How important is it to count calories? A mindfulness-based perspective.
I will eat the nachos
Over the quarantine, I came to a simple but important truth: if there are nachos in my house, I will eat them. This is not a knowledge issue. And while I can certainly gear physical activity to minimize the impact of tasty, tasty, nachos, it’s far less mental work to embrace a simple truth: I will eat the nachos.
Being able to accept that and move on allows me to handle my nutrition in a pragmatic way. Science first?
Nachos aside, you may be wondering what tweaks you can make to optimize your progress. Does it matter how soon before or after your workout you eat? What about choices in fats, proteins and carbohydrates? Actually, basics first
At Bang Personal Training, our standard advice is to be consistent with your workouts and nutrition. Not just because this is good foundational practice either. If you want to apply more sophisticated nutritional strategies, you have to be able to answer an important question that you have to ask: “How will I know if it works?”
You can only answer that question by tracking things, measuring, and comparing. It is actually less important that your nutrition is super-precise and more important that you have a strategy that you can implement day-in, day-out—even when your motivation is low. Without consistency, it’s all a guessing game.
"How will I know?"
If you exercise in the same way and eat the exact same food every single day—and then add a protein shake to your daily habits—the impact will be clear. You will either lose body fat or you will not. Your performance will either improve or it will not. You will choose an important metric and track it. However, if some weeks are an organic superfood party and other weeks are a bacchanal, the impact will be far harder to feel or track. Measurement here becomes more difficult and less meaningful.
The myth of perfect nutrition
In our experience, many people experience dramatic peaks and valleys with their eating. Periods of low motivation and overeating will trigger periods of high motivation and restriction. This is often where diets, cleanses, and fasts come in. The challenge is that these huge pendulum swings make it hard to find the consistent cruising speed so necessary for ongoing success. This is further compounded by all the emotions that come along for the ride. Put judgement aside
If you’ve ever spent any time exploring mindfulness or meditation, you’ve learned about the powerful but simple action of paying attention to your breath. In some approaches, you will simply observe your breath—without changing it. This is surprisingly counter-intuitive. We so badly want to interact—to “improve” things. But we can’t really see what’s happening unless we step outside of the process and observe. There is breathing when you’re on your best behaviour—and then there’s how you breathe during your day-to-day life. Let’s apply this idea to nutrition,
The real discipline
If you want to really explore discipline, here’s your chance. Simply observe yourself in—and around—food. What emotions do you have? What expectations? What habits are rooted deeply? What habits depend on environment, mood and context? Take this all in without changing a single thing. When you take an observational mindset, there is no right or wrong. You are curious instead of judgemental. You are present instead of reactive.
All habits need prompts. So, how will you remember to practice mindfulness? One of my favourite approaches is to leverage any anxiety or tension you have as a reminder. In this case, the more worry you have the better. Use those feelings as a reminder to transition back into an observational mindset. How long?
If you’ve made it this far with imperfect nutrition, you can survive another week. As simple as this statement is, you may have an emotional reaction to it. Congratulations—your mindfulness practice has begun! Notice how you’re feeling. And… That’s all. In-the-moment impressions like these will help you form a much more honest picture of your mental landscape. The truth is that mindfulness has no time limit. If this practice feels rewarding for you, you will naturally grow it into a lifelong practice. The idea of a week without change is more of a mental experiment than anything else. It is long enough for you to take note of habits, patterns, and routines. More importantly, it is long enough to avoid an extreme pendulum swing. By sidestepping the pull of emotions, you can view your nutrition with greater distance and objectivity.
Understanding your patterns are at the heart of consistency
Perhaps you’re like me—a destroyer of nachos. Perhaps your achilles heel is more coco-flavoured. Whatever the challenge, knowing your limits helps you sidestep the trap of believing that discipline is the answer—and blaming yourself when it inevitably fails. I can’t tell you how freeing it is to permanently eject that internal dialogue from your life.
Consistency, mindfulness, curiosity.
Once you know your true patterns, you can plan around them. No guilt, no judgement. Just information.