During the first week of any nutrition challenge, it’s easier to maintain motivation. After all, you just started! The reasons for doing the challenge are still clear in your head, and you’re all gung-ho to meal prep.
Two weeks in (like we are now), common struggles and challenges start to surface:
- Those sugar cravings start to pop up during moments of weakness.
- Inevitable life circumstances limit the time you have available to prep and force you to make sub-optimal choices.
- It gets harder and harder to turn down the beer during Sunday’s football game.
- You have a “cheat meal” and end up feeling bad about it the rest of the day.
Everyone has their own specific temptations and challenges. Whether you’re doing the nutrition challenge or not, you can probably recognize one of the above. If you’re in the nutrition challenge, I’m betting you’ve faced a hurdle during the past week.
This week on our nutrition education series, we’re chatting about the mindset behind nutrition and how our psychology plays a critical role in our success.
The All-or-None Mentality and Why It’s Dangerous
Heading into any nutrition challenge, I’m betting we all have a similar mindset. We’re going to completely revamp how we eat and be the shining example of perfect nutrition. Junk food is out the window. We’re on the health train and nothing is going to derail us now!
It might be time that gets in the way, or stress, work, traffic, friends/family, or any of the hundreds of other factors that can derail your best laid plans. Regardless of the source, you find yourself eating something you vowed not to eat just a short time ago. As a result, you feel terrible. That motivation and enthusiasm you started with is now nowhere to be found. You feel guilty and a bit like you failed entirely. Okay…maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but maybe not?
We refer to this as an “all-or-none” mentality. Either you’re a healthy athlete that works out regularly, or you’re the absolute worst because you missed a workout and had a slice of pizza.
When phrased like that, it’s easy to understand how this thinking is flawed, but in the moment, it’s easy to get down on yourself.
During the nutrition challenge, our goal is to create lasting behaviors that continue long after the six-week challenge is over. One piece to that puzzle is understanding this “all-or-none” mindset so day-to-day obstacles don’t completely derail our efforts.
This past Saturday during our nutrition chat, we went through a worksheet from Precision Nutrition that can help alleviate some of that “all-or-none” thinking and keep us on a more sustainable path. It’s useful when you’re making a decision around food or as a reflection after the fact. The questions are simple:
Consider a continuum between 1 (the absolute worst choice) and 10 (the absolute best) when thinking about the following questions:
- What is the absolute worst choice available?
- What is the best choice available?
- Where does the decision you’ve made fit into the continuum?
- What would be a slightly better choice?
- What would be a slightly worse choice?
This helps to create a more complete picture and hopefully prevent some of those “Well, I clearly messed up big time” feelings.
Did you miss the gym? Yep, but I can go on a walk with my family tonight.
Did you eat something sub-optimal for lunch with your coworkers? Sure. But, I limited myself to one serving, and I’m going to eat a great dinner.
Being More Aware of Our Behavior (and Planning for Moments of Weakness)
One challenge I knew I’d face during the the six-week nutrition challenge was around wine. I love having a glass of wine after dinner. When the clock hits 8pm, my hand starts reaching for the glass. It’s become a routine of sorts – reading a book and drinking a glass of wine before heading to bed.
So many of these choices we make are actually habits (we’ve talked about this before). We think they’re spur-of-the-moment decisions, but they’re really the summation of rituals, mindsets, and automatic thinking. The action (having wine, in this case) is just the programmed response. Being aware of this fact lets us plan ahead and disrupt bad patterns.
On Saturday, we went over the “Behavior Awareness Worksheet.” It’s a useful tool to understand these pre-programmed actions. The worksheet is available here from Precision Nutrition. In the instructions, it specifically talks about over-eating, but it’s applicable to other sub-optimal behaviors as well.
To complete the worksheet, you’re going to ask yourself a series of quick questions:
- What are you doing?
- What are you thinking?
- What are you feeling, emotionally?
- What are you feeling, physically?
- Where are you?
- What time is it?
- Who’s with you?
You’ll answer those questions at a few specific timeframes:
- 1-2 hours beforehand (before overeating or taking a sub-optimal action)
- Immediately beforehand
- In the middle of the action
Let’s see how this might be put to use. Say you overeat at lunch for the third time this week, and you’re wondering why:
1-2 hours beforehand: You’re working at your desk thinking about how you want to go out to eat with your coworkers. You’re feeling pretty hungry because you didn’t have time for breakfast.
Immediately beforehand: You’re feeling the peer pressure of going out to lunch or eating your same ‘ol salad in the fridge. Your stomach is growling, and you’re sure that a salad just won’t do it today.
In the middle of the action: You’re laughing with your buddies and feeling like part of the group. You order last. Everyone else has ordered a burger and fries with a beer so you follow suit.
Afterwards: You feel guilty. You’re sleepy and tired at your desk from the heavy lunch. Your salad goes in the trash, and you promise not to repeat the same mistake tomorrow.
Laid out so clearly, a few potential actions become obvious. First, you can make sure you eat a good breakfast and pack a healthy snack so you won’t be so hungry come lunch time.
Second, you might want to eat your lunch early so you’re full when everyone else is ready to go out. Or, you could experiment with better recipes that you’re more excited to dive into. If you absolutely have to go out with buddies, order first so you’re not pressured into a bad decision or ask everyone to go to a different restaurant where it’s easier to make a better choice.
All of these action items only become clear when you sit back and reflect on what fed into the choice you made.