EATING HEALTHY IS A MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT
How many times has a friend or co-worker told you about an exciting, new years’ resolution?
“This year, I’m going to start reading more books!”
After a month or two, you ask them how their resolution is coming along.
They reply confidently,
“6 books a month!”
A staggering pace.
7 months go by..
This time you ask them how many books they are reading a month.
The answer is almost never the same.
It is hard to stay consistent through a resolution or a similar goal.
Relationships get in the way.
Whatever it may be. The bottom line is that many people revert back to their old ways after about a month or two of trying something new.
It’s easier, It’s more comfortable, and It’s more convenient.
Breaking habits is a difficult thing to do. Your body likes the same old routine. It doesn’t want to change.
For beginners starting to eat healthy the same applies. Often times people jump on a new fad diet and sprint out of the starting gate! Only to be gassed out by mid-race. Eating healthy and developing a nutritious diet is a marathon, not a sprint.
Don’t gas out by the 3rd week.
Motivation – The capricious friend
Motivation is a fickle ally. It shows up at the weirdest of times and vanishes when you need it most.
For a beginner, developing a habit of eating healthy must not only rely on your motivation. Motivation is too volatile.
To genuinely develop a habit of eating healthier you must first practice the habit like a fish practices swimming.
You must immerse yourself in it. Live and breathe the new habit.
Your new habits will now become your everyday actions.
Practice your new skills and knowledge on an everyday basis until you have a solid foundation of consistent healthy eating.
This is the only way to succeed. Changing your diet 180 degrees requires strict discipline. It is far to easy to let your diet slip back into its old ways.
1 bag of chips on Monday becomes 2 sodas on Tuesday. 3 donuts on Friday becomes 4 Oreos’ on Saturday. Before you know it you’re back to where you started.
This is not to say you can NEVER eat these things. I am not a diet robot, and neither are you. Indulging in mouthwatering delicacies is something all humans should partake in on occasion.
- BUT FOR BEGINNERS TRYING TO LEARN HOW TO EAT HEALTHY, A FOUNDATION MUST BE ESTABLISHED SO A HABIT CAN BE FORMED.
Once you develop a reoccurring habit that is practiced by you with moderate ease, now you can look to motivation for guidance. Once you have set a record of 40, 56, 72, 81 days of consistently eating healthy, use motivation to continue the streak. Each day that you continue your streak should be a unit of motivation for which you can build on.
FLOW – GETTING IN THE ZONE
There is an importance to flow. Flow is when you get yourself into the habit of doing something so often, so consistently, that you wake up the next day and naturally gravitate to that activity without even acknowledging it. In other words :
YOU DEVELOP A HABIT.
The first couple of weeks and months are going to be the toughest. You will have more reasons to revert back to your old eating ways, you will have more doubts than ever, and you will physically feel the most pain and sadness from not eating the foods you had eaten before.
But, once you break free from these restraints it gets easier and more rewarding. Trust me.
You will have fewer doubts because you will prove to yourself that it can be done.
You will have fewer reasons to eat the foods you used too because you’ve gone so long without them.
And the best and greatest motivator in all health,
YOU WILL START TO SEE AND FEEL RESULTS IN YOUR BODY.
Your pant size will drop.
Your energy will rise.
You will stare at yourself in the mirror, twisting and turning to capture every angle in its new beautiful form (Yes we all do it).
Once you are at this point the flow is real.
The habit is formed.
Your motivation is ingrained in your being, growing more each day.
You will continue your habit, and every time you walk by a mirror you will not be able to help yourself from gazing at the new vibrant person you see staring back.
The spoils go to those who prepare for the marathon, not the sprint
Fighting urges – Ancestral Adaptations
As humans, we are naturally inclined to desire sugary and robust foods. We are drawn to foods like pizza, chocolate, doughnuts, pasta, and even candy. This isn’t by sheer chance. Our bodies crave these “comfort” foods. The reason why can be linked back to our ancestors and an innate sense of survival.
WHY WE CRAVE SUGAR AND CARBS
What do all the foods I mentioned above have in common?
Sugar (Quick energy).
Candy chocolate and donuts have a ton of sugar. In other words, quickly accessible energy.
Pizza and pasta have a ton of sugar as well. Albeit, in the form of heavy carbs.
Both groups of food are seen as tremendous energy supplies to the body.
This is why we as humans are drawn to these kinds of foods.
