Diet and food temptations – the mental game

I always find that my clients, friends and people I talk to in general find dieting a much tougher challenge than the actual working out part. Why is that? Probably because training  typically only takes about an hour max (unless you are one of those airheads who do cardio three hours a day, lol) whereas you are left the other 23 hours facing the fridge, the cafeteria, the restaurant, bar, deli on the corner, vending machine at work, etc….. temptations everywhere around you.

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We are taught that food is “fun”, food is “social” and it’s something to do when we get together  in groups, whether it’s meeting friends for a glass of wine, or  going to holiday parties, birthday celebrations, weddings… food is everywhere! And the food is never carrots and celery sticks with low fat dips, grilled  fish or chicken (with no  oil)  and salad, but more often fried foods, cakes, desserts,  alcohol… well, you get my drift.  It’s hard to stand up against peer pressure and not  resort  to what everyone else is doing. My favorite is “Oh, come on-have a piece of cake, you deserve it!” (what exactly does that mean?) or “you are so fit – one piece won’t hurt!” No, I’m sure one piece won’t hurt, but what if I have to go to another gathering the next night, and then the next night, that won’t be just “one piece”, and why is everyone so preoccupied with what I’m eating? Why can’t get  togethers be about having great conversations and doing a fun (non food related) activity?

boardgames

Of course I’m playing devil’s advocate here. As most of you know, I’m a professional chef and a wine educator, so I live  off of people’s desire to eat and drink, in fact I encourage  it.  And I participate in  these events regularly.  Where would I be without parties filled with food and wine?  I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t have  a piece of cake at your daughter’s birthday party, or go out to a lavish dinner with your husband or boy friend for your anniversary or have a bottle of wine to celebrate a promotion,   enjoy with your Saturday evening meal or even just if you feel like it… Life is more than just a treadmill, some weights and looking good in a two piece. Life has to be enjoyed too. But.. there is also finding that balance, that  dreaded, cliche like “B” word…

Balance

In my mind, there is nothing admirable in a person who obsesses about her/his workout and diet and isolates him/herself from the rest of the world to avoid temptations  in the real world, just to keep that top  notch figure. Are you really living the life you want? Miserable, constantly thinking about food and being irritable because you can’t have what you really want?  I doubt it.   What  I find is a successful person, is someone who knows how to balance the two – eating healthy 90% of the  time, but will not  freak out at the  sight  of a bowl of ice cream or a slice of pizza and think “thunder thighs!!” but just accept that the choice you make there and then, is quite ok. If you decide to eat it, it’s because it can be a ‘cheat meal’, or a meal you want at that time (sometimes it’s better to have ONE piece of what you crave instead of eating around it – you’ll end up eating more calories in “healthy” food and fool yourself you made the better choice).  If you decide not to, it’s because you want to keep your diet in check and you are on a health kick.   In the end, you may feel better with that choice.  Both options are good, if they make YOU feel good. Don’t feel guilt, shame, regret or anxiousness over food. This is when a problem can occur. Food should be nourishment to your body, yes- but in my opinion, it should also be enjoyable.  Food is amazing, it’s part of our culture and it CAN be a positive addition to your life, not just something you have to deal with.

Assorted healthy food.

Once you practice trying to have a more relaxed relationship to food, your weight will drop. You will no longer have insane cravings, because as we know – cravings are mental, never physical hunger- and you will start wanting real food to feed your body, to feed your muscles.   Cravings are made-up  ‘realities’  of what you THINK you want – but when you let go and tell yourself “hey, I can have it if I want to”, it’s  amazing how quickly you will turn it down because you’ll find you no longer want it 🙂

Today all I wanted was a grilled piece of chicken with some fresh vegetables, that is when I knew I was HUNGRY, not obsessing about some piece of chocolate or loaf of bread.  My body is craving healthy, nourishing foods that contain protein, carbs and fat these days, this is when I feel best;  full of energy, light and fit.  Try to mentally picture yourself how you’ll feel after you eat a big chocolate or a bowl of ice cream.   Will that make you feel better afterwards? Will it help you reach your goal? If the answer is no, turn it down most of the time.   Treats  like these are called treats for a reason- they are not an every day indulgence,  but a  piece of food reserved for a special occasion. Treat it as such, and you will appreciate it even more- and your body will be happy too!

icecream

 

Photo Source: itv.com

 

Variety in diet = recipe for success!

“Any diet that’s based on denying yourself the foods you really, really like is going to be temporary.” – Brian Wansink

Truer words were never spoken. The more I study up about nutrition and test out various “diets” myself, the more I see that the only way you are going to be comfortably fit your entire life, is to welcome ALL foods into your life. Instead of completely cutting them out,  consume them in moderation or in limited quantities, or find healthier alternatives that will be good substitutes. I am of course not recommending and advertising that you go out and get one of those bloomed onions at Outback (see how little I know about fast food, I don’t even know the proper word) or deep fried snicker bars and eat them on a regular basis. I’m talking more about the stupid rules that exist that says “don’t eat carbs after 4” and “carrots are too high in sugar, I’m not allowed to eat them”, “no white potatoes, only sweet potatoes” and so forth.  The only truth that exists if you are trying to lose weight is you need to be in a caloric deficit. Sure, you could eat all of your 1,800 calories in one meal if you wanted to, but is that going to optimize everybody’s goals? Of course not.  It all depends on what your mission is. I’m not necessarily speaking literally to people who are trying to gain muscle, prepare for a show or develop a healthier lifestyle. But technically, yes – as long as you eat less than your maintenance level calories, you will lose weight, it’s just plain physics (or was it biology? LOL).

