If you’re anything like me then your eating will go in cycles which range from the extremely ‘good’ i.e. lots of fresh fruit, veggies, and the like versus the extremely ‘bad’ which consists of burgers and fries, pizza and ice cream on an almost daily rotation. Most of the time I’m ok but I’ve noticed that recently I’ve started to let my good habits slip and I don’t feel too great for it.
Now you know I’m all about balance. I firmly believe that life is too short to deprive ourselves and I’m completely against the idea of cutting out entire foods or food groups (unless it’s for a specific reason like an intolerance). You’ll never hear me say ‘never eat desert again’ and I’m certainly still an advocate for a really great burger; so what happens when you can’t seem to master the art of moderation?
Well, today I wanted to talk about just that – falling off the wagon and what you can do to get back on.
Ok, so your healthy eating regime has slipped and you’re starting to feel like sh*t? That’s ok, you’re human & it’s not the end of the world. I’ve been there too. In fact, I’m just coming out of one of those unhealthy eating cycles recently (which prompted me to write this post). It’s almost like I have eaten so much rubbish recently that my body cries out for veggies. Sound familiar? Yeah, I hear you.
Now I don’t know about you but I find the hardest thing is trying to crawl my way out of the unhealthy cycle. Because the more rubbish you eat, the more you want it. I even start to consider chocolate for breakfast – no, seriously I do.
I’ve started to notice though, each time I slip back into the bad habits there are always a number of things I come back to which help me to recalibrate and get back on track until one day, I chose salad over fries and just like that the healthy eating is back on the up.
First off I go easy on myself. I know this sounds cheesy but having that initial ‘I recognise that my diet isn’t where I want it to be but I’m going to make an effort to make better choices’ conversation with myself helps to set an intention and genuinely makes me think twice the next time I reach for food. Let me be clear, it doesn’t always stop me but when I go in for the bad stuff it’s then a conscious choice rather than a mindless nose dive into the biscuit tin. Try it, see if the little pep talk doesn’t shift your point of view even ever so slightly.
Second up: Moderation, moderation, moderation. Easy to say but harder to do. To try and get back into balance I start off really small. Acknowledging that it’s going to take a week or so to get back into a better place with food and making one small change per day makes it so much more achievable. Because if you go fully restrictive and ban all sugar, caffeine, alcohol and unhealthy food in one go you’ll last all of a day before you’re miserable and go heading for the first kebab you can find.
The more ‘virtuous’ I try to be the least likely I am to stick to it. It’s better to try and cut out one extra glass of wine that week, or stop yourself from having one less doughnut that day than banning everything in one day. Being gentle and kind to yourself in this way is much more effective and will lead to long term moderation overall. Plus, it’s easier to tell yourself you’re going to eat one less set of biscuits with your tea rather than ‘I MUST eat at least 9 portions of veggies today and NO biscuits, NO treats and NO wine’. That’s just a recipe for no fun.
Next up is an easy one: out of sight, out of mind. I find that if I buy rubbish food and it’s in the house, even if I’m not hungry I’ll gravitate towards it like I’m caught in a trackter beam. It doesn’t matter whether it’s kettle chips, chocolate, chocolate biscuits or jelly sweets. If it’s there, it’s going in my belly. Similarly at work, if someone brings in treats (and we seem to be a team of perpetual cake eaters, there is *always* something on offer) the minute I have one cake/ biscuit/ mini flapjack it’s all I can think about for the rest of the day. So a really quick and easy trick for me is to either get the treats out of sight or to throw it away. You know I despise food waste so ideally you’d donate your unwanted treats to family, colleagues or even neighbours. Unopened items can even go to food banks which will welcome the donation. I can’t eat something I can’t see – and if I can’t see it I won’t crave it.
Which leads me on nicely to my favourite: the ‘add-in principle’. Put simply it’s where you crowd the bad stuff out with the good stuff. Instead of thinking ‘oh I can’t have that packet of sweets/ cake/shortbread’ try to add IN healthier fats and protein in to your existing meals so that you feel fuller for longer and therefore are less likely to want to snack on something unhealthy. For example, try adding in some extra nuts to your breakfast in the morning (a small handful, don’t go crazy, this is just a short term measure to get you over the hump), or an extra dollop of yoghurt. Or at lunchtime try adding in half an avocado to your salad, or add some hummus to your plate. Adding in the odd healthy item to each meal won’t feel like an arduous task but you’ll soon notice that you won’t be craving the sweets and treats as much, if at all. This also works well when you’re in the grip of a craving and can’t think of anything else. In these instances I reach for a healthy snack first (yoghurt and berries, hard boiled egg and spinach or a handful of roasted chickpeas) first and then if the craving remains or resurfaces then I can chose to eat something less than virtuous and eat it mindfully rather than because I’m about to go over the edge if I don’t have chocolate now, now, now.
Lastly, be prepared! I find that by slowly getting in to cooking again I start to get my meal prep and planning mojo back, which in turn leads to leftovers and voila instant healthy lunches. As with the moderation point above, sometimes just cooking one meal with enough for leftovers the next day is enough to jolt me out of an unhealthy rut. Go slowly and don’t put pressure on yourself to cook a week’s worth of meals, just do one. In the same vein, pack one snack in your bag or pack one tea or coffee to go rather than buy one on the go. These small actions (if taken one by one) won’t feel overwhelming but will gradually get you back in to healthy habits.
By incorporating a few of the above tweaks after about a week or so I start to notice that my unhealthy habits start to tip back into healthy ones. It takes time, so don’t pressure yourself to change your diet overnight, but with small consistent efforts you’ll start to see these small changes add up to big ones.
Before I sign off completely remember that drinking lots helps too. I reach for peppermint tea (or the Pukka detox herbal teas) when I’m about to make a bad food choice. Having a drink makes me stop and think about whether I genuinely want to eat that burger/ cake/ cookie and also helps to fill me up – plus, I think peppermint tea is the best. The act of taking 20 minutes for a cup of tea might make the difference between a healthy choice or an unhealthy one.
Remember to be consistent, be kind on yourself and be patient. You’ll get there. And even if you fall off the wagon again, it’s ok; it’s all part of the journey. Get back up and try again, your body won’t judge you – and neither will I.