When your pants don't fit, it makes you do crazy things - like consider doing a Whole30, the strict Paleo program that eliminates all dairy, grains, legumes, and sugar for 30 days.
Over the last couple weeks, I've toyed with the idea of putting myself through this strict 30-day diet to eliminate some bad habits and deal with growing sugar cravings. I even went so far as to buy the Whole30 book ("It Starts With Food"). I then found some Whole30 recipe accounts to follow on Instagram for food inspiration (if I get bored with the food I'm a goner), and even floated the idea to some friends on Snapchat (my latest social media obsession - so. much. fun.)
I almost bit the bullet and went for it, 30 days of a strict Paleo diet, (!) until I remembered that 30-day diets of ANY kind are against everything I believe in.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please know that I'm not talking about elimination diets like the Whole30 that are done for health reasons (i.e. eliminating foods to identify food allergies or sensitivities, to manage disease, etc). There are many people who use Whole30 and programs like it to manage diseases, autoimmune disorders, and other medical conditions, and this article is not directed at them.
For me, a Whole30 would have been about embracing a whole new set of restrictive, rigid rules to make me feel more in control of a situation I felt was beyond me.
Like I said, when your pants don't fit, it makes you do crazy things.
Where I Went Wrong
My typical "(almost) everything in moderation" approach had served me well for a very long time, but I had gotten sloppy, opting for highly-palatable convenience foods instead of real food like protein, vegetables, and fruit. Example: coming home from the gym, starving, and eating two slices of gluten-free toast with Muscle Butter, a high protein nut butter that comes in flavors like Glazed Donut for crying out loud.
I lost interest in cooking proteins and vegetables and instead went back to my old favorite pasttime: baking cleaned-up desserts like the gluten-free Lemon Loaf and Blueberry Clafoutis I recently posted here on the Fat Loss Foodies' blog.
After I housed two servings of M&Ms at the movie theater last weekend, it became pretty clear that an "everything in moderation" approach had led to me eating ALL THE THINGS.
When you're eating sweet treats on the regular (even ones sold at Vitamin Shoppe and marketed as "fitness food" - ahem, I'm looking at you protein bars and Muscle Butter), it affects your digestion, your mood, and your palate. The more "sweet" you eat - even when it's food naturally-sweetened with Stevia - the more sweet you want, until it becomes ALL that you want.
The Sugar Dragon is very powerful and very strong, and I felt very weak and yes, fluffy (especially around my midsection), hence, the flirtation with Whole30 to help rid my body of the junk I'd been putting in it.
But like I said - I didn't do it.
Three days ago, I made a different decision.
Action Is The Answer
If a program has a timeline (30 days, 21 days, etc.), it is inherently unsustainable. What happens on day 31? Day 22? Any strict program like the Whole30 takes willpower and lots of it, as it involves axing entire food groups from your diet all at once. Cooking and eating your own food becomes a necessity for every meal, as most restaurant food won't fit the program guidelines. No grains, no legumes, no dairy, and no sugar - not one single granule of sugar, which basically renders every prepared food out of play because everything has sugar in it.
The Whole30 folks are right about that. After a quick inspection of my fridge, I found jar after jar of salsa, relish, and hot sauce that all contained SUGAR.
No wonder I was craving it so much. It was in everything I was eating!
I identified a handful of habits that I knew were NOT serving me and started putting together my game plan.
Here are a few small things I KNEW I could do without requiring loads of willpower:
- Stop buying gluten-free bread at the grocery store and buy real food like sweet potatoes, bananas, potatoes, and my new favorites, plantains for complex carbs. If it's not in the house, it's not an option.
- Find a couple new recipes that would excite me more than gluten-free toast with Muscle Butter. Enter: plantains fried in coconut oil with a sprinkle of sea salt.
- Buy a new jar of unsweetened almond butter and use that instead of the sweetened Muscle Butter "Glazed Donut" cashew butter. It was becoming a trigger food for me. It made me want more sugar for the rest of the day, and I was eating it instead of real, nourishing, whole foods.
- Stop using condiments that were hiding added sugar and instead use fresh herbs, spices, and flavorful cooking oils to flavor my food.
The Big Rocks
When it comes to cleaning up your nutrition and getting leaner, there are things that move the dial and things that don't. The things that move the dial are actually pretty simple.
