How to Search for the Perfect Diet

perfect diet

Welcome to the first video from The Art of Fitness & Life media.

Ok, not sure I’ll stick with that name, but anyway, I’ve been itching to try video and different forms to share information. For the upcoming future, I’ll be experimenting between these shorter videos and my longer form content in addition to the weekly roundup.

Sometimes perfection & information is our worst enemy. We have many choices with our diets and fitness programs, so many that we often choose inaction because we’re overwhelmed with how to start down the path of healthy eating. If this is you, then this short video will help you answer the most important questions to starting a healthy eating regimen, avoid the “perfect diet syndrome” and get you on the correct path toward sustainable fat loss.

If you find this video helpful or know someone who could benefit from this information, please share this with them (Danke).

4 Popular Childhood Behaviors Sabotaging Your Fat Loss

pretty child-4 Childhood Behaviors Sabotaging Your Fat Loss
Photo by Eric Montfort

As a native southerner and minority, I grew up in a culture where portion sizes were astronomical; the more butter the better; sweet tea (aka sugar tea) actually exists; everything is fried.

What is baked or sauteed chicken? It’s rude to turn down someone’s made-from-scratch-homemade pound cake or whatever the hell else is made-from-scratch.

You get the idea.

No one is checking macros. We’re not worried about if the ingredients are gluten free.

Food ideologies and behaviors are engineered into us starting from the time we’re little kids. Our respective cultures and environments play a pivotal role in the development of our food behaviors from a psychological and physiological standpoint.

There’s a section of the brain called the hypothalamus, which plays a starring role in your eating behaviors.

Your hypothalamus is going to relay to other cells within your body on regulating how much and what to eat. Various chemicals (neurotransmitters) in your brain create feelings of satiety or hunger in response to the various sensory information and messages going on in your body.

Your brain is highly susceptible to the pleasure response. Food stimulates your brain to produce these “feel good” chemicals such as dopamine, which seduces you into a continual eating frenzy.

This factor is single-handedly one of the biggest causes for emotional eating and various food addictions. There are some in the scientific and research community who state the more obese someone is, the fewer dopamine receptors they have.

Why is this so important and what does it mean?

It means that they are more likely to overeat and practice bad behaviors in order to stimulate their “pleasure” response.

This is a big reason why I despise hearing some random bro dish out “eat less, and move more” bullshit rhetoric as their solution to obesity. That logic disrespects and disregards the psychological and physiological elements operating within our bodies.

Ok, the science class and mini-rant are over.

Using food to deal with your emotions and problems is going to create unhealthy relationships toward food; thus creating a habit of eating anytime something uncomfortable (i.e any emotion or a bad situation) flares up.

This type of behavior prevents you from resolving the core issue. By avoiding the issue, you’re storing that particular emotion in your body and creating further problems down the road.

Below are four childhood behaviors sabotaging your fat loss. These detrimental behaviors are habitual in nature and operate in secrecy.

1. Food as comfort

Food for comfort started as soon as mommy pampered us and fed us our favorite baby food. Throughout childhood, we’re told to “eat this pudding, soup, or insert whatever snack here, and it’ll make you feel better.”

Various emotions ranging from sadness, boredom, loneliness, or frustrations with various aspects of our lives causes us to resort to food as a way to satisfy our need for happiness and pleasure (aka dopamine).

The idea of consuming particular foods and our moods magically elevating is scintillating. It’s natural for us humans to look for a mystical genie in a bottle solution to our problems. However, feeling better has nothing to do with the foods we’re consuming—this is a weak psychological excuse.

An investigation into comfort foods

Example: You’re feeling down. Work is an abomination. Your date was a nightmare (they give love a bad name). You’re not happy with your body and the rate of progress.

When you’re feeling like dog poo—what better way to make yourself feel better than to eat some “good ole comfort food”.

Nothing soothes the soul and turns your frowns upside down better than chocolate ice cream or homemade donuts.

Right? Not exactly.

childhood behaviors sabotaging your fat loss
As tasty as they may be, they won’t provide a cure to what ails you.

Traci Mann, author of Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again and professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota along with her colleagues conducted several research studies on comfort foods and their effect on our moods.

In one study, they took 100 college students and made them watch clips from sad movies; thus lowering their moods. Half the students were fed their favorite comfort foods and the other students ate foods they enjoyed, but wouldn’t necessarily consider comfort foods.

After eating, the researchers asked the students “how they felt”. The conclusion to this was that all students felt better, regardless of what they ate.

