The Foodie’s Guide to Getting Fit
How to Love Food While Achieving Your Fitness Goals
Every once in a while, I hear a client use this as a reason for why they have difficulty improving their eating habits to support their fitness goals:
“… But I really love food.”
I love food, too.
But there’s a deeper issue here.
Love, or a Bad Relationship?
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love good food. We’re wired for pleasure, and food is a huge part of the joy that we can experience in life. However, just like in human relationships, it’s important to remember that there is a difference between love and a bad relationship… but they can look really, really similar.
The most basic self-reflection question you can ask is:
What food behaviors improve quality of my life, and which food behaviors take away from quality of life?
If you can pause, reflect, and answer that for yourself, you’re on the path to improving your relationship with food.
In this case, nutrition has nothing to do with calories or macros. It has to do with how you feel — mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Remember, overeating to the point that you have difficulty managing a healthy weight does take away from your quality of life. There comes a point when the benefit of the unbridled enjoyment of food is outweighed by the consequence of health issues. Once you get into some poor habits around food (eating as a primary self-soothing technique), you find that it’s no longer about enjoying food – it’s about self-medicating with food. And that’s no fun.
No judgment. No shame. No black-and-white thinking. One question – what behaviors do you know, deep down, cause you the most trouble? On the flip-side, which behaviors – and which aspects of your personality – are assets in building a healthier relationship with eating?
Plenty of “foodies” who love artisanal guac, local beer, house-made pickles, and stone-fired pizza have an extremely healthful, self-caring relationship with food. How do you build that for yourself?
Avoid Black-and-White Thinking
The main key, in my opinion, is to avoid black-and-white thinking. There are no “good” or “bad” foods.
In the words of Gretchen Rubin:
What we do every day matters more than what we do once in a while.”
I think this is an essential distinction – it helps deconstruct either-or thinking, and reminds us that there are some things that are appropriate* for “occasionally,” and some things that are appropriate for “every day.”
*I am using the word “appropriate” to indicate building a healthy relationship with food – not any specific weight loss outcome or moral quality!
So the question is: “I love food – how do I build a healthier relationship with eating?” The answer is: “By continuing to love food, but learning to appreciate context.”
Two Important Strategies
If you’re a self-proclaimed foodie, you’re a connoisseur of flavor, texture, and preparation. The prospect of formal “dieting” can seem stuffy and unfulfilling.
What’s a foodie to do?
There are two important strategies that I – as a self-identified “foodie” – use to make healthy eating accessible and sustainable. They both revolve around context. Is this an “every-day” meal, or a “every-once-in-a-while” meal?
Make “Every-Day Meals” More Interesting
You don’t have to relegate yourself to a bland diet of poached chicken breast, unsalted broccoli, and dry rice. Instead, there are low-calorie enhancements that you can add to your meals in order to eat well – both in the health sense as well as the epicurean one:
- Salsa, especially salsa verde
- Aromatics like basil, cilantro, and thyme
- Citruses like lemon and lime
- Moist textures like lentil soup or baked zucchini lasagna
- Mixed dishes like nachos or tacos
These techniques are simple and easy to implement. $2 of cilantro can make a dish taste ten times better.
Make “Every-Once-In-A-While” Meals More Infrequent
With many clients who eat out frequently, I encourage them to recognize when an occasion is truly special, and when it’s “just another” meal out.
Yesterday, for example, I ate both lunch and dinner out with friends. This is not typical for me, and because it was a lot of restaurant eating, I chose to order menu items (and to make modifications) that followed the “keep it interesting” rule, but weren’t truly indulgent. For lunch, I had a “Kebab Cobb” salad at Chop’t with extra chicken and lemon juice and olive oil (instead of the default dressing), and for dinner I had the “Macro Bowl” at Pizza Beach, which is red quinoa with kale, chickpeas, and carrots. Neither of these meals were momentous occasions, and I ordered food to match. Both were very good and I enjoyed them, but I was going to Pizza Beach to meet my friend, not to turn over a new culinary leaf.
On the other hand, when I’m traveling (like I was this weekend), I enjoy exploring a region partly through its cuisine. In Maine, I had a lobster roll, and in New Hampshire, I had pizza and pasta at a fabulous gluten-free restaurant.
The appreciation of context is extremely powerful. A big step in the right direction for improving your relationship with food is knowing when a specific dining experience contributes to the specialness of an event.
There is a huge difference between enjoying a fine glass of wine in Tuscany and pouring yourself a habitual glass of wine alone in your apartment at night. In examples like this, it’s important to pause and ask yourself:
- “Is this love, or a bad relationship?”
- “Is this special, or am I using this as an excuse?”
- “Is this adding to the quality of my life or taking away from it?”
- “Is this an every-day habit, or an every-once-in-a-while habit?”
Whether you’re asking yourself these questions about food, drink, or exercise, no one can answer for you! It’s your responsibility and privilege to make these decisions for yourself. There’s no right and no wrong with food and exercise.
But I can guarantee that some decisions will make you feel better than others, and if you need help in charting a course to a better relationship with your health (one client calls me her “GPS”!), feel free to get in touch on my Contact page or leave questions in the Comments section.