2016 is less than a week away and with that comes New Year’s Resolutions. Like so many people, there is often a resolution to lose weight and have better nutritional habits. While Brad and I certainly aren’t perfect on this front, we’ve learned some things over the years (through much trial and error) to manage to stay at reasonable weights without having a super restrictive diet and to have good ‘numbers’ (cholesterol, glucose, etc). By being intentional about the foods we put into our body and learning to listen to what our bodies need and when we are hungry, we’ve developed better nutritional habits over the last decade. Here are some things that have worked for us:
Focus on what you can eat not what you can’t – About seven years ago, I was really struggling with binge eating. I had been for about 10 years (and still do to this day but am much better and in a much better mindset) and was fed up with eating well during the day, binging at night, feeling like crap the next morning, resolving to eat better that day and then repeating the cycle. We had just gotten married and now that our finances were combined, Brad convinced me to use money out of our budget to actually go see a Registered Dietitian for some nutrition counseling. I thought I knew quite a bit about nutrition as I had almost minored at it in college, read a lot about it and tried to follow the ‘perfect’ diet on what I could and couldn’t eat. However, seeing and talking to a trained professional made a world of difference in not only my diet, but more importantly, my mindset. I realized I had zero fiber and almost no fat in my diet. And guess what? I could hold restrictive eating for a short period of time but was starving by the end of the day. I would reach a breaking point and then eat whatever was in sight. I overate, often to a point well past fullness and satiety. After some counseling sessions and looking at my nutritional breakdown of my diet, I began to focus on the foods (and macronutrients) that I could and should be eating because they were nutritionally dense and made my body feel better. Fiber made me feel full, fat gave me satiety and protein helped my muscles recover. A book I found really useful on rediscovering foods that I should be eating was called Superfoods Healthstyle by Steven Pratt and Kathy Matthews. It was a book where the whole focus was on what you could eat instead of what you shouldn’t and by eating nutritionally dense foods your body would feel so much better. This mindset completely changed the way I thought about food. I was no longer starving by night and having to resort to highly caloric foods with low nutritional density to fuel my hunger. I was fueling my hunger throughout the day and never reaching that breaking point. BONUS: Some of our favorite in-between meals snacks include: apples with peanut butter, mixed nuts (love pistachios, cashews and almonds), almonds and oranges, carrots and hummus, cliff bars and just about anything with avocado or peanut butter (and we get the real peanut butter with no sugar added. Check the ingredients and it should only say peanuts or peanuts and salt. I love Smucker ‘s Natural Chunky and Creamy Peanut Butter.)
Eliminate or greatly reduce ‘junk food’ – I know the above point focuses on what you can eat instead of what you shouldn’t but there are some foods that you should stop eating and/or really shouldn’t be part of your diet. We all know what junk food is – it tastes good, really isn’t satisfying and has low nutritional value. We love junk food as much as the next person but have learned to greatly reduce and even eliminate a lot of junk food in our lives. This has been an overall, gradual process. Some people can just wake up and say – No more junk food. We didn’t have nearly that self-discipline and it’s been more of reduction or elimination of things along the way. The things we’ve eliminated we don’t miss and our bodies feel better because we aren’t fueling them with as much ‘junk’. And remember it’s okay to have a little junk food every once in a while.
Be mindful when eating– About a year ago, I was introduced to the concept of Mindful Eating. I took an online class offered through my work and did a series of readings and exercises that have you focus on eating without distractions (phone, TV, reading), tasting each bite, evaluating if you are still hungry or not periodically throughout your meal or snack, and then having the permission to keep eating if you are still hungry or stopping eating if you are full. This definitely falls into the category of things we’ve learned along the way but haven’t necessarily succeeded at yet. This is definitely still a process for both of us but when we do slow down and enjoy cooking, eating slowly, not being distracted while eating and really paying attention to whether or not we are full or not, it becomes a different experience for us. I am not very good at this and definitely mindlessly eat often but am working toward improvement. I hope you find the Tasting Mindfulness blog helpful (and you can take the online class as a non-employee). Another book I’ve found really useful is Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
Get adequate sleep – Many times when we think we are hungry, we are really just tired. We can’t stress how important adequate sleep (7-8 hours per night) is for your body and for your nutrition. Sleep is when your body is repairing itself. There have been times when we are tired and we just start eating. However, that doesn’t make us feel any better and we actually feel worse because we are now overfull and even more tired. If you are tired, take a nap if logistically possible. If not, hold on to the evening and then try to catch up. You will be more aware of your hunger signals if you are well rested.