- A long time ago when humans were still hunter-gatherers, food was harder to come by. This meant that people were generally going longer periods of time without food than people do now. Back then, any food they could find with a high sugar content was a great find, such as fruit. Fruit provided humans with a sugary snack. Quick energy. Eventually, over time, humans developed a sense for foods high in sugar. Our taste buds adapted and sought out the flavor of sugar within foods. Foods with high sugar content were deemed tasty, consequently, we started desiring these types of foods more. Foods high in sugar provided energy, and energy meant more industriousness, which ultimately meant survival. It is not a coincidence that thousands of years’ later people like you and me desire sugar in the same way.
Okay enough with the history lesson.
So if we have this intrinsic urge for sugar, how do we resist the temptation?
Well, it’s not really resisting at all. It’s about finding viable alternatives.
Remember what I said in part 1: How to start eating healthy for beginners?
Sugar is in almost everything. But it’s where you find the sugar, and what kind that really matters.
Fruits, vegetables, dairy, and grains have naturally occurring sugars. Processed food does not. Processed food has “added” sugar. This added sugar is addictive and often comes in the form of weird names like high fructose corn syrup or anything that ends in -ose.
Why is added sugar bad?
Added sugar doesn’t present the consumer (you) with any supplementary nutrients. Foods with naturally occurring sugars do. Fruits are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. These vitamins and minerals accompany the fruit sugar when you consume fruit. Added sugar comes to the digestion party stag, meaning it only offers itself. No additional perks.
Naturally occurring sugar does not spike your blood sugar in the same way as added sugars do. When you eat fruit it is digested slower because of the fiber found in the fruit. The result is lower blood sugar and smaller insulin response.
SO WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOU GET THE URGE TO EAT SOMETHING BAD?
Opt for a healthier alternative. When you get the urge to eat something bad you are essentially craving sugar, fat, or salt.
- You crave sugar for the instant energy boost in the form of raised blood sugar
- You crave fat for the flavor and the feeling of fullness.
- You crave salt when you are dehydrated.
You crave food in general because you crave the release of “feel good” neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin (more on those later).
When craving a sugary snack opt for one of these alternatives
- For sugar: Apple, pineapple, banana, mango, or some blueberries
- For fat: Avocado, sunflower seeds, almonds cashews, walnuts, or a little dark chocolate
- For salt: Drink some water first to see if that subsides your craving but if you still have it : popcorn, hummus, sunflower seeds, edamame, sweet potato fries, or try some veggie chips.
There are tasty alternatives that are out there. Remember, check the nutrition label and limit your intake appropriately.
Just because something is healthier for you doesn’t mean you can eat 10 pounds of it. Anything you consume should be in moderation. Even too much of a good thing can kill you.
You will have cravings on your road to eating healthier, that’s a fact. For the beginner trying to develop healthier eating habits, it will be a challenge. You’ve never done this before. Consequently, your body has never been told ‘no’ to the things it craves so badly. It’s used to getting whatever it yearns for.
Substituting the alternatives I’ve listed above in place of the foods you normally eat won’t be as hard as you think. They are healthier, tastier, and far more satisfying than the junk food garbage calling your name. Besides, once you eat something your food cravings diminish rapidly. Remember your goal and stay the course. The person in the mirror is begging you.
So, next time you get cravings to eat something naughty remember why you’re eating healthier in the first place, and understand it may not just be you – it’s your ancestors.
Impulses and Fixations – The “Feel Good” Bad Influencers
Many people experieince food disorders. Whether it be eating too much or eating too little. Food disorders can wreak havoc on a persons well-being. I recommend seeking professional help if you have fallen victim to one of these debilitating diseases.
People find comfort in food. Some people will eat even when they are not particularly hungry. You may be sitting down in the living room after dinner watching the game when you get a sudden craving to eat something. “Some chips would go perfect with this game.” Often times food accompanies activities rather brilliantly, and it can be hard to do some of these activities without its trusty old snack food partner.
You may be a victim of this “comfort” eating. The reason why has many answers, but two that I (and maybe you) are familiar with are oral fixations and chemical “feel good” signals.
WHAT IS AN ORAL FIXATION?
Sometimes people “comfort eat” to satisfy an oral fixation. I’ve fallen victim to this before. Once again, you might be sitting watching TV, reading a book, or even just doing homework and you get the urge to eat something, even when you are not hungry! This uncanny phenomenon can often time be chalked up to oral fixation
Having an oral fixation is when you incessantly feel the need to either be eating, chewing, or sucking on food or something similar. Cigarette smoking can often be linked to an oral fixation. This condition creates an obsession for the sufferer that can only be satisfied through eating or chewing on something.
