Now you written a plan. You’re committed to achieving your goals. How will you ensure success? This is where it’s important to begin writing down best practices (you might call them “rules” – this is the term I usually use) focusing on behavior changes you will make to achieve you healthy lifestyle goal. In mathematical terms – what will you subtract and add to hit your target weight?

In my project LIFE plan, I wrote my rules on the right hand side of the page opposite  my weekly weight targets on the left hand side. Now it’s all on one page. I workout a lot and I’ve done so since I was a kid (I’ll devote another post to this topic). So I did plan to change my workout patterns slightly but I knew this wouldn’t deliver the results I craved. My first focus was on changing how I eat. The truth was, my mathematical equation was out of balance. I was simply consuming more calories than I could burn which had increased my weight and was now maintaining the current weight. 

When it came to adjusting how I eat, I focused on two things – what to eliminate and what to add. Be fully aware that it will be impossible to 100% follow the rules. I am not perfect. You are not perfect. None of us will ever be perfect, so it’s time we give ourselves a little compassion. (Hence the reason I love the Dali quote at the beginning of my post). I give myself compassion by following the 80:20 rule. I’m successful (not perfect, not even seeking perfection) if 80% of the time I follow the rules. 

I also had a goal for how to balance the source of calories in my diet. I wanted a ratio of 50% complex carbohydrates, 30% protein and 20% fats. Carbs to fuel my brain, protein to build and maintain muscle, and fat to produce hormones and utilize vitamins I consume through the other items in my diet. My UC Davis biochem class is coming in handy!

Project management hack: identify obstacles that will make it difficult to follow your rules and decide how you will overcome the obstacles. 

My project LIFE plan Rules:

1. Eliminate drinks that contain calories. 

Why? Soda, alcohol, juices, even milk – these liquids contain insidiously high amounts of calories that can completely torpedo your success. Besides they’re not satisfying or filling. Also, I think making this change – for instance – ordering an americano with a dash of milk instead of that daily cappuccino – you can easily cut out 200 to 300 calories a day. It’s too easy to overlook. If you replace caloric drinks with water or hot tea, you’ll see immediate results.

2. Add 2 Liters of water a day + coffee + tea as desired. 

Add a lemon or mint to your water bottle if you start to get tired of plain water. Also, an exception to rule 1: milk or almond milk is included in my diet via my normal breakfast routine (I’ll explain that later). A warning about caffeine. I read in a book that when you reduce calories you can become more sensitive to caffeine so be careful you don’t overdo the coffee and caffeinated tea and get all jittery. 

3. Eliminate simple carbs and processed snacks. 

I nearly completely cut out granola bars and all processed snacks foods. This is not actually that hard to do once you kick the sugar addiction (one I’m still fighting myself – lately I find myself strangely craving sweets at night, which is maddening! :)). If you’re like me, another thing you have to kick is the joy that comes from receiving free food. I picked this up in grad school… a meeting with snack! Heck yeah, I’ll save some money by eating that granola bar you’ve given me. On a quick flight – why yes, thank you for the breakfast bar or pretzels! Now I don’t need to pay astronomical airport prices. This is a tough habit to break!

4. Add unlimited fresh vegetables + 3 to 4 pieces of fresh fruit a day. 

First obstacle: I know what you’re thinking. I’m busy, when will I prepare the vegetables? I am here to tell you that it’s not so hard to find the time. Give me a moment to convince you that you, yes you, can find the time to chop fresh vegetables! Here’s what I do. During my weekly shopping run I buy: carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, and maybe something else that catches my eye. Then when I get home I unload the veggies, pile them on the counter near the sink. After I’m done unpacking and storing everything else I bought (which isn’t so much since about 1/2 of my diet is veggies now), I jump right in with prep work. I promise you, it’s fast. I can prep enough veggies (chopped into small portions for snacking) for the week in about 20 minutes! For this to be a winning strategy, make sure you have a nice sharp large chef knife and cut with care! Buying some nice size tupperwares is also a great idea. Immediately, I pack my weeks-worth of veggies into tupperwares or small bags in a quantity that is just right for each day – probably 2 to 3 cups of veggies. 

Voila – you are now a vegetable prep pro!

If you want something sweet, turn first to fruit, but watch your intake, it can also be high in calories so it’s good to eat in moderation. Melons are a sweet treat with a lot of water and fiber with low calorie count. Other fruits don’t require any prep time which makes them super-convenient to carry with you.

When you begin to reduce calories you will be hungry. When hunger strikes, eat vegetables! It’s surpassingly satisfying and I also find it gives me lots of energy and a clear mind. No sugar crash!

5. Make sure to eat enough healthy proteins. 
I admit, I don’t really know the difference between a healthy protein and an unhealthy one – but there are lots of different sources of protein and some make me feel lighter and stronger and some weigh me down. I think it might be related to how much saturated fat comes with the protein. So, it’s something to consider with a meat protein source.

Here are the proteins I try to consume to feel full and not have too much fat:

  • Chicken breast – a light coat of olive oil and paprika sprinkled on top and broiled in the oven.
  • Tuna fish – sometimes packed in olive oil if I also want some fats. A favorite dish is to mix this with a fresh avocado. It’s delish!
  • Nuts – this is a great snack but a tough one for me because I often eat too much in one sitting. Try to prepackage appropriate portion size. It’s a good attempt (which sometimes works!) to watch the calorie intake.
  • Greek yogurt – plain with no added sugar. I like to top with granola and fresh fruit
  • Cheese in small portions
  • Eggs – boiled or fried in olive oil
  • Almond milk with chia seeds and or oatmeal soaked in for breakfast. A great way to start the day!
  • Occasionally I’ll have a protein shake if I’m in a hurry after an exercise round in the morning.

6. Avoid saturated fats and eliminate trans-fats. 

If you eliminate prepared snack foods you’ll nearly eliminate trans-fats without trying. Saturated fats can give lots of energy – because they’re packed with calories. So, limit them to maybe once a week – this is a method I apply to red meat and pork.

7. Reduce bread and crackers. 

The need to do this might vary from person to person. And you’re probably thinking, oh my gosh, she’s an expat in Germany, she must eat all the delicious breads! Yes, in fact, this is what I also thought in the beginning, and it was killing my waistline! Breads + my metabolism do not equal a slim Natalie. I also believe that breads get processed fast in my system leading to a sugar crash. So, I’ve nearly eliminated them from my diet. 

8. Add complex carbs as close to natural condition as possible. 

I now receive most of my carbs and fiber from granola, oatmeal, chia seeds and all sorts of beans (lentils, etc). Amazingly, I don’t even really miss the bread now, and when I do eat it, it’s a real treat!

Try implementing a few of these steps and let me know how it works for you. What secrets do you apply for healthy, fulfilling eating?

Next post: fire up your engine!

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