Most fitness enthusiasts find it fairly easy to keep a consistent workout routine. After all, it’s an hour — 90 minutes tops — of physical activity that can be invigorating, social and relaxing. You feel good and sleep well afterward, and once the muscles start to morph, well, then there’s practically nothing that can keep you away from your daily workouts. But as so many pros will attest to, excellent eating habits are at least 50 percent of the formula for body-shaping success. You can sling iron from dawn until dusk, but if you collapse on the couch with a bag of cheese puffs afterward, you might as well keep that itty-bitty bikini shoved in the back of your bottom drawer.
Next time you stand in font of a mirror, contortionist-style, to see how your workouts are affecting your wobbly bits — only to get frustrated at their barnacle-like tenacity — it’s time to step away from the buffet. With these six strategies, you’ll be ready to embark on a clean-eating program that will not only help you shed those last annoying pounds before summer but also let you stick to it for the rest of your life.
Stop the Insanity
Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” For so many would-be healthy eaters, that’s true when it comes to getting motivated to change your behavior. How many times have you thought to yourself, I’ll start my diet tomorrow, only to cave in when tomorrow finally comes? And in another few days, you tell yourself the same thing but fail to follow through.
According to Keith Klein, nutritionist and founder of the Institute of Eating Management in Houston, the psychology of clean eating is based on pain and pleasure. “Everyone wants to move toward that which is perceived as pleasurable and away from that which is painful,” he says. “So when someone says, ‘I know what I want to do, but I can’t do it,’ what they’re really saying is ‘What I have to do is more painful than what I’m doing now.’” Cooking healthy food is more difficult than going through a drive-through. Not eating that cookie is more difficult than eating it. “When the pain of being fat finally outweighs the pleasure of eating, that’s when motivation translates to action,” says Klein.
Once you acknowledge that you are where you are because of your choices and decisions, then you’ll realize that you also have the ability to make different — and better — choices. That sense of empowerment is often the key to achieving long-term goals, such as lifelong eating management; if you know that you’re in control of your choices, you can enjoy wielding your newly discovered power. “It isn’t necessary to change everything at once,” suggests Klein. By making a few better ‘bad’ choices at a time, you can build up to a complete diet overhaul over time. Find a few areas to change first, such as choosing to drink one glass of wine instead of three or eating French tries only once a week.”
“The best way to stay motivated is to have clearly defined goals. Setting goals is like having a road map to a destination,” says fitness model Elaine Goodlad. “Without a map of some sort, we find ourselves floundering around and getting lost in the buffet of life, just wanting to satisfy our cravings and eat to feel good. The fact is, there are choices we must make to live a fit and healthy lifestyle. Eating clean is one of those choices.
Write down your primary goal, whether it’s to enter a figure competition or simply fit into a smaller pair of jeans. Then break that goal down into several smaller components, such as cooking at home five nights a week or eliminating fried foods. Most importantly, identify and list the things that may be keeping you from achieving your goals so that you can work to overcome them.
Rely On Your Plan
Initially, sticking to a healthy diet is enjoyable and rewarding. You may lose enough body fat that your clothes fit more comfortably or others take notice and offer positive feedback. But eventually, you may hit a weight-loss plateau, which results in a motivational plateau. Suddenly you think, I don’t want to do this anymore. When that happens — and it will — don’t give up just because it’s no longer as fun as it once was. There is a difference between getting motivated and staying motivated. “Most people fail because they think they’re weak, lack power or discipline,” says Klein. “Actually, they fail because they’re not willing to implement the right coping strategies.” Avoid this by taking the emotion out of the equation. Don’t give yourself the option of wanting to do it; just refer back to your plan and follow it.
Also, if you’re struggling because of real hunger, you can use food as a weapon against itself. It’s how you use it. Research has shown that eating smaller, more frequent meals can dramatically reduce the impulse to binge, keeping hunger in check.
As much as you should plan for success, you should also plan for missteps along the way. There are going to be holidays and other high-stress events that could lead to emotional eating — or even a really good dish to which you just can’t say no to a second helping. “Don’t use defeatist language against yourself or berate yourself for deviating from your plan,” says Klein. “Instead, use positive language that supports your desire to move forward.” For example, you might kick yourself for eating a second helping, but if at one time you might have had a third, then you’ve made progress. “You’re improving if you’re making better choices than you used to — even if they’re not perfect.”
If you find yourself straying more often than not, try to identify the triggers. Often stress and boredom are the culprits — food may provide comfort when you’re struggling for control or may offer a diversion when there’s nothing else going on. Becoming aware of your moods can help you resume working toward your goals.
Vary Your Vittles
There is nothing like an endless menu of the same bland foods to make you run for the nearest bakery. “Eating the exact same foods every day feeds your sense of deprivation, which will typically result in a binge at some point,” says Klein. “There is a connection between the palate and the satiety center in the brain. Food without moisture, texture or flavor tells your brain that you’re feeling deprived.” Conversely, then, filling your plate with delicious healthy food will deliver the message that you’re being satisfied — even when you’re consuming smaller portions. “You can easily make your meals very yummy without loading up on fat or calories by modifying your favorite recipes,” says IFBB professional figure champion Tara Scotti.
In addition, overconsumption of foods can lead to food allergies, so it’s important to include a variety of whole grains, vegetables, high-quality proteins and fruit in your diet. A broader range of food choices automatically ensures that your total daily calorie intake varies slightly, too. Just like not following the same exercise program in the gym, you will continue to shock your metabolic system by changing your diet regularly.
Your Cheatin’ Heart
Go ahead — enjoy that slice of chocolate cake. Or sit down with your kids and dig into a Happy Meal once in a while. Sometimes, It’s just the thing to break through a weight-loss plateau. “If your body expects exactly 1,200 calories each day, for example, it will adapt, becoming very efficient,” says Klein. “Once in a while, a high-calorie cheat meal can cause a biochemical reaction that stimulates fat loss.” In this case, of course, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, so try to limit your treat to once a week.
Cheat meals can offer a mental break, too. Once you start to feel deprived, you can expect to start getting twitchy about two weeks into it. It’s much better to anticipate it and satisfy a small craving so that you can avoid an all-out binge.