Judging strangers and 80/20 health
Today’s post is the result of being nosy and judging strangers. Last week I overheard this:
“I’m really gonna get healthy again. I’m going back to the gym and only eating healthy food - so this weekend me and my girlfriend ate so much junk. We were so bad, I spent about 15 quid just on biscuits and chocolate!”.
I held in my bossy-nutritiony thoughts at the time, but here they come!
IT’S ALL OR NOTHING is such a common mindset around health (especially with weight management): “I’m going to the gym and being good - I only eat boiled chicken breast now - 100% pure health!”. The problem with this rigidity is that one small slip up results in feelings of guilt and hopelessness - “I’ve been bad, there’s no point trying anymore.” It feels like eating one biscuit ruined all the good work, so might as well jump on the landslide and live off pizza, booze and cake for a week.
Not only is 100% perfection unnecessary, attempting it is counter-productive, bringing a cycle of missed-perfection, binging and punishment. Yo-yo dieting never helped anyone get healthy (or stay thin) in the long-run.
Thankfully, it doesn’t actually need to be all or nothing! Nutritionists and health coaches love to talk about the 80/20 lifestyle. This concept is about flexibility. Aim high, making optimal choices 80% of the time - good food, regular exercise - while enjoying whatever else in moderation, 20% of the time. Someone brings a delicious cake to work? Enjoy a slice if you want to! It doesn’t mean you can’t go for your planned run after work. You got invited to dinner? Have some wine, enjoy the food, order some vegetables. It doesn’t make healthy homemade lunches pointless for the next week.
When we purposefully enjoy pleasurable things, negative connotations and guilty feelings are removed, which stops us feeling a slave to cravings. By allowing all foods, having healthy food for most meals is also a choice rather than a punishment. And when you’re used to eating healthy and tasty home-cooked food much of the time, you don’t want to slump into eating takeaways and junk all the time; it makes you feel crappy.
This approach is 1000 times more achievable and sustainable than viewing food in terms of perfection vs guilt and failure. Deciding that nothing - other than something in excess - is “bad” lets us make better choices. If you work in an office where there’s a constant stream of cakes and treats, set some healthy boundaries about how often you partake. Happily choosing one piece is enjoyable. Trying to deny yourself altogether leads to guilt if you end up giving in. It’s tragic to eat the cake and NOT enjoy it, right?
As someone who's interested in nutrition and supplements, you probably already know this concept. But I wanted to talk about the junk food weekend guy...and it's good to have a reminder of helpful ideas I think?! How about you - ever struggle with food cravings?
PS: Let's not get crazy and start recording every decision as good vs bad to work out life percentages!! 80/20 is rough imagery to help moderation, not a new and equally awful version of calorie counting.