In a totally separate study, half the kids ate comfort foods and the other half ate nothing. After a few minutes, both groups felt equally better. The comfort foods were a moot point.

 Using comfort foods as your crutch is an excuse to indulge in junk food and avoid the real issue that’s brewing.

At the end of the day, if you want ice cream, cake, wine, or cookies—just eat it and drink away, but don’t lie to yourself about why you’re doing this.

Solutions to comfort foods:

1. Ask yourself why you’re eating– Is it boredom, anxiousness, nervousness, emotions stemming from work, or peer pressure from friends and family?

2. Rate your hunger on a scale of 1-10– Are you a 10, which indicates you’re absurdly hungry or are you around a 6 which indicates satiety, but not overly full. Maybe you’re a 3, which equates to eating only out of emotional reasons.

3. Practice pausing & assessing– Before eating, take a walk, meditate, draw, or dance for 5-15 minutes. Try to occupy your mind briefly to determine if it’s true hunger or eating to cover up another issue.

2. Food as punishment

Many gamers heard this sentence:“Finish your food or no video games for you.”

For example, as adults, food becomes punishment through two different, but equally damaging scenarios.

1.“I’m removing all ice cream because I weigh ‘x’ amount”– You’re punishing yourself because you didn’t hit your goal. Using food as punishment is a secretive and unassuming behavior. To many people, it appears that you’re making the necessary sacrifices in order to elicit amazing results. However, deep down you’re psychologically hardwiring yourself with skewed perceptions of food.

2.“I’ve already failed with my diet, might as well finish this ice cream since I’ve failed”– You further indulge because you already feel defeated for slightly indulging earlier, creating a compound effect which adds up over time.

This behavior creates a negative cycle of actions and self-pity within your decision making. Someone who eats ice cream when they told themselves that they wouldn’t—starts to feel guilty—leading them to eat the remaining tub of ice cream due to feeling the day was lost (aka waving the white flag).

This cycle manifests because your thoughts lead to your feelings, and your feelings lead to your actions.

Solutions to food punishment:

1. Are you using food as a way to nourish yourself or as a way to punish yourself? Food is medicine and a tool for enjoyment, not a device for pain and depression.

2.Are your food decisions entirely based on emotions?- Relying entirely on emotions is a dangerous game due to being caught up in the heat of the moment and not having the big picture/long-term view in mind.

3.Even when you slip up on your diet, are you using that as an excuse to binge due to feeling like you let yourself down.-One mistake isn’t the end of the world. What separates the successful from the almost successful people of fitness is their ability to climb back into the ring and get back to work.

Splurged on junk food earlier in the day?

Big deal.

There’s plenty of time left to make healthy decisions. Finish the day strong. The journey isn’t a straight road—it’s one of many steep hills and steep declines.

3.Food as guilt

As children, we’re told to “clean our plates before leaving the dinner table”, “why are you being wasteful and not finishing your food—there are plenty of people who would be grateful to have this food”, and “it’s rude to not eat all of your host’s food”.

childhood behaviors sabotaging your fat loss
Everything must go.

As adults, we continue the trend of guilt with statements like “I shouldn’t have…”, “If I eat this, I…”, “I had three glasses of wine, I let myself down”, “I had too much dessert, now I have to do 60 minutes of extra cardio to burn “x” amount of calories”.

The inner voice of guilt delivers subtle jabs and roundhouses before you eat that piece or two of cake. That inner voice makes you feel like dog poop after you indulge in a couple glasses of wine.

Guilt is tough, and as a person who has personally struggled with guilt—it takes time and compassion to gain back control.

Combining food and guilt potentially leads to various eating disorders and throws your daily life into a tailspin.

Allowing guilt to spiral out of control leads to self-loathing, shame, and hopelessness towards achieving a healthy median between enjoyment of foods and fitness.

The battle of good vs. evil

When suffering from food guilt, one of the worst mistakes is to label food as good or bad. Labeling food as either good or bad prevents you from enjoying foods and developing a proper mindset towards food.

Food isn’t good nor bad. Your food isn’t involved in a war. It’s something you should take pride in, enjoy, and not resent.

Beer isn’t an evil doer. Wine isn’t a part of the evil empire. Cookies and pastries aren’t guaranteed physique killers. These foods and drinks wreck your goals only if you don’t keep them in control. Without awareness and control, you can make almost anything you consume a negative when consumed in excess.

