Flash back to a couple years ago when I worked with a trainer for the first time. After three months, I saw a couple pounds of drop. Yes! Then, I plateaued. The scale went back up and wouldn’t slide back down. But even more important, I didn’t notice my body firming up. Where was the muscle? Where were the results? To not see or feel changes was utterly maddening after all the work and money I was putting in.
I was confused and frustrated so I asked my trainer: “Heeeeeey, why isn’t this working?” She word for word told me: “Look, you need to eat boring to lose weight.” You should’ve seen my face. I love food so I was crushed and defeated when she told me that if I wanted to slim down, I’d need to “eat boring.” What the heck did that even mean? My mind started wandering to days filled with the same foods, all day, for the rest of my days. I sat at my desk later that day and imagined some of the most diet-centric boring foods I could think of: steel-cut oats, rice cakes, bananas, grilled chicken, baby carrots and plain cottage cheese. Rinse and repeat. I went to a dark place because that was not the reality I was ready to live.
BORING DOESN’T HAVE TO BE BORING
Then I realized that while the trainer said boring, I could actually consistently create home-prepared meals (or order clean meals when eating out) and set myself up for success. So a day of eating could be: eggs with a side of sauteed greens, avocado and mixed berries for breakfast, a piece of fruit for snack, a salmon BLT with avocado on whole-grain at lunch, Greek yogurt for an afternoon snack and finally grilled chicken, veggie stir-fry (no rice) and a salad for dinner.
When I thought about it, I realized we might be living in a golden era of healthy eating. There are so many genuinely tasty, healthy things to consume these days, more and more nutritious options when eating out (Sweetgreen, Zoe’s Kitchen and so many others) and even more ways to get them to your door (online grocery ordering, meal-delivery services, produce-delivery services.)
MEETING WITH A NUTRITIONIST
Once I sat down with a nutritionist, we figured out my big problem had little to do with not eating boring enough (my words, not hers). It was actually that I was not eating enough protein. Sigh of relief! I had been trying to cut calories by focusing on fruits and veggies, which resulted in me eating about two ounces of protein at each meal, while working out a lot. Big mistake.
If you are struggling with consistency, here are some tips to get on track. I huddled with my friend, Camille Range, MPH, RDN, to validate that all these tips, which worked for me, jive with current best practices:
1. HAVE A GO-TO SHOPPING LIST
Go to the store with a plan. Think of the healthy foods you love and start with those. As a general rule of thumb, it helps to stick to the perimeter of the store (don’t forget to stop by the frozen and canned fruit and veggie aisles, too) so you aren’t as likely to be surrounded by processed foods.
I keep a running “everyday grocery list” in my iPhone notepad, which makes grocery shopping easy. Depending on what’s in season, I’ll pick from this list: olive oil, apples, oranges, bananas, garlic, scallions, spinach, lemons, avocados, jalapeños, arugula, broccolini, mushrooms, basil, quinoa, eggs, greek yogurt, blueberries, strawberries and pomegranate seeds. Depending on what’s on sale, I’ll add different items from the produce section as well as proteins each week — usually chicken and fish. Check out these extra tips for getting healthy food into your home at a decent price.
Even if you don’t have a list, and you are conveniently close to the store, stop at the door and write a quick list. Even the shortest list can strengthen your discipline as you walk through the aisles.
2. PACK MEALS AND SNACKS
I love to cook, but I eat a lot of my meals outside of home. So, to stay on track, I meal prep whenever I can. That way, when I eat lunch or dinner at the cafeteria or restaurant, I don’t feel guilty about eating bread or pasta. It’s all about strategy.
Studies show that keeping healthy food in open view encourages better eating, so I also keep fruit at my desk in plain sight. That way, if I have a sugar craving, an orange is the first thing I can see and more important the first thing I grab to squash my craving. This helps cut back on my tendency to graze on the typically unhealthy snacks that frequent the office. Sometimes you have to splurge, so if I eat a serving of fruit (and a large glass of water) and I still want a cookie, then damnit, I’m going to have the cookie. But usually, the fruit alone is enough.
3. LOG YOUR MEALS
You are reading this on the MyFitnessPal blog, so you know how valuable tracking is. Maybe you’ve fallen off your tracking rhythm. It happens to the best of us. So don’t give up, because it works.
There are times when I haven’t eaten a specific food (I’m looking at you Uniporns & Rainho cupcake) because I didn’t want to have to log it in the app and watch my “remaining” calorie balance plummet. Tracking not only keeps you accountable, but it’s educational, too. I learned that my favorite green juice had more than 300 calories. In need of a little incentive to log and accomplish your goals? Join a challenge on MyFitnessPal!
4. MIND YOUR MACROS
Logging is important, but do you ever look past the calorie count? Sometimes I forgot. I was laser focused on calories and trying to drop pounds that I stopped thinking about food in a holistic way. I was doing intense workouts and foolishly only getting about 50 grams of protein per day (embarrassed face). I discovered I needed to pay more attention to my protein intake. Protein needs vary depending on a lot of factors like weight and activity level, in fact there’s a lot of debate about how much you should have. I discovered my body needed more. Protein has may benefits, including playing an important role in weight loss. Plus there are plenty of vegetarian-friendly protein options, including this pancake recipe.
Check this out for tips to look beyond the calories and start considering your macros.
5. FIND STRATEGIC WIGGLE ROOM
Consistency is key, but literally eating the same foods every day can get monotonous. The good news is that with all the healthy options out there, it’s easy to try new things. Plus, you’ve gotta mix it up or else you might end up with the urge to snatch a chicken finger right out of the hands of a defenseless child. Give yourself permission to explore.
If you need a splurge, use moderation. I find that if I allow myself a few strategic indulgences throughout the week, I’m more successful than when I give myself a day to go wild. I know some people swear by cheat days, but for me, cheat day turns into cheat days, plural. Then a cheat week, and then I feel all guilty (and have gained several pounds in a matter of days).
Health is a journey and we are each “a work in progress.” For me, focusing on consistency has been tremendously helpful. It’s also made tracking much easier in MyFitnessPal as I can easily save these frequent combinations as “meals” in the app or use the nifty “copy to/from date” feature. Additionally, I’ve started to memorize the calorie counts of some of my most frequent meals, so I can sometimes just keep passive track in my head before I get a chance to log it in the app.
You don’t have to eat boring, just remain consistent, strategic and eat clean. Yes, boring can work, but that’s not the life that works for my happiness. I love a good meal and YOLO.
Do any of these tips resonate with you? Have you ever been told something seemingly unattainable that you needed to do to lose weight? I.e., “avoid all carbs,” “fat makes you fat” or “embrace hunger.” How do you stay on track? Share your thoughts and tips with me and your fellow MFPers below!
Better Than Ever
We all strive for wellness and to live better! Every month, this column will bring you advice on how to feel and perform Better Than Ever. Check out tips to improve various aspects of your health: Everything from fitness, nutrition, sleep and recovery. Have a topic you want to hear about? Feel free to reach out here (I’ll be checking the comments!) or on Twitter or Instagram. I look forward to hearing from you!