Recently, one of my readers messaged me and said that she read my recent post called, 4 Simple Steps to Break Destructive Habits and referenced the period during my life that I like to call my "Dark Days of Cheese" If you missed that one, that's ok. I don't need anyone else reminding me. Or if you did, and need a recap - in a nutshell, I was bored, restless, lonely, and would fill that void by eating cheese, crackers and hummus every evening while binging on Netflix. I was a winner - get in line gentlemen.
So her inquiry was, " I think it's great that you got out of your dark days of cheese, and you talked about all the benefits of how you started feeling when you got out of that period in your life, but you never specified how you got out. What if someone is still in their "dark days of cheese" but more specifically, their "dark days of nacho chips and salsa", and they want to get out? How did you do it?"
So this question inspired my next blog post and I decided to sit down and review just how I freed myself from that unfortunate period in my life, and more importantly, the methods I still use to this day, to avoid a mozzarella relapse.
At the time when I was eating enough cheese to feed the entire province of Ontario, I knew that to feel better and healthier again, I needed to not only cut out the cheese , but to cut out everything that didn't fit into my definition of an ideal diet. Now I use the term "diet" loosely here. I had already heard and read countless stories of how most diets are a waste of time - the rebound effect typically makes you not only put the lost weight back on, but then some. The extra pounds are your body's way of saying, "Bad Sarah, NO! Don't try starving me again." Kinda like when you catch your dog eating poop. So, my solution was to adopt a very natural and holistic approach to nourishment, immediately.
I read a book called, "What Are You Hungry For?" by Deepak Chopra, which made me look at my eating habits differently. My first bit of homework was to examine all the reasons (or excuses) I wasn't properly nourishing my body. I came up with 7 biggies. Now remember, everyone is different and you may have your own reasons for binge eating ice cream and fries, or whatever else makes you feel warm inside, but the most important part is becoming aware of the WHY. When I became aware of the real reasons that I was binge-eating, it became easier and easier to cut out the extra food that, rather than nourishing, was actually harming me.
1.) Bad Habits - Getting into my dark days of cheese quickly became a habit because it tasted so incredibly fantastic!! I could eat it everyday. And once you get into a bad habit, - like having a glass of wine every day after work, or a bagel/croissant from the bakery around the corner in the morning, it is difficult to stop because it becomes a comfortable routine that provides immediate (yet short lived) gratification. Putting an end to bad habits requires hard work and dedication. I knew I had to start making time to not only prepare my lunches in advance but my breakfasts and dinners as well.
2.) Societal Pressure - We grow up with a set of conditioned beliefs as to what kind of lifestyle is "normal" and how we should eat. In the world of mediocrity, most people are okay with just fuelling their body with processed crap all the time. It's easy, delicious, and often is the most affordable food available. (Think of the $2.00 slices of pizza around the corner from your house - or the burger and fries from the fast-food restaurant chains that seem to drop lower and lower in prices every year.) Have you ever had a lunch meeting at work where they ordered pizza, and you were sitting in the corner eating your kale and chickpea salad, while someone singled you out or tried to make you feel guilty for being a health nut or not joining the party? Ignore that. You properly nourishing your body is frankly none of their business, and their pointing it out only shows their insecurity in lacking the self-discipline to properly nourish themselves. What's more important, fitting in, or properly fuelling your body so that you live a long and healthy life?
3.) Sadness/Anger - Have you ever experienced a bad break-up and gone straight for the ice cream? Or had a shitty day at work and reached for the wine bottle? I have. Quite often, I would use my feelings as an excuse to feed more crappy food to my body. The kicker is, the more crappy food I would put into my body, the worse I would feel about myself and a downward emotional spiral would ensue. Kind of a catch 22 as they say.
4.) Laziness - Nowadays, it has become soooo easy for us to stop at the nearest fast-food restaurant and grab a quick burger or pizza on our way home because we are SO busy. The fast-paced environment we live in makes it almost impossible to devote a few hours of our lives a week to cooking for ourselves in a healthy way. This is where the self-discipline comes in here, people. In my last post, I talked about the importance of self-care. Making the time (and scheduling it in so you actually do it) will make the world of difference. You will feel better, look better, and if you plan your meals ahead of time, you shouldn't ever be in a place where you are so starved that you grab a hot dog from the nearest sidewalk stand when you're out for the evening.