To combat this try (first) eating a healthy snack (like carrot sticks), chewing sugar-free gum or mints, chewing a toothpick, or find another healthy alternative to take your mind off the fixation.
WHAT ARE FEEL GOOD CHEMICALS?
As it concerns to “comfort eating” there are 2 main “feel good chemicals” that are released when you eat.
Dopamine and serotonin.
Dopamine and serotonin are both neurotransmitters, meaning, they convey chemical messages between our nerves and ultimately throughout our entire body.
Dopamine and serotonin are responsible for the good feelings you experience when you do something pleasurable. Whether that be getting a good test grade (granted you care about your grades), making your crush laugh, earning a promotion and subsequent raise, or eating a big plate of your grandmas’ world-famous lasagna.
The problem with these feel-good chemicals and overeating should be apparent. When our bodies consistently feel rewarded by the release of dopamine and serotonin every time we eat, our bodies start fooling us into eating (and thinking we are hungry) because they know what follows, dopamine and serotonin.
People who overeat are sometimes the victims of these “feel good’ chemicals.
For example, my father has a troublesome back injury. His back injury makes sleeping continuously through the night difficult. When my father wakes up in the middle of the night from back pain he often heads to the kitchen to eat something. He tells me this middle of the night eating relaxes him and allows him to fall asleep when he returns to bed. Even he believes that this comfort eating is what allows his body to relax.
Although comfort eating can help in situations such as my fathers, often times it leads to people overeating.
WHY DO YOU COMFORT EAT AND HOW TO RESIST?
People comfort eat in particular for one reason, stress. Stress feels shitty. It makes you feel like a wound up yo-yo that doesn’t have any hope of uncoiling. Stress accompanies almost everyone’s life on an everyday basis (if it doesn’t affect you daily I advise you write a book as to how you resist).
Since stress is such a constant force in our daily lives it’s only natural for us to seek sources of relief. These sources can either be healthy or harmful. Stress eating, I.e. “comfort eating” can often land on the harmful side of the spectrum if left unbridled.
Often times you can find yourself turning to food when the going gets tough. Bad day from work, pop open the potato chips. An argument with the significant other, rocky road ice cream here I come.
For a beginner trying to learn how to start eating healthier, you will get these “comfort eating” temptations. Especially since you will be eating a new diet comprised of healthy foods. Your body will be beckoning you to those tasty, yet unhealthy options that were so commonplace before your nutrition enlightenment. You need to tell your body to f—k off.
Remember what I was saying about those “feel good” chemicals earlier? Those are going to be the perpetrators.
Your body is going to want to eat unhealthy things so bad because it wants the huge release of dopamine and serotonin that follows. When this happens eat a healthy snack, try one from the list I mentioned above. After some time, your body will start developing a new fondness to these new foods.
The urges will become less drastic.
The pull will become less heavy.
You will condition your body to like these new foods, and consequently, your body will become hardwired to generate pleasure when these new foods are consumed. You are in control of your body, only you are capable of grabbing the steering wheel and directing yourself to the destination of that which you desire.
Social Eating – Navigating Treacherous Waters
Eating out is great. Delicious food, countless choices, and a bevy of laughs with good friends (and alcohol). The dining experience is a joyful one for many who identify as a “foodie” or any lover of food for that matter. But for a beginner trying to start eating healthier, the dining experience can be a dangerous one.
Restaurants are full of mouthwatering creations. Although often times, these creations land on the side of not so healthy.
Restaurant food is supposed to taste good. They want their customers to like the food so they will come back. This means that the food will often be laden with fat (butter), salt, or other things since these flavors are what typically tantalize the human taste buds ever so.
Also, many restaurants do not have nutrition labels readily visible on the menus. You must ask for a nutrition rundown (label) of the specific dish you have in mind. Additionally, almost no restaurant has a list of ingredients for the dishes they make. I say almost no restaurant because to this date I have never seen a list of ingredients on a menu, although I haven’t been to every restaurant in the world so I cannot say all.
Tips for being health conscious – while eating out
Some restaurants have little nutrition icons on their menu that relate to a specific health benefit of a certain menu item. For example, Dennys has a little green checkmark on some of it’s menu items that offer a reduced amount of calories.
