The Two Main Reasons Why We Fail at Healthy Eating
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Over the years, I've helped many people transition into a vegan diet. I've heard countless stories, and still do to this day. I went through my own transformation as well, and saw up close how that transition went for my husband and a few close family and friends that decided to join us.
To this day I still have weekly conversations with people who have either transitioned or are trying to transition to a healthier way of eating, and the main question I always ask them is this: "what are you struggling with?".
Here's the deal, no matter what diet we follow, or even if we've made it all the way to healthy vegan town, we still struggle sometimes and wonder what choices to make with all the information that is out there. Every single vegan I know, and every single aspiring vegan I know, has struggled at some point with making healthy choices. Many years ago the only options for vegans were quite literally the whole plant foods that are kings in health and nutrition, but fortunately for our taste buds and sometimes unfortunately for our purchasing decisions, now we can have anything our little hearts desire.
This is great, and every time I see new vegan products I do a little dance, but the truth is that now it's easier to dig into something yummy that might not be as healthy, and this brings us to today's topic. After talking to so many people who are putting a ton of energy into improving their eating habits, what I've discovered is that moments of making unhealthier choices usually stem from two main factors, and these are what I'm going to help you manage and understand in today's post.
Note that the title of this post says "fail", why we "fail" at healthy eating. Let me just say one thing, I don't think this word means anything, and I don't think this is even real, unless you make it real and you use these moments as an excuse to completely abandon your new healthier and more natural ways of eating. But "failure" is totally in the eye of the beholder, and frankly I'm calling BS on the whole concept, but more on that at the end.
Before I tell you what those two main factors are though, I think we need to define what eating healthy really means. The truth is there isn't just one definition because we are all so different. Some people have more restrictions because they're struggling with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer or auto immune diseases. Some people have food allergies or intolerances that will give their definition a completely different hue than mine. Generally speaking though, this is what healthy eating means to me:
- It means not consuming animal products, not only because of the countless studies that now link these products to a myriad of chronic illnesses, but also because to me, healthy eating also has to do with how our choices impact the world around us, and how we start to benefit in countless ways when we realize that our actions really do matter and have an impact in the world. In the case of eating plant based, health also means the health of our planet, and the well-being of animals. For me, our physical health and these two factors are completely linked, and if you've read my personal story here, you'll see how the changes I went through started from an emotional and psychological standpoint, and that these then started informing my eating habits and I started making better and better choices every day. The biggest "health" change for me was not in the physical effects the food gave me (although I had plenty of those too), it was in the way I related to food which had always been a struggle for me. Weird but true! I had spent most of my life struggling with portion control, emotional eating and overeating, and seeing food as something that impacted greater things other than just my tastebuds was huge for me.
- Healthy eating also means choosing whole plant based foods as much as possible, the foods nature provides that come without labels, that our bodies know what to do with, and with which you can make the most delicious vegan goodies that make you feel good and make your taste buds happy.
- Healthy eating also means, and this part is crucial, than rather than becoming what so many of us are trying to be, what I call the PPP: "a perfect pure plant based eater", healthy eating is also all about being flexible, being able to enjoy yourself, not over-obsessing about eating "clean" or never touching sugar, or never eating a delicious vegan sausage or processed food, or a single drop of oil. Healthy eating is as much about the mind and your emotional well-being as it is about your body.
- Healthy eating also means that you shouldn't isolate yourself. That there are countless ways in which you can share with others and be social while still eating the way you've chosen to eat even when no one else understands it or wants to join you.
- Healthy eating means that you're listening to your body, and not spending so much of your precious time trying to count calories, grams of fat or carbs, when your body can guide you towards the right choices when you listen to your own hunger and fullness signals and start getting acquainted with your stomach again.
- Healthy eating includes having salads as well as having desserts. It should include whatever adjustments you need to make to help you feel normal, because you totally are!
- Got it?! Awesome!
Now that we've given a new definition to healthy eating, let's talk about those two factors many people don't realize are affecting their long term goals a lot. The two areas that make people stray and go back to old and unhealthier ways of eating, throwing in the towel too soon and turning a blind eye to all the information they were starting to get passionate about, and to all the small steps they had already conquered without realizing it.
Main Reason Why we Fail at Healthy Eating #1: The Salad Turned Saboteur
We've all been there, we overdo it at dinner or on vacation, have one too many glasses of wine, second servings of dessert, we eat until we're so full we can't move and then the next morning we feel bloated and incredibly guilty. We declare we're simply having salad today.
Now, you know me, I love salads. I've got absolutely nothing against them, but again, after listening to all those stories, the "salad" (or insert healthy food item with minimal calories here) always made an appearance.
It's not the salad per se, I can tell you that I include salads in my diet every single day of the week. What I'm referring to is that little piece of very "light" and seemingly healthy option you punish your previous choices with.
It can be deciding to have a day for juicing, or deciding you'll simply skip breakfast and have a smoothie for lunch.
Having a balancing act with richer and lighter meals is something everyone does naturally, but sometimes we take it to the extreme and have such a low calorie meal and one that is less filling, that what results is the opposite of what we want to achieve.
For many of the people I've talked to, those very low calorie meals usually result in overeating in quite a few meals afterwards, eating meals that are very high in processed foods or fried foods, These foods start creating even more cravings for these foods and suddenly we're off the healthy boat. Man overboard.
How to prevent it
Given these facts, what should we do to balance things out when we've had a big meal, we just came back from traveling, or it's right after the holidays, our birthday, or any occasion in which we felt we overdid it? What can we do to not overcompensate in such a way that the solution is even worse than what sent us down the rabbit hole?
First, understand that meals that include a little overindulgence are completely normal.