5.) Anxiety/Restlessness - Growing up, I had this habit of moseying on into the kitchen when I was thinking about issues at work, problems with my partner, exams that didn't go well, or even exams that were coming up that I hadn't even written yet. I would eat as a means of distraction. If I could distract myself from my worries even for a few short seconds, it seemed to be worth it at the time.
6.) Boredom - This one was also popular in my case. If I was waiting for something, or was sitting around watching tv, reading a book, or simply taking a break, I would just start to eat, whether hungry or not. Why couldn't I go for a run or do a yoga class while I was bored? Eating always seemed like the quickest and most rewarding option.
7.) Deprivation - I feel like almost every girl has experienced this, or has a friend who has. Tell me if this story sounds familiar: When I was in first year of university, my friends and I booked a flight to Mexico. At the time, I was in good shape, by default, from the daily training involved in playing varsity soccer. But I thought I could shed a few pounds and "tone up" a bit before my trip, so I started going to the gym twice a day. I cut sugar and carbs out of my diet completely... I was basically on the same meal plan as a rabbit and I was absolutely starving. Let me tell you, I toned up alright. And when I got to Mexico, I was so proud of myself that I binged out on every taco and grilled cheese in site. The following rational went through my mind: I worked hard to look good for the trip, the trip is here, now I can relax, I can go back to my old eating habits. I can celebrate all of my hard work by eating all of these nachos. I can't starve myself forever, and I'll just do it this once. Bad habits ensued, weight put back on. This is how I discovered that the greatest improvement was made when I naturally and holistically changed my diet and my mindset to one of proper nourishment, instead of deprivation.
Now, like I mentioned, this is my list. You may have several of the same reasons that bring you to your fridge when you aren't actually hungry, or you may have very different ones. Regardless, it'll help if you start to become aware of WHY you eat.
Now, through trial and error, and reading various books and helpful tips on the matter, I came up with a list of my top 10 tricks that changed my mindset, altered my diet completely, allowed me to think before I ate and as a result, has now led me to the happiest and healthiest state that I have ever been in my life. And I want to share these with you:
1.) Become Aware - The big tip I learned from "What Are You Hungry For?" - becoming more mindful of why I eat was hugely effective. Over 50% of the time, I realized I wasn't actually hungry at all. I was quite often bored, procrastinating or distracting myself from something that I had to do. The next time you think you are hungry, stop yourself at the fridge and ask, "Why am I eating?"
2.) Journal - I could still improve on this one. I actually bought a "food diary" with the intention of writing down my food intake... two years ago.. it's still empty. It's kind of like collecting your receipts so that you can track what you're spending and, hopefully, decrease your stupid purchases. (Or what I think it would be like, that is, since I don't do this... but I hear it works wonders!)
3.) Plan Ahead - Look at your food plan like you're setting a goal. How can you reach it if you never plan appropriately? If I know I am working at the yoga studio right after work, I pack an extra protein shake and some fruit, or something that can keep me satisfied when that 5:00 mark rolls around. I started cooking my meals on Sunday/Wednesdays, so I have lunches and dinner prepared in advance, that are always fresh. I often pack some extra fruit and have some rice crackers and peanut butter on hand at my desk if my cravings for something salty kicks in. I make overnight oats (stay tuned for my next recipe blog) so I have something quick to eat in the morning if I am running out of time. On Sundays, I'll look at the week ahead and map out a few easy meals that I can make in mass quantities for lunch and dinner for the next three days. I'll write down all of the necessary ingredients, go shopping and start cooking that day.
4.) Snack - What was a commonality for me was kicking the day off with a great start, then caving to the cravings as the day progressed. I would start out with a protein shake and steel cut oats, then I would have some sort of vegan chili or chick pea salad for lunch, feel great, go home, feel starved the second I walked in the door and before I could say, "Sarah that's a silly idea" I'd devour half a jar of peanut butter. That's if I even made it home. You may have been walking past Tokyo Sushi in downtown Toronto just off of Bay street and seen a familiar face enjoying a couple of rolls in the window. Does this sound familiar? (Maybe not the eating sushi by yourself, part) But the point is, I would start off really well, and lose complete control of myself by the time I got home. My body would feel like I was starving and I would simply grab whatever would bring me the quickest and most instant gratification. What helped? The very obvious of course. Snack throughout the day. My coach suggested grabbing some fruit and nuts in between meals. I now typically bring a shake that I drink at around 10:30 am, and some fruit in the afternoon. It tides me over so I'm not starving by the time I get home, and allows me to make rational decisions instead of stopping at the nearest sushi joint that can spit out some yam rolls in the most timely fashion.
