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I keep saying this during conversations with clients, friends and strangers (pro tip – when you meet people while out for dinner or at a party, don’t tell them you’re a trainer unless you wanna hear their excuses for eating bad food in front of you. Ps – I don’t care, eat drink and be merry!). The conversation starts with how someone is trying to cut something out of their diet or is trying to eat better in general. We talk about what foods you can use to curb cravings or keep hunger at bay. By the end I always end up saying the same thing – food should be boring.
Variety is blessing and a curse. We can use it to maximize our nutrition by adding all sorts of fruits and vegetables for a wider range of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. But we can also become a slave to change. If we don’t know how to use herbs and spices and bring new life to old staples, then the healthy meals we eat become dull. This inevitably leads us to using foods that appeal to our tongues more than anything else, like sugar, salt and fats (the deep fried kind). When in doubt, deep fry it! Am I Right? No! That was a trick question!
We have made an art form out of pleasing our taste buds by exploiting our tendency for fatty or sugary foods that long ago would replenish much needed nutrition and energy reserves during times of rarity. It’s an amazing feat really – the highly manipulated use of foods to mesmerize nations into quiet acceptance of illness – mass suicide by muffins, also known as breakfast cake.
It’s not fun to eat the same thing for lunch everyday. Trust me I get it. I love going out to eat, I truly enjoy trying new foods or new combinations and I occasionally indulge in the fatty, sweet and salty goodness that tempts everyone else. But here’s the thing, food isn’t supposed to be fun. Its meant to sustain, nourish and build community. I do think that cooking and eating together is important. Removing this part of the equation will again push us towards fast food. When we don’t know how to cook, when we grow up without the knowledge of what is good for us, or where it comes from then we end up forgoing the whole thing.
The food itself can still taste good. But it shouldn’t have to tantalize our taste buds every gosh darn meal. I truly believe we all need to find a way to live with boring – to live with less. One of the best results from trying intermittent fasting for me was to remember what it was like to be hungry. Truly hungry. I mean, I’ve been hungry here and there but rarely has it been so apparent. I usually get to the point where my body says ‘hey, I think you’re forgetting something” but not the “For the love of god, feed us” point. It puts things into perspective. It awakens this deep genetic imprint, a feeling and reaction that our ancestors lived with on a fairly regular basis. It reminds me of how many people at this very moment don’t have enough food. Those people don’t give a damn about variety, they just want to survive.
I’m not saying that we need to return to this extreme. Don’t starve yourself and don’t limit your diet to bugs and mushrooms (sounds kinda good though). But cycling your meals on a weekly or even monthly basis is a good place to start. This is very effective for weight maintenance. Why? It allows your body to balance. When your nutrition intake is predictable your body can find hormonal balance, your digestive, lymphatic and immune systems work better and cognition and mood stabilizes. Of course, this is only true if you are eating foods that have enough vitamins and minerals and fuel your activity level. But we can figure this out a lot easier if you eat the same things. If you change your meals up all the time then its harder to track where/when your deficiencies are coming from.
If you want to lose weight, eat the same meals every day. Want to bulk up? Same thing. Are you trying to balance your hormones to get pregnant? Same same! Is it boring? Hell yes it is! But I really think it does us all some good to bring it back to boring.
The key to avoid committing crimes in the name of boredom is to cycle your meals. Start with 1 week. Plan out your meals for the entire week. Keep them simple so that your prep and cooking time isn’t insane. For example, I make a bean salad every week. I eat it at lunch and dinner. The size of the portion depends on whether I have something else prepped or not. Sometimes its a side and sometimes its a main. Here is the recipe –
With this super simple meal, I get plenty of protein, fiber, slow carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients and it’s cheap! Yes, if I made a baby with my girlfriend it would probably come out as a bean but I’ve become accustomed to this meal as a major staple of my diet and my digestive system loves this. When I remove it from my diet everything goes wonky.
I usually don’t eat this on the weekends. This seems to be a good cycle for me I get a bit of variety a couple days each week but the rest of the month(s) its the same. I actually look forward to it now! For those of my clients that are trying to lose weight (and we are on a macronutrient counting phase) keeping the same meals on rotation makes this whole process so much easier. We count everything out once and then they just repeat the same portion. If I try and get someone to count macros on a “free diet” it inevitably fails. Without mild OCD, almost no one can keep up this attention to detail for several weeks or months.
So, Is this sustainable? We have been reprogrammed to expect change and eat according to taste. I think it is if you don’t take it to an extreme. If you can cycle your foods 80% of the time and then allow for days or weeks where you focus on variety then you will be doing well. Once you’ve figured out your meals and taken into consideration adequate levels of macro and micronutrients you can rest easy knowing everything is accounted for and all you need to do is eat and move on. The time spent searching for a recipe is no longer an issue, you won’t be as tempted to fill your meals with easy carbs and before you know it your weight will begin to shift. As always though, if you have intense fitness goals, then you may need to be more consistent than 80%. If you don’t know how to manage your nutrients, hire someone to set out a plan for you.
Before you begin, find about 10 recipes that you really like. Try them out, experiment with spices and cooking methods to see what you enjoy the most but remember, keep it simple. Scrambled eggs are an easy breakfast. You can add vegetables and spices such as turmeric to keep things interesting. Try adding some heat! Spicy dishes release endorphins. If you find the right amount this may make a boring baked chicken into something you look forward to!
Example week for a moderately active client of mine. Portions will change for each oerson so I have not included measured amounts here.
1 day per week is a variety day – Anything goes as long as they stick to the same portions of macronutrients and include lots of vegetables. We switch up the meal plan every 2 weeks as that seems to be this clients’ particular threshold of food boredom.
