The other day I joined a group of women for a business networking lunch. As I sat down, one of them asked me the one question that I refuse to answer:
You’re a nutrition habit coach, right? What should I eat?
Unfortunately there is no easy answer to this question. That’s like walking up to a career counsellor who knows nothing about your talents or interests and asking what career you should pursue. Or walking up to a marriage counsellor and asking if your marriage is going to last when she knows nothing about you, or your partner, or your situation. (Hint: meet her in her office, let her get some background, then you might get somewhere with this conversation!)
But I’ll admit, there is one question that I hate even more than the question of “what should I eat?”… and here it is:
What should I stop eating? Sugar? Carbs?
This question: Drives. Me. Crazy. Because in reality, there’s no one food that will make or break your success in fitness and nutrition. There’s nothing you need to cut out entirely to get healthy and fit, and to be honest, most people have more consistent, sustainable results without restricting or cutting out any one food or food group entirely. For everyone in the back, let me get out my megaphone: most people will see results NOT by restricting or fad dieting, but by learning to master the art of balance.
I do have an exception to this: there is one thing I think everyone should cut out of their diet, their exercise choices, and their mindsets…
- Extremism is your worst enemy when it comes to sustainable success.
- Extremism tells you that you’re either “on” a diet or “off” a diet.
- Extremism tells you that 20 minutes of exercise isn’t enough, so you might as well skip any exercise.
- Extremism tells you that all chocolate is always off-limits, and if you eat one piece, you might as well eat the whole box.
- Extremism tells you that you have to lose 10 pounds a month or you aren’t successful.
- Extremism is everywhere!
Extreme weight loss, extreme diet restriction, extreme workouts… The problem is that these extremes are incredibly appealing when we’re feeling super motivated… but as the time goes on, we become less excited about eating another carefully portioned out chicken breast, and we go back to the other extreme: eatallthethings.
These extremes are all over the market, not because they’re more effective (they aren’t!) than less extreme approaches, but because they sell like hotcakes. And I understand the appeal. We see a 30-day “before” and “after” shot with extreme changes and think we want that too… Yet we never stop and consider what happens on day 31. Because day 31 is when the binge eating starts. Day 31 is when the weight starts coming back on again.
Side Note: Why do people binge after a diet? Listen to our podcast What a 70-Year-Old Starvation Experiment Taught Us About Dieting
We need fewer before and after shots and more before & after-the-after shots.
Extreme success isn’t sustainable success, and you deserve better than that.
What’s the Alternative to Extremism?
People find us because they want to get healthy for life, not just for the next 30 days, or 21 days, or however many days the next best program is (no kidding, there’s a 3-day diet now!). It’s time to find some alternatives to extremism. Here are three that I propose to you.
Balance is the new moderation. Because balance is actually the key to moderation.
When it comes to food and nutrition, everyone is screaming about how __________ makes you fat.
Carbs make you fat
Alcohol makes you fat
Eating at night makes you fat
Dessert makes you fat.
My response: none of those things make you fat! It’s overeating ANY of these things that will lead a person to putting on weight… It’s about the overall pattern of consumption, not any one food.
Balance is finding a way to enjoy the foods you love without feeling the need to cut out anything entirely. Balance is getting adequate protein, enough highly satisfying foods, and the nutrients your body needs while still enjoying your favorite treats, dinner out, or a glass of wine from time to time.
Balance is exercising and moving your body in a way that helps you feel more energized and more likely to eat well…. Not movement that leaves you crashing on the couch for days afterwards because you’re exhausted and sore, or inhaling an entire Costco sized bag of Doritos because you’re starving.
Side note: if you’re struggling to find balance and you don’t know why, check out our podcast 10 Personality Traits of Overeaters.
Extremism teaches us that we’d better be perfect on the first try.
Get the workout guide, and do the whole damn thing. Can’t jump rope because of an injury? Fight through the pain or you’ve failed! Print the meal plan and shopping list and follow it to a “T.” Don’t have dijon mustard? Don’t use yellow mustard instead, you might as well quit!
It may sound silly when I say it that way, but really there’s a level of perfectionism that is inferred by much of the fitness and nutrition industry: if you can’t do it right, you may as well not do it at all. We call this all-or-nothing thinking at Balance365. And it’s become the dominant voice in most people’s heads.
The truth is, no one “gets it” all on the first try. Even if you think you’ve found the “perfect” way of eating for you, or the “perfect” workout plan for you… life always comes up, things get in the way, and there’s a learning curve to everything.
The truth is we have to constantly keep learning and developing new skills, and they don’t come overnight. We have to have a different way of gauging success than “I did it right” or “I did it wrong….” and that’s where progress becomes the most important thing ever.
When you’re feeling like you’re not doing everything right, focus instead on how you’re making progress… Because the truth is, progress is all that matters (perfect is an illusion).
Once you understand balance and progress, consistency can be easy. Without the other two, consistency is impossible. We’re not talking about consistently doing things perfectly… We’re talking about consistently doing something. If you’ve had a rough week, understand that going for a leisurely walk instead of hitting the gym is still movement, and is still better than doing nothing. In fact, maybe it’s exactly what you need. We need to shift our all-or-nothing thinking to all-or-something.
Just because you aren’t craving a hearty salad, doesn’t mean you have to get a triple cheeseburger with fries and ice cream for dessert. You can get a burger with a side salad, a wrap with extra veggies, or a soup and sandwich. There are many options between ALL or NOTHING when it comes to nutrition and fitness goals. (And we would argue the only TRULY “bad” option is not eating at all – so get that triple cheeseburger if it’s *really* what you want!)
When you do something every day that brings you closer to your goals, without expecting perfection or going to extremes, you’ll see more progress in the long term than if you got overwhelmed trying to do it all and ended up doing nothing.
Just keep taking baby steps towards those goals.