Sunday, February 20, 2011

Start with yourself

“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”

Know thyself: it's a core tenet of many spiritual philosophies, self-improvement disciplines and business plans.

It's really a pretty basic concept, if you want to go anywhere you first have to know where you're coming from. Simple right?
When it comes to building a healthier lifestyle, this means knowing just what you need to, and are willing to change. Yeah, yeah, eat better and exercise more; that's probably a given. You're going to want to get a little more specific though.

Take a look at your diet first. You already have some idea of a few of the things that you probably shouldn't be eating, at least in the quantities you may be right now. Plus, you also want to take note of the things you do eat that are good for you. Knowing yourself is about assessing your strengths as well as your weaknesses.
Now you can do this in your head and just sort of make mental notes about what you want to change and improve, but if you want a really clear picture of how you are eating, the best way is to log what you eat and drink and see exactly where all your calories are coming from.
As I said in one of the opening posts of this blog, I am not a fan of calorie counting. That is to say, I'm not one of those people that has the discipline to log everything I they eat on an ongoing basis. If you happen to be one of those people that can do that, well awesome! And more power to you.
For the rest of us, doing it for is short period of time, let's say, one week, is a really good idea to give you an idea of how many calories you are really eating.
Shooting from the hip and trying to guesstimate is usually a pretty bad idea, most people greatly underestimate their caloric intake.
So yeah, I know, it's a pain in the ass, writing down how many ounces of meat on each sandwich, every slice of tomato and everything you have to drink for a week, but look at it this way, at least for that week you don't have to worry about cutting anything out of your diet. In fact, it's important that while you are logging what you eat, you don't try to eat better. You want this week to be an accurate picture of what your average calorie intake has been over recent months.
As far as calculating how many calories are in what you eat, there are plenty of online sources that will do that for you; and are two I can think of right off the top of my head and a Google search will provide many more. You just have to go through the process of entering everything, and I mean everything you consume for that week into the website you choose. This will give you how many calories you consume in an average day and from what sources. Once you know that, you have a good place to start from.

Whether you count your calories or just take the “horse sense” approach, you then want to start thinking about what changes you are prepared to make. I've known a number of people who have lost a great deal of weight simply by cutting sodas and/or sugary beverages out of their diet. Of course if you do that make sure you replace him with water as opposed to juices, sports drinks, or even diet sodas.

Also, think in terms of what you can add into your diet as well as what you can take away. A great step that a friend of mine made once, was to simply add in a half a cup of brown rice and a cup of vegetables to her dinner plate every night, no matter what she was eating. She didn't really lighten up her main entree, she just ate a little but less of it and added in the healthy side dishes so she still felt satisfied, got more nutrition and ate fewer calories overall: win-win-win.

And maybe, most importantly, think about where you are getting your food. Does your breakfast usually come from Starbucks? Do you often get lunch with your coworkers at what ever chain restaurant the group decides? How often do you prepare your own meals or snacks? Perhaps there is room for improvement in there somewhere?

While working out your plan, think in terms of small changes, baby steps, then you can make one by one. If you are not sure where to start, you can do some of the changes I suggested here, like getting rid of sodas, no more eating in any place that has a drive-through window, or no food that comes purchased in a plastic wrapper. Also be sure to make some changes additive as well as subtractive; like increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables you eat, making yourself a pot of healty, homemade soup every Sunday and having that as a meal a few days during the week, or having fresh fish for dinner at least once a week.
You don't have to make these changes too fast either, say, one change her week? Or do what I often advise, make a diet change one week, and then an exercise change the next, and just keep alternating back and forth. This way you're only making adjustments to your diet into your exercise habits once every other week. The benefit of this is that you not only avoid the shock and awe approach to either your diet or your activity level that can burn some people out, but your body has just about enough time to begin to compensate for the changes you've made when you hand it a new surprise.

I'll have to talk about exercise changes later. For now, what kind of tweaks to you think you might want to make to your diet or lifestyle?