Let go of good vs. evil. Re-frame your mindset and realize that some foods are better at providing optimal health (internal & external); thus making those foods the ones that need to be consumed the majority of times.

Solutions for guilt

1. Sit with the feeling– It’s not sexy, nor eye-catching, but the best way to control guilt is to feel the very emotion of the guilt setting forth. It’s most likely overwhelming, but starting internally is how you build up your external world into something positive. This act allows you to develop the powerful and essential skill of being aware of that moment of guilt.

2. Question yourself– When you feel guilt settling in or you’re questioning something—ask yourself why three times about why you’re feeling guilty and assess afterward if this guilt is warranted.

3. Have some perspective– At the end of the day, Webster (aka the dictionary) defines guilt as an emotion experienced when you feel you’ve violated a moral standard.

Look at it this way, you aren’t running someone over, looting, stealing, or disrespecting Jamiroquai—you’re only eating a cookie, enjoying a slice or two of pizza with friends, or enjoying a soothing glass of Merlot (it’ll be ok).

Life needs to be enjoyed—stressing over the little tasks steals precious energy needed for the big decisions.

4. Food as reward

As a kid, were you told that “If you get all A’s on your report card, you can go to Chuckie Cheese (don’t act like you don’t know what that is)?” Were you told, “If you clean your room and make your bed all week—you can go out for ice cream?”

When we grow up, we’ll tell ourselves “I’ve been eating so clean lately, I totally deserve to eat these brownies.” “I strength trained four days this week, it’s okay to eat these dozen cookies.” “I was on good behavior this week in addition to doing extra cardio, I deserve these wings and bloody mary’s after my good workweek.”

The logic of rewarding ourselves makes sense if we’re dogs.

Rewards also make sense if you went through a horrible treatment (think torture) or something that goes completely against you, but we’re only talking about food here.

Rewarding yourself with extrinsic rewards is a slippery slope because you’ll start to lose your intrinsic motivation. The task at hand becomes only about the extrinsic reward and the original goal of becoming healthier takes a backseat.

One of the first steps to living a healthy life and becoming the architect of your own body is designing an eating template that specifically fits your lifestyle. Your eating template shouldn’t be so much of a burden that you need to gorge yourself in order to jolt some happiness into your life.

Why reward yourself for eating healthy by stuffing yourself full of unhealthy foods?

Partaking in the occasional “unhealthy” treat or alcoholic beverage is one thing, but doing this reward system just to make yourself eat some veggies defeats the entire purpose of this healthy lifestyle.

childhood behaviors sabotaging your fat loss
Eating grilled chicken and sauteed veggies to justify the wine consumption makes no sense.

This reward feasting system isn’t the same as a normal weekend re-feed or dining out with friends. One is about integrating occasional and strategic indulgences into a healthy lifestyle. The other scenario is about partaking in healthy behaviors in order to justify binging on unhealthy foods later in the week—this is psychologically counter-productive.

You’re not forming long lasting habits; thus you aren’t truly re-framing your food behaviors.

Solutions for reward-based eating

1.Pamper yourself– Get a massage, a new book, a manicure, pedicure, fancy haircut, or treat yourself to an artist’s date.

2.Expand your comfort zone with new experiences– museums, weekend getaways, exploring uncommon paths in your own city, go on an adventure date—the possibilities are endless.

3.Use momentum to build your repertoire– take a yoga class and keep up with your punch cards. Use your calendar and mark an “x” after each session and if 100% compliance, treat yourself to some new workout clothes to go with your new body (remember gym performance increases by 13.3% when you feel sexy and have nice workout clothes on).

4. But, what if you need to reward yourself in a culinary sense because you love the subject of food?– Then buy yourself a new cookbook, a set of knives, or replace your least favorite kitchen utensil—then prepare a new, healthy, and physique friendly dish.

5.Do an activity you couldn’t do before– Maybe you couldn’t participate in a walkathon before or run around with your kids the entire time.

Maybe you weren’t confident within your own body to take a yoga class. Maybe you weren’t confident to take a salsa class or any other social activity because of your figure. But, after incorporating strength training and eating healthier—what once wasn’t possible can now become a reality.

If you enjoyed this article or know someone who’s struggling with their nutrition, be a good friend and send this article their way (many thanks). Let’s stop some of this nutritional nonsense floating around.

Mindless Eating: The Behind the Scenes Food Behaviors Ruining Your Fitness

Food Behaviors Ruining Your Fitness
Photo Credit: rolffimages1 via Compfight cc

69% of adults are either overweight or obese. With the wealth of information circulating on the Internet it’s interesting that we have such a high rate of people with poor health.