5.) Take Notes - Strangely enough, my chiropractor recommended this tactic to me. (Among several naturopaths as well, but my chiropractor gave me the sheet that I happened not to lose, so his stuck with me.) He told me to monitor how I felt after I ate certain foods. How did I feel after shakes, salads, fruits, quinoa bowls, etc. Now, how did I feel after pizza, sushi, ice cream and dairy in general? Once I could describe in words how shitty I felt afterwards, I stopped focusing on the instant gratification that I would feel when my mind started urging me to go get a quick slice of 'za. I literally had it in words how crappy it would make me feel, how lethargic of an effect it would have, and how it would typically leave me lying on the couch to do nothing productive with my night. What was even more interesting, is that I could make a distinct connection with how my sleep patterns were or how I felt the next morning, based on what I ate the night before.
6.) Treat Yourself - Taking care of your body requires time and commitment. It isn't easy to make sure that your body gets the care and nutrients that it needs and deserves. Every once in a while, let yourself enjoy a salty snack or something sugary so you don't feel completely deprived.
7.) Be Forgiving - This is an extension of the "Treat Yourself" tip. I am definitely not implying that I have a perfect diet. In fact, I just spent last Friday night watching Friends and eating ice cream with my mom. (She was in town for a week visiting me, and it was exactly what the doctor ordered). In the past, I have spent countless mornings regretting the consumption choices I made the night before after several glasses of wine. I have got up at the crack of dawn to get to a yoga class to sweat it out, or hit the pavement for an early morning jog to lose the pounds I thought I put on from a slice of pizza from the night before. If you can relate, then this tip is for you. Seriously. I found that once I allowed myself a cheat meal once in a while, and didn't curse myself to the depths of hell for doing so, I found getting back to my healthy diet seemed like less of a chore and like I was starving myself, and more like I was just rewarding it for a job well done, and getting back on the path to properly nourishing it.
8.) Occupy Yourself - This was my kryptonite during my "Dark Days of Cheese". When I first moved, I had no friends, no family and no hobbies or interests outside of work. I had wonderful roommates, but to be honest, I just didn't feel like socializing. I would come home, eat cheese, turn on the t.v., eat more cheese, get bored, eat more cheese and then go to bed. #Winning. Now, if I ever felt like I am getting those cheesy cravings again, I distract myself. I call a friend, go for a run or clean up around the house. (The latter is absolute worst case scenario if all of my friends are preoccupied and if it's raining outside.
9.) Drink water - If I start feeling hungry, I will drink some water or a cup of tea first and give my stomach 20 minutes to settle before I decide if I am truly hungry. I drink a lot of tea because I think wrapping my hands around a warm cup of lemon ginger is comforting, and it's less boring than water. I am actually terrible at drinking water. I experience feelings of jealousy when I witness people carrying around those Nalgene bottles all day and are constantly having to refill it. If you are one of those people, you're like superhuman to me. Keep it up. I chatted with my coach about this one. She told me to go out and buy a water bottle that brought me joy. Well spending money on things that bring me joy seemed easy enough. I went out and bought that fluorescent pink S'well bottle from Indigo. Ooh babey. It actually works. I get distracted by how pretty it is and then I remember to drink more water.
10.) Fulfillment - This one is most important, and most tricky of all. I am going to reference my coach - Ange Simson of The Gratitude Project, again, because I think she is just so incredibly brilliant and has made such a huge and positive impact on my life. On our very first call she told me, (this was a while ago, so correct me if I am off, Ange..) but everyone essentially has two plates of nutrition - primary and secondary. Their secondary plate of nutrition is what we actual put into our body, the physical food that we nourish ourselves with. The primary plate is made up of our relationships, our environment, the way we move our bodies (exercise) our careers, and our spirituality. It is only when we are properly feeding and taking care of each one of those elements on our primary plate, will we be in a good enough place to properly nourish our bodies from our secondary plate. That mindset may not work for everyone, but it worked for me. I started focusing on other elements in my life. This is a much longer story and I won't get into details right now (another blog for another day) but needless to say, once I started taking care of my primary plate of nutrition, it stopped becoming so difficult to feed my body the type of nourishment it needed to perform at optimum speed. Once I started feeling fulfilled in other aspects of my life, I actually wanted to treat my body better and give it the proper nourishment it deserved.