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How to Find a Healthy Eating Plan That Actually Works for You

How to Find a Healthy Eating Plan That Actually Works for You

So many of us want to lose a little bit of that extra weight and maybe fit into those pants from a couple of years ago. Every year, we make a resolution to eat healthier but somehow each time we end up losing our motivation.

This is not a question of our willpower or discipline though. The biggest reason we are not able to stick to our resolutions is because we make change too hard for ourselves.

I understand first-hand how hard this can be. I yo-yo dieted for years, each time seemingly gaining more weight than I had lost. I finally found success when I realized that I had to find a way of eating that personally worked for me, not just some diet program in the news or a cleanse that my friend was doing.

In this article, I’ll show you the 4-step process to design your own personalized healthy eating plan, one that actually works for you.

What is a healthy eating plan?

The first step in designing your personalized eating plan is to understand what “healthy” looks and feels like.

Eating healthy should help us feel stronger, happier and more vibrant. A healthy eating plan should help us feel good in our bodies and at peace in our relationship with food.

Feel good physically

When we eat in a way that is right for us, we feel more energetic and satisfied.

Eating healthy gives us the fuel to sustain our energy levels on a busy day. It makes us feel mentally alert with no mid-afternoon slumps making our mind feel foggy or clouded.

We feel satisfied with the food we eat and have no cravings. We also feel strong without any physical or mental lethargy. It gives us the energy to move in a way that we love, be it walking, dancing or lifting weights.

Feel good mentally

Healthy eating also means having a healthy relationship with food.

We feel happy when we eat instead of worrying about gaining weight or feeling guilty for eating “bad” foods.

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We stop trying to have the perfect diet days where we eat only “good” foods and try to control ourselves from eating sweets, chips or chocolates.

We have a healthy love-love relationship with food. We find eating to be an intuitive, easy and natural process – just a part of our day – not something to fight with ourselves over.

We feel relaxed and at peace around food, without any obsessive or intrusive cravings popping into our mind.

Feel healthy overall

People with a healthy relationship with food talk about eating healthy in a completely different way versus dieters. They say:

  • “I just don’t obsess about the number on the scale any more. I just try to eat well, live healthy and go by the fit of my clothes.”
  • “I try to focus more on giving myself what I need than on how much I weigh.”
  • “I’m not very intense about food anymore. I still eat candy and drink sodas sometimes. It’s not good for me but I enjoy eating it and I like it this way because it is stress free.”

Notice how this is not about just weight – more of what successful people address is how they feel free and relaxed around food. This, more than fitting into a certain size, makes them happy and healthy from the inside out.

What is NOT a healthy eating plan?

A plan that prioritizes physical well-being at any cost is not healthy. Many people do this by going on restrictive diets again and again until they develop a love-hate relationship with food.

This leads to:

Emotional or binge eating

When we severely restrict foods like many diets do, our minds start to crave the foods we cannot have (like chocolate, chips and cookies). Studies have shown how cravings are a result of dieting and how dieters crave foods they cannot eat (like chocolate) more than non-dieters.[1]

When our cravings get too strong, they take over our minds and we end up binging on sweets or chips. This hurts our confidence and makes us feel guilty. When this happens over and over again, we risk it becoming a habit that we feel like we have no control over.

P.S.: A lot of us today don’t diet but we try to eat healthy – in doing so, we are still engaging in the same restrictive behaviors and labelling food as “good” and “bad”. This is why we end up binging on the foods we cannot have and feel like we are sabotaging ourselves.

Judging our self-worth based on our body size or weight

Because we struggle so much with staying at our happy weight, we make weight loss our most important life project. We get so involved and think about it so much that it starts to take over our lives.

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We judge ourselves based on how much weight we lost, we punish ourselves if we don’t and our self-esteem revolves around the size of our clothes rather than our life’s achievements.

Thinking about food this way takes away our mental peace. We lose confidence in our own abilities and we get depressed – the complete opposite of the happiness we were aiming for in the first place.

A healthy eating plan focuses equally on how you look and how you feel – it doesn’t involve eating boring foods or cutting out the foods we love. It doesn’t promise magical weight loss results like “lose 40 lbs in 4 weeks”.

Eating healthy is a way of living life, and we need to love it to make it a part of our lives.

3 principles of a healthy eating plan

Bringing together all that we know about physical and mental health, there are 3 key principles to keep in mind as we build your healthy eating plan.

Principle #1 – Balance physical and mental health

The first principle is to prioritize mental happiness over physical happiness. We can think of our relationship with food as a spectrum between a hate-hate relationship and a love-love relationship.

At one end, we might be feeling anxious and guilty around food, questioning our eating choices all the time. We may binge eat once in a while and overeating to soothe ourselves may be common. If you are at this end of the spectrum, focus on developing a healthier emotional connection with food before embarking on your weight loss journey.[2]

    If you feel like you have an okay relationship with food but are letting your weight or clothes size determine your happiness, you may be more susceptible to developing binge or emotional eating. Before making health all about weight loss, realistically assess how important weight loss is in your overall happiness – if you had an amazing family, friends and career, should losing weight determine how you feel about yourself so much? If not, then why are you letting your weight lower your self-worth?

    If you have a positive relationship with food, then you are ready to move onto the next step.

    Principle #2 – Long term and sustainable

    The second principle is to design a plan that you can incorporate into your day to day life that is easy to do and doesn’t require too much willpower.

