Have you ever found yourself training in the gym multiple times per week, working hard to reach the fitness goals you’ve set for yourself, but still not seeing the results you’re working to achieve?
Some sage advice I received from a friend has forever changed the way I go about setting and reaching my goals in and out of the gym : “Abs start in the kitchen.” It’s such simple wisdom, but it is so easily overlooked when we ask ourselves, “why is my hard work in the gym not paying off?”
I have taken this maxim and applied it to my life, and over time I’ve found a routine that best fits my lifestyle but still challenges me to make healthy choices. It isn’t a secret that healthy eating and an active lifestyle contribute to a happier, healthier you, but that can be much easier said than done. Who hasn’t derailed a few times after a particularly tough week or a holiday party with girlfriends or after walking past that box of fresh glazed donuts sitting in the office lounge?
Whatever mistakes you’ve made in your past don’t matter. You have today and you can start making small, healthy changes right now to reach your fitness goals. So give yourself a little grace and keep going. Take these tips and incorporate them into your routine to create a lifestyle in which you are active, you feel happy and healthy, and you consistently reach the goals you work so hard for in and out of the gym.
Moderate your sugar intake.
In America, we consume so much refined sugar in our diets; it seems as though some form of processed sugar is unnecessarily added to everything we eat. Your body does need glucose, a basic form of sugar, to power important processes such as brain function and energy production, but the glucose your body needs can easily be gotten from eating whole, unprocessed foods. It is not necessary at all to eat foods with added sugars to get the glucose you need to fuel your body.
Over the course of your day you want to eat foods that keep your blood glucose at controlled and consistent levels. This way you can maintain your focus and a good outlook all day. Easy habits that will help you reach this goal include avoiding processed, sugary snacks, mostly eating whole, close-to-the-earth foods, setting a daily limit for how much sugar you eat, and remembering to evenly spread your sugar intake throughout your day. A good source to help you decide your daily sugar limit is the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It recommends you get no more than 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugars.
Plan meals made from whole foods, schedule them at intervals that won’t leave you hungry between meals, and if you do snack, avoid treats with high amounts of added sugar.
Weekly meal prepping is a popular routine that keeps many people on track toward their fitness and health goals but it isn’t a routine that fits every lifestyle. It can be intimidating to someone trying to establish new habits and can seem like an impossible practice to maintain after a few weeks. Also, if you don’t want to sacrifice variety in your diet, preparing weekly meals with an assortment of options can be a laborious process.
Develop a routine of meal planning and grocery shopping that works best for you. A routine that has helped me tremendously is to plan my breakfast, lunch, dinner, and desserts every day for two weeks at a time and buy groceries every other week according to my plan. For breakfast and lunch I buy staple items that I can use to create easy meals like eggs, vegetables, and oats for breakfast and salad greens and a variety of toppings and dressings for lunch. Dinner is where I get creative; I have a Pinterest board full of recipes that I actively reference for dinner ideas. I usually plan two dinner meals per week for two weeks and cook a portion large enough for a few days of leftovers. I even plan what I’ll have for dessert each night to satisfy my sweet tooth and to be sure that my sweet tooth doesn’t get the best of me in the grocery aisle. My favorite desserts include a scoop of So Delicious cashew milk ice cream topped with crushed pretzels and melted peanut butter, and a variety of fresh fruits prepared in creative ways, like my Honey Roasted Figs.
This is a very structured way to plan and prepare my meals but I’ve stuck with it for years because it works for me and it’s important you find a routine that works for you. No matter how you do it, planning ahead will decrease mindless eating and keep you on track to reaching your fitness goals. Use a planner or your phone calendar to plan your meals. Plan for days, weeks, or a month at a time. Allow yourself a little flexibility or a lot when grocery shopping. Whatever your plan, make sure you will stick with one that will best help you on your fitness journey.
Count your macros.
Calorie-counting has gotten a bad reputation in the world of health and wellness but when done with good intentions, this method of monitoring what you eat has been proven to work. Counting your macros can be an even better method of calorie counting because you can see where your calories are coming from.
Macros refers to proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, all of which are essential nutrients for your body. The amount of each of these nutrients you consume depends on different personal factors like how active you are, how efficiently your body uses energy, and your fitness goals. Use dependable resources like the Dietary Guidelines for Americans or a nutritionist to help you navigate all the available information and to help you decide how much of each nutrient you need to eat daily to boost your work in the gym. Once your plan is in place, keep an app or a notebook to help you track your progress over time so you can see what works and what doesn’t, and adjust based on your results.
Don’t deprive yourself but modify.
Depriving yourself of the foods you love almost guarantees you won’t reach your health and fitness goals because the process will be restrictive and unbearable. So, don’t cut them out completely, but instead make your routine flexible enough to include the foods you enjoy. This way, you are much more likely to happily stick with your plan and see the results you work for in the gym.
Even though you shouldn’t completely cut out your favorite treats, you will likely have to adopt a new approach to how you eat them. You may need to change your eating patterns and the ingredients in the foods you prepare. For example, if you love desserts, save them for special nights of the week or special occasions so you don’t overindulge. And if you have to snack during the day, eat fresh foods like nuts and fruit. When preparing your favorite recipes for sweet treats, make healthy ingredient swaps like applesauce for butter or dates for sugar.
For some of the hardest changes in your diet, quitting cold-turkey may not work as well; instead, take a gradual approach to these changes. Instead of going from a daily cup of coffee loaded with super sweet creamer to black coffee, gradually decrease how much creamer you use over the course of a week or two. If sodas are your weakness, try carbonated waters like LaCroix for your fizz fix.
Think weeks, not days.
Managing what you eat in weeks instead of days gives you more flexibility for unexpected events and special occasions where you may indulge a little more than you normally would. It also allows for adjustments in your eating patterns based on other lifestyle factors like how active you are each day. For example, if you workout three days per week you may need to increase your carbohydrate and protein intake those days, and decrease them on rest days.
Planning in weeks can also change how you view foods because it changes how you approach calorie-counting for those foods. Managing your calories on a daily basis can be restrictive. You have a smaller number of calories to pull from daily so you may be tempted to think, “I can’t have this today because I only have so many calories left.” This can lead to unhealthy thoughts about food, and is part of why calorie-counting has gotten such a bad reputation. Thinking in weeks gives you one large allotment of calories for seven days and you are much more likely to think of that number as a goal to reach rather than a limit to stay within. With this outlook, you can think about the foods you can eat rather than constantly limiting what you can have.
Try taking a bird’s-eye view of your diet. It may make you a better planner, make you more disciplined, and give you more flexibility for events, both planned and unplanned. This method doesn’t make food the enemy, but gives you control.
Your hard work in the gym needs to be coupled with smart choices and changes out of the gym. With this mindset you’ll see the changes your’re working so hard for and you’ll hopefully develop long-lasting habits that will help you maintain your progress. However you choose to approach big changes to your diet, remember to give yourself grace because it is not easy. Every journey, no matter how long or short, starts with one step; focus on taking high-quality steps and getting closer to your goals.
Let’s talk! What are some changes you’ve made in your routine that have helped you over a fitness slump? What is some advice you’d give a friend in this situation?