Healthy Eating Isn’t Black and White (Thriving in the Gray Area)

If you’re following the CNC spring nutrition meal plan, you might have noticed that last week’s plan looked a little different. There was only one sample day (instead of 3) with some extra macro-friendly recipes. The reason: Because I stink at following meal plans! I’m just not someone who thrives on a meal plan. I felt so bad that I wasn’t sticking with it and letting down my coach and challenge group, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that our meals plans at DTFN are all about finding a way of eating that works for YOU and YOUR lifestyle. We don’t want to uproot people’s entire lives to change their eating habits. We want to make tiny tweaks here and there that are healthy and sustainable over the long-term. The last thing we want to do is force a diet on someone that they don’t enjoy! 

In the end, I “confessed” to the CNC spring nutrition group that I was doing more of a Macros + Meals plan (another DTFN plan) instead of the Custom plan that I originally signed up for. Thankfully, everyone was super understanding and a number of people even decided to make the same switch because they were also having trouble following their meal plans to a tee.

I’m glad everything worked out, and I’m still as motivated as ever to stay on track and finish out the plan tracking macros on my own in MyFitnessPal. This method gives me a lot more flexibility and freedom with my diet, which I do really well with. I’ve found that in order for me to be my healthiest and happiest, I need to have some leeway in my diet. Being too strict about eating “clean” and not indulging in my favorite treats ultimately backfires. It makes me cranky and, honestly, a little miserable, and that misery extends to all parts of my life. Let’s say I cut out dessert and my weekly happy hour with Mal – basically, eat 10% cleaner to be 10% “healthier.” I would also be 100% unhappier! Is it really worth sacrificing the fun stuff that brings me so much joy? Hell no! Your diet doesn’t just affect your body – it also affects how we feel and sometimes we need food that feeds our soul a whole lot of happiness. This is one of the first things I tell my nutrition clients: You need to be happy with the food you are eating. If you’re not, you will never see changes. 

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

It feels like there is always a new diet to try, a new lifestyle change to make, a new way of eating that is THE best way of eating. I know that for some of you, whether you are new to a healthy lifestyle or have been at it for years, this can be overwhelming and totally confusing at times. For instance, one diet tells you that a particular food will change your life while the other tells you that you should avoid it at all costs! Coconut is a miracle food! Coconut is the devil! Sounds dramatic, I know, but when you think about it, it’s not that far off. I mean, what the heck are you suppose to think!? 

You guys know how much I love food. I basically live to eat – and never forget to eat! Let’s just say, when breakfast is over, I’m already looking forward to lunch! 🙂 I’m constantly dreaming up new recipes to test out and my favorite room in our home is definitely the kitchen. During my fitness and UC journey, I experimented with so many different diets in an attempt to find a lifestyle that made me feel great and was also sustainable. It’s taken a lot of trial and error over the years, and I’m still making tweaks here and there to how I eat, but I feel like I’ve finally (mostly) figured it out. 

So, what is this magical diet that allows me to feel great and still keep my sanity? It’s called “balance!” Heyyy, now! 🙂 So many diets tout an all-or-nothing, black-and-white approach. Unless you have food allergies/sensitivities or a real health issue (for example, gluten makes you feel like crap because you are celiac or gluten-sensitive), then a lifestyle that only allows you to follow a certain diet rigidly with no wiggle room is truly unsustainable. While I think diets such as AIP and Whole 30 are fantastic for gut healing and resolving health issues, they’re actually only designed to be followed for a short period of time because they are far-too restrictive in the long-term. 

So where does that leave me? Oh, in the “gray” area (for ever and always). I am sure you guys have heard about the popularized “80/20” rule, and I loosely follow this philosophy. The majority of my food comes from clean, whole food sources. I meal-prep ahead of time to ensure that I have healthy food ready from the get-go and even the packaged, convenience items (like condiments, crackers, chips) that I eat from time-to-time aren’t full of junk. The rest of the time, I am all about the “fun” foods – a bite of donut, a slice of cake, a glass of wine. I try to make sure that when I do indulge, it’s in something that I truly love and find satisfying, and I make sure to savor every bite!