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    None of us want to keep dieting for the rest of our lives. We just want to find a way of eating and living that works for us. The only way to do this is to fit it into our already busy lives instead of trying to re-design our entire lives around food. This is why following a weight loss plan off the internet isn’t sustainable. Creating a customized plan for yourself is your best shot of finding a method that actually works for you.

    We’ve learned to expect that eating right has to be difficult and that without a lot of effort, we can never succeed. Weight loss companies and social media have made millions of dollars selling us these beliefs (the diet industry is worth $70 billion in the United States alone).

    In fact, the key to successfully eating healthy now and forever is to make it so simple that it fits right into our everyday lives.

    Principle #3 – Minimize deprivation

    The third and one of the most important principles is to minimize feelings of deprivation. This means eating everything we love like cookies, chocolates and chips without any restrictions and without feeling guilty. It means eating out at restaurants, going out with friends and having Friday night drinks.

    Food is so much more than physical fuel for the body. Food brings people together and using food in this way helps us feel happier. Food that we love (like grandma’s apple pie for instance) refreshes us emotionally and makes us happier. It’s only by embracing all the loving aspects of food can we be successful in having a healthy and happy life.

    Your personalized healthy eating plan

    Putting the 3 principles to use, let’s design a healthy eating plan that works for you.

    1. Rate your relationship with food with the following questions:

    • Do you think about food — what to eat, what not to eat and have cravings more times than not?
    • Do you feel guilty when you eat cake, chocolate or chips and do you try to punish yourself by trying to diet even more strictly the next day?
    • Do you feel out of control around food and regularly overeat past fullness?
    • Do you wake up wondering when you can lose that tummy and does your mood depend on how well your pants fit for the day?

    If you answered yes to 2 or more of these questions, then learn how to feel more relaxed and happy around food first before you move onto the following steps.

    2. To feel good in your body and eat healthy, use the ancient principle of “Hara hachi Bu” or “Eat up to 80% full”.

    Many Asian cultures like Japanese, Chinese and Indian practice this habit of eating until they are just satisfied. Transition from where you are today to 80% full by getting in touch with your physical hunger and fullness cues. Start by eating slowly and noticing how full your stomach feels and stop before you are too full (or until just satisfied).

    P.S.: This can be difficult when you start out and will be even more so for emotional or binge eaters who use food to soothe themselves. Trying to practice 80% full before establishing peace with food will only worsen the binge eating.

    3. Build a healthy and happy diet with foods you love.

    Start with a balanced plate for main meals consisting of:

    • 1-2 palm-sized servings of protein
    • 2 fist-size portions colorful vegetables
    • 1-2 cupped-hand size portion of grains or fruits.

    Women can start at the lower number while men can start at the higher end. If you get to 80% full before being able to finish the food in your plate, then just pack them up as leftovers.

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    Here’s an infographic to show you how to do it:[3]

      Allow room for snacks depending on your fullness – feel like eating a muffin? Go for it. Craving some chocolate – don’t hold yourself back. Enjoy what you’re eating instead of feeling guilty and you’ll automatically find yourself feeling satisfied with fewer bites.

      P.S.: Eating this way does two things. First, getting sufficient protein and vegetables helps you stay alert and avoid the fogginess so common after 3pm. Second, when you stop trying to control the so-called “bad” foods, you stop craving them and you are not likely to binge.

      4. Start small and build on

      If transitioning to step 2 and step 3 is a huge jump from where you are, don’t try to make the leap in one step. The key to successful healthy living is to add on small healthy habits that slowly build on each other.

      Start with adding some vegetables next to your lunch sandwich and two weeks later, start eating some eggs with your breakfast instead of muffins. Don’t force yourself to cook, just buy a chopped salad at the supermarket instead.

      Remember, make healthy living easy and it will become part of your daily life.

      Summing it up

      Eating healthy doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. Health is not about eating the latest super foods or enjoying avocado toast while doing yoga. The basics of healthy living are simple, things even our grandparents can do.

      Make change easy for yourself and fit healthy eating into your everyday life. Focus on feeling good physically and mentally, eat all the foods you want (vegetables and cake alike!) and live your life happy with who you are.

      Featured photo credit: Kaboompics via kaboompics.com

      Reference

      [1] (James A.K. Erskine, Division of Mental Health, St George’s, University of London  & George J. Georgiou, School of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire, U.K.: Effects of thought suppression on eating behaviour in restrained and non-restrained eaters.
      [2] My Spoonful of Soul: Weight Loss & Freedom From Obsessive Food Thoughts – Can You Have Both?
      [3] Precision Nutrition: The best calorie control guide. [Infographic]

      More by this author

      Sai Khanna

      I aspire to help you enjoy food without obsessing over it, deal with stress better and empower you with the mindsets so you can chase your dreams.

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      Last Updated on September 28, 2020

      The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

      The Pros and Cons of Working from Home

      At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

      Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

      One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

      When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

      So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

      Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

      This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

      Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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      When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

      Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

      One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

      Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

      An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

      When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

      Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

      Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

      We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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      By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

      Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

      While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

      I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

      You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

      Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

      When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

      Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

      Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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      Con #2: Less Human Interaction

      One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

      Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

      Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

      This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

      While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

      Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

      Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

      This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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      For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

      Con #4: Unique Distractions

      Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

      For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

      To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

      Final Thoughts

      Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

      We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

      More About Working From Home

      Featured photo credit: Standsome Worklifestyle via unsplash.com

      Reference

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