Everybody has that one food they can't live without. And I'm not talking vitamin rich, low calorie foods. You may say you can't live without kale but you're not kidding anyone. I'm talking about the type of foods that Jillian Michaels would force you to do burpees for eating. These foods won't particularly help you towards you fitness goals, yet we still gravitate to them for one reason or another. Sometimes it's because they taste frickin awesome, other times it because they help us to reminisce about our past.
For me, this food is ice cream. I have been eating ice cream my whole life but for the last 10 years I've probably eaten it on average 4 nights/wk. There are many other sweets I enjoy but none of them I need like I need ice cream. When I use the word need I'm talking in terms of mental need rather than a survival need. I can go without pizza and I'll choose a salad over the fries, but when it comes to ice cream I cannot negotiate.
Allowing myself to have ice cream gives my self-control a break. I only have so much self-control allotted each day. If cut out my beloved ice cream then others areas of my life will suffer. Sure, this sounds dramatic but it's true.
In this article I'm going to explain why it's ok to have your beloved favorite food. In fact it's not only possible but important for us to be open to some allowances in our diet.
In the fitness world, there are often two types of people. There are those that believe in moderation and then there are those that go in all-or-nothing. The all-or-nothing camp usually does great for a period of time but when they fall off the wagon, they fall hard. One slip typically causes a cascade effect of binging and no exercise. The moderation crowd doesn't focus on perfection. They allow flexibility in their diet but try to keep the majority of their choices healthy. Both strategies can lead to results. The difference between the two is how long-lasting these results are.
Committing to your fitness requires change. And change is hard, especially changing big components of your lifestyle. The key to changing your lifestyle is creating healthy habits in place of the bad habits. When you're trying to break many bad habits at once, there a lot of change required. The problem with attempting to take on too much change is it can lead to failure.
As much as we all like to think we are great at multi-tasking, the fact is nobody is. If you are trying to focus on changing all things at once, you are going to find yourself overwhelmed. Finding progress is about focus. There are big rocks and then there are smalls rocks. The big rocks are the habits that are going to make a large dent in your progress. The small rocks are the habits that will only make a slight difference in the overall scheme of things.
If you focus on all the rocks you will lose steam quick. We have a limited amount of self-control, overtaxing it leads to a negative relationship with food and exercise. This in turn leads to being either always starving or binging. This is why it's important to only spend your energy on the habits that will make the most impact. Some of these big rocks could be: working out 3-5x/wk, drinking half your body weight in water, eating a serving of protein at every meal or eating 5+ servings of veggies and fruit everyday. Focusing on maintaining consistency in these habits will have the greatest impact on your results.
The small rocks are those things in your diet that you would mentally suffer from if you took it away. For some people, this might be cream in their coffee. For others, it might be a small serving of ice cream. These are your non-negotiables. The impact that removing these would have on your overall progress is much smaller. But the impact they have on your sanity is huge.
The key to being successful, while still allowing for your "small rocks, lies in is being able to compensate in other areas. While I still eat my ice cream, I compensate by not adding cream to my coffee, or sour cream to my burrito bowl. Everyone's non-negotiable will be different. Maybe you need to have cream in your coffee. No worries, just pass on the ice cream after dinner. Or maybe you want to have that B-day cake at your kid's party. Cool, then just skip the pizza and opt for a salad for dinner instead. A successful diet shouldn't involve cutting all "bad" foods out of your diet. Instead, it should include those foods you love whilst substituting healthier options for foods you can live without.
Establishing your big rocks and figuring out your non-negotiable takes time. But once you do you can start weeding out some of the things that you don’t love, and begin to make some concessions. This way you still are able to eat the foods you love, keeping your will-power in check while continuing to make progress towards your goals.