By Chad Tackett, President of Global Health and Fitness
There's no right or wrong way to eat.
Healthy eating is all about motivation, balance, and flexibility. There will be times when you eat a high-fat meal or eat beyond fullness, or when your schedule gets so busy that you miss a work- out. This happens. It's normal. But it's very important that you don't get down on yourself and abandon your new healthy lifestyle when this happens.
If you're like most people, your reaction to these diet/ fitness obstacles is guilt. You feel as if all your hard work has been for nothing. "I blew it; I was doing so well. Oh well, I might as well enjoy this weekend and start over on Monday." Or even worse: "I just don't have the motiva- tion or will power to start over and be successful. I quit." Feeling defeated, many people discontinue the healthy living and return to their old routine until some mythical time in the future: "Maybe this spring will be a better time to start over again." This kind of scenario is a perfect example of the diet mentality at work.
An all-or-nothing attitude is why so many people have so little success; we choose structured programs because they relieve us from making choices for ourselves. A properly designed program makes sense, but expecting to stick to a structured eating and exercise plan for an extended period of time without ever deviating makes no sense at all. In fact, this is so unrealistic as to be a set-up for failure. If you begin to change your habits with the assumption that any deviation from your plan will ruin it, you might as well not even begin. Life is full of unplanned obstacles, distractions, and temptations. Your best approach is to prepare for them, keeping an open mind and maintaining a positive attitude.
It's very important that you begin your healthier lifestyle with an understanding that there will be days when you will stray from healthy eating and exercising. Before you begin, tell yourself that no matter what happens, rather than abandoning your new lifestyle, you'll resume your healthy habits as soon as you can; it is equally important that you feel confident, not guilty, about doing so. What- ever the temptation or obstacle is, keep in mind that it's not wrong or bad to eat fattening foods once in a while or to miss a workout. Just remember to resume your healthy lifestyle. If you keep moving forward and you don't let guilt and discouragement stop your program all together, you'll eventually have improved eating and exercise habits.
With this approach, there is no such thing as cheating. When we feel we are cheating, we often punish ourselves; we make ourselves feel guilty, frustrated and defeated. Replacing the negative concept of "cheating" with the idea of "straying from healthy habits" takes away the all-or- nothing emphasis on right and wrong. If you treat every deviation from your plan as a failure, you won't get very far
Substituting the idea of a brief straying away from your plan instead of feeling guilty, and learning to return more and more quickly to healthier habits, is more realistic. It's also easier and more enjoyable.
In the non-diet approach, all foods are legal. There are no "good" foods or "bad" foods. You must believe this. Sudden changes and/or drastic restrictions of high-fat foods when you have a preference or craving for fat will result in feelings of deprivation. No one can or should go through life depriving themselves of foods they really enjoy. You must learn how to make gradual healthy changes to the foods you love while experimenting with and learning to appreciate new flavors and textures.
A recent survey showed that more than 75 percent of people feel guilty about eating so-called "bad" foods. The greatest obstacle to adopting healthy eating habits is guilt. Attaching a value to foods only makes you feel bad for eating them. When you do decide to eat a high-fat food, enjoy it. Don't beat your- self up over it. Just make a special effort to eat low-fat the rest of the day. Remember, there is nothing wrong with splurging now and then. It can even be good for you if the satisfaction of a higher-fat meal that you've been craving helps you stick with a low-fat lifestyle the rest of the time.
If you're having a special diet meal that's different from what the rest of your family or friends are eating, you'll feel as though you're being punished. In order to be successful in changing your eating habits, you must look forward to and enjoy each meal you eat. This doesn't mean that you have to learn to like rice cakes and celery. It means you must learn how to make simple changes in the foods you love.
Perhaps one of your favorite meals is fried chicken, a baked potato, and salad. Small changes in how the food is prepared can turn this traditionally high-fat meal into a low-fat well- balanced one. Simply marinating a skinless chicken breast in sweet and sour sauce, rolling it in bread crumbs, and baking it makes the chicken a lot less fattening than if it's fried. Instead of butter or regular sour cream on your potato, try low-fat or nonfat sour cream or a reduced fat ranch dressing. Try using a non-fat or low-fat salad dressing rather than a regular dressing and adding as many vegetables to your salad as possible for their additional flavor, texture and nutrients. Any or all of these changes drastically reduce the amount of fat in the meal without sacrificing flavor or feelings of satisfaction.
Healthy eating patterns can only occur when you're enjoying all the foods you eat. If you're eating low-fat foods just to be healthy but without enjoying the flavors and textures or how they make you feel, this most likely won't be a permanent change. However, if you begin enjoying healthy foods, you're far more likely to stick with healthy eating for life.
Many people also enjoy eating out but associate this with being "bad" or eating "illegal" foods. Fortunately, it is very possible to eat a healthy, low-fat meal in a restaurant. You don't need to forego your favorite foods or eat before you go out with friends or family. The same decision-making process occurs whether you eat at home or go out to a restaurant. Many people think that they have two options when eating: eating for taste and pleasure or eating for health. As you learn and practice healthy eating techniques, these two options will become one and the same. Good luck and enjoy all the wonderful benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle.
* Be sure to check with your health care professional before making any changes in your activity habits.