The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Eaters
They know their “why”
This one had its own Journal post. It’s a BFD and that’s the reason it’s #1. Effective eaters don’t do four 30 day challenges each year only to binge eat immediately after. They don’t do 4 week challenges with the incentive to win a prize only to see if they can get a 6 pack in 4 weeks. They don’t do a diet boot camp only to be found at The Cheesecake Factory upon completion. If this is you, you’re doing it wrong.
They don’t eat for abs; they’re focused on a big picture. Chances are they’re motivated by the lasting effects of a diet where they have a lot of energy both inside and outside the gym, and their blood work is applaudable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they appreciate the short term gains as well. Seeing muscles you didn’t know were there or some inches lost around the waistline is always rewarding. However, they’re focused on long-term health and vitality instead of short term aesthetic goals.
2. They get enough sleep
Did you know after a poor night’s sleep your fasting blood glucose is elevated, similarly to that of a Type II diabetic? A little background on an elevated blood glucose - elevated glucose levels signal the release of a hormone called insulin to get the glucose back down to a healthier range. Insulin is the hormone that drives fat storage. Increase insulin = increase fat storage. Back to that lack of sleep - a poor night’s sleep, or no sleep at all increases the hormone cortisol. This is a great hormone to have when you wake up in the morning or right before you work out, or if a saber tooth tiger is chasing you - it’s a necessary stress hormone to get you up and at ‘em. The problem arises when we have cortisol flooding our system chronically. That poor night’s sleep increases your cortisol levels, and not when we want it; it’s simply an added stress to our bodies.
So, if we stress our bodies by sleeping poorly, that elevated cortisol over the long term (or even the morning after) produces an increase in glucose (blood sugar), which then signals an insulin release to get the blood sugar back down, and the result over days/weeks/months/years means excess body fat. It’s a vicious cycle - sleep will affect blood sugar levels and blood glucose control will affect sleep.
To stress the importance of this as well, it’s not only the fat storage through time that poor sleep gives you - it’s the cravings. Yikes.
Cravings come with blood sugar highs and lows.
Control the blood sugar, control the cravings.
Now if you work the night shift or are the parent of a newborn or any other reason why sleep is not in your control right now, that doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective eater. You simply do the best you can.
The reason I have sleep as #2 on the list is because of the havoc a poor quality night’s sleep has on your blood sugar levels. High or chronic stress does not make it easy to eat for health. Again, that increase in blood sugar and cortisol makes you crave carbs. Waking up in the morning and feeling like crap and then craving a donut does NOT set you up for a day of success. It’s not impossible to overcome this, but it’s tough.
Prioritize your sleep. If you have to wake up by an alarm in the morning, start going to bed earlier. That Netflix show can wait; this is the beauty of Netflix.
As for my stupid easy guide to getting a good night’s sleep:
1. Don’t eat within an hour of bedtime.
2. Unplug anything with a light in the bedroom. It should be as dark as a cave.
3. Sleep in a cold room (68-72 degrees is ideal)
4. No TV in the bedroom, and no phone in bed. Lights = bad for sleep
5. Magnesium is a great supplement to take with dinner to help you chill (and also to get rid of those nasty restless legs or cramps you might get in the middle of the night). We really like UberMag from Poliquin Group.
3. Their pantries aren’t filled with crap (neither are their freezers, refrigerators, cars, bedside tables, etc.)
If you have junk food in the house, you will eat it (eventually). Even for the seasoned effective eater, there’s a threshold to one’s willpower. Don’t let a box of Oreos, chips, or even homemade cupcakes (even if they’re Paleo) be waiting for you at the end of a stressful day. Throw them out. Oh, and typical kid food? Chances are, if it’s marketed toward kids, it’s crap. Your kid needs crap food even less than you do. You’ll be doing everyone in the house a solid by throwing away poor quality food choices.
4. They know the difference between hunger and boredom, thirst, an emotional response, and tiredness.
Bottom line: effective eaters eat when they’re hungry and for no other reason than that. They don’t eat when they’re bored, thirsty, emotional, or tired. As long as you’re pretty well hydrated and your stomach growls, you’re hungry. Eat. Otherwise, if you feel like grabbing a snack - are you just bored? Go for a walk, wash the dishes, finish a task you’ve been meaning to tackle. If you’ve just had an emotional conversation or encounter - Do. Not. Eat. Run, I repeat, RUN away from the chips and cookies. (If you no longer have this food in the house, this is even easier). Go outside, call a friend, or get your mind right some other way. And as for tiredness - remember #2 on the list, where not sleeping properly leads to sugar and carb cravings? Not the best time to eat when you’re craving bread with a side of tortillas and a bowl of pasta with a milkshake to wash it down. Eat when you’re hungry; simple as that.
