Aside from the fact that Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet Album was beat out of the top 2 spots for Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 50 Greatest Hair Metal Albums of all time? Seriously, Poison beat out Bon Jovi for the number 2 spot? C’mon!!!!!! The number one spot went to Def Lepard’s Hysteria! Don’t get me wrong, that was a great album. Pour Some Sugar on Me always got people on their feet in the 80’s and even today it remains a crowd pleaser. However, You Give Love a Bad Name, Wanted Dead or Alive, and Livin on a Prayer are probably still getting airplay and are more well known amongst the younger generations than songs from Def Lepard’s Hysteria album. How does Rolling Stone come up with these lists? What factors influenced their choices? Who got to sit on that panel and make these decisions and why wasn’t I consulted?
Anyway, aside from the hole in my heart left by Rolling Stone Magazine and their clearly misguided qualifications for which hair band albums deserve the most accolades, as a fitness professional I am often equally bummed out when women tell me about their nutritional struggles and the sense of overwhelm they feel with regard to navigating themselves around food. Aaaaannnnnndddd…. I don’t blame them. It is totally understandable.
If you live in the United States, the amount of food, and the sheer variety and choices we have available to us is astounding. Think about it, as adults we have complete independence over our food choices and quite often, we are overwhelmed by this power. This is especially true when we are not happy with where we are in relation to our fitness goals or our physiques. The first thing we look at is our diet. We blame ourselves for our food choices and subsequently feel shame and disappointment. Then, we turn to a special diet, meal plan, or health professional to help us limit our choices and tell us what to eat because we don’t feel that our complete independence over our food choices is working for us. We would rather have ‘someone’ or some ‘plan’ tell us exactly what to eat, how much, and when. AND….then when we can’t stick to said plan we ultimately end up going ‘off plan’ and return back to making our own choices. Then, the cycle repeats.
So, just as I wanted to know what factors influenced the choices made by Rolling Stone Magazine’s staff when they chose the top hair band albums of all time, I want to take a few moments here to talk about what factors influence our food choices and our feelings about the food we eat. Because, as I said in a past blog post,
FOOD PREFERENCES + INFLUENCES
What shapes an individual’s food preferences?
Lifestyle, culture, religion, the region of the world where one lives, and economic status all influence the foods that one chooses to eat. Over the course of many years we all come to establish our favorite foods and which foods provide us with comfort. The foods you were served as a child, the smells of the foods that were being cooked in your household, the family events and celebrations and the specific foods that were a part of them all served to shape your personal eating preferences. The foods that were made available to you in your kitchen pantry as a child, once you were old enough to go and help yourself, became the very first “comfort food” choices that you would exercise at that first stage of independence. Then, once you were able to earn your own money and drive a car, you were able to develop new nutritional habits as you gained complete independence over your food choices. What a journey it is when you really think about it!
With that being said, many nutritional experts believe that our individual preferences for specific foods are pretty much set deeply within us by the time we reach adulthood. But are they set in stone? How deeply? Is your preference for salty, crunchy, over sweet set in stone? Probably. Is your love for pizza or ice cream set in stone? Yes. But is that it?
What else factors into our relationship with food?
We can build habits and new connections with food at any time in our life. Sure, there will be those special comfort foods that hold a dear place in our hearts for our entire lives but, as we expose ourselves again and again to different foods we can develop new tastes and pleasures that we come to associate with. Isn’t that great to think about though? We have our deep rooted love for specific meals or treats but we can also establish new ones at any point.
Here’s an example from my own personal food story. I grew up in a German/Eastern European household with relatives that all were born in German/Hungarian/Slavic regions. That translated to me being absolutely appalled by mayonnaise and fish because these were not foods that were part of what my parents and other family members chose to eat and therefore, they were never presented to me in my household. However, as I got older and went to my friends’ houses I was exposed to more and more. By the time I was in high school, my tastes were changing and I was gaining new favorite foods (mostly Italian) even though I didn’t grow up with these dishes being prepared in my own home. While I still absolutely love my mother’s German potato salad, krautsalat, and schnitzel, I also will now eat foods that have mayonnaise in them (to my mother’s dismay) and sushi has become one of my absolute favorites!! I never would have thought I would ever eat and enjoy fish or anything that had mayo in it when I was 12 years old!