- Eat meat, fish, poultry, or wild game at every meal;
- Eat two fistfuls of non-starchy vegetables at every meal (it usually covers about half your plate);
- Eat complex starchy carbs in limited quantities (start with around 1/2 cup) and chose the right type for you. Some people feel fine eating grains like oats and brown rice, and some people do better on starchy vegetables and fruits for their carbs.
- Include a serving of healthy fats like coconut oil, olive oil, avocado, and nuts at each meal.
- Treat dairy as a condiment and monitor how your body responds to it. If you suspect a sensitivity, eliminate it and opt for non-dairy alternatives.
- Drink 3-4 liters of filtered plain water per day.
Well, that's not nearly as New York Times-worthy as a strict 30-day Paleo diet, now is it? I mean, you can't really talk about that at cocktail parties and wow your friends with your amazing willpower.
But here's the bottom line: it's DOABLE. It's sustainable. It works.
I'd gotten away from the basics, because guess what? I'm human.
The process of learning to live a fat loss lifestyle never ends, and you never "arrive." I'd become arrogant in my experience. I thought I was immune to the struggles that my clients face simply because I've been doing this for so long and, as a coach, I'd gotten results for so many of my female clients.
"I've been doing this for YEARS," I told myself. "I can afford to loosen up a little and have some more fun with my eating."
Except that needing to buy new pants is not fun. Feeling uncomfortable in your own skin is not fun. Feeling crappy is not fun.
I let down my guard. I let the bad habits back in and before I knew it, I was sucked back in to sugar cravings and poor nutrition habits. It can happen fast and it can happen to anyone. It doesn't mean you're a bad person who needs a detox. It just means you need to make some changes, and you have the power to do just that.
For me, the biggest difference between now and say, 5 years ago, is that these "off" phases are much shorter-lived because I have the skills to identify them more quickly. I know how to take action and put myself back in the driver's seat. The longer you're at this lifestyle, the easier it gets to navigate the bumpy waters of living a fat loss lifestyle.
Here's what I want you to know:
You have everything you need right now to start moving the dial. BUT FIRST:
1. You have to be honest with yourself.
"But I eat really clean. I eat really healthy." - says the girl eating gluten-free toast twice a day. Mmm-hmmm. Everyone thinks they're eating healthy, but eating healthy and eating for fat loss are not the same thing. If what you're eating isn't working, then you aren't eating the right diet for you. It's as simple as that. It may take a few days of journaling what the HECK you're putting in your mouth. I know - tracking food is a pain in the ass, but you don't have to do it every day forever. Once in a while, a little self-check can show you your shortcomings.
2. You Need to Break the Attachment.
You know that guy you met on Match.com years ago who is STILL texting you? The one you went on 10 dates with before breaking up? The one you maybe kinda sorta tried to be friends with, who you still follow on Twitter or Facebook and periodically check up on? Yeah. That guy. Continuing to talk to him, responding to his messages, keeping his social media profiles visible - none of that is serving you. You need to go cold turkey on this guy and CUT HIM OUT or you'll never really move on. Food can be like that too. There are some foods that trigger bad behavior. They may even be healthy foods, but for whatever reason, you overeat them, or find that eating them causes you to crave more of the wrong foods. Break. Up. Once and for all.
3. You Start At Your Next Meal.
You don't need to do a radical overhaul or start a crazy new program. The allure is understandable (like I said - pants not fitting is a powerful impetus for change), but those rarely work because they require so much energy to start and maintain. Start with small steps and rack up the little victories: did you eat according to the template I mentioned above? Win. Did you drink water instead of diet soda? Win. Did you pass on the candy? Win. Give yourself the small wins and in a couple days, how much do you want to bet your pants will fit better? Then, just keep going. One meal at a time. One day at a time. You will have struggles. You will have setbacks. You don't give up, you just make the next meal better.
Can you relate? Have you been tempted to join online challenges and temporary programs as a way to get back in control of your eating habits?
If you want to learn more about how to cook and eat real food for fat loss, get to one of our Fat Loss Cooking School one-day workshops! We're all over the Southeast this summer: Blacksburg, Virginia on June 25 (Early Bird registration closes on 6/19 at midnight EST!), Tullahoma, Tennessee on July 9, and dates for schools in Georgia and South Carolina will be announced soon!