This just goes to show that while we live in a society that is obsessed with looks and health—the method of delivery  is wrong.

We have a tendency to focus on macros, diet plans, meal timing, stoking the metabolism, and other nutritional metrics. Those are insignificant compared to the large elephant standing in the room laughing as we parade around trying any and everything to level our fitness up.

The large elephant isn’t the sexiest in the room. It’s not trendy, but it’s damn essential.

What’s this elephant I’m speaking of.

It’s our food behaviors. Food behaviors operate mostly on a subconscious level.

We know which foods we’re supposed to eat. We know total calories play a pivotal role in building the bodies we want. We know what to do, but aren’t doing it because our minds are playing on another playing field that we haven’t arrived at yet.

While actors (your outside appearance) get all the attention, it’s the filming crew and producers (your mental being) who ultimately pulls the strings and develops a great product (i.e. a body you can be proud of).

This eating without awareness, without focusing, without intent is what we call mindless eating.

What is mindless eating

Mindless eating is when you eat without thinking about what you’re doing. You’re essentially playing the role of a nutritional zombie.

Mindless eating often occurs through overeating, not because of greed or any other self-centeredness, but because of our environments.

Brian Wansink, author of the interesting book ‘Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think’, explains that “we overeat not because of hunger but because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers”.

Temptations to fall into mindless eating habits surround us at every corner and turn we make. Let’s look into 6 common scenarios where the potential for food behaviors ruining your fitness is high.

6 common areas where mindless eating can zap your fitness progress

Our minds are programmed from the time were a toddler to behave in specific ways with our foods.

All 6 scenarios below are detrimental to our goals unless we become mindful of them.

1. The size of your plates, bowls, packages, & buckets– As crazy as this might sound, the presentation of the way your food is delivered plays an important role in determining your eating behavior.

Researchers at Cornell University’s Food Brand lab, discovered that people who used larger plates overserved themselves compared to those who elected to use smaller plates, hence undeserving themselves.

People will eat food just because it’s there. We’re instinctively engineered to desire food when it’s placed in front of us. We might have a beating pulse, but inside each of us, lies a little robotness, which allows us to fall prey to programming and losing our minds.

Movie goers in a study conducted by Wansink and his students were given 5 day old popcorn. Many of them, haven’t eaten lunch, were given a soft drink and a medium or large bucket of popcorn to indulge in. Not surprisingly, the large bucket group ate more.

Asked if they ate more due to bucket size, they replied “no”. People didn’t eat because they were hungry, they ate because of the movie distracting us, the sounds of people munching on popcorn, and the general societal expectations of going to the movies and being expected to snack.

2. Your perception of the situation– The stories we create in our heads become manifestations of our realities after a time period of feeding ourselves the same story.

 food behaviors ruining your fitness-
Be careful of what you’re pouring into your brain- Photo Credit: Toodeloo! via Compfight cc

If we’re in a situation where it’s expected we stuff our faces (talking to the ‘all you can eat buffets’)—then we’ll pig out, regardless of whether we’re full after plate 1.

If we’re in a fancy schmancy restaurant on a date, we’re likely to eat with restraint and not pig out because of the expectations.

There was a study conducted on North Dakota & California wine, where the same wine was given out with different labels.

The North Dakota wine consistently rated lower due to the expectations that wine grapes aren’t grown in North Dakota as opposed to them growing in California.(I always wanted to try this on the so called wine connoisseurs.)

3. Your eyes (out of sight, out of mind)- Often times in relationships, we operate with an out of sight, out of mind mentality. We treat food the same way.

If we walk into grandmas house and see a delicious white cake sitting, odds are, we’ll suddenly have the desire to eat white cake.

If you’re at the bar and your waiter hasn’t come to collect your 4 empty bottles, odds are you’ll have more reservations about ordering another drink.

This logic was supported in the famous chicken wing study where a group of individuals were left with the bones in front of them and another group had their bones taken each time.

No surprise here, but the group who had the bones left in front of them ate fewer compared to the group who had their previous plates removed.

4. The middle grounds (aka the land of nowhere)– We’ve all been in a place where things aren’t going bad, yet things aren’t moving forward. You’re moving so slow that it doesn’t feel like you’re moving at all.

In the nutrition world, this can be a dangerous recipe because it allows us to run on autopilot and lose our focus.

