Baby ate a bad, bad thing…

One of the awful things that can happen when someone decides to take charge of their health and be more mindful about what they eat is that we can become overly afraid of doing something wrong, of breaking the rules. I see this all the time. Someone wants to lose weight or they want to improve their strength and endurance, or they want to feel healthier, so they adopt a new eating plan. They’ll cruise for a day or three or four or a week, or even a month, and then they eat pizza or have a cupcake, or go to a party and have a few beers and then the guilt sets in.

One of the awful things that can happen when someone decides to take charge of their health and be more mindful about what they eat is that we can become overly afraid of doing something wrong, of breaking the rules. I see this all the time. Someone wants to lose weight or they want to improve their strength and endurance, or they want to feel healthier, so they adopt a new eating plan. They’ll cruise for a day or three or four or a week, or even a month, and then they eat pizza or have a cupcake, or go to a party and have a few beers and then the guilt sets in.

Horrible, dreadful, oppressive, soul-crushing guilt.

Then, one of two things happens: Either (A) you flagellate yourself a little, feel terrible and recommit to your program, or (B) give up and drown yourself in pizza, beer and cupcakes. Neither one is an ideal outcome.

Option B is obviously bad. A five year old can see that. Quitting something never results in success. And quitting something you started to improve your health is going to have a very bad outcome – poor health. But Option A isn’t any good either. No one gets it right 100% of the time. Anyone who claims they do is a liar. There are times in life when the appropriate thing to do is eat a cupcake. Likewise for having a slice of pizza or a couple of beers with your friends. Strive to eat good, whole, healthy food 80% of the time, and expect that you’re going to have situations where you need to make use of that other 20%.

table-o-foodThe trick is to be mindful and aware of what you’re consuming, not obsessive about it.
Having a cupcake or a slice of birthday cake (or pie, I don’t really like cake, but put a pecan pie in front of me and there is pretty much no way I’m not having a piece), is a normal part of life. Having a cake is not. Likewise, having a handful of chips won’t kill you, but sitting on the sofa eating a bag of chips done often enough absolutely will.

What’s the difference? Mindfulness and active awareness. Mindlessly putting food into your face is self-destructive behavior. Don’t eat in front of the TV. When you’re at a social event, be social. You can’t talk to people with food in your mouth (or at least you shouldn’t), so don’t make the focus of the event cruising the buffet, make it having real connections with the people there.

Then there’s those times when it looks like there’s no good food to be had: When you forgot to pack a lunch for work, or have to go out for a business lunch and someone picked The Cheesecake Factory or some other place that specializes in serving excessively portioned and overly indulgent food. What do you do then? What I do is not give in. My friend Heather faced this reality recently. She had no time to shop and prepare food to take to work over the weekend and her options for buying food while at work were limited to what she could find at the local Dollar Store. Instead of giving in to a fruit pie, bag of chips and can of soda for lunch she used her brain and thoughtfully carved out selections that, while not ideal, were good enough. I had a vendor lunch at work last week and approached it the same way. The lunch organizer took us to a place that specialized in pasta dishes. Big plates of too many refined carbs, too much oil and too much salt loomed ahead. But the menu also included a grilled salmon salad and when I checked with the waitress she said it was actually her favorite item on the menu. Sold! My salmon was perfectly prepared and the salad was exceptional. Granted, this was indulgent restaurant food, so not really ideal, and not a planned indulgence where I could get exactly what I wanted to fill in that 20%, but it was good enough.

Good enough is ok. Doing something, being mindful when others are mindless means you are ahead of the pack.

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