Every once in a while, amidst the chaos of balancing two full time jobs as independent contractors and two adorable yet migraine inducing kids under the age of 3, my wife and I manage to get out of the house and venture into the visible public, surrounded by other human beings our age where we are able to socialize freely and even put our forks down in between actual bites of food. It’s a rare occurrence for sure, but a quarterly (if we’re lucky) stroll downtown for dinner and drinks is a necessary outlet for our harried and hectic lives. Many times we will run into people we know and I’ll run into either former or current clients, and the inevitable nod and smile about what we are both eating and drinking is often silently or outwardly acknowledged by both parties. Sometimes these clients are surprised to see me eating bread, or pasta, or key lime pie (love it), or imbibing a Gin and Tonic (love it even more), or perhaps a much larger than 12-ounce beer. It can be a bit disarming to see clients in public because we’re totally out of context, but it’s also fun because they can see that, yes, even I, the “kale-loving, protein-shake endorsing, organic fruits and veggies and lean meat and chicken and fish promoting” personal trainer, does in fact take a few liberties with his diet from time to time. In fact, I do this a lot of the time, and it’s so, so worth it.
There is no such thing as a perfect diet. It’s impossible to have one and it’s impossible to create one. In my mind, the perfect diet is one that is best suited for you and one that meshes well with your lifestyle, work, kids, responsibilities, goals, etc. I strive for consistency throughout the week with my eating habits, but being “good” all the time isn’t possible, and allowing myself to eat freely is necessary to maintain my sanity (and my wife’s) and actually motivates me to create even better habits so I can enjoy the random meal or happy hour from time to time. With that in mind, here is why the food cheat is good, why it’s necessary and how you can do it without going completely overboard:
- Don’t obsess. Enjoy. I talk to a lot of clients on a Thursday or a Friday that have a busy social calendar planned for the weekend, and some of them are genuinely worried about breaking their diets and coming back to the gym the next week back at square one. My advice: Stop worrying and enjoy yourself. Seriously. Relieving stress is just as important as eating well, and if you want to have a good time, do it. But there are ways to do it right, so let’s start there and make sure to …
- Plan ahead. Headed to a party or wedding and worried about eating way, way too much? Eat something before you go! I know, brilliant, right? Well, until I started talking to clients I was surprised about how few people actually do this. Just grab something beforehand with some protein, fiber and a little fat (nuts, seeds, veggies and hummus, almond butter on an apple, etc.) and you won’t be the guy whose stomach grumbles in the middle of wedding vows (I’m pretty sure this has happened to me a few times.)
- One or the other. But not both. If you are at said party or wedding or outing and want to enjoy yourself but still remain consistent, try this: red wine or beer is better then white wine and mixed drinks. Why? Less sugar = fewer calories, and fewer cravings. This might not work for everyone but I do think it makes sense, and I do know that whenever I have a Gin and Tonic, I definitely want another! Beer and red wine? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s worth a try.
- Eat and enjoy. See that tray of bacon wrapped scallops? Of course you do. I do too, and I’m gonna enjoy the heck out of it. And when you can, try for protein and fat as opposed to protein, fat, and starch, why I like to recommend bacon and eggs verses pancakes and toast, for example. Why so? Same rule as above. Less sugar = less cravings and less temptation to indulge in everything else. Go ahead and go (a little) crazy on the chicken wings, but combining chicken wings and those loaded potato skins might get you into trouble.
- Combining the two ideas above, balance is a good rule of thumb. This also goes with the idea of planning ahead. Maybe have drinks and not dessert, or bread and appetizers and not drinks, etc. I’ve always been a big believer in balance at my meals. If I know that I am going to have a bacon cheeseburger (yup, I will, probably soon), I am more than likely skip the french fries and ask for mixed greens on the side. Again, maybe not all the time, but little things can make those meals go down a whole lot easier.
- Rules are good, but variety is good too. My personal rule of thumb used to be “no dessert or drinking during the week.” That wasn’t so much fun or realistic once the kids came around, so I’ve evolved to the more manageable “as best as I possibly can during the day and balanced at night and on the weekend.” That one is a bit more vague because I want to allow myself to be realistic. Again, whatever works for you.
- Strive for 80 – 90% and you are doing great. Probably the best diet advice I can give my clients is that it’s impossible to be perfect 100% of the time. You have to have a tremendous amount of willpower to stay on task and resist temptation, and it isn’t worth the mental stress. You need to enjoy your life, and you can still have a healthy diet even if you aren’t perfect. One of my new favorite quotes: Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Balance. Consistency. Planning ahead. Habits. Routine. These aren’t easy to achieve, nor should they be, but being healthy and enjoying yourself at the same time? That’s a goal that any one of us can strive towards.