Skip to main content

Caught short - how to avoid "blowing the diet" when life surprises you

It becomes clear, the more I work with clients on their nutrition skills, that knowing what to eat to meet their health goals is rarely their real sticking point. Most people who are aware enough to seek out a nutrition coach know what to eat; they just have trouble making that happen consistently. Life gets in the way.

A little while back I wrote about how our social obligations can sabotage our healthy eating plans. Today I want to look at what happens when life throws a curveball and you get the opportunity to go off plan.

Planning and Preparation Prevent Profuse Profligacy

So yes, you might know what you would like to do with your nutrition, but how are you going to achieve that?

The first rule of nutrition, is that if the food is there, you will eat it. If it is not, then you cannot eat it.

Because of this, shopping, meal planning and food preparation are the most important skills for anyone wanting to work on their eating habits.

So lets say we have identified that you have a tendency to eat half a packet of shortbread with your morning coffee and that would be a good area to work on. We could look at reducing the number of shortbread by one or two to start with, that's the "low hanging fruit" or we could go for all out replacement. You no longer keep shortbread in your cupboard, or maybe you keep a snack pack of 2 biscuits for emergencies, and you choose a slightly healthier alternative, then make sure that is always in the cupboard instead.

Letting go of the shortbread sounds harder (I understand, I'm a recovering shortbread addict too) but actually, it's easier to replace it, and take away the option. That way you don't have to make the decision to stop reaching for the packet when it's RIGHT THERE LOOKING AT YOU.

Often automating decisions, having a plan set out in advance, is a great way to help you towards your goals. Making decisions is hard. It's harder when you are hungry, or tired, or when you have had a lot on your mind (we call this decision fatigue). Take away the need to make a decision and everything gets simpler.

When life goes off the rails

So I am talking to a client about how her week in food choices has gone, and she is making great progress, but there's been a couple of slip ups, which is also GREAT because that gives us something chewy to work on

On Tuesday, she had to unexpectedly work late. She worked past lunch time and then had to go on to an appointment. So she ran by the supermarket and picked up something easy. It was unexpected. She was tired and really hungry. So she slipped into the easiest routine, and grabbed a sausage roll and a sugary drink. 

Then at the weekend, she was driving to see her family. She stopped at a service station to eat, which wasn't something she had really thought about. So she got a burger and fries from the fast food counter. She ate it because she was hungry, but she admitted she didn't even really enjoy it, she's lost her taste for that kind of thing. It was just that's where her old routines automatically took her.

Get your gameplan on

The solution to this problem is fairly simple. You have to expect the unexpected! Have a plan for when you go off plan!

I got this article in my email recently, about what a nutritionist would eat at Gregg's. It was quite fun, and it got me thinking about what I would do. I didn't have to think very long though, because I have a plan.

Actually the first thing I thought is "if I'm in Greggs,  I'm getting a doughnut because Gregg's is probably on a high street, which means there will be a small food store nearby and *that* is where I am going if I want to get something healthy".

This is my gameplan. If I need to buy a quick lunch from a high street or supermarket situation, I have a chicken salad sandwich on sliced granary bread (not a baguette). Sorted. Everyone has them. I do have an alternate, which is to go to the deli section and buy sliced or fillets of chicken and eat that with a green salad or one of those pots of beans and green stuff - or in an absolute push, with a pack or raw, pre-prepared veg (carrot sticks, baby corn, raw brocolli), and a yoghurt. It's not standard sandwich-section fare, but it's generically available and it fits my plan.

Or I eat a tin of fish, because I've always got one in my handbag, with a fork. Yes, I know, my tin of fish thing is weird, but it works for me!

Have a gameplan for service stations, coffee shops, children's parties, buffets. Know what you are most likely to see on offer there, and decide in advance, how you are going to make that work for you?

Have non perishables in your cupboards at home. Stuff you can throw in your bag if you are called out at short notice and need a packed lunch. Things like oatcakes, peanut butter, instant protein porridge, protein bars, tins of fish! Dried fruit, nuts, apples... It doesn't matter what it is, as long as you like it, and it fits your nutrition goals. Make sure that is always restocked.

Eating healthy shouldn't feel restrictive

The key to sustainable healthy eating, is to develop habits that fit into your lifestyle, so that your go-to foods at any point are the ones that keep you on track towards your goals. Highly restrictive eating is difficult, stress and complication makes it hard to keep with. The habits we do keep are the ones that are simple and enjoyable to practice day after day.