5. They are specific with foods they will and won’t eat, foods they’ll eat in moderation, and foods that are indulgences.
Chances are, an effective eater is a seasoned eater who has, through trial and error, discovered foods that they feel great eating, feel awful eating, and don’t feel the best eating, but might still be worth eating if they’re livin’ it up. This is where the 90/10 rule comes in handy to sort of visualize a week’s worth of eating. If you’re eating three meals a day x seven days a week, that’s 21 meals. This means about 19 of the meals are spot on with what an effective eater knows they’ll eat and feel awesome and about 2 meals are meals that fall into the moderation category. The indulgences would be considered for special occasions: 1 meal for holidays, birthdays, or special get-togethers - these meals are bonus meals. That’s right, the 90/10 rule applies to the “always” category and the “moderation” category - NOT indulgences. They’re not planned and they’re certainly not weekly “cheats”. Now, let me make sure I emphasize meals. This isn’t a whole day for a holiday, birthday, or get-together. Also, the 2 meals/week for the “moderation” foods are meals as well. To be clear, once your booty leaves the chair, your meal is over. Move on. The good news is, the more you experiment with yourself you’ll quickly realize the foods you feel your best eating and the foods you feel your worst after eating are pretty clear. Chances are after time, you’ll see why effective eaters don’t deviate much from the foods they WILL eat. They feel so great after eating food that works for them, the other stuff just isn’t worth it. Over time, you WILL get to this point and those indulgences you just can’t seem to live without now will be a distant memory from your diet’s past.
6. They know every feeding is important, so they prepare.
This is a heck of a lot easier now than it was even 5 years ago. H-E-B has meat and nut grab and go snack trays, re-heatable delicious meals like steak and asparagus. Costco even has freezer meals that are spot on with even the strictest clean eating guidelines. Thrive Market is an online grocery delivery service that has the tastiest convenient snack mixes and unique foods that will get you out of a food rut in no time. Everything is at your fingertips, you just have to look for it! Effective eaters are generally comfortable NOT eating ALL THE TIME because their hormones are primed for metabolic flexibility which means they’re not so dependent on carbohydrates to fix their nonexistent up-and-down blood sugar highs and lows. However, they’re prepared. They cook their meals in big batches for quick leftover reheating, and they keep handy snacks like jerky or nut and seed blends for their car or gym bag. When you’re sitting in traffic after a long day and you’re suddenly very hungry, those fast food restaurants look pretty dang inviting. Effective eaters plan for this and have snacks in the car or in their bag or purse so they can make it home and eat the meal they were planning on eating. Everyone has only a certain amount of willpower; if you don’t plan meals and snacks, willpower gets depleted very quickly and Domino’s is only a call away.
7. They don’t take advice from people who do not eat the way they want to eat.
See also: their social circles are filled with like-minded, positive people. Oh boy, this is a touchy one. Let’s reframe this away from nutrition and more toward the finance topic, I’ve found it to be less emotional. If you’re trying to get out of debt or maybe trying to put some money away for a rainy day, would you listen to your always-broke “friend” when he/she gives you advice about money, like telling you you NEED to go on that 14-day vacation? Or maybe when you’re considering a new car purchase and calculating what you’re comfortable paying a month on a car loan, would you seek the advice of your friend who just got their car repossessed last week? I hope not!
Effective eaters surround themselves with people who support them (or if they don’t support them, they’re people who keeps their mouths shut). Starting from scratch and cleaning up one’s diet is tough enough as is, you don’t need a “friend” slamming you for not binge eating with them or pressuring you to share a pizza with them when you wanted fajitas instead. If an effective eater feels great eating a diet consisting of mostly animal protein, they aren’t going to take advice from a vegan. Likewise, if someone is trying to clean up their diet and eliminate desserts and high carbohydrate foods, I hope they won’t take advice from someone who has a frequent buyer punch card from Nothing Bundt Cakes. You see where I’m going? I’m not suggesting (openly) that you divorce your spouse, break up with your significant other, or change your phone number to avoid your existing “friends”. Just be aware and do your best to surround yourself with people who support you making a positive change and applaud you for truly trying to live your highest quality life.
*Side note: following someone on social media who has 6% body fat and is eating a donut or carb-loading with garlic bread and a bowl of spaghetti does not mean their diet is based on those foods. They are lying to you. Please don’t take “advice” from someone that seems to look the part but lacks the transparency with their habits.
Effective eaters have a solid positive social circle…or a social circle filled with mutes. Either way, take heed of those worthy enough to give advice and filter out the ones who aren’t living their lives the way you want to live yours.