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Ask a Health Coach: Embrace Consistency, Squash Cravings, Find Time for Self-Care

Hi folks, in this edition of Ask a Health Coach, Erin discusses the benefits of being metabolically flexible, the physical and psychological reasons behind cravings, and what to do when you’re too exhausted to work out. Keep your questions coming in the MDA Facebook Group [1] or in the comments section below.

William asked:

“I know eating Primally is right for me, but I’m struggling to stay consistent and end up making bad choices about 50% of the time. How can I be more disciplined?”

First, I want to commend you for having the awareness to know that eating this way works for you. Recognizing that is a huge step toward reaching your goals. The second thing I want to do is reiterate Mark’s 80/20 principle. If you’re eating Primally 80% of the time, the other 20% can be reserved for well-intentioned, but practical choices when eating that way just doesn’t work out—maybe an impromptu lunch with co-workers or a fun afternoon eating ice cream with the kids.

I use a similar approach with my clients that’s a little more laid back and intuitive, but the main goal is to create metabolic flexibility [2] in the body. That means your body can run on whatever type of fuel [3] (fat, protein, carbohydrates) that’s currently available. It can use these fuel sources, so it ends up storing less.

Remember, life is full of unpredictable moments, and learning how to roll with them sets you up for success by teaching resiliency (how you pick yourself back up after a slip-up), intuition (learning what not to do next time), and troubleshooting (understanding the triggers and avoiding them when you can).

Another thing to mention is your perception of how well you’re doing. You say you make “bad choices about 50% of the time.” What would happen if you reframed things to look at it differently? Cognitive Reframing [4], by the way, is a psychological technique that identifies and then disputes limiting thoughts and beliefs to create a more positive interpretation of a situation.

I don’t love using phrases like good or bad, but when we reframe your situation, I can see you’re making good choices about half the time. And that’s something to be proud of. You can also use reframing in how you talk about the foods you “get to enjoy” versus the foods you “can’t have”. Take a look at all the areas of your life where you’re having glass-half-empty moments instead of glass-half-full ones.

Veronica asked:

“My cravings are out of control. Help!”

When my clients first switch from a typical Standard American Diet of low-fat yogurt, sandwiches, and pastas to heartier protein-based meals, they have cravings now and then. So, you’re totally not alone here. But the longer they stay at it, the less tempted they are.

During this adaptation period, I encourage you to really dig into why you’re having these cravings. The obvious question is: Are you eating enough food? It’s never about calorie deprivation, so make sure you’re eating plenty of protein and healthy fat to keep you satiated.

It’s important to tune into the psychological reasons you might be having cravings, too. I recommend using a food journal to jot down how you’re feeling when those cravings come on (Are you stressed out? Lonely? Sad? Nervous? Excited?). Then, brainstorm alternative ways to deal with those emotional triggers in a healthier way that doesn’t involve food.

You might reach for a pint of Haagen-Dazs after a stressful day at work. But what are you really craving? Comfort? Security? Peace and quiet? Think about other activities that bring you that same feeling. It could be meditating, reading a book, or calling a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Be curious about the whys.

I also firmly believe that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you had something with carbs. A few months ago, I drank a full sugar, full dairy pumpkin spice latte and I didn’t die. Again, having an 80/20 approach to eating gets you out of that restrictive “I-can’t-have-that” mentality and lifts the heavy burden of needing to do it right all the time.

Tamzin asked:

“Any tips for a tired, stressed-out single mom with too much to do and not enough time? I rarely get a chance to exercise, and when I do, I’m too exhausted to find the motivation.”

Overwhelm is such a common feeling, especially when you’re tackling everything on your own. And I can see why adding a workout to your to-do list isn’t a top priority. That said, exercise doesn’t have to look like exercise. It doesn’t have to be a full 60-minute sweat session to count. Going for a walk outside, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and getting up and moving regularly—to refill your water bottle, play with the kids, or do air squats or pushups—goes a long way.

In fact, research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that any type of movement is beneficial, stating that women who get lots of light physical activity [5] (versus women who don’t exercise at all) may have up to a 42% lower risk of having a heart attack and a 22% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Remember this: Self-care is going to serve you best during this time. That means making sure you’re getting high-quality sleep and fueling yourself with nutrient-dense foods. When my clients tell me they’re too busy to get to bed earlier or make nourishing meals for themselves, all I hear is “I don’t value myself.” If that’s true for you, ask yourself how important your health is, how important having good energy is, and how important it is to have a solid sense of well-being.

Find ways to integrate more self-care into your day, and if you need a hand restructuring your habits around exercise, sleep, or nutrition, working with a health coach [6] can be a huge help.