I've had personal training clients ask me for a meal plan, but this isn't something I offer. It's not helpful as it is so easily thrown off course. What is better is to start with their current eating habits, and gradually make comfortable, achievable adjustments, to mould it into something that better fits their needs. Learning skills like recognising hunger and satiety, or building balanced meals, or selecting a well-aligned choice from *any* menu mean that they can cope with whatever strange situations they find themselves in, without feeling like they have gone "off track". 

Sometimes, it still goes awry, and that's OK too. Learning to enjoy the process and accept the ups and downs with curiosity and good humour means that to odd inconsistency is all just part of the ride, and nothing to dwell too hard on.


Popular posts from this blog

Training with Fibromyalgia - a primer for Fitness Professionals

Fitness and Fibromyalgia
The second of my posts about training clients with chronic illness (the first on EDS is here)

Learning how to achieve fitness in a chronically ill body was first my way of life, and later, my profession; as I train or programme for a number of Personal Training clients. I have EDS and Fibromyalgia (which commonly presents alongside EDS).

While the physiology and mechanisms behind EDS are relatively well understood, at least in terms of recognising the roles collagen plays in our bodies and the effects of an anomaly, fibromyalgia is a bit of a tricky one. The diagnosis, causes and management of fibromyalgia are not very well understood, and while progress is being made in terms of recognising physiological markers etc, we are still very much in the dark.

One thing that is generally agreed on however, is that exercise is good therapy for fibromyalgia, and that's where we come in.

Scope of practice
Here we go again...

Fitness professionals are there to help …

But how can you be an athlete when you are sick?

Training through chronic illness - living life on the edge.
I'm living a double life.

My superhero persona goes to the gym and lifts enormous weights. She's vital and has her life together. Endless to-do lists in a bullet journal, juggling work and kids and being an athlete and performer with theatrical effortlessness.

Then there's the secret side people don't see, where I lie on the sofa in my flare day leggings and fleece, clutching a cup of tea for the slight relief the warmth affords my stiff, clawed hands.

I know I'm not the only one. I know a lot of athletes living with chronic illness. Outwardly fitter and busier than the average person, inwardly wracked with pain and fatigue.

There are two ways people tend to interpret this. Either we are not as sick as we claim, or we are stupidly putting our health at risk doing sport that seems counter-intuitive to our well being. The reality is a lot more complicated. I wanted to formulate a decent answer to "why …

Training Ehlers Danlos Athletes - a primer for the Fitpro.

When you have a rare health condition, it's pretty exciting when you encounter someone who knows about it. Even more so when you encounter people who are interested in it and more importantly, understanding how to bridge the gap and work with it.

This is why I am really happy to be seeing more and more fitness professionals asking "I have a client with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, what do I need to know?"

As a fitpro, and athlete living with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome I am always happy to chat to trainers looking to broaden their understanding, and as I am often answering the same questions, I thought it would be good to do a write up.

Quick disclaimer before we start - I'm not a medic, and this is not for medics. I'm going to provide you with as many references as I can, but please seek specific medical input from your/your client's health care professionals. And with that we get to our first point.

Scope of practice.
Quick, check your job title. Are you a personal tr…

What's the deal with yoga and hypermobility?

I wanted to address a question today that keeps coming up on various hypermobility and EDS forums that I frequent. It comes up so often in fact that I feel like I have to write this all up in one place, to save me 1000s of key strokes of individual responses and distil some of my opinions and thought processes on the matter.

It always goes like this. Someone asks a question like "I've just been diagnosed with hypermobility, I've been told I can't do yoga anymore..."

The responses are always a mixture of "yes, my doctor/physio told me yoga was the worst thing I could do for my hypermobility" and "I do yoga and it's been the best thing for my hypermobility".

So what gives?

Well, I'm firmly in the "yoga is useful" camp, and I have to disclose that. I'm a yoga practitioner of around 20 years and a perinatal yoga teacher, as well as a personal trainer and bendy person.

While I have the deepest respect for the medical professio…

I'm going to help you find the best diet for you!

It's the most common question people ask me when they find out I'm a Nutritionist:

"What's the best diet?"
So today, I am going to tell you... You are welcome.

The best diet for what?
So the first question I will ask is... what are your goals? What are you actually trying to achieve?

Gym culture tends to revolve around bodybuilders, because it tends to glorify that aesthetic. But a bodybuilder's eating habits are really not very helpful for someone who is working out 3-4 times a week and trying to lose weight.

Eating for performance is a very different beast from eating for weight loss, and both of those can be very different from eating for good health.

[for instance the protocols I would use to help a physique competitor cut fat for stage are very different from how I would handle a non-athlete wanting to lose fat for health; and also very different from how I would support a weight-class athlete, like a boxer or powerlifter, cut weight for competition.]