One statement wraps up the most important learning I could pass on about success and failure (having experienced both!) as it relates to nutrition: ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’ With my fall nutrition challenge starting in just a few days, I’ve been hard at work doing some advanced planning and preparation to set myself up for success. What I mean by ‘preparation’ extends beyond cleaning out my fridge and cabinets of unhealthy foods, and stocking it with nourishing foods. That’s part of it (and I’ll share more what I do to prepare as it relates to food), but there’s another aspect of planning that doesn’t get much attention, and that is situational planning. I’m already thinking about how I’m going to handle the challenging situations that I know I will come up against during the 6 weeks.
For example, every year there are 2 days in October that really put my resolve to the test: 1) my son’s birthday and 2) Halloween. What am I going to do when faced with my son’s birthday dinner of choice – bacon pizza, of course – delicious cupcakes, and what about the gobs of candy and CANDY CORN (aka crack) on Halloween! Even on the best of days, if faced with these temptations, things could go horribly wrong in an instant. Instead of making an impulse decision, I’m going to make a plan. That plan might be to forgo the pizza but indulge in a cupcake (I can’t have my son’s memory imprinted with his mommy bitterly knawing on carrots on his birthday), or maybe I’ll do something really special with him during the day just the two of us, and forgo the ‘food’ part of the celebration. Either way, I will plan for it in advance and stick with the plan in the moment.
The other set of challenges are the ones that pop up out of nowhere, like the donuts that show up unexpectedly at a meeting or the glass of wine that gets poured for you at a restaurant, or even that hunger pang you get in that afternoon lull around 4pm. Knowing how I will tackle those unexpected situations will increase the chances of a positive outcome. There are a couple strategies I like to use in these circumstances: the first is to be prepared to politely decline food/drink that I haven’t planned to consume in a social situations, and have a 2 sentence explanation of why (curious minds!); the second, in the case when hunger strikes me unexpectedly, is distraction. I identify a few activities that I enjoy and can hold my attention for 5-10 minutes. Maybe that’s going for a walk outside, removing myself from my surroundings and ‘treating myself’ to listening to a few of my favorite songs, or a podcast. Having those ‘distraction techniques’ in my back pocket is usually just what I need to put my attention on something other than the feeling of being ‘hungry,’ just long enough for the feeling to pass.
So there’s one aspect of my planning covered. The other big aspect is the nutrition and food component. This time around, I’ve chosen to follow a macro-based nutrition plan. This means every day, I’m looking to hit certain number of grams of protein, carbs and fat for that day. In addition, I’m timing my carb intake such that it is around my workouts, and saving my fat intake for the meals furthest from my workouts, spreading protein intake generally throughout the day. The only restrictions I’m putting in place are 1) no drinking for 6 weeks, and 2) no Halloween candy (gasp)!!
Based on my experience in the past, I know that when it comes to having to hit certain numbers by the end of the day, I really need to know what I’m going to eat with each meal in advance. When I wing it, and just eat haphazardly, I end up either short 50 carbs at the end of the day and having to scarf down a banana before bed (that can’t be healthy); or blasting through my fat by noon and having to eat my salad or vegetables at dinner totally naked ( the vegetables, not me). So what I’ve done is mapped out a few days of eating. Literally what foods I will eat and when I will eat them. Here is a link to what that looks like for 1 day. You can see what my daily goals were and I’m pretty darn close on the protein and carbs and a little low on fat (I’m ok with this because the other days are pretty much spot on).
With that being covered, if you are starting down the path of a nutrition challenge or just want to put some order around your meal planning and prep, here are some other things you can do to set yourself up for success:
- For at least 1 week (preferably all 6!) during the challenge, plan to log all the food you eat in MyFitnessPal. This will really help you understand what you are eating, and works / doesn’t work for your body!
- Think about the different ‘types’ of days you have, and plan out (in MyFitnessPal) what you will eat for breakfast, lunch dinner and snacks. Start with what you normally eat, and see how that adheres to (or doesn’t) your nutrition plan of choice. Modify as necessary.
- Any meal that has multiple ingredients that you anticipate eating more than once (let’s be honest, there’s probably at least 3-4), save as one of ‘My Meals’ in MyFitnessPal. There’s nothing more gratifying than saving yourself a few clicks here and there!
- Every night before bed, plan out and enter into MyFitnessPal what you plan to eat the next day. Don’t wait to log on the fly! If it’s already programmed in, all you have to do is EAT THE FOOD! No thinking! You might even choose to do this a few days in advance!
- Taking it one step further, if you have planned several meals in advance, you now know what needs to be in your fridge. Go ahead and assemble the meal as much as reasonably makes sense. Please do not apply salad dressing to a salad you are eating 3 days from now. But you can certainly chop up all the veggies and put the lettuce into one container and pre-package the veggies and protein source so they are ready to grab and go, or toss onto that nourishing salad.
- And while you are at it, since you know how many grilled chicken salads you will be eating, you will have a pretty good sense for how much chicken you’ll need to buy to have enough protein for those salads (for the record, there are roughly 139 grams of protein in 1 lb of chicken breast). Put another way, assuming you want about 20g of protein per salad, 1 lb of chicken breast will last you about 7 meals. So now you can start building your weekly shopping list around the foods you know you will be eating.
Wow. This is too good to be true! So much organization! Truth be told, I haven’t exactly made it this far in the planning process myself. The meal planning, pre-logging, pre-packaging, YES. The shopping lists, NO. My dream is to get to the point of knowing exactly what I’ll eat each week and having a shopping list that has exactly those items and just the right quantities – no waste and no 5:30pm runs to the grocery store. A girl can dream – and who knows, maybe I’ll get myself there during this challenge. Please pass along any other tips or strategies that have helped you!