Purpose – why does this matter?
If the COVID pandemic has made anything clear it’s that our physical health is one of the most important insurance policies we can have against the slings and arrows life throws our way from time to time. Bottom line, human beings are happier and harder to kill when they are healthy. We also know that our choices and habits around nutrition are fundamental to our overall health. So it seems that we know what we should do now we just need to do it. Easy enough to manage? Sorta.
If eating clean were easy everyone would be doing it. Turns out, pizza is good. Ice cream is good. French fries are goooood. Some even say Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are good…
Eating clean in modern life requires the will to pursue healthy living, the knowledge and tools to point in the right direction, and the discipline to follow through. The quality and length of your life depends on it.
So if, ultimately, if our goal is to live a happy and healthy life we need to have a game-plan for our nutrition. Today we’re going to tackle the “how” – we’ll take a look at the “what,” “when,” and “why” in another post.
Method – how do we do it?
Upgrading to a healthier diet generally requires a plan, changes to your environment, and the willpower to see it through. We’ll cover all three here.
Plan+ Willpower[i] +Environment
First, any plan starts with meaningful, achievable goals. Whether your objectives are based in performance or body composition you’ll want to start with a goal. Consider starting small with something you can control. You may not be able to directly ensure you lose 5 lbs, but you can certainly control whether you stick to your plan for 10 straight days. Set goals and write them down. Things get real when you see the words on the page.
We’re not covering specific dietary habits in this post, but suffice to say you should do your homework on that front before changing your eating habits. In the end, choose foods that will get you where you want to go whether your goals are performance, body composition or otherwise. Again, we’ll dig more into this in another Debrief post!
Second, set yourself up for success[ii]. There’s a laundry list of items that we could list here, but we’ll cover two of the most important.
- Meal Prep. One of the biggest barriers to a consistent healthy diet is lack of convenience. It’s a hassle to cook a handful of super healthy meals every day. Certainly not as easy as going to the fast food spot around the corner. Make life easy and do the work at once.
Start with doing your grocery shopping all at once every week. Make a plan for your meals, write down what you’ll need to make it happen, and go to the store with a plan! Pro-tip: shop around the edge of the store (i.e. fresh vegetables, fruits, and meats). Nothing good happens in the aisles – never go there.
With the shopping complete, do yourself a favor and set a few hours aside on Sunday afternoon to cook literally every meal you intend to eat during the week. This will take some practice – if you’re like me you’ll start off slow, but get more efficient as you go.
Preparing your meals in one shot will take the place of a lot of willpower. If you have healthy choices readily available your willpower won’t have to work overtime. The next piece of hacking willpower is removing temptation.
- Remove Temptation. Oscar Wilde famously said, “I can resist everything except temptation.” Heard that.
Grab a trash bag and throw all of the unhealthy foods away. Now. Especially when you’re just getting started, your home should be void of foods that are off limits. Again, you are hacking willpower and making it easier in your weakest moments to make the healthy choice. You’ll thank yourself when you’ve had a rough day at work and a box of Girl Scout cookies sounds good for dinner.
Third, schedule breaks and rewards. Cognitively, it’s much harder to change your behavior cold-turkey than it is to give yourself some wiggle room. Consider making Saturday a cheat day (within reason - don’t be that guy who eats a straight cake diet once a week). Alternatively, treat yourself to a massage on Saturday’s after a successful week of healthy eating. When you’re struggling to choose between fruit or pancakes for breakfast you’ll be more likely to make the healthy choice when you’ve got a glorious massage paid-in-full hanging in the balance!
Finally, mistakes happen – don’t dwell on it. We all fail from time to time. What’s important is what you do next. Do not let one failure snowball into another. Forgive yourself and move ahead. There’s no sense in looking backwards. Enough said.
End-state – what does the world look like once I’ve mastered this?
Disciplined eating is a bit of a misnomer. It does takes discipline at the beginning to know what you need to do and to do it. However, once you reach escape velocity, you will no longer have to tap into your willpower stores to make the right call. You will simply know what you like and what you like is what is good for you.
After resetting what is “normal” in your diet you will be in a position to back off to more of an 80/20 style diet – eating a clean diet 80% of the time and off-roading a little bit in the other 20%. Laird Hamilton, big wave surfer and epic human, has spoken of his policy of treating his body like a truck not a Ferrari. We think there’s merit to that. If you set a strong foundation of healthy eating it won’t really matter if, every once in a while, you have a slice of pizza. The issue is only when that becomes the norm and not the exception. And to get there, you might need to reset and recalibrate.
What you put into your body is largely responsible for your overall health – both body and mind. Make life easy by developing, and hacking, your discipline where you can. You’ll be glad you did.
Drop a comment below if you have any other advice I didn’t touch on or any questions. As always, we are all ears!