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It all boils down to finding a lifestyle you can live with.  I’ve seen too many competitors completely fall apart after their show, because they’ve been deprived for so long. Hey, I’m even guilty of it myself, when I ate tilapia and asparagus 6 x a day for about 2-3 weeks before my show, no cheat days, and worked myself to the bone at the gym. Result? I became sluggish afterwards, not energetic going into the gym and basically wanted to eat everything under the sun. I think everyone has to go through their own experiences and personally find out what works for them. Every person is different, every body reacts differently, but  at the end of the day: what is the point of life? Isn’t it to feel healthy, energized and happy? To feel better about ourselves after a work out, to feel satisfied after a meal? I myself couldn’t find much joy in eating cold fish out of tupperware and just “get the meal over with”. Of course, at the end of my prep, I was so hungry that a dry, unseasoned chicken breast for breakfast sounded delicious. How sad. While prepping for a show certainly doesn’t mean you can live in a lap of pizza and ice cream, I also don’t think it’s necessary to eliminate salt, eat bland food and the same thing every DAMN DAY. I refuse! This time, I’m prepping more sanely, and thus I will need more time to get ready, but that is ok!

lifestylechange

Eating this way (my way), requires planning ahead, getting familiar with smaller portions and what they look like, and being able to be creative and also willing and open to trying new things.  I also work out really hard – I don’t waste time in the gym, I don’t sit around, chat with people or check my emails, I WORK. I’m usually in the gym about 1 – 1 1/2 hours (includes some cardio) and I try to use my time wisely. It’s about intensity, not quantity. I believe this helps me burn off more calories and allows me to eat a bit more lenient.  The mind wants what it “can’t” have. I clearly recall when I ate what I wanted last year, and nothing sounded exciting to me. I didn’t crave chocolate, pizza, ice cream (all my favorites), nothing! That’s when I knew I had to tighten up my diet. I have accepted that I am not going to look “ripped” 365 days a year. If fitness was the only thing I cared about in this world, and did not have an intense passion for everything food and wine, I could probably have a six pack year round. But.. my life is different- and dare I say: more versatile, less monotonous than that. I’ve always taken pride in that I take interest in multiple things, life is too short not to explore!!

My biggest thing is cutting out wine, since I work as a wine educator and consultant. There’s no denying I gain weight when I drink regularly (everyone will), but it’s also unrealistic to tell myself that I will never drink again. I enjoy wine, I love the business of wine, traveling to vineyards, attending seminars and tastings, and hanging out with my wine geek friends. I’m not going to change it, but I’m going to be selective about the number of times I socialize, choose to drink wine and what wines I drink.  More expensive wines are better, but also means I will drink less often LOL :).  This month I haven’t had any alcohol at all, which was a conscious decision because I honestly needed to detox after the holidays. My weight has gone down and I feel much better. Again – sad, but true!  So going forward, I’ll allow myself a drink or two once a week (on cheat day) until I’m about a month out for my show.  It will be interesting to see how my body will react and change to this new regimen, but it’s the only way I can combine my love for fitness and food.  One girl who does it very successfully is Kristine Weber – she is a National Body Fitness Champion in Norway and has a gorgeous figure, but is very versatile in the kitchen and eats dessert every night! Unfortunately her blog is in Norwegian, but hopefully she will consider adding an English version soon.  Below is a page of her upcoming cookbook:

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Point of this entire article is: Live your life, enjoy it and you CAN have both! There is no need to torture yourself, unless you of course really enjoy that! But I do believe there will be metabolic damage as a result, putting your body through rigorous, restrictive diets over a long period of time. I want to keep my body healthy, lean and cooperative for a very long time! Hence I’m trying this new way. I promise to keep you updated on how I’m doing. So far so good – I’m leaning out and I’m feeling strong!
With that – I leave you with a great recipe for a chicken and rice soup. It’s FLU SEASON, it’s freezing outside (Well at least where I am) and this gives you all the nutrients you need: protein, good carbs, minimal fat and lots of flavor!

CHICKEN AND RICE SOUP

Serves 6 (1 1/2 cups each)

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 medium carrots, diced

1 medium onion, dice

1 stalk celery, diced

7 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

1 cup instant brown rice

12  oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed and cut into 3/4 inch pieces

1 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 tsp cider vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add carrots, onion an celery and cook, stirring until beginning to soften, 3-5 minutes.  Add broth and bring to a boil. Add rice, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add chicken and peas and gently simmer until the chicken is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in parsley, vinegar, salt and pepper.

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(recipe adapted from Eating Well)