Quick! How much protein do you eat in a day? Is it enough? Oh, carbs! What about those? Slow digesting or fast? Sugars or starches? What?? You don't track your food?!? How are you still breathing? You have to track your food, everybody knows that! Are you some kind of dietary savage?
So it goes in the fitness industry, where we all seem to be obsessed with macronutrient ratios, amounts, and percentages. Don't get me wrong, having an understanding of what you're eating is important. It's helpful to know what constitutes a protein, a carb, and a fat. And it's equally true that most people are eating an unbalanced ratio.
Most common to my experience is that people eat too little protein, too little healthy fats, and entirely way too many carbs. This is where tracking your food - or the simple what of your dietary habits - becomes an important ally in your war of the waistband. The act of writing your food down on paper or scanning it in an app helps create awareness of which foods contain what macronutrients. This is a crucial step in achieving a healthy lifestyle.
But there is a much more important 'W' to consider when looking at your food intake, that is the why. Unfortunately, the why is often forsaken for the what. We, as fitness professionals, worry about the numbers and percentages, those cold hard facts that we can measure with a calculator, much more than what truly matters.
If you've read my thoughts for long enough, you know I'm a firm believer that habits are the true foundation that our nutrition and exercise should be constructed upon. This is true beyond a shadow of a doubt.
Think about your day, and you'll realize it's constructed out of habits. You probably have the same morning rituals, the same work routines, the same evening habits, and so on. I'll even bet you do the same sort of thing during the weekdays and the same type of activities on the weekends.
Now, what determines our habits? When you deconstruct a habit and take it back to its beginning, you can see that it most likely was initially a single act. When certain single acts become intertwined with our emotions, they can tend to form habits.
For example, you received a good grade in school and got ice cream as a reward. Boom, an ice cream reward habit is born. Or you and a friend get into a fight, and your mom makes your favorite dinner to heal the wounds. Boom, that favorite dinner is now connected with the emotion of being upset. So if we want to keep the why as a measurable subject, the equation would look like Action + Emotion = Habit.
This explains why I so often hear some version of "I know what to do, I just can't seem to do it." We have the knowledge; we all have the stinking knowledge. But how many of us think to work on our habits? It's those habits that rule the day, and our emotions rule those habits. Unfortunately, we're often too busy or too stuck in autopilot to pay attention to how we actually feel. Think back to the last time you ate and tell me, how did you feel? Not if you were hungry, but what emotions were you experiencing?
This needn't be an uncomfortable experience, and I promise I won't break out a couch and a pipe. But think back. Were you hungry or simply eating according to the clock? Did you eat what was a healthy choice or what your brain told you it really wanted? Did you sit down and really connect with your food, enjoying the smell, texture, taste, and look of the meal? Or did you just hork it down as fast as possible because your boss or favorite TV show was waiting?
Hopefully you can see how psychology starts to enter into not only what, but why you eat. But guess what? There's hope. There's psychological salvation on the horizon. And it generally starts with simply being aware. This can take many different forms depending on what you need.
If you find yourself feeling unsatisfied after a meal, perhaps because you ate it faster than a caffeinated squirrel, slow down. I used to be guilty of this. I would get home from work, seemingly famished, and plow through my meal while I answered e-mail or Facebook notifications. Then I would realize my food was gone, but my hunger was still loitering in my brain and belly.
I started to take my time. I began to put my phone down. I actually looked at my food. Not in a weird, kale-ophile kind of way, but in a way that allowed me to appreciate the meal I was about to eat. I smelled my food. I consciously chewed each bite. I took my time and enjoyed the experience of eating. I cherished each meal and was thankful for each bite. Yes, at first it was a bit difficult, but it was also instantly rewarding. I actually felt full. The food actually tasted better. And I wound up eating less.
Taking the time to find out your why behind the what is a worthwhile process and one that could easily be what you've been missing. If you're interested in finding out more options, I offer up some easy and free solutions on my website. Just click my recent blog post entitled, "You're an emotional eater," to find a number of options to finally live a healthier, happier life by learning how to improve your awareness and, in turn, your habits.
At the end of the day, there's no reason to be frustrated with your lack of progress. All it takes is a little knowledge combined with a bit of awareness and habit change. I can promise you that while it doesn't come in a bottle and it's not sold on TV in a 3 a.m. infomercial, it just may be the most effective thing you put into your lifestyle to date.
Andy Frisch, NASM CPT, CES, PES, WFS, IFT, NESTA FNC, is a successful personal trainer and nutrition coach who enjoys working with clients of all shapes, sizes and ages. He currently train clients at Sports Village Fitness in Lebanon, works with clients online at www.FreshEvolutionFitness.com and has a budding YouTube channel.