These can help you navigate a menu when eating out, alerting you to a healthy aspect in the food you might consider ordering.
Another way to check if a menu item is in your best interest is to ask your waiter. If you are concerned that a menu item might be cooked in heavy butter, ask the server how the dish is prepared. If the menu item you are considering is prepared in a fashion that isn’t in line with your dietary limitations, kindly ask the waiter if it can be prepared another way. For instance, instead of butter ask if the chef can use olive or canola oil instead. Often times the kitchen has no problem accommodating to your needs and modifying your order is no hassle at all. Just don’t ask for the impossible
Many menu items come with a selection of 1 or 2 (sometimes 3), sides. This is a perfect opportunity to showcase your recently acquired healthy food knowledge. At a seafood restaurant I enjoy visiting, they offer you 2 sides with your entree. I regularly order the wild salmon, brown rice and quinoa mix, and sweet potato fries. To me, this meal is delicious. To others, my side dishes might need a little “flavor enhancing”. Instead of brown rice and qunoa, one can choose from a list of other unhealthy options. I am content with what I choose, but the opportunity to stray from the path is discernible.
Don’t let unhealthy options claim your disicpline. If anything, do what I do and order something like sweet potato fries. Any fried food claiming to be healthy I am skeptical toward. In spite of that, fried food is tasty and if I am going to choose something fried it will be something on the healthier side. Sweet potatoes are a good complex carb, ill take those over regular fried potatoes (AKA freedom fries..kidding) any day.
A new trend you will see in restaurants is a “healthy” options portion of the menu. This part of the menu is reserved for healthier food choices such as salads, chicken breast, veggie dishes, or some other type of health food. Restaurants are starting to catch on to the diet craze that has engulfed our society. Picking your food from here may be a good option, just remember to be aware of what actually goes in the dish. Ask questions, find substitutes, and be conscious of what’s going into your body.
A good habit to develop when eating out is to ask for all sauces and dressings on the side. If you order a salad ask that they serve it to you with the dressing on the side. This way you can portion the dressing to your liking. Consequently, reducing the amount and calories along the way. This goes for sauces as well. Gravy, curry, teriyaki, hollandaise, etc. Ask for these on the side as well. Often times restaurants will douse foods with sauces. A healthy chicken breast can easily become a heavy calorie-laden meal in no time.
Another good strategy to incorporate when eating out is a skill all of us should have learned long ago. Sharing. If you are out to eat with someone ask them if they would like to split a meal. If the person you are dining with isn’t that hungry to begin with (or is learning how to eat healthy as well) they may be happy to share a dish with you. This can protect you from overeating, and many restaurants offer generous portions that can easily satiate 2 people.
Eating out review:
– Check for “healthy” icons on menu items.
– Ask your waiter about how a dish is prepared
– Ask for substitutes on unhealthy ingredients
– Choose sides wisely. Opt for healthier alternatives
– Look for “healthy” sections on menus
– Remember to ask for all dressings and sauces on the side
– If eating with someone, ask them if they would like to share a dish
Comprehension and Action – Putting Your Knowledge to Work
For a beginner starting to eat healthier, you will have a lot on your plate. Developing the knowledge and mindset to accomplish your goals is going to seem overwhelming. You must remember to take it day by day, and continually apply the things you learn along the way.
Often times, the psychological aspect is the hardest thing for beginners to overcome. This is true for many things in life, including diet. From all the things I have gone over in this post, you will be prepared for most anything.
You now know the importance of developing a foundation with your new habits.
You now know the meaning of flow and how essential it’s rhythm is to building this foundation.
You now know the fickleness of motivation and how to use your successes to strengthen it.
You now know the reason behind urges and cravings and what you can do to combat this tyranny.
You now know 2 impulses and fixations that lead to overeating and what you can do to divert them.
You now know the perils of eating out and countless ways to navigate these dangerous waters.
With this arsenal of knowledge, I am confident you can beat any obstacle that comes your way.
Remember, nobody is a robot and that mistakes will be made, don’t beat yourself up, get back on your horse and keep pushing towards your goal. If this is something you really want to do I know you have so many reasons to accomplish it. You will see results along the way and these should be used to build your motivation. Be better than you were yesterday, day in day out. Achieve this and you will find yourself looking in the mirror but the person looking back will be someone new.
A better you.
A healthier you.
You got this, my friend.