I remember feeling so confused and frustrated when it came to eating “clean.” What even is that? And can I still have chocolate ice cream?
I am a recovering emotional eater. I eat when I’m happy, sad, angry, bored… there’s food for every mood. It’s a coping mechanism that I adopted as a young girl and continued into adulthood. It led me to a constant battle of my weight, which also led to a myriad of health issues. While working full-time and parenting, I let myself go. There’s no other way to say it. I put my own health on the back-burner, I ate whatever I wanted to eat because I felt like I deserved it, and slowly packed on 70 lbs over 10 years.
It all came crashing down, the day my son announced his wedding plans. I knew I needed to make a change, I sort of knew what to do, but it wasn’t until I was faced with family pictures that I decided to take massive action. I found a coach and a great eating plan, but I struggled SO HARD to follow it. My spirit was just plain REBELLIOUS. And then one day, I hit rock bottom. I was so frustrated with fighting my feelings about food. I realized that the way I THOUGHT about food, was the source of my challenge.
I began a quest to change my mindset and to create a simple and straight-forward system to keep myself on track and in the best health of my life. Over the last 2 years, I have done a lot of research and personal experimentation on how to simplify healthy eating, without feeling like I’m depriving myself of the joy of eating. My mama always said to, “color outside the lines,” and I have really taken that to heart! I like rules, but I also like to make my own, if you know what I mean. When it comes to diet (as in daily nutrition, not a fad), there is no one size fits all. I need a plan that keeps me out of trouble, but also doesn’t say, “You can NEVER eat ___________.” I also need a simple system that doesn’t take a lot of time and understanding. Let’s face it, if it is too hard, I’m just going to go for the first easy thing I can find to devour. When I know what the clear boundaries are, and prepare ahead of time for my busy schedule, I can make better choices.
These are the main principles I follow because I know they are not only good for me, but give me peace of mind:
1. CLEAR THE PANTRY. I know, some of those yummies are like a best friend when you’re stressed, but if they are not helping you become healthier, they gotta go! If you have family members that are not on-board with clearing out the junk, have heart to heart talk with them. Let them know how important this is to you and enlist their help to be successful. Don’t pressure them to do anything they aren’t ready to do (you wouldn’t like that either). If processed food is a fact of life, consider putting it on a high shelf where you won’t see it. (out of sight, out of mind!).
- Avoid processed foods, particularly white flour and sugar
- Avoid chemical-laden foods – learn to read the labels. Should be 5 ingredients or less and all pronounceable
- Avoid foods containing preservatives
- Avoid artificial sugars
- Avoid artificial foods such as processed cheese slices
- Avoid saturated and trans fats
- Avoid sugar loaded beverages, including colas and juices
- Avoid or do your best to limit alcohol intake. (A glass of wine on the weekend is fine)
- Avoid all calorie dense foods containing little or no nutritional value. (chips, cookies, snack bars)
- Avoid super sizing your meals – avoid drive-thru completely, if possible
4. PREPARE FOR DINING OUT. Before dining out, check the menu online, if possible. Select a healthy option before you leave home, without the emotional pressure you may experience in a restaurant when everyone else is eating bread sticks and ordering dessert. If the portions are large, ask for a take out box as soon as they bring your meal. Put half of it in the box and now you have no guilt AND lunch for tomorrow. When you order, ask for steamed veggies or salad as your side. Go for meals without heavy cream or sauces. If dessert is just too hard to resist, find a buddy to share it with. Take 3 bites and be done with it. Food is not the boss of you. YOU CAN DO THIS.
5. CRUSH CRAVINGS. Cravings are going to strike, I promise you. For me, it can be just the mention of a food or even just seeing a Starbucks cup. The power is STRONG. I don’t know of anyone who is immune to cravings, so expect them and plan for them. Try setting a timer for 15 minutes. If you still want that food after 15 minutes, wait another 15. Drink a glass of water or take a walk. You don’t have to be a slave to your cravings. It’s also really important to identify any feelings you may be experiencing. Boredom, anxiety, sadness, anger… they can all drive cravings. But remember, feelings are not reality. If you have a very specific craving for a particular thing, and nothing else will satisfy, your hunger is emotion driven. But if you are so hungry you are willing to eat whatever food you have available, you are most likely physically hungry. Learn to know the difference.
I hope these 5 principles help you get started, feel less stressed, and understand that food is here to be our friend. Understanding what drives our cravings, planning ahead, and rooting out foods that are not going to help us achieve great health, are all part of healthy living. Most of all, give yourself GRACE. This is a journey, with lots of ups and downs and twists and turns. Whatever may come, DON’T GIVE UP!