Forbidding myself from eating certain foods also makes it far more likely that I will “cheat.” (Ugh, I hate that word. Truthfully, I never see splurges as cheating – they’re just part of how I eat!) If I deny myself something, then you better believe I am going to fixate on it! Eventually, I give in and when I do, I almost always overdo it. No cookies? Yep, I will probably eat a whole batch if I am restricted. Overeating then makes me feel uncomfortable and guilty, and it’s so not worth it. Everything in moderation! 

Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Food and guilt are two words that should never go together, and it’s time we break this cycle. What we really need is practical, actionable steps to make this happen. The ability is in all of us – we just need to learn to get back in touch with listening to our own bodies and trusting that what we are doing is the right thing for it. Here are my suggestions for throwing black-and-white eating out of the window, and thriving within the gray area!

Be Realistic & Cut Yourself Some Slack

I try my best to eat nutritious, whole food meals most of the time, but my reality as a busy mom means that I sometimes rely on pre-packaged options and short cuts – and there’s nothing wrong with that! If buying zoodles or frozen broccoli from the grocery store, gets you to eat more veggies, then do it! Keeping healthier options on hand means that I am able to feel good about what I am eating and feeding to my family. Additionally, every meal doesn’t need to be a full-on culinary event made from scratch. Healthy, delicious meals can be SO SIMPLE and that’s what I love sharing most on CNC! People make this healthy living stuff so darn complicated, and it really doesn’t need to be. A last-minute, “wing it” meal can still be tasty and nutritious, especially if you have a few go-to tools! 

Be Your Own Advocate

Your body is unique – and that means what works for you might not necessarily work for someone else, and vice versa. Like I mentioned above, you want to follow a lifestyle that you respond well too – whether that’s a specific diet (Paleo, gluten-free, Vegan, etc.) or forging the way for your own unique diet. If you feel great following it, that’s awesome! And if you feel just as great leaving yourself some wiggle room, then that’s fabulous as well! The point is – make it work for YOU with your own “rules” (white rice on a Paleo diet? Sure!) and don’t worry so much about what others think. The naysayers will always be there – and often it’s because when we make diet changes, it forces others to take a hard look at their own lifestyles. You just keep doing you, because at the end of the day, you’re the only one who will be affected by what you eat! There will always be pressure to eat one way versus another, but ultimately the only body you need to listen to is yours.

Eat the Damn Cookie 

We’ve all been there – we want a cookie, it’s been calling our name for hours and we’re doing all we can to keep our hands out of the proverbial cookie jar. We’re thinking about the cookie, stressing over the cookie, slightly obsessing over the cookie.  Believe me – the stress of trying to be perfect is far worse than if we just listened to our bodies and indulged! Savor your indulgences, appreciate and acknowledge how awesome they are. And if you feel tempted to inhale the whole jar – remind yourself: food is food, a cookie is a cookie, and it will still be there in an hour, tomorrow, next week, whenever the craving strikes again. Denying ourselves only creates the obsession, which can ultimately lead to binging instead of mindfully eating one or two – so eat the damn cookie!

Forgive Yourself

Sometimes, life is tough, and meal planning, working out, and healthy eating fall to the bottom of the priority list, and that’s ok. (And it’s especially okay after you’ve just had a baby – you are in survival mode!) Whether you’re traveling and food options aren’t ideal, dealing with a family crisis, or you just had a shitty day and the thought of turning on the stove is the worst thing ever, we all have times where we fall off the wagon and put whatever is easiest and available in our mouths. During times like these, don’t beat yourself up. Just do the best that you can with what you have and get back on the wagon. Every meal is a new chance to get back on track! So the next time you indulge, cut the guilt. Don’t even allow yourself to feel it. Stay in the moment and savor the delicious food and awesome memories because they are, oh, so worth it. Plus, life would be a hell of a lot more boring without summer barbecues, wine and cheese nights, and, of course, donuts!

A lot of people see diets as what you can’t eat, but our mindset should be all about what we can eat, and, for the most part, that includes everything! There doesn’t need to be hard, unbreakable rules. I think we can all agree that most of us don’t thrive in extremes – whether it’s the “black” area of consuming junky, processed foods with very little fresh fruits and veggies, being couch potatoes, and not sleeping, or the “white” area of eating obsessively clean, being a slave to the scale (this is a rant for another day), or working out too hard without adequate rest. Where myself (and likely you too) thrive is in that “gray” area. For me, it’s lots shredded chicken and veggies, plenty of peanut butter, truckloads of iced coffee, home-cooked meals, drinks and apps with friends, a slice of cake with extra frosting at a birthday party. This gray area, my friends, is where we will find satisfaction and happiness, and I hope you find yours, too! 🙂

Question of the Day

Where is your “gray” area? 

