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Thursday, 24 March 2011 18:15

Living in the 80s

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I'm a health coach which means I know about nutrition. I know what's good for me to eat and what's not good for me to eat. However, this doesn't mean that I'm perfect all of the time. I'm a big advocate of the 80/20 rule. I try to eat healthy 80% of the time. When I am in the 20% and eating the unhealthier foods, I try to be mindful of what I eat so that I savor every bite.

Eating healthy 100% of the time is not realistic and can be unhealthy (if it causes stress). If we strive for 100%, we may feel like we have failed whenever we transgress from what we consider to be healthy food. Four Quadrant Living is about integral (whole body) health. Part of health is pleasure. If we deprive ourselves of our favorite foods or feel we cannot (or should not) join in with special meal sharing with our friends and family, it affects our health in other ways. Stressing about eating is counterproductive to our health.

Although most of the time I live in the 80%+ zone of eating healthy, there are times where I'll get on a roll of mindless or unhealthy eating. For example, who can resist helping a girl scout in need? I feel it's my duty as an American to buy several boxes of Thin Mints to support these young entrepreneurs. Sometimes I can have Thin Mints in the house and leave them untouched for weeks. Other times, I'm in the groove and a sleeve goes down a little too easy.

Lately, I have found myself drifting south of 80%. Here are some simple tips that have helped get me back on track the past couple of weeks.

1. Toss the crap. If there is unhealthy food in the house and you are in a low willpower phase, throw it out. I'm giving you permission to throw out unhealthy food. Allow yourself to do this. I even hesitate giving it to others because if I don't want it for my own health, why would I want to tempt someone else with it? It may seem like a waste of money, but it's better than eating it and compromising your health. Recently, I was getting in the habit of eating cookies a little too regularly. I told myself that if I was going to stay in this routine, the cookies would have to be tossed. Clearly I was in one of my phases where I was not okay with having the tempting food in the house because I was eating it too often. I gave myself one more day to see if my willpower could return. I put the cookies in the freezer and have not touched them since. They are now safely in the freezer for my occasional treat and I am out of the habit of reaching for them regularly. Sometimes you just need to break the habit. If you can go a few days without it, you can break out of the routine.

The key is to be in tune with your current state of willpower. If you have unhealthy food in the house and you are eating it, toss it now. If you are in a strong willpower phase and can have it in the house for a treat, that's fine. Be honest with yourself. Our moments of strength and weakness come and go depending on what else is going on in our lives. Help you help yourself when you need it.

2. Mindfully eat. I've been noticing that even when I am in my 80% healthy eating, I can go on autopilot with what I'm eating. I have a bad habit of eating whatever is on my plate. I'm guessing this stems from my childhood when I couldn't leave the table until all of my food was gone (which was a long time when the black-eyed peas were being served). When my husband serves me dinner and I feel stuffed after, I somehow blame it on him for putting too much food on my plate because I eat it all. Another thing I've noticed about my eating is that I'm in the habit of having the same lunch since I work from home. The other day as I was going through my medley of my lunch food items, I felt like I was on autopilot. "It's lunch time, so now it's time to eat. First, I eat this. Then I eat this." I wasn't paying attention to whether I was hungry or even felt like eating that particular food. If you are like me in eating on autopilot or eating what is on your plate regardless of your appetite, here are a few things to do.
  • Try using smaller serving plates. (This really works!)
  • Eat with your non-dominant hand. (This certainly helps you eat slower.)
  • Be okay to leave food on your plate if you are full. (Save it for later. I love leftovers.)
  • If you are still hungry, allow a few minutes before reaching for seconds.
This last bullet is really important. The past few nights, I have been starting with less food and giving myself a few minutes before going back for more like I typically do. After a few minutes of waiting, I realize that I am full and I really don't want more food. It takes 20 minutes for the fullness in our stomach to reach our brains which is why we can reach the point of being stuffed - we just keep on eating and by the time we really are full, we've eaten well beyond that point.

3. Keep it simple. I like to eat healthy and I don't like to cook. Sometimes this can be a challenge. However, in a way, I think it's a good thing. I don't like to spend time in the kitchen preparing meals. My meals are very simple. Salmon, brown rice, vegetables. Chicken, quinoa, salad. Protein, whole grain, vegetable. I don't cook with a lot of sauce, cheese or butter (though butter is preferable to margarine). I was talking to a client the other day and she was surprised to hear that I don't like to cook. She thought that eating healthy meant spending a lot of time preparing food. It doesn't have to be. Sometimes keeping it simple can be the easiest way to eat healthy.

4. Double the veggies. Divide your plate into four sections. Load it it up with two of the four sections filled with vegetables (i.e. half the plate), one section with a lean protein source (e.g. fish, chicken, beans), and the last section filled with a whole grain (brown rice, quinoa). (Note: When I eat corn or potato, I do not count that as my vegetable. I substitute it for the whole grain since they are high in carbs. If you serve potato or corn, still try to have a green vegetable on the plate).

The bottom line is, be kind to yourself. If you are in a period where your eating is below the 80% mark, it's okay. There are good days (weeks) and bad ones. Try again tomorrow. For most of us, eating is tied to emotion. Sometimes eating the unhealthy food makes us temporarily feel better. When your willpower is low, try to help yourself by not putting the food at your fingertips. If it's not in the house, it's much easier to resist.

Where are you on the 80/20 scale? On the times when you dip below, what works to get you back up? Focus on those ideas and keep them in your back pocket for the next go-around. I know you can do it. I'm right there with you.


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