Today marks five months since you set your New Year’s resolutions.
Did you resolve to clean up your diet?
…are you still going strong?
Studies show that 88% of people fail to keep their fitness resolutions for a year. The other 12%?
Nerd Fitness Rebels.
Rebels who defy conventional wisdom, who question everything, and who aren’t afraid to be different. We, the mighty 12%, are the Rebels who succeed. It’s how I transformed myself, and how you can too.
Today we’re going to be different; we’re going to learn how to actually make your healthy diet goals stick….with a little help from an Italian plumber.
Build momentum like Mario
Think back to probably the most famous video game of all time: Super Mario Bros.
You start off as this little guy with no knowledge or armor at all. If you run into a Goomba or any other bad guy, you use up a life and get sent all the way back to the beginning of the level…only to start all over again.
However, if you can find that super mushroom to eat first, you’re transformed into a bigger, stronger version of yourself, capable of taking a hit from the bad guys without having to redo the whole level.
If you can make it further without getting hit, you can get even stronger by collecting a Fire Flower. These not only give you a new way to fight your enemies (fireballs!), but they also offer more protection – instead of two hits to die, you get three.
Building eating habits that stick are no different.
When you start out, everything is really hard. Temptation is everywhere, and you have to be extremely careful. It might feel like it’s always someone’s birthday at the office, your kids are constantly screaming for ice cream, and you seem to gravitate towards unhealthy foods at the grocery store.
Every time you give into one of these temptations, you feel like the day is ruined and you’ve been set back at the beginning of the level.
But every day you succeed, you build strength (your own super mushroom), and it becomes easier and easier to pass up temptations. If you do get hit by a bad guy, it will only be a temporary setback, not a level reset. If you can make it even further into the level and turn eating healthy into a habit (your fire flower), you’ll have gained the power to attack temptations as they come at you. Goombas? No problem.
We’re all just tiny Marios, in search of powerup mushrooms before we kick Bowser’s ass….like this guy did in under 5 minutes.
Whenever anyone tells me they’re going on a diet, I cringe.
A “diet” typically means a temporary change in eating or drinking habits to achieve desired results. Most of the time spent “dieting” is miserable because you’re depriving yourself of all of the foods you enjoy….and you can’t wait until you can eat “normal” again.
Even if you do hit your goal, after the next six months of eating “normal” you find that you have gained all that weight back.
Diets are like the invincibility star of the weight loss world: you’re allowed, for a very short amount of time, to plow through all of your enemies…making a lot of progress very quickly. But when you get to the end of the level and it’s time to face stronger enemies like Bowser, you’re just as weak as when you started.
Instead aiming for an invincibility star, I want you to walk through the level slowly, collecting every coin and every power up we can find.
From now on, look at any changes to your diet (and refer to them as well) as a transitions to a new lifestyle. We’re not making temporary changes or getting started on the next diet…we’re building lifelong habits and lifelong health. We take rule two seriously.
Does that mean you can never have your double dipped frozen banana with everything on it ever again? No, but maybe not as often.
Don’t go cold turkey
So you’re ready for a change, ready to jump in head first, so you need to throw away everything that is remotely unhealthy.
Out of sight, out of mind, right?
While this does work for some people, it turns out there’s more to it than that.
Studies show that sugar, which is found in most processed foods, is actually highly addictive. When we stop eating these processed foods full of sugar, we can actually go through legitimate withdrawal and are in danger of relapsing into eating these foods again, in greater quantities.
Believe it or not, sugar releases the same “happy” chemicals in your brain as drugs such as cocaine and has been shown to be similarly addictive.
Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
- “Just ONE isn’t that bad…”
- “Why do I need to be skinny anyways?”
- “I’ll start tomorrow!”
These are all tricks that your brain is playing to get you to eat more sugar, releasing more of those “happy” feeling chemicals. Eventually, if you give in, (like with any other addiction) you’ll most likely show INCREASED consumption of everything you have been working so hard to keep out of your diet…undoing all of the hard work that you’ve done, and more. This is why so many people lose 10 lbs, only gain 20 lbs afterwards.
Remember, we only have so much willpower. This is the same reason why we’ll do really well on our diets at the beginning of the day, but by the end, we’re struggling big time and will eat the next piece of food put in front of us, healthy or not.
“But what about programs like Whole30?”
While programs like these work for some people (and if you’re one of those people, by all means go for it), they’re often temporary changes that require incredible amounts of willpower. After all, these programs take you from an average American diet to an extremely strict paleo diet overnight. You think you’re doing the right thing, but you’re really setting yourself up for failure. I will say that these programs are great if you’re already 85-90% of the way there and just need an extra push to get you to finish your journey.
So if I don’t want you to JUST GOT FOR IT, what should you do instead?
Slow and steady wins the race
In 2010, my new years resolution was to “go Paleo.”
I didn’t get up on the 1st of January to purge of every bad food in my pantry, nor did I go out and buy only Paleo approved foods. I did something completely different.
I did nothing. I got up on January 1st, 2010 and ate exactly the same as I normally would.
The next time I went to the grocery store (a few days later), I didn’t buy any milk. But I didn’t think of it as, “I can’t have milk anymore.” I just didn’t buy any. Every time I went to the fridge (normally looking for milk), I just grabbed water instead.
In the following trip to the store, I didn’t buy any again. I wanted to, but I knew that if I could muster up enough willpower to walk by the dairy section without picking up any milk, I’d be fine.
After a few weeks of grocery shopping, not buying milk was a habit. Since it was only one small change, it was easy: Even though I was missing milk, I could still have everything else in my diet.