Wansink describes this middle ground of drudgery as the “mindless margin—we can slightly overeat or undereat without being aware.”

If you undereat by a sizable margin, you’ll start to feel weak, lethargic, moody, and have crappy training sessions. If you start to overeat by a sizable margin, you’ll start to feel bloated and slow as molasses.

However, in this dangerous middle zone of eating, we aren’t aware of the small differences. A small crack in a dam eventually overflows.

Snacking here and there multiple times a day secretly throws your daily caloric intake off. Months later, you wake up with an extra 10 pounds and outfits aren’t fitting the same.

5. The party don’t stop till the food is gone (aka our all or nothing food mentality)– Party till the sun comes up. Pulling all nighters for school. Celebrating chugging energy drinks to keep working on projects.

Our culture has an extreme personality. More and more isn’t always better. Often times, this attitude comes back to bit us in the rear.

We have to finish everything. Our approach to food isn’t any different (especially here in the southern states).

We’re done eating when our plates are empty. We’re done drinking when our cups are empty.

This mentality is hard to break, especially since it’s been ingrained into our subconscious since we were kids.

Being told that you can’t have dessert till you finish your plate or being called wasteful for not finishing your food has added fuel to the fire for our eating habits.

Instead of eating till we can see our reflections on the plate or eating out of guilt, pull the eating brakes at 80% capacity.

Borrow the Okinawan phrase ‘hara hachi bu’ which is used to indicate to eat until you’re 80% full. Eat until no longer hungry, not full.

6. Societal and lifestyle traps– From parties to movie nights, we allow ourselves to become preoccupied with guests to the point we unknowingly stuff our faces away. Whether it’s snacking obsessively out of nervousness at the corporate office party or snaking due to guilt at grandmas house—be weary of these traps.

How to eat mindfully and enjoy the immense pleasures of food

If you want to build the body you want and transform your health, you must find a way to control your eating behaviors. You can’t out train a diet, no matter how intense your workouts are.

However, using 7 simple lessons from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanhs’ book ‘How to Eat (Mindful Essentials)’, we can begin to control our eating behaviors.

1. Eating without thinking– Thich Nhat Hanh states that “Sometimes we eat and we’re not aware that we’re eating. Our mind isn’t there. When our mind isn’t present, we look but we don’t see, we listen but we don’t hear, we eat but we don’t know the flavor of the food.”

2. Slowing down– “When we can slow down and really enjoy our food, our life takes on a much deeper quality. I love to sit and eat quietly and enjoy each bite, aware of the presence of my community, aware of all the hard and loving work that has gone into my food. When I eat in this way, not only am I physically nourished, I am also spiritually nourished. The way I eat influences everything else that I do during the day.”- Thich Nhat Hanh

Taking time to enjoy our food is a great way to unwind, express gratitude, and take a much needed break from the hustle & bustles of everyday life.

3. Turning off the tv– “To be truly present you need to not just turn off the television or radio in your house, you need to turn off the conversation and images in your head”-Thich Nhat Hanh

Take a break and disconnect from the world, cell phones included (nothing will happen in those 20min—promise).

4. Preparing a meal- Just as fitness can nourish our bodies and mind. Just as a mesmerizing piece of art can move us physically and mentally. Just as an athlete of remarkable abilities can leave us in awe and disbelief. Food has the ability to provide a deep nourishment for our bodies and mind.

5. Chew your food, not your worries– “Sometimes we eat, but we aren’t thinking of our food. We’re thinking of the past or the future or mulling over some worry or anxiety again and again. Don’t chew your worries, your fear, or your anger. If you chew your planning and your anxiety, it’s difficult to feel grateful for each piece of food. Just chew your food.”-Thich Nhat Hanhs

Let go of thinking about work, personal stress, and just take in the moment of enjoying the food.

6. Eating is an art– This isn’t just fancy cooking. Its how you go about your daily nutrition. It’s eating well in the moments where most would crumble. “Your body is not just yours”. It is a gift and a responsibility”

7. A full life– One of my favorite quotes by Nhat Hanh states that “If we feel empty, we don’t need to go to the refrigerator to take things out to eat. When you eat like that, it’s because there is a feeling of emptiness, loneliness, or depression inside.”

Eating to fill emotional voids never solves the underlying issue. Filling your emotional voids by eating places a band-aid over your deep flesh wounds (eventually it’s going to seep through).

Question for you to think about: What are some areas of your life where you fall prey to mindlessly eating? And, what do you plan to do about it?