The Problem with "Getting Back on Track" with Your Nutrition
“My diet starts on Monday.”
Well, it’s Monday, and even if you aren’t starting a new diet today, you may be recommitting to your nutrition because you “went off the rails” last week or over the weekend. (This is especially true right now if you live anywhere near the pathway of Hurricane Florence and hit the “hurricane snacks” a little too hard.)
I spent the last 4 days traveling to see family and get away from this hurricane, and on the drive home yesterday, I spent a little more time on social media than normal. (What else do you do when you’re a passenger during a 7-ish hour drive?) I saw so many friends and clients posting that they were excited to “get back on track” after “falling off the wagon” or “going off the rails” with their nutrition. Several ladies included that they were using social media to keep themselves accountable. (I mean, if you don't post about it, can it even happen?)
Meanwhile, I was basking in the glow of an awesome 4-day weekend spent hanging out with family, getting stuff done at my mom’s house, and of course doing a little shopping, too.
I never saw the inside of the gym once. I split a vegan cinnamon roll with my husband (pictured below). I ate a few pieces of chocolate from my mom’s chocolate stash. (We are so related.) I didn’t track a single meal in My Fitness Pal. I just eyeballed my food and ate some combination of protein, carbs, and fat at every meal. Sometime we cooked and ate at home. Sometimes we went out to eat.
And yet, in spite of my (some would say) “imperfect” weekend, I feel 100% great right now. If anything, I feel better than when I left! My body needed a rest from training and my brain needed a break from hitting numbers. And here’s the hilarious part: since we left last Thursday morning, the scale dropped 2+ pounds.
WHAT?! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?! I wasn’t PERFECT. I ate sugar! I didn’t track my calories! I didn’t work out! I ate some foods that weren’t “clean” or “Paleo”!
A few years ago, I too would have been posting about how I was ready to get back on track. Not any more, and here’s why.
Just Because It Feels Good Doesn’t Mean It’s Good for You
I once dated a guy who I spent more time breaking up and getting back together with than I spent actually dating him.
Years later, after we had broken up for good, I realized I kept going back because I didn’t think I deserved better. I thought he was my only option. I was doing what was comfortable and easy, instead of doing the hard work of being alone for a while and figuring out who I really was and what I wanted.
Let’s be honest: something about these back-on-track diet proclamations just feels good, doesn’t it? Like somehow we’re back in control and wiping the slate clean. It’s also comforting to return to old ways of eating that worked in the past, because we wrongly believe that what worked once will work again.
All that wine? Forgotten. Those 6 cookies you ate when you intended to only eat one? It’ll never happen again. The bag of chocolate you wiped out over the course of a few days? Gone, too. But it doesn’t matter. You’re moving on now.
You’re getting back on track. You’re going back on Weight Watchers. Going back to Keto. Doing another Whole30.
Just like I kept going back to that stupid relationship with the guy who bored me, was a terrible kisser, that I wasn’t even really attracted to. Only to break up with him again and again.
Because as good as getting back together or getting back on track feels, it never lasts for long, does it? It’’s never the last time.
The cycle keeps repeating itself because the system is broken. You keep repeating it because you think that’s your only option. On or off. In or out.
Here’s the truth:
Please Define “Going Off the Rails”
What does this expression mean anyway?
I love to ask my clients exactly what they did or ate or drank that was SOOOOO bad, and nine times out of 10, I’m like,
“THAT’S IT?! Girl. I do that every week. You need to calm the heck down and give yourself some grace.”
I’m not sure where it’s coming from (oooh - let’s blame social media again!), but it seems that women have an increasingly impossible standard for their nutrition and how perfect it must be. Then again, I suppose that’s trending right along with everything else. Perfect, Instagrammable hair, skin, home, body, style, babies, husband, vacation, career. Check, check, check, check.
The next time you’re having thoughts of getting back on track, take a step back and ask yourself what’s behind it. Maybe you really have been treating your body like a trash can and it’s revolting on all fronts and waving the white flag of surrender.
“PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WOMAN WE NEED SOME VEGETABLES IN HERE.” -
Your Internal Organs post-Hurricane Florence
Or maybe the only thing you’ve really consumed too much of is the perfectionism-triggering nonsense propagated by the nutrition quacks and gurus in your social media feeds.
You be the judge.
All I’m saying is that most of the meals I ate this weekend were eaten off paper plates and ugly as hell by Instagram standards AND I SLEPT JUST FINE.
You Still Think Fat Loss Nutrition is About Eating Perfectly
When something has an on/off switch, there is no in between. It’s like a light switch. The lights are either on, or they are off.
The on/off switch is a counterproductive model for how we think about our nutrition, because it feeds the lie that we must be one or the other. On or off. If we make any mistake, slack off, or relax in any way whatsoever - oh, we’ve fallen off again!
The truth is that getting leaner does not require 100% perfect compliance 100% of the time. Getting leaner (that is: losing body fat and maintaining/building lean muscle) actually gives you plenty of flexibility and wiggle room for how you want to eat.
Fat loss isn’t about eating clean, being perfect, or staying in a severe caloric deficit for weeks and months on end.