After a while, I decided that the next time I went to the grocery store I wouldn’t buy pasta. I would use what I had left in the house, but no more buying pasta.
And guess what? After a few weeks, I was no longer eating pasta. Since the rest of my meals were normal, I looked at it as: “this week we’re not having pasta.” I didn’t really feel as if I was missing anything.
Here’s a basic breakdown of the first few months of what I cut out:
- January: Milk, Pasta
- February: Bread (except for the roll I ate lunch on). Dairy (except for feta cheese and yogurt).
- March: Cookies an potatos (except for sweet potato)
- April: Rice
In eight months time, I was fully transitioned. Now it’s 2013, two years later, and I’m going strong. Could I have done it a little faster? Probably…but I never felt deprived, and making the changes were a breeze.
Another type of “bad guy”
“Slow and steady” isn’t exactly a sexy slogan that motivates people to get moving. So how about: “dominate one bad guy before moving on to the next.”
In other words: make manageable changes to your diet, one small meal or snack (bad guy) at a time.
When I first wanted to lose weight, way before I found out about paleo, this is exactly what I did. I didn’t try to change my entire diet, just lunch. Knowing my normal breakfast and dinner put me way above the calories I needed for the day, I bought a bunch of the Steam Fresh vegetable bags and ate one for lunch every day.
This was my Goomba. Lunch was easy because it was pre-made, frozen, and foolproof; I would bring in 5 bags every Monday, and it was incredibly inexpensive (about $1.25 a bag)! Best of all, it was easy to follow through with since it was only one bad guy.
Start with one Goomba, then move on to the next bad guy.
So what I want you to do is look at your diet and find one big win you could make. It could be removing one thing or changing up a meal. A few big win examples:
- Soda. If you have two 20 oz bottles of Coke every day, that’s 480 calories – if you replace just those with water and leave the rest of your eating exactly the same, you’re going to lose about a pound a week. If you have four, that’s 2lbs a week, 8 a month, and 96 in a year. Just by changing one habit. (I also support taking baby steps and going from 4 bottles to 3, then 2, then 1 over a few weeks time).
- Replace your morning bagel and cream cheese (about 500 calories) with 2 eggs and 4 strips of bacon. You’ll save 50% of the calories and eat better.
- Instead of stopping at McDonalds on your way home from work because you’re starving and just can’t wait to get home, bring a healthy snack to help you make it home. Anything to hold you over until you can cook a healthy dinner.
Cheat days and cheat meals
Some people have a designated cheat day every week, or a designated number of cheat meals. I’m not a fan of these for a few reasons.
First, using the word “cheat” signifies that you’re doing something wrong. It’s sneaky – it’s bad.
In my experience with working with hundreds of fellow Rebels, “cheaters” spend the entire week thinking about how deprived they are…how awesome their cheat ___ is going to be. And then when the cheat day does show up, they overconsume, eating way more than normal since tomorrow the dreaded “diet” resumes. Sometimes, this leads to a “food hangover” where getting back on track becomes far more difficult than it needs to be.
I want you to focus on creating healthy meals you enjoy in order to prevent this dread and deprivation.
Is this me telling you you can never have your Bluth frozen banana? Absolutely not. But if you DO have it, you weren’t cheating. You weren’t doing anything wrong: that’s just a part of your diet…an occasional GOB. You made the decision to eat that item, and the next decision you make regarding food will be a better one.
All part of the master plan (insert evil laugh here).
Getting back on the wagon
So it’s someone’s birthday at work, and you decide to have that piece of cake.
At this point, you might as well have some oreo’s too, right? And then for dinner, since you already had chocolate and oreos, you might as well have McDonalds. You can get back on track tomorrow, right?
Unfortunately, this overconsumption of sugar is super addicting: you wake up the next day and your body is already craving it again!
So you go get Belgian waffles, and a few days later you find yourself depressed, seeing an ugly number on the scale, asking, “what went wrong??”
Remember Super Mario: One small hit early on sends you back to the beginning of the level.
Stop getting hit and resetting the level! Don’t wait until next Monday or the first of the next month.
Start again right now, right where you left off.
Have a bad meal? Ok, don’t dwell on it. Forget about it, it’s in the past. Do better next meal.
Have that soda even though you’ve sworn it off? Well, ok, that stinks. Make sure you drink water and only water for the rest of the day.
We are all human and far from perfect. Instead of feeling bad about yourself for making a mistake, see what you did, learn from it, and do better next time. Consider trying to make up for it by having a little less next meal. The most important thing here is that we moved forward.
And if you do get sent back to the beginning of the game? Learn from your mistakes and find a warp pipe to help you get back to where you were.
Think less, do better
When we first start up in Mario, we’re standing there at the beginning of the level. No weapons, no armor, but we soon see a Goomba approaching. Shikaka.
It’s clear that if we don’t do something, we’re in trouble…but what DO we do? A quick mashing of the buttons shows that at this point you can really only do two things: move forward or jump.
Seems too simple, doesn’t it? Instead of looking for the perfect recipe, I want you to simplify the **** out of everything!
Not sure what to eat for dinner? Try meat and vegetables. What kind of meat and what kind of vegetables? It doesn’t really matter! Pick one of each, google how to cook them, and figure it out 🙂
Finding breakfast is difficult to make healthy? Instead of looking for something that looks or tastes the same, break the cycle. After eating steak for breakfast you may wonder why you ever ate cereal in the first place.
So, do you think you could focus on fighting one Goomba today, and then in a few weeks move onto a Koopa Troopa?