21 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I feel this “guilt” at every Friday Happy Hour after being spot on all week! It’s time to let it go!

  2. Beautifully written and I 100% agree!! You do you lol. Find what feels good to you and enjoy life. The stress of clean eating all the time sucks the life out of me… so I leaned to not do it! I enjoy food. That includes ALL kinds of food

  3. Love this post so much. Really important and meaningful for long term happiness and healthy living :). Thanks Tina!

  4. I SO needed to read that. Estimg and losing weight is my biggest struggle. I don’t know how to have a healthy relationship with food because for all of my adult life I’ve been dieting and trying to lose weight and never been successful. So often because I live in either black or white areas and not like you said. But i struggle SO much with loving in the gray and not letting my splurges become my habits because I’ve realized I don’t like most healthy foods. Especially for a long-term, sustainable lifestyle!!!!

  5. Thanks for this post, Tina! I’m glad you said “food” and “guilt” shouldn’t go together. I’ve followed so many different diets since high school, and I’m tired of feeling chained to the idea that I have to be “on a diet” to feel good about myself. I’d rather listen to my body, enjoy food, and experience freedom from any guilt or obsession with what I’m eating. I’m still trying to figure out a balance and what works for me, but it’s a process!

  6. This is a great post! I struggle at following plans as well…I like to have a little more freedom when I’m eating. But that being said, sometimes it’s nice to have a plan because then I don’t have to think about it too much!

  7. I needed this post this week. I’m struggling finding my way with food and seem to just be binging on all the things that make me feel worse all the while putting pressure to find the right “diet”. And realizing that what worked at 25 or even 30 doesn’t work anymore at 35 due to changes in my body. It’s not wrong but definitely frustrating!

  8. I needed this post this week. I’m struggling finding my way with food and seem to just be binging on all the things that make me feel worse all the while putting pressure to find the right “diet”. And realizing that what worked at 25 or even 30 doesn’t work anymore at 35 due to changes in my body. It’s not wrong but definitely frustrating!

  9. I loved this post! I think balancing the healthy with the happy is so important, and I’ve definitely been guilty of falling victim to trying to be low carb or keto or cut out specific groups because they are “bad” for me. If I’m honest with myself, I’ve been the most successful at healthy living and losing weight and felt at my healthiest when I didn’t do any of that, but instead focused on prioritizing treats and indulgences that brought me joy, and eating wholesome foods 80% of the time. I need to stop letting myself be influenced by all the noise!

  10. Gray area means some days I have more protein or fats (or both!) than others–it means trying out a new dish once in a while so I don’t get bored of my typical healthy meals.

  11. What you’re describing in this post can be taken one step further into something called intuitive eating. It is the most freeing thing I’ve ever done for myself and I would recommend the book, “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch, to absolutely every single person.

    Also, go follow Robyn Nohling and Kylie Mitchell on social media. They are the most positive life forces and support for living a non-diet life!

  12. I’m currently trying to follow the MRT LEAP elminatio torture diet () to geal my gut after years of living in the grey and eating tons of healthy whole foods. My relationship with food is so awful now, I dread eating even healthy things because I never know how my body will react. I’m glad you have found a healthy balance for yourself….I hope one day to return there.

  13. THIS. This is why I love your blog. 🙂 Such an awesome outlook in an industry where it is so easy to fall into the trap that food is somehow “moral” (good/bad).
    100% agree and definitely sharing this blog post!

  14. This really hits the nail on the head! Thanks for sharing and being so real with us! Being vegan I cook pretty much all of our meals and food from scratch and may family doesn’t eat out much at all so I get super burned out after a long work day then coming home to cook and prep food for the next day. Some days I just find myself being uninterested in meals and wanting scoops of PB with dark chocolate chips!!

  15. Absolutely yes! Life is meant to be enjoyed but not every meal is meant to be a celebration! For me it’s about 75/25. It’s funny, the chiller I get the leaner I get.

    It’s like the old trick. Close your eyes and no matter what you do, do NOT think of a pink elephant. Picture anything else but don’t you dare picture a pink elephant.
    Bet I know what you pictured;-)

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