Through my various interactions with so many different people every single day, I inevitably hear about their nutrition or diet or inability to maintain a healthy diet. Typically the conversation starts off with an up beat attitude, but inevitably falls into the depths of self pity and anger as to why they do not have the willpower needed to maintain a healthy diet. I can see the frustrations on their faces and in their behaviors and I can feel a twinge of anger pulsating from them. “Why can I not just stop eating sweets?” “What is wrong with me and why can I not lose weight? If I only had more willpower.” Well, my friends, I am here to shed a ray of hope to help create a more sunny point of view. I have a little secret for you—I don’t believe in pure willpower for success! What?!?!? That’s right, I don’t believe in using willpower alone to eat healthy or to achieve your goals.
Willpower alone is only part of the puzzle. There are many other pieces that exist to make up the big picture. Sure, willpower helps to push us over that little hump and get us closer to our goals and desires. If I am eating all the right foods, all my hormones are balanced, my stress levels are a record low, I am free of illnesses, my relationships are happy, and I am feeling deeply confident and satisfied with myself, it may be willpower I need to help push me a little closer to choosing a healthier food over a food that is unhealthy and not supportive of my diet. But, if all or some of those other factors are off, then the willpower puzzle piece is never truly going to reveal the full picture of health and a healthy diet. When it comes to food and food satisfaction, there are so many other factors that will come into play when attempting to maintain a healthy diet or lose weight or reap the results of a hard workout.
Years ago, I used to dabble in competitive figure competitions and I had to maintain an extremely strict diet in order to reap the results that I wanted. At that time, I was very naive about the importance of these other factors in maintaining the diet that I needed to. The food I was eating was bland and tasteless, I couldn’t even stand the sight of another can of tuna, there was no longer anything appealing about lettuce and olive oil, and the triggers of my environment were ultimately setting me up for failure. I really struggled in my diets and my sweet tooth was out of control. Even though I was training for a competition where I would be wearing hardly anything and standing on a stage allowing people to judge my appearance, I found myself yo-yoing on my diet. It was taxing on my body and mentally, it started to wear me down. I found this nutritional plan and way of eating was absolutely not sustainable! After all the dieting and after the competition was over, the weight slowly returned and I felt depleted and unsatisfied with my food. Actually, I felt a little bit lost and I felt like I was failing in my pursuit of health!
Overtime, I started to discover why I was “failing” in my pursuits. It turned out, I wasn’t “failing” at all! My body was telling me what I needed and I was not listening. So, my body shut off any willpower that I had stored up and took the reins of my health and ultimately my decisions. I realize that for long-term success, that it would be vital for me to take a look at a few other factors to ultimately bring success and the ability to stay on track. What do I mean by this?
A one-way ticket on the success express…
We are complex human beings with complex factors that affect us every day. If one factor is thrown out of whack, it can affect every other factor you have going on. For example, if you do not get a healthy restful night’s sleep, your energy levels will be lower and your adrenal glands may be more stressed out. And, what happens when those results occur? You are more likely to over eat and/or eat unhealthy comfort food. If you are feeling low in confidence and depressed within your own body, your “feel good” hormones will be lowered and you will be more likely to stray away from a healthy diet (or participate in a workout or a stress relieving meditation session, etc). So what am I trying to say? I am saying that looking at the whole puzzle and making sure that each piece is supported will ultimately boost your “willpower” levels to stay on track. Ask yourself these questions and rate each on a scale of 1-5 (1 =No, not at all and 5=Yes, all the time):
- Am I eating enough food throughout the day?
- Have my stress levels been low and manageable?
- Do my close relationships bring me satisfaction and happiness?
- Am I exercising and keeping my body fit and healthy?
- Do I feel that I have a connection to spirit and that I have a higher purpose in this life?
- Do I get 7 to 9 hours of sleep on a regular basis?
- Do I eat a healthy diet and drink enough water most of the time?
- Do I allow for days to have cheat foods or treats?
- Is my body stressed from illnesses or environmental toxins?
- Do I drink more than 1-2 cups of coffee a day?
- Are my hormones in balance?
- Is my digestive health smooth and do I have regular bowel movements daily?
