“What should I be eating to lose weight?”
This is the #1 question I receive from busy, professional women who struggle to achieve a lean, healthy physique they are proud of. As a former cubicle prisoner myself, I saw the struggle every single day among my colleagues.
The yo-yo dieting, the deprivation, the strict rules and restrictions, the all-or-nothing, comply-or-die approach to eating and exercise. This is corporate America at its finest. Despite many offices implementing wellness programs to keep employees healthy, happy and engaged, there is still so much peer pressure and tempting junk food around in most corporate environments. Add stress, hormonal changes, client demands and a dash of hysteria and one’s good habits can quickly spiral out of control no matter how good one’s intentions are.
What I’ve learned from my corporate experience is this: When you work a high-stress, sedentary job for 10+ hours a day, weight gain sort of creeps up on you if you’re not practicing consistency and good habits around eating and exercise. Notice I did not say “when you eat X calories a day,” or “if you don’t swear off bread for life.”
What keeps us eating healthy despite the worst circumstances or environments, is simply consistency and good habits.
Nope, it’s not sexy or new, but it’s the truth. So, while many women want to know WHAT to eat to stay healthy and fit, the better question is What are the key nutrition principles that will help me maintain long-term healthy eating habits?
I’ve put together these 4 success principles to guide to a life time of healthy eating without deprivations, diets, or restrictions.
Principle #1: Commit to 5 minutes of movement
You may be wondering why a principle about movement is in a blog post about healthy eating, but hear me out.
Daily movement supports long-term healthy eating because it works to curb our cravings, shift our focus away from those craving cues, and keeps us energized in a way that a sugar binge cannot. The great thing about this principle is that it can be applied anywhere, at any time and the minimum duration is 5 minutes. You can do anything for 5 minutes! This principle is the “reset” button first thing in the morning when you’re out walking your dog and want to gather your thoughts before going to the office. It’s the 5-minutes in between meetings where you walk outside instead of grabbing a donut in the kitchen for a quick energy boost. It’s the first 5-minutes of a jog that quickly turns into a run because heck, you’re in a groove now so just keep going.
The great thing about this principle is that it’s flexible – you choose when to move and how. Plus, it puts you back in the driver’s seat. Think about it: When 3pm rolls around and you’re feeling exhausted and mentally drained at work, the craving for something sugary or sweet can feel like something that’s happening to you rather than something you want to happen. Replacing that moment of craving with 5-minutes of movement allows you to take back control and do something good for you. Diets put you in a state of deprivation and scarcity. Daily movement puts you in a place of action and energy.
Principle #2: Make conscious trade offs
Know why diets suck? Because it comes with a laundry list of everything you can’t have, which only makes you want it more. Healthy eating is not about “yes” and “no” foods. It’s about applying conscious trade offs on a moment to moment basis. Here’s an example.
Say you have a dinner with friends at a hot new restaurant in town. You’ve seen the menu and everything looks amazing; you can’t wait to try it. However, you really want to practice this healthy eating thing without depriving yourself at dinner. What do you?
Easy. You make a conscious decision about what you are willing to have at dinner based on what matters most to you. If you love dessert, then order one. If you love wine, have a glass at dinner. Know what you love and make a conscious decision about what you are willing to trade in order to have it. I almost always skip dessert when I eat out in order to have wine with my meal instead. Ninety-eight percent of the time I order my burgers without a bun and substitute the fries for vegetables. It’s not that I don’t like bread or carbs, I just don’t like the feeling of being tired after a carb heavy meal. That’s my trade off – a little less carb, a little more greens and a lot more energy after the meal.
No binging, no deprivation, no restrictions. Just conscious trade-offs one meal at a time to keep us sane.
Principle #3: DIY Dining
DIY dining is unlike meal prepping in the sense that you can make this principle whatever the hell you want it to be. Not everyone wants to prep their meals into little tupperware containers on Sundays, and that’s fine by me. However, the slightest bit of planning, or DIY dining as I like to call it, ensures you’re never without a plan or idea on what to eat. Here are a few variations of DIY dining:
– Carrying a snack with you at all times
– Bringing in lunch to the office instead of grazing on a piece of cheese or inhaling a greasy burrito
– Using a meal service like Blue Apron, Plated or Healthy Mama. It’s a luxury but if it works for you, use it.
– Prepping mini-meals to take with you while you travel so you can avoid airport food. You can read how I eat healthy on the road HERE.
– Prepping a healthy dessert or meal for your next social gathering so you have a healthy option to choose from.
This principle keeps us out of the binge zone when all reason and logic have escaped us as we give into our starvation cues and proceed to inhale whatever morsel of food we can find until we can’t breathe without taking off our pants. A little bit of planning and even DIY preparation can take us further than trying to map out every meal and plan to perfection.
Principle #4: Create a delicious experience
Common complaints I hear from dieters are “Cooking is too hard.” “I’m not sure what to eat.” “Cooking for one person is too hard.” “I suck at making food.”
Ugh! Just reading those words make me feel so discouraged too!
This is where this principle comes in; it’s a mindset shift that requires action to make it work. Food, cooking and eating is about having an experience. This is why diets are so miserable to follow. There’s nothing fun, easy or enjoyable about it! Who wants to measure everything they put on their plate or track every calorie? I hated math in high school and I’m not about to start loving it in the kitchen. Ya feel me?
Whether you hate cooking or not, this principle is about creating a positive and delicious experience around food. Remember that healthy eating and cooking is a skill and habit cultivated with time and practice. So enjoy the experience and implement any of the following to get you started:
– Buy a crockpot and start experimenting with recipes. It’s minimal effort and you get tons of leftovers.
– Find one new recipe to try out at home. Pin it, print it, snap it…whatever it takes to get you excited. I find tons of cool recipes on Pinterest and Paleo cookbooks so I’m never out of ideas.
– Host a potluck dinner. Cooking for oneself does get stale for a while but when I cook for someone else, I suddenly feel super inspired and excited to make them something they’ll love. Bring your friends over and share a dish with one another, swap recipes, drink copious amounts of wine together. It’s about experience, right?!
– Try a cooking class or invest in a cookbook. After college, I used to watch Rachel Ray’s 30-minute meals show every day. Seeing how easy it was to make fun, delicious foods in under 30 minutes got me pumped to try them at home. Soon, I started experimenting in the kitchen, purchased a few cook books and all of a sudden, cooking became something I looked forward to. My cooking has evolved since then from Rachel Ray to strict Paleo and now, lazy Crockpot meals.
These success principles have been tested and perfected over the course of 10 years…we’re talking broke college days, to corporate America and now, busy entrepreneur. And the reason they are principles and not “rules” or meal plans is because they are universal habits that are simple to execute on and sustainable for life.
You never have to worry about “falling off the wagon” because with these principles, you can easily guide yourself back to healthy eating even when you steer away from it for a bit. This is normal! Look at these principles as key habits you will master over a life time. If you’re new to these principles, start small. Pick one and practice it consistently for 4 weeks. Mark off on a calendar each day you’ve successfully practiced this principle so you can see your progress. After 4 weeks, pick another one and repeat. You have to have a few wins under your belt before you try to overhaul everything in your life, including your pantry or how you track calories.