You need two things for sustainable fat loss: a slight caloric deficit and balanced hormones, and you can achieve both of those things while eating mostly real, whole nutrient dense foods about 80-90ish% of the time. That other 10-20ish% is up to you. It’s where you make room for the foods and drinks you need in your overall lifestyle plan to make it YOURS. Something you can do every day, 365 days a year, year after year, happily and without hating your life just to fit into your pants.
Self-Control is Not Self-Deprivation
To positively change the way you eat and end the on/off game, you will need to practice a new skill: self-control.
Unfortunately, most people confuse self-control with self-deprivation. Self-control is establishing a set of guidelines for yourself to live by. It is not cutting yourself off from every food you love.
Here’s are some examples:
Self-Deprivation says, “I can’t eat sugar any more.”
Self-Control says, “I will eat less sugar and eat more nutrient-dense whole foods.”
Self-Deprivation says, “I can never eat a burger and fries at my favorite restaurant again.”
Self-Control says, “I will eat a burger and fries at my favorite restaurant for my weekly Treat Meal, or I will make a cleaned-up version at home.”
Self-Deprivation does not work as a compliance tool. If anything, it’s a trigger for over-eating, guilt, shame, and it creates an unhealthy relationship with food.
Self-control takes practice, but every time you use it, it gets easier to activate. It’s like making deals with yourself about what you will and will not to do, based on the big picture of how you want your life to be.
Example: if you’ve been following me for a while you know I had a MAD morning pastry + coffee habit when I first started out with living a fat loss lifestyle ~7 years ago. Lunch and dinner were easy for me to change, but breakfast? Nah. I was having ZERO luck going cold turkey, so I tried something else: I cut a deal with myself.
Have a Low-Fat Cinnamon Coffee Muffin for breakfast 3 mornings a week, but the other mornings, you have to cook/eat at home.” So I did that. And I crushed it. It was actually fun!
Then I stepped it down to 2x a week. Then 1x a week.
Finally I got to the point where my homemade breakfasts were tasting so good and giving me so much LIFE that that freaking muffin took care of itself. I didn’t even want it any more.
Switch your mindset to eating MORE of the right things more often, and LESS of the things that aren’t working for you. BUT, don’t cut them out completely (unless of course there is a food allergy/sensitivity issue at play). Make the foods you love PART of your plan and stay out of the self-deprivation mindset.
A Word On Sugar
To the people who say that sugar must be eliminated to “free” yourself from sugar cravings and kill the sugar demons once and for all, I call bull shit.
Sugar cravings will never be completely eliminated, as they are a brain chemistry issue not a willpower issue. Sugar cravings start in the brain, not the stomach, and can be easily reduced and managed by simple changes to nutrition and lifestyle.
I see sugar cravings as a valuable feedback tool, as they usually help uncover areas of the diet or lifestyle that are out of check and need attention. (i.e. lack of sleep, stress management, under-eating, etc.)
Attempting to eradicate every grain of sugar from your life usually creates more problems than it solves. Not to mention, sugar is awesome and if you tell me I can never have dessert again, you are not my people so kindly please show yourself out. GOOD DAY, SIR. GOOD DAY.
Skillpower vs. Willpower
If you find yourself stuck in this cycle of recommitting and falling off, the only way to end it is to stop the cycle.
The next time you have thoughts like, “Wow I really need to get back on track” or “I need to start over and get back on the _______ diet,” I have a radical proposition for you:
Willpower will never be enough, and the fact that you’re repeating this on track/off track cycle is proof. If trying harder to be more perfect with how you eat was going to work, it would have worked by now.
Ditch their rules and start creating your own.
Instead of going back to a program that wasn’t created for you, start asking yourself, “What do I like? What does my body need? What makes me feel good? What works with my life right now?”
This approach takes longer and requires work; it’s not black and white. Sadly, this is why most people keep retreating to the cycle, because as terrible as it is at least they can just do what someone else tells them. Until they can’t.
My perfect-for-me, fat loss lifestyle includes mostly real whole foods like chicken, steak, salmon, eggs, roasted veggies, giant salads, omelets, roasted potatoes, etc. But it also includes chocolate. And goat cheese. And full-fat salad dressings. AND vegan cinnamon rolls.
So okay. Here’s the most important part of this whole thing, so listen up and take notes if you have to. Just don’t miss this, because I’m about to drop a bomb on you:
The treats, the fun, the life moments are PART OF YOUR PERFECT PLAN. They are also part of being a Fat Loss Foodie and they are part of Fat Loss Cooking School. Ditch the all or nothing approach and tell perfection to screw off once and for all - because you don’t it need to get a lean, fit, healthy body you love.
If you want to learn HOW to do this, this is exactly what we teach 4x a year in Fat Loss Cooking School. It’s our 4-week online program where we teach women how to cook and eat real food for fat loss. Every week we’ll tackle a new meal together: breakfast, then lunch, then dinner, then treats. We’ll teach you the science of hormonal fat loss and how to create a fat loss nutrition program for yourself based on YOUR metabolism, YOUR preferences, and YOUR personality.