- Do I feel confident in myself and feel that I can speak my truths when I need to?
If you add up your total number and then divide it by 13, you will get your average. If your average is a four or five, then you are on the right path! But if it starts to dip lower, then you may need to investigate what areas are pulling you down and how they can be fixed or bettered. See, when your number starts to dip below a four average, you are more likely to find other ways to soothe and pamper yourself. That may be through distractions (ie, Facebook, Twitter, email etc.), or lazing in front of the television, or indulging in unhealthy foods that will not support your healthy diet.
One of the best tips that you can implement immediately if your goal is to stay on your healthy nutrition plan— while you are correcting the other areas of your life that need attention, of course— is to implement 1 to 2 cheats foods a week. Go ahead, cheat your butt off!
Cheating is healthy!
I actually promote cheat foods as a healthy part of your diet. Why is this? Part of food satisfaction is the mental thought and belief of what the food is actually doing to enhance your health. That is a large part of why so many of us choose to attempt eating healthy. Maybe it is to improve your overall health, or decrease your risk of disease, or help you lose weight. Regardless, this plays a role. But, another huge factor that so many people over look, is the importance of how the food smells and tastes and feels and the environmental association that it has connected to it. For example, I absolutely love sandwich cookies (preferably vanilla, please). I know they are awful for me, but when there is one in front of me, I have a really hard time not wanting to eat it. Why? Because of this… I associate sandwich cookies with my grandma and the comfort that my grandparents house brought to me. The cookie is sweet, which was a treat when I was sad and upset. The inside is creamy and comforting. The smell of vanilla helps to decrease my stress levels and brings me a sense of peace and satisfaction, just like being at my grandparents house. For these reasons, sandwich cookies are a weakness for me and are an excellent food to incorporate into a regular cheat food in my diet. Now, I’m not saying to go out and eat a whole bag of them. That would just be overkill and setting yourself up for failure by what the sugar effects on the body would be. 1-2 (or maybe, 3-4) are suffice. If you’re going out to eat and you know that some of that food is going to be big triggers for you, then I say, compromise and eat a healthy meal that is supported with your cheat food. This seems so simple, is this all? Absolutely not!
- Allow yourself 1-2 cheat foods a week.
- You have to be mindful when eating it. If you consume that cheat food fast and without truly tuning into the taste, feel, smell, and the satisfaction it brings to you, you will be left craving more and feeling like you never got your “fix.” So, when you sit down to take that first bite, really tune in and be mindful. The first bite is the most powerful and the most flavorful, so make sure that you really tune in to that first bite. How does it smell? What does it look like and what are the details of the food? How does it feel as you take that first bite and how does it feel lying on your tongue? What are the tastes that you are experiencing? Is it sweet or spicy or creamy? How does it make you feel while you were chewing it? And then, as you swallow, how does it feel going down your throat? Really tune in!
- And as you eat that food, bless that food and feel the excitement from it and release any judgment or guilt that you may feel deep inside of you for eating that food.
The most interesting thing, is that you may find that whatever cheat food you originally loved, may not actually be so exciting to you after all. It may be pretty boring and not have taste. In the long run, this practice will actually set you up for success because not only are you looking forward to having a favorite food, but you are also discovering what you truly love and what you don’t love. When you find out what is not satisfactory to you, you are less likely to crave it in the future.
In the grand scheme of any healthy nutrition plan, regardless of what kind of food it is, it is so important to be mindful with everything you eat. Being mindful makes the vegetables in your salad so much more complex with flavor and the herb and oil-seasoned quinoa that much more tantalizing to your palate. Eating satisfaction is all about how it makes you feel physically, mentally and emotionally. If you are depriving yourself of tastes and flavors that truly satisfy you and bring you joy, any nutrition plan, regardless of it being healthy or not, will fail.
Take action now! First, go through those questions to find out what areas of your life need to be enhanced to bring you ultimate success. Find out what your average number is. And then start making a plan as to how you can begin cultivating change. Next, and this is the fun part, schedule your cheat foods. Then, when your food is ready to be consumed, really taste it and experience it and be mindful. Enjoy every single bite and allow it to nourish you.
Live your life with passion and purpose…
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