No matter how ingrained a habit becomes there is always going to be temptation. There are always going to be times when eating healthy and exercising aren’t convenient. Forget keeping things going, sometimes there is never even a good time to START. Trust me, I know all the excuses. We can’t start this week because it’s so-and-so’s birthday and you know there will be cake and champagne. We can’t start this week because we have house guests and we will want to eat out instead of cooking in. Then there are the holidays. Halloween candy, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas parties, and then before you know it you’re making another set of empty New Year’s resolutions that everyone maybe keeps for the month of January.
Here’s the good news. None of those things mean you can’t start right now, even if you aren’t drawing a solid line from now until eternity. Part of what keeps us going is knowing that it doesn’t have to be full throttle all the time. There were certain steps I took to get us on track, and certain rules we follow to keep us going in the right general direction.
- IF YOU DON’T HAVE A PLAN, YOU PLAN TO FAIL
This is the BEST piece of advice I have ever received which I heard from Jillian Michaels on The Biggest Looser. In order to get to where you want to go, first you have to figure out what your goals are. Then you have to figure out how to get there. Make a plan, write it down. Read it and re-read it. You might have to modify and tweak things as you go. You will run up against road blocks and things that aren’t working, but you have to at least start with a set of rules that you have made for yourself. You can’t just say, “I’m going to eat more healthy foods.” You have to be more specific with yourself and figure out exactly what that means so you are armed with knowledge and purpose when you are faced with challenging decisions.
TIP: When you make a list of the changes you plan to make and it all feels overwhelming, don’t let this discourage you. Pick ONE THING and start with that. Forget everything else. Take that one thing and make it your focus for a week or two weeks until it starts to feel natural. Once you feel good with that change, go back to your list, pick another one and figure out how to add that one in with the first one. Eventually your whole life will look completely different and all you’ve done is make a series of small changes one at a time.
- CLEAN YOUR PANTRY
Clean out your kitchen cabinets. Read your labels. Look at everything and get rid of anything that doesn’t fit into your plan. If you don’t keep it around the house, when temptation strikes it will be more difficult to stray.
- EXPECT IT TO BE DIFFICULT FOR A WHILE
Old habits die hard, but I will tell you that now we rarely feel deprived with the types of foods we are eating. Once our bodies detoxed from the processed stuff, we started becoming more satisfied with how we were eating and felt less tempted to stray. Our palettes changed. Things we used to eat all the time just tasted somehow different and not as enjoyable as they once did. Cooking used to be an absolute chore for me. I had no idea what I was doing and there was a lot of trial and error. There is STILL a lot of trial and error. Not everything turns out as expected, not everything looks pretty, not everything is perfect, but the flip side of that is a lot of things turn out BETTER than expected! I had to learn to trust myself and trust our plan. Back in NYC we used to wake up on the weekends and order delivery from the diner. Now it feels normal and natural to wake up and go straight to the kitchen to start cooking. It just took time.
- PLAN AHEAD
I guess this is an extension of our first rule but, aside from the bigger picture, planning has to happen on a smaller scale every day. I know we need lunches every day, so I either plan to make extra at dinner so we have leftovers, or we have a few recipes for things like baked chicken that can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge for a few days. I like to experiment with making healthy snacks that can be kept around the house for the times I get hungry in between meals. It also helps to keep a bowl of fruit on the counter where I can see it all the time. This way I’m more likely to reach for a banana or an avocado when I’m hungry, rather than something that might not be on my plan.
- THE 80-20 RULE
During the time we did Whole 30 we stuck to it like glue and made the conscious choice to not deviate at all, but that was for a fixed period of time. No one can go at 100% all the time, plus I believe complete deprivation in perpetuity is mentally unhealthy and unrealistic. We make the effort to stick to our plan Monday through Friday (80%), and allow ourselves “treats” for some meals on the weekends (20%). I try not to overthink what I order at a restaurant, and I allow myself a couple of glasses of wine with my meals. If we know we are going to have house guests, we make the effort to stick to our plan diligently before they arrive and after they leave because we know we will stray while they are here.
- REASSESS AND REGROUP
Occasionally we find that our 80-20 ratio has started to “slip and flip”. There were leftover cookies from the weekend, so of course on Monday after dinner we couldn’t let them go to waste. We’ll find a great bottle of wine and we’ll decide for some reason that it’s a good idea to crack it open on a Tuesday night. Maybe one of my meals didn’t exactly turn out as planned (e.g. I burned it!) so we went out instead. Now it’s Thursday and it’s ALMOST the weekend, so why not just meet somewhere for burgers instead of messing up the kitchen? It is way too easy to let these things snowball, so on occasion we have to take inventory and go back to rule #1.
“The Key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”
For us this is all about finding and keeping a sense of balance. It’s not about dieting, it’s about having a healthy lifestyle. We don’t want to do things too rigidly because it keeps us from enjoying our lives, our friends, and each other. Swinging in the opposite direction really does the same thing though, because when we eat poorly we lack stamina, energy, purpose, and joy. Creating meals, cooking them ourselves, and enjoying the fruits of our labor brings all of these things into our lives.