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Thursday, April 13, 2017

5 Tips to stay on track with your nutrition

Sticking to Your Health Plan
When You're Surrounded by Trigger Foods

     Eating clean is hard. Like, really really hard. It can be especially difficult when you're thrust into situations where all the food around you is, well, not so clean. In this blog entry I'm dealing out some tips to keep in mind when the craving strikes and you're ready to attack! Attack an entire cheesecake, that is. 
     I'm no doctor or nutritionist, but I've been a patient of both. And even though it's taken me years to learn my trigger foods and how to avoid them, I've finally got it figured out. What's a trigger food? Triggers are different for everybody, but the basic thought behind it that applies broadly to most of us, is it's something you eat that provokes a negative response in your body. For me, there are several foods that trigger inflammation and fatigue in my body. I have a disease called endometriosis (you can google it, that explanation will have to be a whole different blog post) and when I eat eggs, dairy, meats, white flour, white sugar, excessive soy, excessive alcohol, or too much caffeine, my symptoms flare up. And even though endometriosis is a menstrual disease, these flare ups can happen at any time, not just during my period. When I avoid these foods, I feel pretty great, for the most part. There are still "those days" sometimes, but that will probably never be 100% avoidable. 
     So if you haven't done this already,  figure out what your trigger foods are, and what they are doing to your body. Examples might include foods that cause weight gain, digestive upset, allergic reactions, inflammation, fatigue, skin sensitivities/acne, hormonal imbalances, anxiety or hyperactivity, PMS/PMDD, the list goes on and on. Food affects us in many different ways, and when you're eating right for your body's needs, you can really feel amazing and start to get the things you want out of your life. 
     Now, I haven't always been on track with my food intake. In fact, I've spent a lot of time slipping up and giving in to my trigger foods, and consequently feeling like garbage because of it. The main cause of this has been lack of knowledge (of what I can and can't eat) as well as lack of preparation. Most often, the snowball effect would start at a party, or cooking for other people, being surrounded by trigger foods, or when I'd just had a bad day and really really want a bacon cheeseburger.
     I'm willing to bet that I am not the only one who has struggled to stay on track with my healthy habits. Whether you've been a health nut for years, or you're just beginning your journey to better nutrition, chances are that at some point you already have been (or will be) faced with tough food choices. To find out how to handle those moments, whether you're at home cooking for your family, or out at a restaurant with friends, take note of the steps below: 

Tip #1. 
     Keep that belly full! If you know you're going into a situation where the amount of diet-friendly food is limited, make sure you fill up on delicious, healthy food before you head out. The same goes for cooking for other people in your household, eat a snack before you get started, don't begin handling trigger foods on an empty stomach. And when you prapare that snack, make sure it's the right kind of snack. Which leads me to:

Tip #2. 
     Identify the craving, and replace it with something you can eat. Sometimes a craving can be satisfied pretty easily, but it's all about having the right substitute, and having it readily available (AKA right in front of your face). If I have a craving for chocolate cake, and I decide to eat some carrot sticks instead, I shouldn't be surprised if I am still craving cake afterwards!

     The goal is to figure out which characteristic of the trigger food you find alluring, and highlight that quality in your replacement food. Using the chocolate cake example; is it the chocolate flavor of the cake you're after, the texture of the frosting, or is it simply something sweet that sounds good at the moment? If you're craving potato chips; is it the crunch you're after? Or the saltiness, or both?

     Once you've identified what type of food you're craving, replace accordingly. Some diets allow small amounts of dark chocolate or cacao. If that works for you, go for it! Chia pudding can be made a million different ways, and it's texture is very dessert-like. A common sweet tooth can often be remedied with some fruit. For salty/crunchy; try raw veggies and hummus dip, or some roasted nuts, or even a green salad will sometimes do the trick.

     I'll be honest, this isn't going to work like magic 100% of the time. It will work for the vast majority of cravings, but you're never going to make a bowl of celery sticks taste like a carton of fries from In 'n Out. If your aim is to replace trigger foods with healthier options, then this should at least get you pointed in the right direction.  In dire situations where replacement just isn't going to cut it, go for avoidance. If possible, remove the food from your area and out of your line of sight. If that's not possible, go for a walk. Excuse yourself to the bathroom for a moment. Take some deep breaths and remind yourself why your health is important to you. It's HARD, you guys. Food is a great love and treasure to many of us. Eating clean may be easy for some, but for others it's really, really difficult to resist temptation. Give yourself a pat on the back when you say "no."

Tip #3.
     Be prepared. Know your options. Be informed about which foods are ok for you and what to avoid. Don't get stuck asking yourself "Can I eat this?" in a weak moment. Know before hand. Don't let yourself be hungry while out and about. Eat before you leave the house, bring some snacks, and get to know the stores and restaurants in your area and what they provide. No matter where you are, there is almost always some sort of grocery store nearby, hit the produce section and grab some fresh fruit or a prepared salad in a pinch. You'll be so proud of yourself for making the healthy choice. 

Tip #4.
     Eat things you ENJOY, and make sure you are getting enough calories from nutritional sources. If you're just starting out on a new food plan, and you've eliminated something from your diet, you really need to make sure you are making up for those lost calories. When I eliminated dairy, I had NO CLUE how hungry I would be all the time. A banana no longer satisfied me.. it had to be two bananas, plus some oats or almonds. When you're really hungry, you're more likely to make the wrong food choices. Be certain that you are getting enough nutritious calories, and make sure you aren't trying to choke down foods you don't enjoy eating.

Tip #5.
     Be committed, not just to the diet, but to yourself. This is the kicker for me. For years I had been on a rollercoaster of "eliminate this" and "add that" diets, and I was CONSTANTLY disappointed in how I was feeling. I finally learned that I have to be 100% committed to the lifestyle. You will never be perfect at your chosen plan, but you have to try if you want to see results. Have other people in your life hold you accountable. Tell yourself it's a permanent change. Even though I've known for years that dairy is a major trigger food for me, I would often notice myself saying "I try to stay away from dairy, but I can have it sometimes" or "I don't eat dairy that often," but what I really should have been saying is "I don't eat dairy." Period. Make a commitment to your specific health plan. Do right by yourself. You only get one body in this life, so treat it the way it needs to be treated, and it will be kind to you in return.

Lastly, try to have fun with your food! If you're headed to a party, bring something you can eat, and share it with others. At a dinner outing with friends, order an appetizer for everyone, one that you can enjoy eating as well. When you're the host, make things for your guests if you'd like, but also make a few dishes that fulfill your needs. You never know, your healthy habits may rub off on someone in need!

I'd love to hear what you think! Do you have any tips or ideas for staying on track with your diet in social situations? Let me know in the comments below! 


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