Every few months I have to straighten up and fly right when it comes to the habits of maintaining my health and continuing with my weight loss. So I refocus on The Basics. They are: drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, outlining my food for the next day, and exercising regularly (if not vigorously). When I let these things slide, I invariably feel crappier and my goals suffer.
I thought I’d blog about them so I can refocus my brain on each in turn.
Without a plan you will execute, you’re just hoping for the best.
And hoping for the best when it comes to changing our habits and our health doesn’t work very well. It becomes a bullshit narrative in the brain: “I really WISH I could lose weight and improve my health, but my fairy godmother hasn’t come to lower my blood sugars and transform my waist size. But I hope for the best!” Magical thinking at its finest.
The simplest way to challenge this is the 24-Hour Food Plan. In terms of The Basics, it is fundamental.
Why do a Daily Food Plan?
- It helps me make decent food decisions in advance, rather than in the moment filled with stress, temptation, or fatigue. It gives me a reason to steer clear of temptations.
- It shows me where I am doing okay with my food and what I need to work on each day
- It helps me create mental wins. When I stick to a food plan – even a crappy one! – I show myself that I do what I promise myself I will do.
- It reminds me that my life with food is really about the day-to-day, not some big moment far off in the future.
Guidelines for the Daily Food Plan:
- They only need to be 24-Hours in advance. If I’m not ready for a weekly plan or my week is nuts, don’t get too ambitious.
- They don’t need to be “perfect” or elaborate to be effective. In fact, I should be realistic about what I’ll actually eat tomorrow based on my schedule, my budget, my stress level, and what I’m willing to eat right now in my life.
- Make the plan something I can execute with a minimum 85% – 90% accuracy. I cannot wake up tomorrow and change my entire world around food. It is hard to go from fast food every day to salads every day. It is a slow process of building one new thing on top of another.
- It has to be written down – either on paper or in my phone. Yes. It must. Putting it outside of my head and its 30,000 other daily thoughts and ideas means it gets jumbled. Writing it down gives it the importance of making a decision. And it reinforces that decision whenever I look at the plan.
- If I want something today that is not on my plan today, don’t eat it. Plan it for tomorrow or next day. That way it becomes a conscious decision and not based on an impulse. The exception to this is things like celery and carrot sticks.
- If I write something on the plan, but I’m not hungry I don’t have to eat it. (Snacks, desserts, etc.)
- Review my food plan to see how I did. What can I do a little better tomorrow?
Starting Where You Are At:
There are times when we have to deal with what’s in our pantry/fridge because we aren’t going to throw everything out and can’t afford to restock the entire kitchen. There are also times when our schedules are so crazy we know we’re going to hit up fast food every night this week. So we’re just going to forget it and then start when things are fresh.
NO. START NOW! DO YOUR 24-HOUR PLAN TODAY NO MATTER WHAT. Start with the fast food and the crap in the kitchen.
Look at what you have right now and plan what you will eat tomorrow from the kitchen.
- Sugary cereal and milk? Check. Do you have some fruit you can add? Yes or No?
- Two PB&J Sandwiches for lunch on white bread? Fine. Can of Pepsi? Go ahead, finish off the pack this week if you need to. Just drink a glass of water before lunch, okay?
- Dinner: Enchilada casserole because you have all of the ingredients? Knock yourself out. Portion control it and have the leftovers the rest of the week, too.
- Snack: Those crappy cardboard “chocolate” cookies in the plastic tub? Okay, if its what you have, it is what you have. But you don’t have to eat them just because they’re there. And portion control.
Now for the fast food:
- Which fast food will I have tomorrow? Jack in the Box or Pollo Loco? (Be realistic).
- What will I order when I get there? (Be realistic)
- Do I really need the fries? Yes or No?
What’s happening here is that we’re practicing making these decisions in advance and then following through with them. The more you do a 24-Hour Plan the way you say you will, the more your brain will believe you when you say to it “This is what we’re eating, not that.”