You can always outeat your exercise – Brad and I train for and compete in running races and triathlons. We are active people, burn some calories and in general, eat more than your typical 48 and 35 year old (especially our sedentary counterparts). However, just because we exercise, it doesn’t give us the ability to eat whatever we want ,whenever we want. It’s important to make sure you are properly fueled for a workout (so you don’t bonk) and to properly fuel yourself afterward as you recover (a good mix of protein and carbs shortly after working out is best). However, other than that, unless it’s a really big training day (when we were training for an Ironman in 2014, we had days were we biked 5-6 hours and ran 1.5-2 hours our nutrition looked quite differently on those days. But that was very unusual and for a brief period (6 months) of our lives), our nutrition isn’t much different than on a rest or non-training day. Just because we ran for an hour or biked two hours, it doesn’t give us permission to eat three pieces of cake, topped with ice cream after a really large meal. Once you get past about 25 years old or so, your metabolism does change and you can’t get away with eating habits you had when you were a teenager. It is a lot easier to eat calories than to burn them. Exercise because it makes you feel better and is good for your body. Don’t exercise just so you can eat more. You will most likely overestimate how much you are burning and end up eating more than you need.
Don’t eat late into the night – We typically eat a pretty decent breakfast, have some snacks packed that we eat during the day and have a good lunch that we’ve brought to work. We even typically cook pretty healthy dinners. But where we fall off the wagon is when we continue to keep eating all night long. People often overeat at night for two reasons. One is that they haven’t eaten enough during the day and are starving by the time they get home and eat everything in sight. I would counter this by following some of the tips above- focusing on what you can eat, making sure you get enough sleep and trying to eat nutritionally-dense foods throughout the day will make you feel full and satisfy you.
The other reason people overeat at night doesn’t have to do with hunger but can result from stress or boredom. (i.e. you’ve had enough calories for the day but for some reason want to keep eating more). When I started fueling myself better during the day, I still found myself falling into this second category. Our solution- Brush and floss for the night. It’s a way for us to signal to our minds that we are done eating. We no longer have to wrestle with the thought- I’ll just have a little bit more ice cream or some more chips and then I’ll stop. Our teeth are clean and we are done eating for the night. Now, we do give ourselves permission to eat later if we truly are hungry but that’s only happened once or twice. Typically, we are more than satisfied, enjoy a few hours of not eating before bed and often sleep much better on a stomach that isn’t stuffed. We have found that the longer the ‘fast’ is between dinner and breakfast, the more likely we are able to lose/maintain our weight.
Keep It Simple Stupid. The old KISS principle. Don’t complicate nutrition. Don’t go into starvation mode (long-term, that doesn’t last). Don’t sacrifice long term health for short term goals. From our experience, being intentional about nutrition (focusing on eating nutritionally-dense foods most of the time and to not overeat but only until you are satisfied) but not being obsessive (counting every calorie and having a super restrictive diet of things I can’t have) has worked for us. We are far from being perfect in this area and still struggle with a lot of the above tips. But we’ve learned to look at food as fuel. When we started looking at it that way and realizing that what we put into our body has a direct effect on the way our body feels and performs, we naturally started to want to put nutritionally-dense foods into our body and not overeat so that we felt better.
Best of luck on creating, improving and maintaining better nutritional habits for 2016! Please comment below and let us know what you do to stay on track nutritionally.
Please note that neither Kimberly nor Brad are Registered Dietitians. We are merely sharing some things we’ve learned along the away and what has worked the best for us. If you are really struggling, we can’t recommend enough finding someone with an RD (Registered Dietitian) credential that you like and trust and to have some nutrition counseling sessions with him or her.