It is the quality of the foods, and ultimately the portions that we consume that make the difference on whether we make progress toward our wellness goals. It’s Quality over Quantity!
Single serving foods at the grocery stores and single servings foods served at restaurants vary so much. Most of the time, neither are aligned to food nutritional charts. This makes it hard for consumers to make consumption choices that pull them in different directions, particularly when eating out. On one side, you don’t want to stop going out and enjoying a meal with friends, on the other, you can’t seem to find a way to go out and not overeat because the portions are huge, and it is not easy put the fork down. So what do you do?
It took an accident for me to learn how to make adjustments on my own, and train my brain to help me make these choices.
About four years ago, I had an accident at an airport while out of town on vacation. I was goofing around with a friend on the way up an escalator, and I fell, injuring an ankle. I was able to enjoy the rest of the trip with pain medication, but when I got back I could not resume my exercise routine, which was primarily walking and jogging.
It was the summer after high school that I took up walking and jogging. On my own I would walk over to the stadium which was close to my house, and I trained myself, first to walk long distances, then to jog, and then to run short sprints. For a few years I jogged five to six miles on a regular basis. I used a stop watch to time myself, and little by little I increased my speed and my stamina.
I don’t remember thinking much about it then, but during my early twenties, I established a routine that up until the accident had helped maintained my weight over time without any specific diet plan. There have always been fluctuations in my weight, but I knew that I didn’t have to go out and buy new clothes when they started fitting tight. Just by increasing my distance or exertion, and eating less junk food, I could feel comfortable in my clothes again.
Avoiding junk food I learned around the same time. Right after high school I worked at a fast food restaurant for a few years. I also don’t remember how I came to adopt this practice, but early on I started ordering food combinations that were not on the menu. I would eat salads with burger meats or fries with mustard instead of ketchup; I learned to like salads with little dressing. More than wanting to not eat less healthy options I wanted variety, since I could not leave at lunch time to eat somewhere else. It was not hard to notice that my choices were helpful.
After my accident, I had to make drastic changes. I had good eating habits, but not being on a strict diet meant that going two to three weeks without exercise was enough for me to notice my clothes starting to fit tighter. So I had to make changes. At the time of the accident, my work was not close to home, and I didn’t like to pack a lunch, so I had to plan my restaurant options and be deliberate about my food choices.
I love all types of foods so I let my mood guide my choices. An important change was identifying the restaurant and the possible options before I got there. This allowed me to mentally prepare ahead of time, and have the determination necessary to choose wisely. Of course by this time I am way older, and more knowledgeable about foods. I knew which foods I should absolutely avoid, and what changes I could make to still enjoy the meal but consume less calories. I think this mental work helped a lot. If it was Mexican food, I resolved ahead of time to ask the waitstaff not to bring the chips and salsa before they went to get it. I accepted the price difference for making changes to a menu item. For example, if the fish tacos came with fries and rice, I asked to substitute a salad for both. The tacos were so good, that the other items were not necessary for my satisfaction.
I still ate burgers and chicken sandwiches, but I asked for a knife and made the bread and the patties thinner. I did this even if it was a meal in the car on the way out of town, or to off site meetings. If I had the fries, I would eat them with no ketchup. Foods with sauces or casseroles I would eat only occasionally. I ate breakfast at home and I din’t join in the pan dulce or doughnut break at the office.
It took me almost a year to start walking again, and almost two to start jogging, after the medical care and all that.
So in addition to the changes in diet, I adopted a new strategy to burn calories. I moved more. I couldn’t walk as I used to for exercise, but I could move my feet around in different ways in stationary positions, and I could use my upper body.
It’s been a few years since the accident. I still do feel discomfort sometimes, but that’s what over the counter Aspercreme is for (basic formula – i tried one that I couldn’t tolerate..it was too strong. Check with your doctor!)
Due to a busier life style, I tend to exercise less. What helps is that in general, I trained myself to move more, and to eat better. Eat better still means I eat everything, but I have more control. I love menudo but I don’t eat it often. I love barbacoa, and I eat it more often than I eat menudo, but it’s still pretty infrequent. I rarely eat fries. I cook all my meals with olive oil. I have pay attention and appreciate the natural flavor of foods, so I don’t have to douse it with dressings or sauces. I eat less bread, less sugar, and less fat. I still eat tortillas, corn chips, and tamales often, and of course I eat Flan! For the most part, however, I try to eat natural foods with fresh ingredients, and avoid packaged foods. My brain doesn’t sabotage my intentions that often anymore.
As far as exercise, I exaggerate my movements when doing housework, I jog in place while brushing my teeth. I tap dance and do leg stretches when I am standing waiting for something. I am so used to it that you may see me at the grocery store doing these movement, but hey, I am burning calories. I also sometimes mop my kitchen floor with my feet, while I listen to a favorite TV program. I often want to do both, but have time for only one, so I adjust; I don’t always have to watch to listen and enjoy a favorite show! It’s crazy, but it works, and I am a happy camper!
To achieve progress you have to internalize the idea that quality is better than quantity, and use it like a mantra. Think about the idea and what it really means. How does it look like for you with regards to your meals and the possible changes that you can make, without sacrificing your joy for food. Practice making small changes in your food choices using this idea frequently, but be specific…one food choice at a time. You have to train yourself to carry certain thinking patterns on a regular basis to help you stay consistent.
You also have to stay positive, and not see your efforts as a chore to be avoided. Stay motivated. Read a variety of interesting articles on the subject. Share your ideas with a friend or a significant other. Write or record ideas that you can share or keep to yourself. Look for supporters wherever you can find them. Everything we want to accomplish requires work, but we think little about the mental work and preparation that is required to remain consistent.
The work required to reach our wellness goals looks different for everyone. To be successful you first have to acquire a strong internal voice that tells you that you are ready. To get there…read, think, and tap dance!
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