Friday, April 13, 2012

Healthy Eating: Some Tips for Staying on Track & Strengthening Your Resolve :)

We all know that exercise is only part of the equation. Of course, good nutrition is another, highly significant part of that equation as well. And, as athletes, we all know that it's also an essential component in helping to boost our athletic performance. Simply put, an athlete cannot maximize their health and fitness potential without it.

Of course, the tricky part is establishing and maintaining our path to good nutrition. Sometimes we might find that it can be especially challenging when we're trying to form these new patterns, particularly because both eating and exercise have added psychological elements to them. ;) While this is something that's important to be aware of and acknowledge, we also need to recognize that we have a choice in the matter and don't need to let it rule us or our behaviors. Usually, when we fall off course, it's because we've let our less helpful emotions take hold and/or have switched from a state of awareness to unconsciousness, and just need to return to that former state, reestablish a sense of balance, and get back to basics. We have the option to make conscious choices, but in order to do this, we first need to be conscious of that fact. :) Then, we can find ways to change and reinforce those changes until they stick.

So what are some ways that we can stay on track and reinforce our healthy habits? The solution is actually fairly simple and straightforward. The way to healthy eating is no different than the way to forming consistent patterns of exercise: We can overcome these challenges and master these struggles within ourselves with a bit of planning and reinforcement of gradually introduced, small changes until they supplant those older, less healthy habits. This way, these newly formed exercise and healthy eating patterns have a much better chance of success.

Of course, a lot of our current eating and exercise patterns are just done out of habit. So, since any established pattern of less-than-healthy eating had to be established at one point or another, whether it was consciously established or not ;), it can be unestablished by consciously practicing a new behavior pattern and then reinforcing it until it replaces the old pattern.

Also, technology can be of great assistance in helping to solidify these new behavior patterns through continual (electronic) reminders to reinforce regular planning and practice. For those of you with iPhones and iPads, meal planning and grocery shopping apps like MealBoard and Groceries can be particularly helpful in that regard. Of course, there are Android equivalents like Mighty Grocery Shopping List, Grocery Gadget, Food Planner, and the like, all of which have been highly rated as well. The simple fact of the matter is this: If we plan out each meal and snack on a weekly or biweekly basis with nutrition in mind, then we're less likely to succumb to unhealthy selections as a last-minute, irrational impulse, especially when our blood sugar starts to drop and/or our hunger starts to kick in. After all, there's less of a temptation to look elsewhere when you've got a readily available, healthy and nourishing selection on hand.

Another useful tactic is to pack veggies for snacks during the day and couple them with a protein source like hummus or healthy Omega 3 rich nuts (i.e., walnuts, pistachios), etc. This gives us a "battle plan," so to speak, to stave off any potential hunger pangs (that are often due to lack of proper planning), which in turn, keeps us from grabbing other, less healthy things.

So why is this combination particularly effective? Protein helps to sustain one's blood sugar while the veggies contain slow-release carbs and fiber to help sustain us (for a much longer duration than carbs containing simple starches) and satisfy our hunger. And, the healthy fats also help to create a feeling of satiety as well. The first part of the above snack (i.e., the veggies) also helps us to fulfill the recommended daily allowance of eating at least 4-5 servings of veggies per day, while the latter (i.e., walnuts, pistachios, etc.) helps us to fit in some much-needed Omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce inflammation, which is particularly useful to athletes, as these powerful Omega 3 fatty acids can reduce post-exercise induced inflammation.

As for my own practices, I'll usually save any "fun," sweet (but still healthy) snacks for right after dinner, especially if I'm in the mood for a healthy dessert. This is when I'll typically eat a fruit I love and sometimes mix it with Greek yoghurt drizzled with a small amount of honey. (This snack also has the added advantage of taking little kitchen prep that takes no time at all.) Or, I'll premake all-natural fruit pops or smoothies using the same ingredients. For small fruits like raspberries, I'll mix them in after I blend together the other ingredients. For larger fruits, like strawberries, I'll slice them first. If the fruit is really sweet, I'l sometimes add a small squeeze of lemon to the mix to balance the flavors.

Of course, I don't always want a snack like this, so about once a week, usually on the weekends, if I'm really craving something sweet or salty, I'll allow myself to have a snack in a reasonable, pre-determined, measured portion size that isn't a veggie or a fruit. :) That way, I won't go bonkers and eat a whole chocolate cake. Lol. Of course, that's an exaggeration for humorous effect, but you get my point. In moderation, the practice of consuming a special treat every once in a while, that is, if our decision is a conscious one, is a perfectly normal and reasonable behavior. If a person eats like a normal healthy person as a cumulative practice, then that once-in-a-while treat can be put into perspective, as it's the overall trend that truly matters. The larger picture of achieving good health and a sense of well-being for the long-term is what's truly important.

I hope you find these tips helpful in your quest to eat more healthfully! As they say, a failure to plan is planning to fail. Or, put in a more positive light, planning is 95% of the battle right there. And we all know this to be true because as athletes we practice this very principle to guide us to success in our own race training.

I wish you lots of success in your quest for fitness and health.


For more tips on healthy eating, sports nutrition, and wellness, feel free to follow my public Facebook feed, recipe/nutrition blog, Cooking with Corey, and/or running blog, See Corey Run.