After a while of executing some crappy plans (and when we run out of crap to eat at home), we’ll be better able to make a few changes to our plans and choose a better option at the fast food restaurant and to make some changes in what we eat at home. Little by little, our decisions around food get better. Every 24 Hours.
Notebooks or Journals: As small and simple as a mini-composition book from the dollar store or a full-sized Panda Journal, I don’t care. Do whatever works for you at the time. I’ve had days where I wrote my 24 Hour Plan on a Post-it note and stuck it on my purse for the next day. It was fine. I’ve also had times where I wanted to go into a bit more detail around my plans, so a moleskine works, too.
Pre-Printed Plans: If you like to have room to spread out and things organized on a page, there are pre-designed fitness planner sheets out there (like this one) or you can order a diet and food journal from Amazon.
Apps: I’ve mentioned these before, but if you’re the type who would rather just put it into your phone, you can use My Fitness Pal (which tracks calories, macros, sugars, etc), or something like the notes app on your phone, Evernote or Grid Diary if you want to avoid the obsessiveness of calories and macro tracking.
In order to get the most out of my 24 Hour Plan, I also have to do a quick assessment at the end of the day. I make a quick note about what I changed on my plan (if anything), so I can go back and evaluate where I’m not executing. This helps when my weight loss slows down. I can clearly see where I’ve let things slide.
What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do
We all have situations where we want to claim “I have no control over the food they are going to serve!” Well, not entirely true. Most of us know when we’re going to a dinner party, when we’re going to a conference or have a catered lunch meeting scheduled. We know when we’re going to our kid’s baseball game where pizza and hot dogs will be served. Very rarely is a surprise meal is thrust upon us.
But we DON’T always know exactly what our options will be there. In which case, this is what my daily plan looks like:
- Avoid snacks and breadbaskets
- Choose more colorful veggies and fewer starches
- Look at the menu, find 2 options, choose the “Better” item.
- Stop at one serving or plate.
That’s it. Fully executable. Stuff I have control over. That’s the plan. It is written down.
How the 24 Hour Plan has Helped Me:
After over a year of changing my eating habits, I’m in a different place regarding food than I was last summer. I ordered a salad for lunch yesterday at a fancy-ish restaurant (something that would have been unthinkable for me a year ago). I knew I was going to eat out and on my 24 Hour Plan I had put: “A Salad or Chicken Sandwich”. And that’s what I got. But that doesn’t mean I’m an extremely healthy eater, either. I can still stand to improve, for sure. But just not yet.
In the beginning, I didn’t want to eat salads at all, I just couldn’t. I was not a “salad person”. So day-by-day, I changed a few things with my breakfasts and my lunches. Eventually, I cut my added sugar intake in half for a few months. Then I dropped it to a quarter for a few months after that. I reduced the carbs on my plate little by little over the course of 9 months. I did what I knew I could live with regarding my food. .
But you know what I still have on a 24-Hour meal plan every week? Robertito’s burritos. Every. Week. I’m not willing to give them up. So I plan for it once a week and look forward to it. It is a conscious decision and one I’m okay with. During play rehearsals, amazing baker Valerie brought in cookies every week. On Sunday nights I put on my Monday plan “2 Valerie Cookies” and ate them with pleasure. I also planned the day low in sugar to balance it out, so I didn’t have to think too hard about decisions that could blow up in my face. But that’s what a plan is for. So I can see what I’m planning to eat and make some slightly better decisions as I go along.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. But the reason it is one of The Basics is that we need to be conscious of what we’re choosing to eat, day in and day out. Writing it down, seeing the plan, following through. . . this is how we slowly break the cycle of impulse eating and stress eating and how we begin to design our life with food rather than being a victim to it.
Meal Plans are a common idea in the diet industry, but I sort of stumbled on it on my own last summer while meal planning for busy rehearsal weeks. The concept of the 24-Hour Food Plan is taught by Corinne Crabtree at Phit n Phat. I highly recommend her free course to get folks started in a sane approach to weight management.