Six simple steps from foodie to fitness freak

I used to be a little bit of a foodie. Not the pretentious kind who claimed to enjoy foamed fish heads, but still. I took great pleasure in food, lots and lots of food.

When health and fitness became top priorities for me several years ago, I knew I had to change the way I approached what I ate. Stuffing my face and expecting food to fulfill me on any level other than nutritionally wasn’t going to work if I wanted to be lean and healthy. I realized my relationship with food would need to change. Here are some things I learned that made it easier.

Food rewards are for dogs. I am not a dog

In the old days, in the midst of a bad day, I’d think ahead to what I was going to eat when I got home. Did I have candy at home, or would I need to stop at the store and pick some up? Maybe instead of making dinner, I actually “deserved” a double cheeseburger and large fries from the McDrivethrough King.

On the other hand, if I had a good day, of course a special treat would be in order. Get a promotion and you have to drop by the bakery, right?

This is the thinking that led me to blimp out to 230 pounds, and I knew it had to go. The relative quality of my day would no longer dictate what I ate.

Ask “what have you done for me lately?”

It might sound a little weird to say I talk to my food, but I’m okay with weird. Before I eat, I ask my food the question “What are you going to do for me?” (I don’t actually ask this out loud or expect the food to answer – I’m not that weird). The point is, everything I eat needs to have a purpose. Is it contributing to my protein goal, is it a healthy fat, are the carbs going to give me the energy I need for a workout? Occasionally, a food that is just going to make me happy is okay, since that’s a valid contribution to my overall well-being. But the vast majority of the things I eat need to be able to respond to the question “What have you done for me lately” with a darn good answer.

An expanded definition of delicious

I used to determine whether something was tasty or not based on how salty, cheesy, or greasy it was. If it was fried or topped with bacon, all the better. I’d have been quick to tell you that I loved vegetables, but rarely would I eat any that weren’t slathered in butter and salt. I frankly had no idea what the food I ate truly tasted like.

I started simply steaming veggies, and realized that they were tasty unadulterated. So I tried adding them to sauces and curries other dishes and realized – hey, these are actual ingredients and they add to the flavor and texture of my meals (not to mention the nutritional value). They’re not just vessels for butter and salt. Who knew? From there, I expanded to other things I thought I didn’t like, like beans and almonds and fish, and lo and behold, they were good too!

This combined with not expecting my food to provide me a ‘reward’ went a long way to help my new eating habits be much easier to stick to long-term. (If you’re interested, there are  scientific theories about how the brain’s food reward and palatability centers contribute to obesity).

Move it and lose it

From the start, working out was part of the program. You kind of have to live under a rock to not know that exercise aids in weight loss and contributes to overall health. And those were my goals, so working out was a must.

But weight lifting and cardio training did something else for me too. It motivated me to eat better. If I worked out in the morning, it seemed like a waste of all that effort if I then scarfed down a half of a pizza and a handful of cookies. I recently read the abstract of a study that showed that exercise can actually reduce your appetite, which I think is interesting and relevant here as well.  For whatever reason, the more I moved, lifted, ran, trained, the less power food had over me.

Put down the bottle

Alcohol is not a food group. This was news to me. Beer was my drink of choice, and in fact most days all I drank was coffee all morning and beer all evening/night. I never had “a problem” with alcohol, and even drinking 4 or 5 beers a night I would seldom even get a buzz (I did weigh 230 pounds, after all). What I did get was upward of 1,000 extra useless calories a day. What a giant waste! Cutting back on beer was easy when I looked at it that way.

Sometimes you gotta cheat

You can’t eat 100% clean, 100% of the time. At least I couldn’t. And I didn’t feel the need to. With a consistent approach to eating whole foods, lots of variety of veggies and lean meats and other healthy stuff, I decided early on that cheat meals were a must.

So I would eat and drink anything I wanted on Friday nights and Sunday morning (Friday was my night out at the bar with the crew in my single days; Sunday my day to go out to breakfast). Any time I was having trouble sticking to the program, I’d look forward to Friday’s night out – the cheeseburger, the fries, the pitchers of beer, and I’d stay strong until then.

Now, I’m not gonna lie – I still love my cheat meals. But I don’t need them like I used to, I don’t have them every single week, and frankly sometimes I’m grossed out by them afterward. But that’s what happens when you make fit happen. You realize that the alternative can be kinda gross.

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