This is a topic I've been sort of mulling over lately as I read others' blogs, hearing their struggles to learn how to do everything right nutritionally as they come off years of eating as much junk as they could possibly want. We are inundated in the weight-loss world with how important it is to eat a certain way (though everyone has a different idea what that way is - vegan, paleo, gluten free, clean, etc) or else you are doomed to fail!!!! I always give that idea the side-eye.
When you are starting from scratch, how do you achieve perfection??
And I thought about how I got to the place I am now (grain-free, 95% non-processed foods, focus on organic foods, healthy and fit, etc).
I didn't start out that way! Hell, I didn't even get here within 5 years of when I started to change my life.
I came from a place of complete indulgence. I ate processed, sugary, salty, chemical-laden junk most of the day. I never really moved at all! I was obese, according to the charts. I was sick.
First thing I did when I wanted to change everything? I reduced calories and portions. I didn't know much about nutrition and I didn't even bother learning at first. I needed some weight off and that was my goal. I learned about how many calories a woman my age/size needed to eat in order to lose weight and decided to set a calorie limit of 1600 per day.
So I would look up calories in my foods and fit them into that allowance.
I quickly learned I could not eat very MUCH of my current foods into that allowance (half a bag of Doritos later and I'd be out of calories for the day!), so I started bulking out my meals with salads. I chose lower calorie items of the types of foods I really liked (breads, etc) in order to still have them in my life, but not feel starving during the day.
I dropped a lot of weight by sticking to a calorie limit. Setting that calorie limit also taught me some important lessons: eating high calorie junk meant I either A) could not stick to my calorie limit or B) I would be HUNGRY when I went to bed. If I wanted to stick to my limit, I had to add in vegetables and fruits and turn down more junk food than ever before.
I didn't reinvent the wheel for myself. I didn't overwhelm myself in the beginning. I made one big rule (very similar to the Weight Watchers point system - where you have no overall rules, just a point balance to stick to, and you quickly learn that you run out of points really fast when you make poor choices too often).
Once the bulk of the weight came off and I started to add in exercise, AND I took all those lessons from calorie counting to heart is when I really started to pursue educating myself about nutrition.
After years and years of making small differences (one year I stopped eating white flour, another year I learned "low-fat" wasn't doing me any favors, another I focused on eating fresh food and getting processed stuff out of the house, etc) that I transitioned to the food template I eat now. I learned that, for me, if I eliminated grains, I could fit in a lot more volume and get a ton more nutrition. I learned about which foods and food combinations had the best nutrition for me (vitamins, minerals, protein, fat and carbs). I learned about "good" fats like avocado and coconut oil and how important they were to feel satiated. I could go on and on!
My advice if you are just starting out? If you have tried to completely change your life before and failed? If you have trouble with intuitive eating?
- One step at a time. Don't try to immediately be a cross-fit, paleo, organic goddess. That can be an AWESOME long term goal, but going from one extreme to the other can be setting you up for failure.
- One good habit teaches others (reducing your calories helps you quickly learn that you can either eat a LOT of fruit/veggies/lean protein or a LITTLE processed junk food).
- This is a long process. Most of the people I have read about who are inspirations to me (super clean eaters, super athletes, whatever they might be that I aspire to) did not get there overnight. They either started out with a lifetime of good habits OR they worked for years to overcome bad ones. I learned early on not to expect to conquer all my demons immediately. But I HAVE been conquering them over the years, and that was the goal.
This applies to so many things in life, things that are important, things that are worth it.
I wanted to get my PhD (and hopefully will finish next year!), and that all began in 2000 when I went to undergrad, and when I applied to graduate school, when I finished my thesis and got my Master's, when I struggled through tough classes, etc. I didn't accomplish any of that fast, but I did accomplish it.
I wanted to become an Adirondack 46er (climb the tallest 46 mountains in NYS, called the High Peaks). I started with the first mountain, and three years later, I climbed the 46th one. Every rock I scrambled, every blister I got, every cold night in a lean-to, every single step was a movement to that goal.
You have to take the first step, and it is OFTEN the simplest though often as hard as the last one! End goals are great, visualizing what you want for yourself in the future is important, but if you can't skip the first steps. Look at the best, simple change you can make and make it with all your heart. You'll get there.