It’s 11 pm. You stand in front of the open refrigerator, rub your distended belly and wonder what just happened to the fifteen Darth Maul cookies left over from your boyfriend’s “May the Fourth Be With You” Star Wars party. Oh yeah, you just ate them all, despite your determined declaration just last Monday that “It’s time to start fresh!” They somehow found their way into your mouth, and on the fourth day in a row of not working out, too. What bad luck! Evil cookies!
If you have ever tried to begin living a healthy lifestyle, you are probably familiar with one of the two following scenarios. One is to say “Screw it, I’ll start next month” and throw out your entire health plan (so you might as well cram in that last cupcake, too). The other is to spiral into a fit of self-loathing and overcompensation, involving weird cleanses with exotic spices and citrus and two hours every day on the elliptical.
Stop! There is a healthier way! Stop binging or purging (or a combination of both) and follow this easy, healthy method to remotivate yourself in the days immediately following a slip-up. And if you’ve never tried to live a healthy lifestyle for the first time, you can apply these same principles to begin in an appropriate, non-Nicole-Richie way!
Don’t beat yourself up. You are human, and humans make mistakes. Don’t make yourself throw up (or even try) and don’t continue to binge—you know you’re uncomfortable anyway. Take that food baby to bed and get a good night’s sleep.
And stop doing jumping jacks; it’s just going to give you cramps. You’ll know it’s futile when you have to stop after three of them.
The Next Morning
First of all, I’d like to reiterate last night’s message: don’t beat yourself up. Realize that one day of overeating (or even a couple of days) isn’t going to morph you into Jabba the Hut. That being said, it doesn’t give you a pass to keep screwing up. Those calories count, and so do calories for the rest of that week, and all those extras add up quickly. This is a new day, a day to forgive yourself and start out with fresh determination.
With all of that in mind, start with a healthy breakfast. I know you might still feel kind of bloated and gross from the night before, and eating might be the last thing you want to do, but starting your day with a light but nourishing meal will give you energy, keep your metabolism going, avoid the 3 pm hunger attack, and remind you that food is not of the devil. If you don’t usually eat breakfast, now is a good time to start. Most people think that they will lose weight by cutting calories earlier in the day; however, most people who skip breakfast end up making up those calories later in the day, and often even more than usual because starvation leads to very poor choices later on. Intense hunger pangs tend to make you go for the fastest food option. Keep driving past that McDonald’s, and don’t you dare stop!
Make sure your breakfast includes a lean protein, which will help keep you full, and a complex carbohydrate (any whole grain or fibrous fruit or vegetable), which will slow your digestion, keep you full, and create a slow-release energy that will hold you over ‘til lunchtime. Some great examples are:
- Nonfat Greek yogurt, with a handful of berries (I use frozen for convenience), a sprinkling of granola, and a drizzle of honey.
- Two whole grain toaster waffles spread with a tablespoon of peanut butter and sliced banana.
- Scrambled egg whites with mixed vegetables and a slice of whole wheat toast.
Also, get a workout in! It’ll boost your endorphins, and even a light morning walk will remind you that food is fuel and that calories don’t have to stick if you don’t want them to! Plus, you’ll feel much better and get a self-esteem boost if you tend to be hard on yourself.
The Rest of That Day
There are two things you need to do before the day is over. One is to make a plan for the rest of the week, including your dinners and workouts. The best way to combat a future slip-up is to have a plan and treat it as a non-negotiable appointment. At the same time, keep your expectations realistic. Know thyself, and give yourself goals that you know you can accomplish. For instance, if you work an 80-hour workweek starting at 9 am and you come home exhausted every day, don’t expect to work out after your workday—you’ll never get it done. Instead, plan to suck it up and set your alarm for an hour earlier. Get your workout in before work when you still have a ton of energy, or plan a lunchtime workout. Having your plan in front of you, on paper (or smartphone), will assure you that it’s doable. Look, you have time for it! You scheduled it in: it’s in your schedule right there!
The other task is to get rid of whatever triggered your slip-up in the first place. I know it sucks to throw out food, especially if that food happens to be leftover nachos (they crisp up great in the oven!), but just close your eyes and get it done. In fact, this might be a great time to go through your cupboard and throw out problem foods in general. Giant jar of mayonnaise? Get rid of it. Double-stuff Oreos lurking in your pantry? Bid it farewell. Cooking lard? What are you, crazy? Banish it from thy sight!
This is one I have trouble with. My pantry is pretty well-behaved in general, but if there is leftover brownie cheesecake from a party, my logic says, “Well, I don’t want it to go to waste, but I don’t want it tempting me all week. I’ll just… eat it all now! That way, it won’t be a problem later and I’ll only have been really bad for one day, instead of slightly bad for seven days! Genius!”
What? Don’t raise your eyebrows at me. No one is perfect. Let’s move on.
The Rest of That Week
Stick to your plan. Recognize that treat days are perfectly acceptable within the structure of a healthy lifestyle, but the best way to distribute them is to wait for a treat day (or, preferably, just one treat meal) on a special occasion when you really won’t care, such as a family dinner, birthday party, or holiday. A good way to look at it is the 90/10 rule: eat well 90% of the time, and don’t worry about the other 10%.
Do your research. Find healthy alternatives for cooking methods, ingredients, or your favorite treats. For example, sauté vegetables in chicken broth instead of butter, or replace an after-dinner serving of ice cream or cake with a bowl of sliced apples, sprinkled with cinnamon, oats, and honey heated in the microwave. Voilà, healthy apple crumble. Once you’ve done your research, do your grocery shopping and begin incorporating these substitutes into your diet!
Have a rule for your workouts: never, ever, go more than two days in a row without exercise. Any kind of exercise. If you’re on a trip, find the hotel gym or go jogging. Visiting friends? Go out for a walk or hike, and let them show you the town. If you’re in space, I don’t know… bounce off the walls in zero gravity or something! Just make it a priority to keep active and keep it in the forefront of your mind. With this rule, you will never wake up one morning and realize it’s been two months since you’ve worked out, and you will get a decent number of workouts in per week.
The Rest of your Life
Remember, a healthy lifestyle is just that… a lifestyle. Whatever you plan to do, you have to see yourself doing it for the rest of your life. There is no magic diet that will help you reach your ideal Hugh Jackman/Gwyneth Paltrow proportions, and then let you go back to eating whatever garbage you want without gaining it all back.
This also may mean letting go of some unrealistic expectations. If the only way you’ll ever look like Gwyneth Paltrow (who, honestly, I don’t think is that hot anyway) is by starving yourself, then you aren’t meant to look like Gwyneth Paltrow (who, again… is not that hot). Learn to love your body for what it is! The human body is an extraordinary thing, and can do extraordinary things if you treat it well and let it try. Often, exercise is a doorway to this frame of mind; once you see what your body can do given the chance, you’ll stop punishing it and start taking good care of it.
And finally, I’d like to leave you with this final note on the nature of food. Food can be the best medicine in the world or a slow, agonizing poison, but food is not evil. It isn’t trying to trip you up, and that burger honestly does not have it out for you. There is great joy to be found in our food. Treats can be enjoyed in moderation, but you need to find the balance for yourself. Good, healthy, and nutritious food can have beautiful tastes, textures, and color, and above all, it will nourish and enrich your life and fuel your amazing body. Make the right choices, find the love and richness that can be found through good health, and make that your healthy lifestyle.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it, and I promise you will thank yourself.
Photo by Remi Coin