Have you ever watched the Biggest Loser marathon that aired on New Year’s Eve and vowed to follow through on your own resolution to finally transform your physique? Or maybe resolved to reclaim your athleticism after watching a ripped 70- year old Chuck Norris crush a Total Gym workout, then tried to change your nutrition and fitness habits all at once starting January 1st?
You start getting up at 5am to hit the gym 3 days a week and pound the pavement for an early morning jog on the days in between. You throw out all the junk food in your house and replace it with white fish and leafy vegetables only. Your kitchen now has more greens than The Shire and half of it's kale, which you despise but choke down anyways because if it makes it onto Bey’s sweatshirt, it’s got to be THE WAY, right?
You swear you’ll stop drinking your favorite sugar rimmed margaritas, inhaling Friday night buffalo chicken pizza, and scooping Ben and Jerry’s while you catch up on The Walking Dead. Until you can’t hold it together anymore when THAT DAY arrives. That day when you wake up to achy knees and skip your run. That day when your best friend texts you and wants to meet up for drinks. That day when you wake up after a late night taking care of a sick kiddo and choose a muffin and a caramel macchiato for breakfast. That day when you’re so sick of kale smoothies and feeling ravenous all day that you buy three pints of Ben and Jerry’s instead of your usual one and nestle into the couch for an epic Game of Thrones marathon. That day when the wheels come off and the wagon spirals out of control.
Trying to change EVERYTHING at once amidst a busy life is overwhelming. When the wheels come off, often feelings of guilt or shame arise as that inner critic that we all have inside our heads starts coming down hard on us for not sticking with our plan or being disciplined enough AGAIN.
Sometimes these critical thoughts lead to the “screw it” mentality, when you decide that you’ve already deviated from the plan so you mine as well go all out for the rest of the day and keep indulging or overeating. This becomes a slippery slope and one day easily becomes a week or more.
Have you ever experienced this reaction before? I know I have. Why does this happen so often with our eating or exercise behaviors?
Typically it’s because we’re looking at things in a black and white way. That “all” or “nothing” approach. You’re either being “good” or “bad” with your eating and using the same labels for the foods you eat. You’re either “on the wagon” or “off.” It’s a perfectionist mentality, and if we can’t be perfect with our eating then we’re going to really let loose and indulge until we vow that on Monday, things will be different.
The problem with this approach is that it’s stressful and it doesn’t generally help us get closer to our goals when we’re constantly ping ponging back and forth between two extremes.
If we look at this behavior in the context of other slipups we might easily make, it seems a little ridiculous. What would you do if you spilled ketchup on your new white shirt? Would you say, “Oh well, it’s not perfect anymore. Mine as well stain it some more?” and proceed to squirt on more ketchup? Probably not, just like you wouldn’t purposefully smash your phone on the ground if you got a little crack in your screen.
To help dig yourself out of the perfectionist hole, try creating realistic expectations before you make any changes to your diet. Choose ONE small nutrition skill or habit and get really good at it before layering on another habit. When you try to adopt three or more new habits at a time, your success rate plummets by over 75% as opposed to just changing one thing at a time.
When you focus on one skill, you’ll be less overwhelmed and anxious with your new action. You can learn how to navigate tricky situations when the wheels may have fallen off in the past more easily without feeling the need to throw in the towel, because there will be always be parties, holidays, birthdays, nights out with friends and work events. Sometimes deviating from your normal eating or drinking habits will be part of these events.
Learning and practicing how to think through these situations in advance so that you can successfully navigate the middle ground between two extreme options is crucial to long term sustainability and consistency, and it’s something we’ll cover in depth for part 3 of this series.
When these situations occur, another helpful tactic to shake off the perfectionist mentality better than Taylor Swift is to imagine wiping the slate clean. Instead of berating yourself and feeling guilty for being human, not being perfect and indulging in food on occasion, you can choose to wipe the slate clean and focus on the next small action going forward that you can take to move your closer to your goals.
Small things like adding in a serving of vegetables to your next meal, waiting to eat again until you actually feel true stomach hunger, adding in some movement to your day, or getting to bed on time.
If you find yourself in this situation in the future, just remind yourself not squirt more ketchup on your shirt, and instead try wiping the slate clean then taking one small action to move forward. Although this concept seems simple, simple does not always equal easy, which is why having a nutrition coach in your corner to guide, support, and scale these changes to fit your life and personality is invaluable.
Check out part two where we cover how to process these types of events so that you can learn from them and feel more in control and balanced with your eating.
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Learn more about TDAE Nutrition Coaching HERE!
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Ryan Healy, BS Exercise/Sport Science, CSCS, has been a certified personal trainer for over 13 years and is a Level 2 certified nutrition coach through world-renowned Precision Nutrition. She is passionate about helping people change their lifestyle habits with support, guidance, and compassion along with helping clients train around their injuries so they can move better, feel stronger, and get more of what they want out of life.
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