Each week, beyond and sometimes on the training floor of RevFit, I’m having countless conversations about food. With my clients, we can get as in depth as: “How many grams of carbohydrates should I be aiming for?” to “Why can’t I stop eating after dinner?” or “Is plant protein better than whey protein?”
Of course, every client is approaching food with a completely different set of circumstances. Sure, most of my clients are with me for weight loss but each individual has their dietary preferences, intolerances, psychological relationship with food, and life stressors that further determines how food will work for them or against them with their weight loss plan.
However, if there is one common thread between the individuals I work with, regardless of age or gender, it’s the notion of a “bad” diet.
Before I delve any further, ask yourself: What makes your diet or, more specifically, your food choices bad? (You might want to write those things down).
In practice, what I hear from clients ranges from: the choice of food they ate (typically highly processed options), to the amount of food they ate (portion sizes relative to what their goals/needs are) and sometimes it delves into certain “bad” ingredients (high sodium, aspartame, etc.)
What strikes me as funny, if you will, is that what a client thinks is bad, typically isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I have clients with a history of binge eating and while a distinct overconsumption of foods may be “bad” for the goal and “bad” for the psyche, we’ll consider binge eating somewhat beyond the scope of this conversation. My kind advice is to seek out a therapist who has a background in dealing with the psychological aspect of this and perhaps a dietitian who can help facilitate better eating behaviors as well.
I’ll offer my thoughts based on what I hear most often with my clients.
A) Choice Of Food
If I’m coaching a client with their diet, we might be talking about their fat loss progress throughout a given week. Whether the scale is up or down, there’s a good chance I’ll hear something like this from Client A: “Well, I had a pretty good week until yesterday. Yesterday I was bad.”
“Why do you say you were bad?”
“Well, because I ate something I shouldn’t have.” Client A says.
“Really? What was that?”
“Oh, I had packed a lunch to bring to work but they had pizza delivered and it smelled really good so I had a slice.” Client A mentions.
“So, what’s wrong with pizza?”
“I mean, it’s not healthy, right? And it has a lot of calories.”
“Sure. Potentially it does have a lot of calories but you only had one slice and it sounds like the rest of your day went according to plan, right?”
“Not exactly. I felt bad that I had pizza so then, when I got home that night I said “Screw it, I’ve already messed up the diet with the pizza, I might as well have that dessert I’ve been holding off on and I’ll try and get back to my diet the next day.”
And this is my big issue with shaming ourselves around food. Once we set the ball in motion that a “bad” choice was made, rather than halt the process, the snowball builds and a fairly innocuous meal turns into a day of counterproductive eating. Then the client ends the day on a low note, feeling bad about themselves and their choices and “hopes” (operative word) that next day will be better.
The effects of how we eat often have less to do with what we put in our mouths and more to do with how we treat ourselves as a result of it.
So that was an example of quality of food dictating our eating behavior. What about quantity of food?
B) Food Quantity
Recently, I was having a consultation with a weight loss client and I remarked how I had been working through a sweet tooth in the evening after dinner.
For me, I found that a cinnamon graham cracker could satisfy that little bit of sweet that I needed. Normally, the one sheet (4 small rectangles) is enough for me. (Total calories, approx 65).
My client thought that sounded like something worth trying. That night she opted for graham crackers and ended up finishing the sleeve (total calories, approx 560).
Did I shame her? Absolutely not.
All I asked her to consider was that maybe that wasn’t her ideal food. Maybe, for her, something safer would be dark chocolate. For someone else, it might be a serving of fruit.
This is where it takes some honesty with yourself and determining:
What do I feel that I need right now?
What can I tolerate in moderation?
Is it easier to abstain for the time being?
Am I actually hungry for more food or would something else suffice?
(You may want to write those things down as well).
C) Foods We Fear
For as long as we, the general public, have been reading about nutrition, we’ve had a target to take aim at and be afraid of. Sometimes, it’s eggs or butter or aspartame or high sodium foods. There can be a shred of truth to those depending on if you have a pre-existing health condition or an intolerance to a given food.
That fear then transitioned into whole food groups and people began to fear grains as a whole or fruit as a whole, vegans of course strip out all animal products (although the reasoning isn’t necessarily out of fear), while on the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the carnivore diet that just leaves meat on the menu. Three cheers for a nation of extremes…
Which lends the “bad” choice to be anytime we consume something we were taught (even incorrectly) to fear. Imagine if someone said Oreos were cancerous!
I often find that the food many people have been led to fear are foods they were misled about and may need to reconsider the source of their information.
Here are some strategies for conquering the notion of a “bad” diet and making it better by comparison.
- Remember, first and foremost, that what you eat does not dictate your value as a person. Whether you eat more or less, whether you eat “clean” or “dirty”, you are still a perfectly functional human being and your self worth goes well beyond what’s sold in a grocery store.
- Reduce your exposure to social media channels, platforms, pages and people who don’t help you foster a healthier relationship with food. It’s difficult to be on social media and not get lost in comparisons. If you see a fit person who gloats about eating a cupcake and keeping their washboard stomach, it’s not that it isn’t inspirational but you don’t want resentment guiding your food choices either. They’re working with a different set of circumstances than you are and the comparisons are hardly fair (assuming the person’s image hasn’t been photoshopped beyond recognition…)
- Build a food environment that breeds success. The foods that are more visible and easier to access in the home are the foods that you will likely gravitate to faster. So, if chips are out on the counter instead of fruit, you’re probably going to reach for the chips.
- Alcohol changes the way the game is played. You may have the best intentions with your food for the evening but not everyone can follow the straight and narrow after the first drink. Determine where and how alcohol can be a part of your plan if you’re currently trying to diet.
- “Is this the most caring thing I can do for myself right now?” This was affectionately taken from my dear friend, Kelly Coffey. Rather than attach a feeling such as good/bad, right/wrong, ask yourself if the eating behavior is what your body and mind need the most. If so, carry on without guilt. If not, choose a more “caring” option.
- You can change your entire trajectory at the next meal. Regardless of what you ate, how you ate it, or how much of it you consumed, your next best opportunity to change course is at the next meal. Make a plan to do so.
- Hope is for gamblers. I referenced the word “hope” earlier in this article. I constantly hear clients say “I hope I do better tomorrow”, “I hope I make the right decision with my food”. Rather than leave your food up to whim, willpower and chance, plan more effectively, develop strategies, and form healthy skills. Get the family involved. You’ll need their help. You can “hope” for a winning lottery ticket but if your food needs to be on point, don’t hope for it, plan for it.
“We Make Great People Greater”