How wonderful and liberating it is to know that our food preferences are not set in stone and that we can develop new tastes. I have also developed a love for quinoa, oatmeal, brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes which are what I refer to as “adulthood additions.” We can love what we loved from when we were in our youth but also keep finding new loves and all of them can become part of the choices we make.
While we have so many choices, and understand that our preferences influence our choices, what is it that makes us want to limit our choices or give someone else control over what we eat? Is it our fitness goals? Our feelings about our physique? The fact that we are not where we want to be in these areas? With that in mind, how can we navigate ourselves around food and exercise our independence without having to rely on being on a specific meal plan or deny ourselves of the foods which we prefer?
Here are my top 3 Nutritional Realities That You Need to Face in Order to exercise your independence over food.
1.) Understand that your individual food preferences play into the choices you make and be okay with it.
If your food preference tends to lean towards salty/crunchy and perhaps one of your most favorite things to eat is not necessarily a fat loss friendly food that is in line with your goals or it is a trigger food that you love as a “treat” and you know that it is simply food for enjoyment, it can be challenging for sure. Let’s just say for example that it is tortilla chips and salsa. (uh, yes this example is me) What you must do is understand and acknowledge it and allow it to ‘be.’ Work this “taste or preference” into your nutritional plan. Do you need to have a specific food every, single, day? No. Should you completely avoid or cut out a specific food that you love from your diet? No…(UNLESS you have a food allergy or sensitivity) Do not restrict yourself from having a food that you love because you won’t win. Why would you want to even try to restrict yourself from the foods you love? What kind of life is that anyway? It is like crazy food martyrdom….yet, people attempt to do this all the time and fail. As soon as you put a restriction on yourself with regard to a specific food that you enjoy and tend to consume, you want it even more. Suddenly it becomes even more desirable than ever before. You then begin to think about it and long for it and even salivate over the thought of having it. You can only deny yourself for so long. The compensatory reaction you will have eventually is inevitable so don’t even bother trying to ward off foods that you love because you will not be able to live up to the expectation and you will probably compensate in some other way. You may end up going crazy eating way too much rice and beans because you were thinking about the chips and salsa that you told yourself you couldn’t have. Then, you will feel badly about yourself for failing to have enough “willpower.” Willpower is an exhaustible resource. If you “lose control” around specific foods and they tend to be “trigger foods” then I can understand your feelings of insecurity around them. If this is the case, instead of avoiding them altogether, exercise your ability to control yourself around these foods. My mentor and fellow fitness professional, Jill Coleman, cleverly calls this strategy “pre-emptive cheats.” It truly works. Build these foods into your week. KNOW AND PLAN that you WILL have this food EVERY WEEK and you will never feel deprived or out of control around this food. If you don’t practice your self-control around these foods you will always struggle around them.
2.) Acknowledge that the last meal you ate (and what you ate for the entire day) affects the choices you make in any moment and how the choice will play out overall.
