How to Get Out of an Unhealthy Rut In a Way That Feels Good
We’ve all had those moments where we feel like we need to get our act together. We’ve let vacations, holidays, or just our busy lives consume us… and our eating habits suffer as a result. If you woke up this morning thinking that it’s time to start taking better care of yourself, here are some things I implement to turn things around with my own eating habits.
1 . Drink a green juice... NOT go on a juice cleanse.
Juices are not part of my regular routine, but to me a green juice is like a nutrient bomb to nourish my body when I have been depriving it of veggies. However, not all juices are created equal and I’m always careful to choose a juice that’s more veggie based vs. fruit in order to prevent a blood sugar spike. Leafy greens, cucumber, beet juice, lemon, and ginger are my go-tos. The reason why I emphasized the difference between have a single green juice compared to a juice cleanse is because juice cleanses are too restrictive! Typically, when we feel crappy and are ready to make a change we feel extremely motivated to take massive action RIGHT NOW. Which causes us to swing from one extreme (overindulging on pizza, donuts, fries, and ice cream) allllll the way to the other extreme (living off of lettuce, celery, and cucumbers). Extreme restriction like this always backfires, leaving you feeling low on energy, cranky, and starving. We can only take these extreme detox diets for so long before we ultimately break and revert back to our old, not so healthy ways. I’m telling you, deprivation breeds obsession… when we deprive ourselves of food our body kicks into survival mode and all it can focus on is food. If you’ve ever done a juice cleanse you know that by day 3 you are ready to devour any and all food in sight. Kinda defeats the purpose of the cleanse to begin with. Kick start healthier eating patters with a refreshing and nourishing green juice, but also eat real food to keep yourself sane (and you’re much more likely to continue your healthy eating patterns long-term).
2. Add veggies to lunch and dinner. One of the most important things that helps me feel better fast is eating more vegetables. For me, I’ve recognized over the years that quality of my carbohydrates plays a major role in how I feel overall. When most of my carbohydrates are from refined flour and sugar I start to feel like crap. But, if I replace all of the bread and pasta with vegetables I almost immediately start to feel myself come back to life. It could be some celery and peanut butter, or baby carrots and hummus with my lunch, a big ol’ salad, or a “power bowl” (search “power bowl recipes” on Pinterest for some inspiration). If you have worked with me before you know that I’m not just eating vegetables for a meal. Yes, I think vegetables are wonderful and an important part of a healthy diet however you need more than vegetables alone to feel your best. My first 2 Nutrition Pillars are “protein with every meal” and “increase your healthy fats” (see all 8 of my Nutrition Pillars HERE). Including a protein source and some healthy fat with your vegetables is critical to supporting your metabolism, sustaining your energy levels, and helping you feel full and satisfied in between meals so that you don’t feel deprived. So, eat your veggies but I don’t recommend eating ONLY vegetables for a meal. Make sure you are pairing those veggies with a protein source and some healthy fats too!
3. Keep healthier versions of treats in the house. Make a batch of chia pudding or have a dark chocolate bar in the house for when you crave something sweet. WHAT?! KEEP CHOCOLATE IN THE HOUSE?! Yes, you heard correctly! I strongly believe that indulging in chocolate, cheese, wine (insert your treat of choice) is crucial for sustaining a healthy diet. The thing about change is that it’s HARD. And the second you decide to start eating healthy and cut out all sugar, it’s like your brain craves it even more. The cravings are still going to be there, but the trick is to replace the ice cream, cookies, and donuts with a healthier treat. A few spoonful’s of chia pudding, or a couple squares of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa) feel indulgent enough to tame the beast. This is something that most people have a hard time wrapping their head around… I hear things like ‘but, if it’s in the house I won’t be able to control myself’, or ‘I’m an all or nothing type person – I can’t do moderation’. I can relate to these feelings, I’ve been there and have struggled with this too.
But, remember when I mentioned that restriction breeds obsession? The second we label a food “off limits” or “bad” and then ban it from our diet, all of a sudden we can’t stop thinking about it. And when we don’t allow ourselves to eat the forbidden food, the allure becomes even more powerful and we feel like we must use every last bit of our willpower to avoid it. Most likely this exiling of foods from our diet will result in a messy relapse. The temptations grow too strong to ignore any longer and the next thing you know you’ve downed a pint of ice cream, guilt kicks in, you’re mad at yourself for being so weak, and you swear off sugar once again continuing the vicious cycle. This cycle of restrict -> binge -> guilt -> restrict is all too common and can be prevented. By allowing myself to have some dark chocolate whenever a sweet tooth hits, my brain doesn’t have to work so hard to fight the craving, and the allure of the chocolate gradually loses its power over time. That is how you arrive at a place where you can enjoy things in “moderation”… by giving yourself permission to eat without guilt.
4. Keep a food journal. First, I take a few minutes to reflect on what it is that I want to achieve. If I’m not feeling great about my current habits I sit down and really ask myself why? What about my current habits am I unhappy with? And if I make a change, what value will that bring to my life? Most of the time the reason I want to make a change is because I feel low on energy, I always get more irritable and moody when I’m not eating well, my skin breaks out, and I’m constantly bloated. But, when I’m eating well and taking care of myself I am genuinely a happier human being. I have more energy, I can focus better throughout the day and am more creative and productive at work. My mood becomes more stable, I feel less anxious, irritable, and I’m a more pleasant person to be around.
I also like to keep a food journal to use as a tool for being more mindful when I eat. If I know I’m going to write down what I ate today I pay more attention to my food choices. It helps me to check in with myself before I eat and ask certain questions like ‘Am I actually hungry?’ or ‘How will this food make me feel?’. Keeping a food journal has always helped me to be more intentional with my food choices instead of staying stuck in old habits that feel almost automatic. An important thing to note is that I’m not counting calories, macros, or points. I find more value in using a food journal to start paying attention to behaviors, identify patterns, and for self-reflection. It’s amazing how we become more productive when we are curious about our behaviors instead of critical. When we can learn how to use our experiences (good and bad) as learning opportunities it allows us to become more expansive, energized, and creative to find alternative solutions. When we judge ourselves, beat ourselves up, and feel shameful of our actions we simply aren’t allowing ourselves to be open to self-understanding.
5. Meal Prep! This is quite possibly the single most important thing that helps me get back on track with my nutrition. The primary reasons why unhealthy food choices start to takeover are because they’re easily accessible and convenient. And when do we need easily accessible/convenient food? When we’re unprepared. By taking the time to plan out your meals and snacks for the week, write your shopping list, and grocery shop you are able to set yourself up for success. I literally create a weekly menu and designate what I’m going to eat for dinner each night of the week. This way I know exactly what’s for dinner tonight, I have all of the food already at home, and I’m less likely to order a pizza on my way home from work. Creating new habits starts with creating a supportive environment around you. When you bring healthy food into your home and make healthy foods more accessible and convenient, you’re increasing your chances of eating healthier 😊