1. Don’t try to be Polly Pure.
It won’t work. Try for “sustainable” instead. Unless you are in training for a very specific period of time for a major goal (a marathon or a big fight), your diet should look and feel like something you can continue to do for the rest of your life.
2. Don’t go hungry, but if you do, snack better.
The number one secret (and it isn’t a secret, really) to eating right is to not starve yourself. This means you have to eat the kinds of foods in portion sizes that help you maintain better insulin levels all day long. This takes some planning.
One of the best ways to manage when you don’t have time to prepare a meal or can’t get to a place where you can, is to have good snacks on hand. I keep Zone bars and a bag of almonds in my desk, gym bag, and glove compartment. This curbs the impulse to swing through McDonald’s for a quick fix.
3. Change “cheat” to “treat”
I don’t actually think of my forays into the universe of junk food as cheating, as if I were trying to hide something. Instead, I know ahead of time that I’m not going to be Polly Pure, and I work it into the way I eat in as healthy a way as I possibly can. See below.
4. Treat yourself regularly.
I have a treat pretty much every day, and I exercise control with portions and frequency more than specific food items. Rather than eating a whole bag of M&M’s, I limit myself to 10. And I only do that maybe once a day, and that’s my treat for the day. I also love Cheetos, omg I LOVE Cheetos! So I limit the number I eat, and I only buy them about twice a month. Lucky for me I live in a house with four other Cheeto hounds, so the bag will be gone pretty soon anyway.
5. Your diet should include room for real splurges.
REAL splurges. A splurge isn’t something you do every single day. Think of it like a vacation. You don’t have a vacation every day, do you? But you do have them, and they’re part of what makes life lovely.
A splurge for me is a giant basket of onion rings, and you can bet your boots I’ll be having some at the State Fair this year. (Note: when you have a pretty clean diet, some splurges will make you feel a bit ill afterwards, which will cause you to limit it next time. Or not! I’ll have an o-ring hangover, but won’t care.)
6. Achieve balance with exercise.
Nobody’s diet is going to be in balance without exercise. When you splurge, add an extra two miles of sprints to your regular workout, or do 500 stairs. Just don’t try to make up a huge junk food orgy in a single workout, it isn’t sustainable. See above.
7. Prepare yourself for friendly (and not so friendly) commentary
Balancing your diet and including regular exercise in your life is such a difficult task that most people will never try it at all. Or they will, and they’ll abandon their efforts because they’ve tried something that isn’t working for them or it is just too hard. There is SO much bad advice out there, it’s no wonder people get discouraged. Plus it’s work, and we all have a ton of work in our lives already. So when people see you having treats, they’ll sometimes say, “Hey, wait a minute, aren’t you supposed to be Ms Healthy?” This gives you the opportunity to
a) Enjoy it, play the “food porn” game, and brag a little: “Mm-hm, and tomorrow I’m going to eat baaaaacon! Cause my marathon is next week.”
b) Challenge them to match you in your extra exercise. “I hereby swear to an extra 15 minutes of jump rope sprints. Wanna join me?”
c) Ignore it and let your body speak for itself. If you’re looking great and feeling energetic and fit, it will show!
8. Recovering from a major screw-up or holiday season.
For this, you have to take the long view. You’re probably going to see a weight change and you may feel crappy, both mentally and physically. But honestly, big screw-ups happen, and the best thing to do is start with one good meal, one good workout, and one good day. Then add another and another. Set up your goals again and tape them to your computer. And know that in a couple of weeks (depending on the size and duration of your lapse), you’ll be back where you want to be.