Yesterday, I received a text message from a friend who needed some help getting back on track with her nutrition after Christmas:
"Have any easy tips to get back on a health eating track? I've been eating a lot of bad stuff for about 2 weeks and I'm feeling it. Bleh."
I immediately identified with how she was feeling. Even though I'm a Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach, I have my phases of less-than-great eating just like everyone else. I mean, I had candy with breakfast on Christmas morning and ate two slices of homemade chocolate Buche de Noel (Yule Log cake) after Christmas dinner! I know that "bleh" feeling all too well.
But here's what I've learned after years of training women for fat loss, teaching them about fat loss nutrition, and studying how our attitude impacts our food choices:
The fastest way to get back on track after the holidays is to get out of your head and take action.
Whatever you ate and drank yesterday or last week or even 5 minutes ago is over and done, so why waste precious energy re-hashing something you can't change? Instead, focus your energy forward, on your next meal, on what you CAN change.
If you're ready to beat back the post-holiday blues and get back to normal - this post is for you, no matter how many Christmas cookies you ate.
It's Just Food
We hear a lot of trainers and nutrition coaches use the line, "Food is fuel." (Usually when they're yelling at you to suck it up and eat your chicken & broccoli like a good little bro...) Sorry, bros - we disagree 110%.
Food is pretty awesome and yeah we LOVE it, but ultimately, it's just food. There is no good food or bad food. Eating arugula and kale doesn't make you good, and eating white chocolate peppermint bark popcorn doesn't make you bad. It will, however, make you more hungry and trigger cravings for more white chocolate peppermint bark popcorn. I speak from experience. Very recent experience.
It's Never As Bad As You Think
Have you ever given a presentation at work and forgotten what you were going to say?
What you think happened: You stood there in silence, heart racing, frantically trying to remember what you were SUPPOSED to say for at least 5 minutes while your coworkers looked on in total judgement. Your presentation - and by extension, you - will go down in company history as an epic failure. People will surely talk and laugh about it for years to come. You'll probably lose your job.
What really happened: You gave a great presentation, hesitated for a second or two, then finished strong. No one noticed those few seconds of silence. Some people were too concerned with their own problems to even hear what you were saying, and some people were thinking "I could never get in front of my colleagues and give a presentation like that. I wish I was that brave."
We can sure do a number on ourselves, can't we? Making one small misstep into an epic tragedy, letting a period of being "off plan" with our eating turn into obsessive, negative thoughts like,
"I'll never be successful. I'll never lose weight. I'll never change my diet. I'll gain all the weight back and then some. I'll probably end up weighing 500 pounds."
Start to recognize this way of thinking for what it is: irrational.
It's known as "Catastrophizing" and you can stop it by first acknowledging what's happening. You have to catch yourself in the act and put on the brakes. (Hint: this will require some practice, but your reaction time will get faster!)
Then, reframe the situation into something less "end of the world"-ish, like this:
"I had a few weeks where I ate food that didn't make me feel or perform my best. It happens to everyone! I'm forgiving myself for the choices I made, I take full responsibility for them, and I'm ready to move on! I know exactly what I need to do to start feeling better again and I'm going to start doing it with my very next meal."
When we're staring at a closet of clothes that don't fit, we don't want baby steps. We want BIG, DRAMATIC, LIFE-CHANGING, "Get me back in that size 4 in 48-hours"-steps, right?
The thought of making a big, dramatic lifestyle change just feels SO good when you're down in the dumps. The mere act of conducting internet research to find our next fitness & nutrition plan lights us back up in all right places ("How did that fitness blogger get so buff...let's see what her meal plan is...") Going to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients for your 5-day vegan cleanse is EASY and feels empowering because I AM DOING SOMETHING DANG IT!
But here's the thing: what you really need isn't big, bold action. Those rarely last and require insane amounts of willpower and activation energy to pull off.
What you really need is easy. You need to start racking up small wins. This gives you the momentum that leads to sustainable results.
3 simple strategies for getting your nutrition back on track.
How do you undo the endless cookies, eggnog, candy, hot chocolate, popcorn, pies, etc. you enjoyed a little too much of over the last several weeks?
Start with these 3 easy little steps below that are proven to turn things around.
Warning: You might think it's not extreme enough. Not nearly strict enough. It doesn't sound restrictive at all and it might even sound ((gasp)) doable?
When you're trying to undo nutritional missteps, you need action items that address the underlying issue: your hormones and brain chemistry. Not eating, under-eating, and over-exercising will dig you further into the hole because of how they impact your metabolism.
These 3 action steps are not new, they are not sexy, and I am not the only trainer or coach to write these on the internet. These actions steps just. plain. work. Every time.
1. Start Drinking: Most of what you think is fat gain is actually water retention (aka bloating) from eating more calories and/or calories from foods higher in salt, fat, starch/sugar. Find a liter-sized bottle (glass or BPA-free) and fill that sucker up with clean, filtered water.
Drink 3-4 liters throughout the day - don't just pound a liter at a time to "hit your water goal." If you need to, flavor it with slices of fruit and vegetables and herbs (i.e. cucumber & mint, orange & raspberry, etc.) Unsweetened green, black, and herbal teas count, too.
Drink up, buttercup. Water, water, water.
2. Start Cooking: Crash diets are never the answer, even if they come in beautifully-packaged, expensive little bottles of cold-pressed juices delivered to your doorstep on dry ice. A juice cleanse works because you aren't eating and are drastically cutting calories.
When you drastically cut calories, your metabolism slows to conserve energy. (Think of it like taking your foot off the gas pedal.) An inefficient metabolism will make you fatter in the long run. You need a return to normalcy - not supplements or juices.
Just real food. Eat 3-4 meals a day of quality, lean protein and several handfuls of vegetables. Eating like this sets off a chain reaction of positive effects in the body. Eating one high-protein, high-fiber meal makes you more likely to make a good choice at your next meal. It turns down fat-storing hormones and turns up fat-burning hormones. It balances blood sugar and your mood. Juice doesn't do that.
"In studies on the hunger suppressing effects of food, meals with higher protein, water and fiber perform best." - Metabolic Effect
3. Start Sweating & CHILL THE HECK OUT: For best results, you need to do both! Resist the urge to pay for your nutrition "sins" with excessive cardio; this triggers cravings and increased appetite and sets you up to repeat the entire binge/shame/punish/repeat cycle all over again.
Getting just 30 minutes of short, intense exercise (like a Metabolic Effect workout or a Les Mills GRIT workout) will give you a big hit of endorphins to turn your mood from "woe is me" to "GO ME!!!" Long, slow, restorative activities like yoga or walking outside provide the necessary counterbalance, lowering stress hormones and increasing feelings of calm and well-being.
We don't believe you need a drastic overhaul or total lifestyle reset just to lose a few pounds of water weight. Don't focus on what you're cutting out (alcohol, sweets, etc.) Focus on all the good things you're adding. Try to get 3-4 good workouts in. Try our sensible, sane, balanced approach to post-holiday nutrition for 7 days and then drop me a line at email@example.com and let me know how you did!
"What is Catastrophizing" by John M Grohol, Pys.D.