This is the last post in this series, and is primarily focused with sustainability.
As we saw in Part 1, ultimately the only thing that matters in the long-term is adherence.
This post isn’t about what to eat. It’s about sustainability; strategies and mindsets that make eating well, in a world where the food environment is set against you, easier.
This is about not panicking in the post-Christmas January wasteland (or waistland), identifying habits that need breaking (or moulding), and the importance of preparation. It’s about strategies for long-term success. Without further ado, here’s a list of things I have had great success with, both personally and with clients.
There are times of year (see, Summer) when we naturally gravitate to being more conscious about what and how much we’re eating, because there is a good chance we’re going to be exposing flesh.
There are others (see, Winter) where we naturally gravitate to disregarding every single bit of inhibition, knowingly, and then when the cold hard light of New Years Day hits, we vow this will be the year we [INSERT BASELESS RESOLUTION].
Here is the thing: the only thing you need to do is get back to your normal routine.
What I mean is that where you were pre-weight gain is where you’ll end up once you just resume normal eating. Studies on overfeeding have shown that, even where subjects are overfed and gain 10lbs in 6 weeks, they lose it 6 weeks after they resume their normal diets. That is without them doing any conscious diet or calorie restriction. And that is 10lbs of weight gain – a huge amount in a short timeframe. Whether it’s a ski holiday, Thanksgiving, your birthday or Christmas, any period where you tend to overfeed isn’t 6 weeks long. A week. A day. 2 days. The point is you do not get fat in one day or one week.
You do put on fat over time. The real issue is mindset. Suddenly, that bit of fat gain around the belly looks daunting to tackle. Negative connotations about dieting, those annoying, smiling, healthy people with their chia pudding breakfasts, Gwyneth Paltrow…it all flows up.
And then we hit the crux of this issue: paralysis by inaction. So the lesson here is simple: just get back on track. Heavy weekend? Get back on track Monday. Heavy holiday? Get back on track the day you’re home. Heavy Christmas? Just. Get. Back. On. Track. It’s the easiest route to take, because the opposite is usually what plays out; going on a restrictive diet that is unsustainable, and lasts all of 3 weeks. Instead, just get back to normal first; then take things a bit further if/when needed.
When it comes to getting back on track, there is one strategy that to me, is peerless.
Gaining fat can come with a few other complications. Insulin sensitivity plunges, so your ability to handle carbs diminishes; your immune system is compromised, and you’re more prone to inflammation; your digestive system has taken a hammering, and your hunger signals are a mess.
What if there was one, simple and effective strategy that addresses all these issues? Oh, wait…
You don’t have to be extreme, simply skipping breakfast will give you an extended break. I’ve written about different strategies you can use here, so pick a method that works for you, and use it to help you effortlessly drop fat and boost your overall health.
Habits are a critical component of diet behaviour. Independent of willpower, the strongest predictor of unhealthy eating is the strength of the habit. Most of us have ingrained habits with food we may not even be conscious of. The issue lies in the fact that we’re under the influence of environmental cues; people, place, time, routine.
You know when you come back from the shop and ask yourself, “why did I buy this?!“, as you look at the massive bag of crisps? Instead of asking yourself why, ask yourself; what time was it, what mood was I in, who was I with, or who was I buying for?
The reason to ask these questions is that the environmental cues are more powerful than the desire for the “thing” (whatever it is).
If you ever want to be sustainable with eating well, focus on building habits. And breaking bad ones. Sit down, and do an audit on the when/what/where/who of the food choices that may be cutting you off at the knees. Then throw a spanner in the works of the routine that is triggering it, change it up and break free from it.
Aka don’t keep your Kryptonite in the house.
There are clear associations between willpower and the amount of decisions you make in a day. In simple terms, even minute decisions like “what do I wear today?”, draw on this finite power, depleting it as the day goes on.
If there is something that you know you have the potential to overeat, that one food you can’t do in moderation, then don’t keep it in the house. Save it for your 10% rule, but if it’s constantly in the house, then that 10% quickly exceeds its quota, and your waistline may quickly exceed its jean size.
For me, this is peanut butter M&M’s. Remember, I’m all for flexible eating and including anything you like – just don’t buy it on your Sunday shop and hope to avoid it all week with it staring you in the face.
