Marc Halpern: A Nutrition Plan that Works
by Marc Halpern
About 15 years ago, I lost 70 pounds.
I’ve spent the years since years figuring out how I did it.
Of course, I moved more and ate less, which just happens to be the worst saying in the exercise and nutrition field. It’s like saying “Tom Brady threw the ball a lot, so he became a pro quarterback.” There’s a little more to it than that.
Somewhere along the process of figuring it out, I made a simple scale trying to highlight the importance of avoiding perfection when it comes to nutrition.
It looked a little like this diagram from Dan John’s Can You Go:
So, ideally, you are somewhere in the middle. Most programs want to convince you to stay far to the right. However, for most of us, our dreams will come true somewhere to the right.
While you probably agree, this is just philosophy.
How do we put it to action?
Step 1: Decide if you can take any action right now on a nutrition plan
If you just started a new workout program, a new job, or any other big event, this may not be the time to do anything. If you aren’t ready to make a change with your nutrition, forcing it will be a waste. Humans don’t do too well with multitasking when it comes to long term changes.
Just thinking about a change should not add to your stress levels.
I was explaining this concept to my friend Josh Satterlee the other day. He said my first book should be titled Do Nothing. Not a bad idea!
Step 2: When contemplating a change, focus on what you already do well
Too often, when I sit down with someone for the first time, they tell me everything they don’t like about themselves and discuss all of their bad habits.
[bctt tweet=”When contemplating a change, focus on what you already do well. ~ Marc Halpern” via=”no”]
You should write down three things you like about yourself and/or do well. It doesn’t even have to be about nutrition. We all suck at some things and are good at others. Let’s get this out of the way.
Now, focus specifically on nutrition. I have yet to find someone who is completely lacking in quality food habits. List a few things that you currently do well in regards to your health. Being known as a good cook counts, even if it isn’t “healthy” food. So does food shopping on a regular basis. Or being consistent with meal structure.
Step 3: Answer this question: What is the one major roadblock getting in the way of moving to the right of the graph?
Whatever comes to you first is correct. It could be snacking at work, skipping meals, lack of sleep . . . anything. Most of the time you can identify a glaring need. This is where we will start. If you really can’t think of anything, keep reading and I will give some examples later on.
Step 4: Identify the tool to help begin removing the roadblock
There are almost too many options to help us. Here are some of the major ones:
Food journaling (electronic or paper)
Joining a community/teaming up with a friend
Making a checklist
Scheduling and habit change apps
Meal prepping services
I’m sure you can think of others. The important thing is to pick an option that you know fits your personality and lifestyle. Be sure that you are extremely confident you can do it. Don’t pick something just because you think it is the best. Pick it because you can actually accomplish it.
Step 5: Changing your environment to help save willpower
Many of the things you do are shaped by what is around you, whether you are conscious of it or not.
A striking example of this happened when I was buying my Jeep. All of the salesmen had a spare tire around their waist. Every single one. When I had to write down what I did for a living, the salesman, Joe, quipped that he should hire me, because since he started working at the dealership he had gained 30 pounds—all around his waist.
He went on to explain that every time he has to speak to a manager about a price, he must walk through a hallway that always has donuts, sodas, and snacks. They work 12 hour shifts, and are hopefully busy selling cars. Let’s assume a conservative number for passing those donuts is around 50 times a day. He has to say “no” to tempting foods 50 times per day, maybe 200-300 times per week.
Saying “no” that many times is a tall order. We all have a finite amount of willpower. Even if Joe said “no” successfully for a month straight, I’d bet he would breakdown elsewhere. Not making it to the gym, eating too much at dinner, or other bad habits could come creeping in.
He never called me. But if he did, the first thing I would do is find a way to change his route or ask that the snacks be put elsewhere. Just avoid having to say “no.”
In other words, make your environment work for you.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is that they go for the biggest “willpower wasters” first. A restrictive diet, a program that adds too much to their schedule, or anything that is too much, too soon drains your energy too quickly. These programs can have value but will only last in the short term.
By making simple changes to your daily routine, you can get huge results without a great amount of free will. Examples?
Swapping big plates for smaller plates
Putting your car keys on your running shoes before you go to bed
Switch a candy jar for a fruit basket
Walk a different way to your office, skipping the hallway that has the vending machine
Take the highway home from work, avoid the service road that has fast food
Eating in the dining room and leaving the serving dishes in the kitchen, out of sight
There are endless ideas on this topic. It comes down to learning what will work for you . . . which takes a bit of awareness and reverse engineering. The more changes you can implement, the better your results will be and you won’t feel dragged down by your program.
Putting your nutrition plan to use
Sarah wanted to lose 20 pounds and had a few medical issues that would benefit from a healthier food approach. She had already decided it was a quiet time in her life and time for some permanent changes.
We made a list of what she already does well. It included:
Eating at least two different vegetables at every meal,
Eating breakfast daily, and
Having a kitchen with everything she would need to cook.
The first thing that came to her mind when discussing major roadblocks was “not planning for dinner.” This sometimes led to fast food and getting hungry to the point where she would finally put something together and overeat.
When discussing a tool to use, she decided that a food journal is something she could easily do. We also decided to add a shopping list to her routine. This way, she can look back each week and identify what days didn’t have a great dinner and fix it by choosing items for the next shopping list.
We designed environmental changes to help make these changes easier on her. After our workout on Fridays, she took a route home that would bring her right past the grocery store. All she had to do was pull in and get the items on her list. We also discussed putting the dog’s leash on the kitchen counter, and walking him at the same time each day, right before dinner. If you’ve ever had a dog, they like their routine and will let you know when it’s time to walk.
Each day, if she lost track of time, there was the dog in the kitchen giving a gentle reminder.
The last change we made was eating in the dining room because there was a TV in the kitchen that caused overeating by being a distraction.
She lost 12 pounds with these changes. Once we were confident that they were permanent, we repeated the system. She added “consistency in prepping and eating dinner” to her does well list and identified “lunch portions” as the next roadblock. We went through the tool list and identified having a teammate would be the best option, since she eats lunch at work with the same person every day. They both agreed to help out with accountability. They walked back from lunch by taking a route that would bypass the vending machine, so saying “no” didn’t have to happen.
She lost six more pounds, and we repeated the steps for the last few.
The above system comes from years of reverse engineering what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to nutrition changes. Weight loss is only one example. It also works for muscle gain or simply healthier eating.
To recap A Nutrition Plan that Works:
Decide if it’s the right time to change,
Capitalize on what you do well already,
Pick a major roadblock,
Identify a tool that fits your personality,
Plan environmental changes that can boost results and decrease willpower usage,
Smash the roadblock down, and . . .
Repeat the system to find out what to work on next for more results or a goal change
This is strikingly different from what the typical dieter will do:
Wait until New Year’s or a week before a cruise,
Ignore good habits,
Cut out a macronutrient or food group like that “toxic” sugar,
Change their environment by making coworkers angry because “how could they possibly eat that food, don’t they know it makes them fat?”
Smash the buffet, go wild and “cheat” on their diet,
Wait a while, and . . .
We can do much better than this.
Permanent change can only happen when we get out of our own way and use an objective system. It’s easier when we know what it requires:
Problem solving skills . . .
and a plan.
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