When people decide to work on their nutrition, what do you think is the most common thing people will do?
Most likely it starts by eating more vegetables.
But after that, and most commonly recommended by fitness professionals, would be to start tracking calories. While this method can be effective, tracking calories is an imperfect science. Sure, we can have an educated guess at how many calories we should be eating a day, but there is no definitive way to determine our exact calorie expenditure on a daily basis. Add that in with the fact that we would need to measure out our food to the exact gram to determine how many calories are in it (again, not going to be 100% accurate all the time), and we are dealing with a very rough estimate of calories in versus calories out.
Another inhibiting factor to tracking and counting calories is the fact we need to punch all the information into an app, or do the math ourselves (which I do not recommend), which can be time consuming, and frustrating if we go eat out at a restaurant.
This can be an effective method for some, who need more accountability, structure, or just to see the overall picture of where they are starting nutritionally, but this is also not for everyone. Obsessively tracking calories and logging everything we eat is not a lifelong solution to changing our nutritional habits, but it’s a tool we can use to have a better understanding.
Now, what do we do if tracking calories isn’t the solution for us?
Well, there are a number of different things we can do to help us nutritionally, and develop some great lifelong habits that can help us eat better food, change our body composition, and become healthier overall.
- Eat At Home (and increase whole foods)
Simply and easy. If we want to create better eating habits, and a healthier lifestyle, we need to have more control of the foods we consume. This isn’t to say we can’t go out to enjoy ourselves once and awhile, it just means we need to reduce the overall frequency. While restaurant food can be highly satisfying, delicious, and require no work on our end, these foods can be calorie dense, have high fat content, and high sodium levels (which can lead to water retention and bloating).
To create healthier eating habits, we should be making a large majority of meals at home where we have more control over the ingredients and cooking methods. Most times, without even trying, we end up making a lower calorie and more nutrient dense meal.
When we eat at home, we have a tendency to use less processed and refined foods, less salt, and less oil while cooking. We tend to rely more on whole foods to get the best bang for our buck in our meals. Increasing whole foods not only increases the amount of nutrients we get in the body, but it also increases our level of satiety after a meal. Focusing on increasing of vegetable and fruit intake, getting quality protein sources, complex carbohydrates, and healthier fats can be one of the easiest ways we can improve our nutrition without counting our calories.
- Trigger Foods and Barriers
Stress eating is something we all instinctively do. Our bodies physiology makes us hungrier during times of high stress and our brains know that high fat and sugary foods will taste good and release endorphins into the body to make us feel better. A big problem we have in today’s society is that we all feel stressed out day-in and day-out. Despite some of our best efforts when we are making nutritional changes, we find ourselves craving our go to foods. For some people it’s ice cream or chocolate, and for some it’s chips. We all have that one food that can drive us to overindulging in foods that will “derail” us from what we are working towards.
So, what can we do to combat this?
We set up barriers. We need to make it more difficult to access these foods (which is tough these days) but there are small things we can do to make it more difficult to overindulge.
The first step is to not have the food in your house. If you don’t have your trigger food at home it creates the barrier that you need to go out of your way to get that food. If we really want that food, we have to consciously go out of our way to drive to the store and get that food. That’s not the only barrier we have to overcome, now that we have to consciously go out of our way to get this food, we are forced to think to ourselves if it’s worth it or not. Bringing attention to the trigger food, and why we might possibly be craving it is a huge tool to combat these urges. Perhaps we think of another alternative, or look into why we are stressed out.
If we are craving these foods, it shouldn’t be something we fight tooth and nail against. We are allowed to indulge in foods we enjoy, but we need to be mindful with it if we are looking to make changes in our body. If we deny ourselves food, we end up feeling miserable and will probably end up binging at a later date.
A good strategy for this would be if you have these cravings, and you want the food bad enough, to go to the store and buy a single serving of the food you are looking for. Enjoy that serving and move on with the rest of your day (don’t dwell on it). More often than not though, we won’t act on these cravings nearly as much when we have to go out of our way to get them and actively think about it.
- Distraction Eating
Distractions are everywhere in this day and age. If you saw how many times, I picked up my phone for a notification while writing this article it would probably be somewhere in the triple digits (yeah, that bad).
It’s gotten to the point where we always have some sort of distraction going on, whether it’s our phone, social media, television, laptops, work, you name it. When it comes to our nutrition however, this is affecting us greatly. We are now eating while distracted more than ever, which is causing problems with the increased number of calories we are consuming.
Think back to when you were a kid. If you were like me, you sat at the dinner table with the family, with no tv, music or distractions. We would eat until the meal was finished and be on our way. Fast forward to now, it’s hard to get a meal in without sitting in front of a tv, sending a message, or mindlessly scrolling on social media. We are always busy, and it’s distracting us from the food we eat.
When we are distracted, we don’t realize we are eating more calories. We eat until we get full, rather than eating until we are satisfied. That feeling of being full is usually an indicator of overconsumption when it comes to our calorie intake.
Not only that, but distracted eating is also creating an almost Pavlovian effect on our brain. When we sit in front of the tv while eating enough times, we are going to want to eat and feel hungry any time we are watching tv.
So how do we fix this? We become more mindful of the distractions we face while eating. We put down the phone and we turn off the tv (or move to a different room). We focus on how our body is feeling, how the food is tasting, and listening to our body when we are satisfied. Sure, it’s not the most entertaining or fun way to consume food, but it is one of the best ways to bring attention to our portion sizes, and reduce calorie consumption without tracking our food.
- You Deserve It Mentality
When I say “you deserve it”, I’m not using it in the classic sense of treating ourselves to a cookie or a “cheat meal”. When I say “you deserve it” I’m talking about the fact you deserve it to yourself to eat food that will help you feel better, perform better, and live a healthier/happier life.
A lot of us are extremely hard on ourselves, and these negative emotions can trickle down into our eating habits. When it comes to our own self-esteem, sometimes we feel like we don’t deserve to feel good about ourselves, which is extremely sad to say but it is a reality for many people. This also can relate to how we view food as well. We classify food as “bad” for us, so when we are feeling bad about ourselves, we tend to gravitate towards these foods.
We know that we should be having more nutrient dense, whole foods, but we still pick other option, because we feel like we don’t deserve it.
One thing that can help with this is not viewing food as “good or bad” or “punishment/treats” but instead look at food as “what can this do for me?”. We need to educate ourselves on what foods can do for us, which can be tough, but a coach can easily help with that issue.
You are worth the extra time it takes to make a meal instead of ordering it.
You are worth the trip to the grocery store.
You deserve to feel good.
You deserve to be healthy.
You deserve to live life to the fullest.
As I heard from a friend recently “Don’t punish yourself with food, eat to love yourself”
When we view ourselves as a priority, and change the way we think about eating, we can change our nutrition without ever tracking a calorie.
Helping You Live Life To The Fullest,