We all go through them, especially around the holiday season, traveling, or social engagements. Understanding that this isn't a reason to go nutty with guilt and pay the piper later is very important.
The work needs to start while you're having the heavier meals, not after.
Rather than walking into it with a sense of "well I'm here so I might as well...", which almost always makes your brain and body turn off while you eat because you don't want to overthink it, I want you to completely embrace the experience. Go into it with total awareness. Total awareness means no guilt, it means being open to enjoying yourself and savoring every bite, it means realizing that you can have moments like these whenever you want to and that this isn't your last delicious supper. Do it in a way that will relax you, prepare you for proper digestion, that will make you enjoy the moment with friends and family, and check in with your body throughout the meal to see where your hunger and fullness signals are at. Since there's no stress, or guilt, or mindless indulgence and the promise of payback tomorrow, you're more likely to stop when you're full, and a heavier meal just becomes a special delicious meal that you don't have to pay for tomorrow.
Don't punish yourself through food restriction and exercise the next day.
I can promise you that although it might feel like the right thing to do, it almost always backlashes. Instead of eating minimal portions, the classic green salad that will only fill you up for the next half hour, and having a horrible time for an hour on the spin bike, I want you to get grounded.
I'll try to write a post on grounding soon, since I feel food is one of the best tools to help ground you and make you return to your happy balanced place, but for now I can tell you that the best way to eat after a day of overindulgence is to eat your normal plant based meals, with an emphasis on two things. Including filling foods like sweet potatoes, whole grains and beans, lots of vibrant veggies, and have everything be prepared as simple as possible. These are what I like to call back to Earth and grounding foods and they're so amazing for making you feel better. Great dishes in these departments are veggie bowls (check out some ideas in this video we did with Vegan Outreach), and stir fries with just a little soy sauce as a sauce. The idea is to never eliminate those foods that are actually filling, that are going to make you feel full and relaxed, and some simple legumes, whole grains, sweet potatoes and other colorful veggies are amazing for this.
Practice mindful eating like a pro on this day.
Make it your top priority and you'll start feeling a difference immediately and especially realize that you can stop that indulgence/punishment cycle you've probably been on so many times in the past (for more on mindful eating read this).
Listen to your body when it comes to exercise, and move in grounding ways
When it comes to exercise, I find that after a very heavy meal, I'm much more tired and sluggish the next day, so forcing myself to do a very strong workout goes against everything my body is telling me to do. Instead I do physical activities that are also grounding, like yoga, walking, hiking, a gentle bike ride or stretching. These milder activities will get your body moving, help with digestion, mood, and they'll keep you a little more centered and help you practice mindful eating on that day as well.
Main Reason Why We Fail at Healthy Eating #2: Not Planning Ahead
After the post indulgence mini green salad mistake, not planning ahead and being disorganized is the second reason why I see people jump off the healthy eating train.
In our busy lives we're so pressed for time, our energy is often depleted because we don't get proper sleep, stress is a constant in our lives, so there's no wonder that if you're hungry and facing an empty fridge, or having to cook an entire meal from scratch, you'll go for the takeout drawer, the vending machine, the pint of ice cream in the freezer or the fast food drive through.
The key to this issue, which is the most common one I see when people go back to old habits, is to start putting systems into place so that you always have healthy food available and you have a plan.
Once these systems are put into place all you have to do is follow them, and you'll have healthy options at your fingertips no matter how tired or pressed for time you are. I'm talking of course about two of my favorite topics: meal planning and batch cooking.
So many of us wait until we're hungry to decide what to eat, and that's when unhealthier options sneak back in, it's too late when you've got that tummy rumbling and your cravings are a bit more on edge. We often go for what's quickest, easiest, or, we utter these very typical words "there's nothing to eat" when in fact you have a fully stocked fridge and pantry but you just can't "see" what's available.
Planning your meals ahead of time, either at the beginning of the week or simply the night before is one of my favorite tools for healthy eating and it just never lets me down. Batch cooking is its bff, since once you have a few ready made staples in the fridge, meal planning becomes easier, and all you have to do is quickly assemble and add some variations throughout the week, but the work is already done.
My favorites for batch cooking are foods that take up a lot of time to cook, like making a big pot of grains and a big pot of beans at the beginning of the week. Grilling extra veggies when you have a BBQ, or roasting a big batch of vegetables or sweet potatoes, making a salad dressing for the week, and pre-cutting some veggies and preparing some hummus for snacks, are all great ideas that help save time and stick to healthy choices.
You didn't think I'd leave you with just that did you?
We've created a brand new FREE video series that will take you much deeper into getting organized, meal planning with our two favorite methods, my secret tool of the kitchen binder, batch cooking, and even some of the tools we discussed above such as mindful eating. Getting organized is such a big part of eating healthily and so many people sweep it under the rug thinking it's just another task, more time spent on something else when we should be crossing stuff off our to do lists.
I promise you that by incorporating these tools you'll be well on your way to finding balance even after periods of indulgence, so that you stay true to this path you're on, and stick to your new habits.
You can get started by clicking below and video 1 will arrive straight in your inbox! It's my favorite of all our video series series so far! (Plus I give you a tour of my fridge and pantry)
Before I go, I want you to rest assured that eating a healthy vegan diet is a journey, it's never a destination. I can tell you from personal experience that you will likely never have the "perfect" diet forever. There are days in which you drink a little too much, or had too much cake at a party, there are days in which you eat mindlessly or nervously, and there will be days in which you'll stray and make mistakes. This is a part of life, and the important thing is to not let these days or periods in your life make you throw in the towel. Instead, use them as jumping off points to getting centered again and finding a happy balance that does not include restriction.