Trust me, if you want results you need consistency and the easiest way to remain consistent is by keeping it simple and dropping your need for variety. Sometimes boring is best!
Though we speak of it more as an abstract quality, something inherent that we are either born with or not and subsequently unable to cultivate, I truly believe that motivation is a skill; something you can learn and practice to get better at.
The same line of thought is used when people say things like they aren’t artistically inclined. All it is, is practice, a deep focused practice, but nonetheless, just practice. Has your friends’ kid ever drawn you a picture and you put it on your fridge because its sweet and you’re just happy that someone made you something out of love and without you asking for it? Me too! But did the drawing kinda suck? Of course it did! Because they’re like 3 years old and they just started drawing and they haven’t learned concepts of perspective and dimensions and how to translate that onto paper. And….they haven’t practiced enough yet. But because they are 3 and its adorable, we give them some slack and we don’t criticize them, in fact we encourage them and tell them how great it is. If you are struggling with motivation, that’s where you are with it…the concepts, strategies and perspective hasn’t been practiced enough for you to be good at it – for it to look so natural that we call it inherent. So give yourself some slack, start slow, begin to practice and learn self encouragement. I promise, it will come.
So where do you begin? Do you have a big goal? Something that may take months or even years? Is it so lofty and vague that it causes anxiety because there is no specific pinnacle that defines your achievement? That’s fine, all we need to define are the steps that get you there or on the right path. Everything is in flux so sometimes its best to keep the big goals vague but define the means to the general end.
Visualization is a tool often talked about by successful people. You hear them describe how they visualized a championship bout, holding the belt or trophy, or doing a victory lap before having it happen. There seems to be a correlation between visualizing victory and achieved it.
One day. a broke and depressed Jim Carey sat in his car daydreaming of success. He thought about what success would meant to him at the time and he wrote himself a cheque for 10 million dollars, post dated it for 10 years from that day and put it in his wallet. He visualized something that symbolized his future achievement (though somewhat vague), put it in writing and with a lot of hard work (practice) he eventually made it a reality. This is a great story, one that inspires us and goes to show what belief in oneself, even when in the midst of struggle, can accomplish. But the story does a slight disservice in that it glosses over the actual work that was necessary for the achievement and how belief in oneself is actually harnessed.
Belief in oneself can start with visualization and is reinforced through repetition. Visualizing your big goal is great because it can reignite the spark that got us excited to begin with. But it can be a bit overwhelming when it seems so far away. I like to think that success comes in increments rather than being defined by the big splash moments. The same goes for confidence and motivation. You have to practice the path and not just the goal.
Take some time out of your day and envision yourself going through the simplest of tasks, the things you need to do to achieve the loftier goals. Want to have an exhibit of your artwork? Visualize the path. Go through the steps you need to take, see yourself setting time aside to sign up for painting lessons, see yourself buying supplies and making room in your house for a little art space/studio, see yourself practicing, painting the pieces, prepare yourself for setbacks, envision the struggle but know that each of these simple steps is achievable. Use visualization to break the path up to its smallest challenges and see yourself getting past each one. This is how you can use visualization to help build self belief and it is backed by science!
In 1999, research by psychologists Lien Pham and Shelley Taylor showed that visualization of the process of studying made for better grades compared to students who visualized simply getting a good grade or not visualizing anything at all. Not only did it reduce anxiety linked to studying for exams it also improved organization and increased time spent studying. Since then, more research has shown similar results for athletes who spent time visualizing training more so than those who visualized winning.
There is a lot to be said about visualizing the struggle and set backs. It makes things slightly more visceral. Research has also shown that those who imagining possible problems in a positive manner has more benefits than visualizing everything just going well, or simply focusing on the negative. Thinking the path is going to be a smooth one, is a recipe for being overwhelmed.
You can start really small by using visualization to help yourself accomplish a simple physical exercise, like a plank.
Begin by kneeling on the floor. Focus in on your breath, try to elongate each breath just by a little bit, prolong your inhalation and exhalation so that it becomes purposeful rather than just reflexive. This in itself is great practice, it brings attention inwards and allows you to focus on a single goal. To make this slightly more complex, run through the following steps to visualize each component of the plank, once you’ve visualized each step, follow through with the action
1 – Draw in your abdomen to create a brace
2 – Place your hands on the floor and walk out until your body is extended, but you are still on your knees. Hands directly under your shoulders.
3 – Brace your core as much as you can to prepare for lifting your knees off of the floor.
4 – Activate your shoulder blades so that they are not collapsed.
5 – Stretch out one leg and squeeze your quad and glute.
6 – Stretch out your other leg and squeeze that side.
7 – Tuck in your pelvis slightly as to not put pressure on your lower back.
8 – Hold for as long as you can maintain this perfect position, Go back to focusing on your breathing but stay aware of your body.
This simple exercise of visualization and execution can do wonders. You can then take it to another level and try and use it for an exercise that you can’t complete just yet. The progress will be surprising. You may just need some guidance for the proper steps to use.
The next part is to recognize each successful moment. As I do with clients who have been struggling with a certain movement pattern (which is just a step in the path to reach a bigger goal of higher fitness or weight loss or rehabilitation) I try and take the time to point out the effort it took to get there. We go over the progressions we used, the time it took and most importantly the effort they exerted. Each session is a challenge overcome. If you get in the habit of recognizing all the mini successes, you begin to cultivate self belief, you build on motivation and perpetuate good habits. So take the time to reinforce your effort and then visualize the next steps. Practice the path and it will all come together into something you are proud enough to put on your fridge.
Looking for help with your own customized workout and/or meal plan? Contact Joey. Online coaching available for everyone and personal training/coaching available to Montreal residents.