The reason that nutrition and working out, and finding health can be difficult is because it is SO GRAY! What works for me, might not work exactly perfect for you. Some people find counting macros super helpful. I find it too rigid. I find eating mostly paleo/just eating real food balancing for me. Many people find it TOO restrictive. Some people calorie count. Others do the zone diet. Sometimes these things work. Often times there are too many rules.
Then there is working out. Do I run? Do I lift? Should I be going heavy all the time? Should I be going hard all the time? How often should I rest? When is the perfect time to workout? These are all valid questions, but often times, they aren’t super relevant unless you are training for something in particular. If your goal is just fat loss, or just being a health person, the time of day you workout is not the most important factor. That fact THAT you work out is more important.
What makes all of this tricky is finding your sweet spot. In the beginning of following a rigid program, it is nice to have that structure of “eat this, at this time” “make this food, you’ll see results” etc, and at the beginning that feels so helpful. Then, it becomes too much. You feel like you can’t go to eat with your friends, or you always have to bring your meals with your etc. OR, you swing the pendulum the other way and don’t want to be the weirdo being specific about your food or bringing your own food, so you get the “f its” and just eat whatever the heck you want. Both sides of this pendulum are an unhealthy place to be. How do you get to the gray?
It’s hard. SO HARD. You have to be so conscious about it. Here’s what is so hard too: in our society there is a total blur between what is “normal” dieting and disordered eating. If you suspect, even a little bit that you have disordered eating, please see a therapist. Get some help. If you’re caught up in our societies terrible diet trends, you CAN get out of that cycle. BUT you have to be conscious of it. You have to make a very conscious effort to change your perspective on food. The reason eating real food works for me is because I don’t have off limit foods. I reach for whole, nourishing food most of the time, but processed food isn’t off limits. I keep in mind how things make me feel, and I weigh out if it’s more important to me to eat something that makes me sick, or to not feel sick. Some days I choose to feel inflamed and unwell. Some days I choose to skip the food that makes me feel unwell. Most of the time I don’t realize I am doing this until I am talking to friends or clients. It has not always been that second nature for me though. I spent years making a very conscious effort to listen to my body and take care of my well-being. I made a conscious effort to change my inner dialogue.
Start here: Do you have “off limit” foods? Or do you label food as “good” or “bad”? It may be time for you to work away from that labeling. While there is food that is full of nutrients and others that are less nutritious, at the end of the day all food is comprised of: fat, carbs, and protein. Each thing you eat has one or a combination of these three macronutrients.
That’s not to say I recommend eating donuts or a full plate of nachos everyday. I think when you look at your meals it’s helpful to look at the vitamins you are getting from that meal, most of the time. As I mentioned, I start taking note of how certain food makes me feel and I eat it or not based on that.
Most whole, real food makes me feel energized. I noticed that if I have an excess of gluten I get stomach pains. It’s not an allergy, simply a low tolerance for it. I have noticed that when I am not eating enough carbs my energy is low and I crave sweets (this is normal). I have noticed that fake sugars cause inflammation (ok fine, gas) in my gut. I usually stay away from gluten and fake sugars where possible.
With that in mind, I don’t get crazy if I do eat something like that. Yes, I don’t feel my best, but the world isn’t ending. Usually with such black and white thinking, once a person has had something “off limits” they go ham and eat everything “off limits” in sight. Getting rid of these labels can slowly lead you to a place of balance.
One thing I do to minimize that feeling of deprivation without overdoing it is wait a day. If I want something that doesn’t usually settle well, I just wait one day. If I still want it the next day, I just have it. If I am no longer craving it, then I move on. We are all adults, which means we are responsible for how we feel. I don’t think food labeling or strict eating is the answer to a healthy, balanced life. I also don’t think that making yourself sick 3+ days of the week is healthy and balanced either.
Back to finding the gray. How do you find that? Really start listening to your body. Are you gassy after you eat certain food? Take a look at that food and what is in it. Try a day or two, or even a week without that food and see if there is a difference. If you do have something that doesn’t normally settle well, take a deep breath. The world isn’t ending and you don’t need to go crazy. Move on to your next meal. When you get to your next meal, choose something with more vitamins. Drink a little more water. This will help you to not spend the rest of the day overeating or “eating bad food”. There are no BAD food. There are nutritious foods and less nutritious foods. The less nutritious foods aren’t “bad” though. Your body doesn’t know the difference between breaking down bread with avocado and breaking down ice cream. It doesn’t say “I have these carbs and fats from ice cream so I’m going straight to the thighs” or “I have these carbs and fats from toast with avocado so I’m going to be used directly as food”. That is only happening in your head, not in your body. If certain foods drain your of energy, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth consuming. If other foods energize you, I always find it replenishing to consume those because who doesn’t love energy?
When it comes to working out it DOES NOT HAVE TO BE BLACK AND WHITE! 10-20 minutes is PLENTY of time to get your body moving and improve your fitness. I used to think this was a cop out. I genuinely thought people were bs’ing when they said this and using it as an excuse to be lazy. I am so guilty of that mentality and I was SO SO wrong. If you want to workout for 1-2 hours per day because that feels rejuvenating for you, that is fine. It’s not black and white. If you are forcing yourself to workout for 1-2 hours per day because you think that’s the only way to get results, you are misinformed. WHAT you do is more important than duration. Again, with the black and white thinking this can lead to “I don’t have an hour and a half to dedicate so it’s not worth it”, which isn’t rational either. Getting in 10 minutes of movement is still good for your body. It is still good for your heart and lungs and sanity to get in those few minutes of movements.
There also seems to be this mentality of “if I can’t give it 100% it’s not worth it”. While it is important to work hard during your workouts, you don’t HAVE to every time. Goals are great, and you have to put in a certain amount of work to build strength or lose fat, or run faster – whatever your goal is. Of course, you have to put in the work; however, if you’re just an everyday person who simply wants to be healthy – have decent mobility, feel energized, and just feel confident most days, it doesn’t have to be that severe. It is more important to stay consistent (do your three workouts each week) than to give 1000% every time. Getting in 10 minutes at 50% will do more for you than getting in 0 minutes at 0%. Over time, you will be able to push yourself more. You will build up confidence in your ability to push harder. Again, I am not saying you can just do 10% effort all the time and see results, but 10% effort 70% of the time will still keep your more mobile and fit than 0% effort for three weeks.
In sum, finding the gray in your health is difficult. Take baby steps. Manage your expectations. Identify when you have black and white thinking. Maybe you can’t get in an hour at the gym today, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat a pint of ice cream because you feel bad about it. If you really want to get in a workout, set a timer for 10 minutes and do 30 seconds of squats followed by 30 seconds of rest. You could even do that for five minutes! Or hold a 1:00 plank. It may sound small and silly, but it will also help you break through your black and white thinking. Remember that just because you eat a piece of pizza, doesn’t mean you need to eat a whole cake too. It does not have to be all or nothing. Keep reminding yourself that the overarching goal is LIFESTYLE not a quick fix. Keep reminding yourself that you can eat a piece of pizza without gaining 10lbs (seriously, you won’t gain weight from one slice of pizza). Remind yourself that consistency counts. Remind yourself that nothing else in life is black and white, so food and fitness don’t have to be either. Remind yourself that when you are tired you should REST! Remind yourself that you are worth taking care of. Make a conscious effort to listen to what your body is saying to you. Ask yourself if what you are doing is sustainable.