already know what your thing is. The common ones I hear from my clients and community are:
"My pooch."
"My flabby arms. I wish they wouldn't jiggle."

"My belly. I feel self-conscious in dresses."

Chances are, this thing is draining you. Taking up brain space. Pulling you toward small and away from expansive

It's potentially even changing how you do life: who you feel comfortable interacting with, how you participate in conversations, how you think about what opportunities -- big and small -- are available to you.

It may be subtle but it's not insignificant.

I know because my thing -- my abs -- used to take over my life.

During the height of my body image and eating disorder, every single time I'd walk into a bathroom or pass a mirror, I'd lift up my shirt to scrutinize my abs. No matter how lean I got, they were never good enough. 

...Which meant I spent an incredible amount of energy wishing my abs were different, lamenting that they weren't, and organizing my behavior around trying to transform them.

Such a drain and not an embodiment of the goddess I subconsciously wanted to be.

Today, I'm sharing a tool to help you feel better about your thing. 

Because at the end of the day, no one enjoys feeling like their "pooch" -- or their "flabby arms" -- or their "belly" -- holds power over them.

Simple as that.

 

Here's the practice:

  1. Get a piece of paper and a pen. 
  2. Sit somewhere quiet where you can be alone.
  3. Make a list of the physical attributes you love about yourself. Include things that other people often compliment you on.
  4. Next to each attribute, write why you love it and if applicable, what it lets you do in life. (Ex: "I love my quads because they let me do heavy deadlifts, which make me feel empowered.")
  5. Notice how you feel about your thing afterwards.

Spoiler alert: I think you'll feel it quietly recede. Fall into context. Seem less glaring.

That's because most of us focus on one insecurity for every handful of things we feel great about. The insecurity takes up all the space.

This pattern happens in all areas: with our bodies, in work situations, in friendships.

That is, until we consciously choose to break the pattern and back that up with action.

Just to be really clear, this practice is not about vesting more power in appearance. It's about training your brain to notice the good, so that the "bad" gets put in its rightful place.

Give the practice a try today. I think it just may change your game.

Love and light,
Valerie

I ate something off my diet, so the rest of the day is ruined

You’re doing so well. Several straight days of eating “perfectly,” whatever that looks like for you. Maybe it’s weighing all your food, and eating within certain caloric or macronutrient boundaries. Maybe it’s cutting out all starchy carbs. Maybe it’s eating only home cooked foods.

Regardless, you’re on a roll.

Then, something tempting crosses your path. Maybe it’s one of your kryptonites--a food that you’ve always loved, and holds meaning in your food journey. You reach for it. You’re probably at the office, or at least outside your own personal habitat. You take a bite. In fact, you likely down the whole thing (that’s kind of a foregone conclusion!). You may not even be thinking while it’s happening.

But afterwards...

Yikes. You messed up. Your mind is probably racing a bit faster than usual, as you weigh what just happened. And then, this conclusion commonly sets in:

“I ate something off my diet, so the rest of the day is ruined.” (That may not be your exact wording, but you catch my drift).

So, the rest of the day, you throw your “diet” to the wind. You have a cookie or three, you order the pasta instead of the fish at dinner, you enjoy two sugary cocktails instead of none.

The “spin” might even last for more than a day, as you careen further off the rails.

Now, for a key mindset reframe that’ll help you move through this pattern (and eventually release it):

You're always one bite away from freedom. When we stop to think about it, we all know the body responds to what we eat per bite, and generously, per meal. The body doesn’t tally what we eat per day, because it doesn’t operate at that obtuse level. It lives in the moment. It’s your mind that makes this irrational conflation.

Letting your eating rhythms be dictated by what you ate in the past is black-or-white thinking (black = I’m fully on my plan, and I’m full steam ahead; white = I made one mistake, and that’s dictating how I eat going forward).

The gray zone is where it’s at. The gray way of thinking is: “Every moment is new. I’m not boxed in by the past. I’m only one bite away from breaking the cycle, and living moment-to-moment.”

 

Here are 3 concrete steps to take the next time you hear yourself saying, “...the rest of the day is ruined!”:

  1. Pause, and before doing anything, celebrate your awareness. I know this may feel unsexy in the heat of the moment, but awareness is one of the most important pieces in behavior change. It’s a huge win already. You can’t move through without knowing that there’s something to move through. You’re already making progress, whether you let yourself see it or not. Mark your "celebration" with something concrete: a smile, a deep breath, by listening to a song...let the acknowledgement come out of your head, and into form.
  2. Take stock of all your options. This will help you remember, maybe more symbolically than anything, that you’re always one bite away from freedom. Let’s use an example. Say you’re at the office, and caved to a slice of pizza for lunch when you’d normally have chicken breast and salad. It’s almost dinner time, and you’re deciding what to eat. Jog through your different options. Go out to sushi with a girlfriend. Whip together steak and veggies at home. Take an hour or two and make your favorite childhood dish. Take 10 minutes and hit up the Whole Foods salad bar. Pick up Turkish food from your favorite neighborhood spot. Get a huge, delicious chopped salad delivered to your apartment. There are so many routes! Feel your freedom.
  3. Decide what to eat, using this filter question: “Is this decision being made from a place of love?” Deep down, you (and only you) will know the answer. It may take some time, but love will always lead you to the right place.

Just to be clear: this post is not an invitation to eat “off track,” then learn to get back on track faster than you normally do. It’s not an invitation to eat restrictively a larger proportion of the time. And it’s not about growing your discipline. Eating "off the rails" is an indication that your eating routine is not sustainable, and therefore that discipline is the opposite direction you should be heading.

It is about moving away from having your past dictate your future. It is about moving away from planning your every meal, and thinking so much about food. It is about looking at the long haul, which, fascinatingly, requires getting 100% present.

That’s it for now. Hope these tips lit something up for you.

Talk to you soon!

Love and light,
Valerie