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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.


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