Schedule your shop. Have your checklist. Implement.
Setting out a food plan is one of the most effective strategies you can ever use, because simply, if you plan to eat well, you are going to eat well.
Maybe dinner on Monday is fish. Or “No Meat Monday.” Whatever it is, put a structure in place and stick to it.
Another point worth considering; the greater variety of food available, the more consumed. This is why the meal plan is perfect, as it keeps you to the same categories during the week, i.e. the fish can be different, but it’s still fish on Monday.
And if you’re tight for time during the week, as many of us are? Then plan to prep. If you need to chop three day’s worth of veg, do it. If you can’t chop, run them through a food processor. If you need to batch cook meats for the week, do it.
If you can win Monday-Friday, you’ve killed it 75% of the time already.
Which means you just need to avoid capitulating over the weekend…
Are you someone who says to yourself, “I am so good during the week, but my weekends are where I fall down.” Remember the willpower thing? Chances are, you’ve used it all up. The weekend has come, and you’ve no desire to make good food decisions, because you wasted too much mental energy during the week and, hey, it’s the weekend.
If, in your Monday-Friday, you’ve got an “can have this/can’t have that” mindset, you’re setting yourself up for the fall if weekends leave you more open or you want to eat out. There are two types of weekend people: those who say “but I eat out all weekend” and let it ruin any progress, and those that can eat out and still make good food choices, and don’t feel the need to stuff themselves simply because they’re outside their weekday routine.
Be the latter.
We also need to talk about alcohol. At 7 calories per gram, alcohol is the second-most energy dense nutrient (although, it’s non-nutritive). So even your light beers or drinks still pack calories by virtue of their alcohol content.
This is something more noticeable with men than women; women tend to be more conscious of alcohol calories, and drink selections tend to be wine, spirits and low-calorie/zero calorie mixers. Men, particularly if recreational/social drinkers, could have 6 pints on a Friday and again on a Saturday; that’s 2,400kcal. It’s hard to match that with a calorie deficit, unless you’re counting.
The point is this: you may need to do nothing else with your diet to drop fat, other than reconsider your alcohol intake.
If you can navigate weekends, factoring in your alcohol intake (and changing it if necessary), and still making good food decisions eating out, then you’ll be gold.
This is a hack to help with travel. It factors in the mindless eating that goes on in airports, in cars, at petrol station. The 700kcal you inhaled grabbing the ready-made sandwich, bar and can of Coke when you weren’t hungry in the first place.
This rule works synergistically with, and is an extension of, the fasting hack: it’s about replicating that we are designed to go extended periods without food, and once-upon-a-time would have had no choice but to do so. Now, we have to exercise the choice not to eat. It’s just a simple way of avoiding crap food and unnecessary intake.
Put this way, have you ever sat next to someone on a Ryanair flight while they ordered one of those panini’s? No. Just no.
So maybe you’ve a long flight; eat a satiating, whole food meal before you travel, then wait until your destination.
Use the travel time as a natural extension of your time between meals.
There is an important caveat to this article: they’re not rules to live and die by. There a collection of different strategies that can be used at different times, that when you add them all together are the sum of their parts.
Some are more important than others. Probably the most important is preparation. You’ve won already if you prepare. The next, in my opinion, is the habit component, and understanding/identifying where you food habits may be derailing or impairing your progress.
Under them, which is here because it varies from person to person, is the mindset part – how you are when you’re not on a plan. If you can understand that willpower is a myth (and stop beating yourself up), and if you can understand that being all-or-nothing is a cognitive recipe for disaster with food, then you can set yourself for success.
Remember, if it’s not sustainable it is pointless.
I hope this series has been helpful. At this point, you know that what defines a diet is nutrient-density. That eating whole, real foods covers you for this requirement.
That focusing on protein, essential fats, veg and some fruit as your foundation nutrients will keep you full, and give you a wide array of baseline nutrient density.
That balancing your fat intake by making sure you’re eating your fish, or taking your supplement, and adding some avo, oils and nuts, will round out your saturated fat intake coming from your meats and dairy.
That when it comes to carbs, Coco Pops are not couscous, and type of carbs matter. But they won’t make you fat. Too much crap will.
And that putting this all together means you need to develop habits, strategies and mindsets that will make it automatic for you.