Time and time again I hear women talk about the ‘one thing’ that they ate or shouldn’t have eaten or feel guilty about having eaten that day, or yesterday, or last night, or whatever. My reaction is always the same. Well, aside from the __________ (fill in the blank with whatever; cookies, brownies, chips.. etc) what did you eat the rest of that day and leading up to the _______ (whatever) The “thing” that you ate that you aren’t happy about because you don’t think that it is in line with your goals is often (a.) not as bad as you think and (b.) there is usually something that led up to it. If you ate an “unexpected or unplanned” brownie at a meeting after work it does not mean that you should stress over it and feel guilt. Last time I checked guilt didn’t burn away excess calories and if anything it leads to more binging and a state of stress which we KNOW is not an optimal state to be in if your goal is fat loss. Sometimes we grab for that brownie because we didn’t eat a balanced breakfast and/or lunch leading up to it. What is balanced? A meal that has adequate protein, fiber, carbs and healthy fats. So often people eat a meal that is seriously lacking in one of the areas mentioned above and they find that they are dealing with hunger, or low energy levels, or cravings. Also, the mere fact that the food presented was “unplanned for” or “unexpected” and yummy and tempting leads to a “rabbit hole” of thoughts about what to do when the confrontation happens. It may play out in your head like this; “Ugh, brownies!”…”I didn’t know they were going to have brownies here…”…”I already had my daily needs for carbs today…” …”Oh they look so good but if I have one I will have blown this entire day….” ..”I was ‘good’ all day and now this..” “Jen made these brownies from her amazing special recipe and everyone else is having them and I don’t want to be ‘the one’ who doesn’t have a brownie and offend Jen”….This example of the conversation you may have with yourself inside of your head continues until you find yourself biting down on that ever so scrumptious brownie and then feeling awful about it ten minutes afterwards. But, wait a second here. Consider this…Let’s say you ate “fat loss friendly” foods all day and were within in your own guidelines for your goals. Would this ONE brownie make or break you? Seriously, would it? No! BUT, ….if you denied yourself of it and then went home and went crazy on half a bag of rice cakes because of the denial you put yourself through by avoiding that one brownie…you now have lost…TWICE! Once because you missed out on the brownie and twice because now you over-consumed on calories anyway and it wasn’t even on something as satisfying and enjoyable as that damn brownie would have been. You get my point? Look at your entire day’s worth of foods and don’t just focus on that one single snack, treat, or indulgence in isolation. 9 times out of 10, that one food item isn’t going to make a difference in any direction and it is truly the thoughts you have about the food that make or break your progress.
3.) Give up the need to relinquish your responsibility over your own food choices by going on a diet or “meal plan” or asking a health professional to tell you exactly what and when to eat.
Embrace your independence and the fact that you have soooooo many food choices available to you at any given moment. So many people around the world don’t even know what this is like and have such a limit on the choices of foods that they can consume. You waited your whole life and fought with your parents for years over being able to make your own choices! Why would you want to now give up this well-earned luxury? Why would you want to DEPEND on some ‘plan’ or ‘person’ to TELL YOU what to eat and when to eat it? You need to take the reins and get in control. This can only happen when you take responsibility for the choices you make with your food and practice balance and moderation. Find a way to eat more variety while still fitting in the foods that you love that give you pleasure. You have plenty of time. There is no rush….no finish line… figure it out! Start with this idea…. “Eat the Rainbow!” This means, grab for whole foods (unprocessed and raw when you can) in many different colors in order to get a variety of essential vitamins, antioxidants, nutrients and minerals. Make it your goal to shoot for 80% of your diet to come from whole, unprocessed foods, or, foods that have very little shelf life. Then, you can play with the other 20%. In this 20% area you can add bits of the “pleasure foods” that might be processed or give you pure enjoyment and comfort but might not give you the nutritional bang for your buck. I think this is a good rule of thumb and quite realistic to do for the long haul. Any by that I mean forever. If you practice this type of approach, you shouldn’t need to go on a “diet” or plan or consult a diet doctor who delivers hormone shots or some other crazy shizz like that.
In summary, consider how lucky you are to have the abundant food choices available to you on any given day. Celebrate your independence and embrace your cultural and individual food preferences. Continue to engage in experimenting with new foods and develop new food preferences. (hopefully healthy whole foods) Aim to have 80% of your diet to consist of whole foods and “eat the rainbow.” Finally, incorporate the idea of what Jill Coleman calls “pre-emptive cheats” where you actually build cheats or treats somewhere into that remaining 20% window. Do not allow certain foods to become forbidden obsessions. Instead, exercise your control over them by having them and moving on. If you can’t simply have them without going crazy and losing control, consider having “a predetermined amount” (whatever that may be) and then waiting ten minutes to see how you feel. If you are still thinking about having more, then have another predetermined amount and extend the next “wait time” to 20 minutes. This strategy (another one from Jill) will give you a sense of control while satisfying the indulgence at the same time. I do this with pizza. (because…pizza) It works! Trust me.
With that, I will end with one of my favorite sayings. (can’t take credit…it isn’t my quote but, I love it)
It works if you work it, so work it, you’re worth it!
(isn’t that so simple, sensible, and empowering?)