Hi folks, today we’re back for another edition of Ask a Health Coach! Erin is here sharing her strategies for making good health a priority during the pandemic, plus what to do when you feel like you’re putting in a lot of effort without a lot of reward and what she eats in a typical day. Got more questions? Keep them coming in the Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook Group  or in the comments below.
“I love the way I feel when I eat clean, but meal prepping always takes a backseat to all the other things I need to do, especially now that I’m working, parenting, and homeschooling. How do I carve out time to eat healthier?”
You’re not alone in feeling the pressure of doing it all. With all of our waking hours being consumed by work and family responsibilities, making time for the non-essentials like exercise and eating well (which I would argue are essential), seems nearly impossible.1 
At first glance, the issue is pretty straightforward, right? There’s not enough time. There are only 24 hours in a day anyway. But here’s the deal, people who feel like they have the least amount of free time, the ones who feel the most overworked, are actually doing it to themselves.
In this study, researchers had 7,000 participants estimate how much time was needed to accommodate their basic needs compared to how much free time they had in their schedules.2  It turns out that their time constraints were an illusion.
The pressure of what we have time for and what we don’t has more to do with the things we assign value to rather than how many hours there are in a day.
That being said, everything we do in life is a choice – what we eat, say, and do, where we spend our energy and our money – they’re all choices. And, as you might guess, there are consequences of those choices.
There’s no doubt that your life is busier than ever right now. You’ve probably never worn more hats in your life, but instead of looking at food as an afterthought, or telling yourself you “don’t have the time,” I suggest you try giving it a little more attention.3  Here’s why.
If you choose not to make meal prepping a priority (or at least keeping healthy food on hand), the consequences might be that you find yourself grabbing snacks throughout the day, ordering less-than-healthy takeout, or not eating enough quality food, which can bring on an afterhours binge. And the consequences of those actions might mean you’re feeling foggy and fatigued day after day, making it even more difficult to do all the things you need to do.
Keep in mind, these are just consequences of your choices.
Also, you mention that you love the way you feel when you eat clean, so, you already know it’s worth it to take good care of yourself. You know how it feels when you can’t stop snacking on goldfish crackers in front of the TV versus the satisfaction you get from sitting down for a well-balanced meal eaten slowly where you enjoy every freaking bite!
While you might not have time to spend hours in the kitchen, how about throwing something in the crockpot  before the day begins? Or making a big batch of chili or stew over the weekend. Or roasting a whole chicken and some veggies in the oven.
Again, it comes down to choices and priorities. How great would it be to have more focus throughout the day because you decided to put your health first? How amazing would it be to feel energized into the evening hours instead of feeling drained? By making a simple shift in your priorities, you could see a dramatic swing in how you feel throughout the day.
“I’m really struggling here. With all the time I spend reading labels and tracking my macros, I’m finding that the effort is becoming greater than the benefit. I’m doing all these things but not really noticing any results. What gives?”
Ah, the sweet reward of bigger biceps or a smaller pant size. You’re not alone in wanting results. That’s why health and fitness is a $4.5 trillion industry.4  But I get it. You’re diligently putting in the work, day after day, and not seeing the outcome you’re looking for.
There could be a few different factors at play here, but one you might want to consider is a phenomenon called discounting, which basically means that the more effort you put into something, the less valuable the reward becomes. In a study published in Cognitive Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience, researchers had participants do two simple tasks that would be rewarded with a cash prize.5  Sometimes the tasks involved high effort, other times it involved a low amount of effort. They found that the participants who put in more effort responded to the reward with less enthusiasm than those who put in less work.
You can blame the nucleus accumbens for that.6  It’s the part of the brain that’s in charge of the reward circuitand is based on two essential neurotransmitters: dopamine and serotonin. So, in a nutshell, it’s just how we’re wired.
Does that mean you shouldn’t put in the effort? It depends. In general, I don’t subscribe to the typical diet culture where everything is weighed, evaluated, and overanalyzed. I opt for teaching my clients to have an effortless relationship with food where they eat satiating, satisfying, nutrient-dense meals when they’re hungry without micromanaging every detail.
But if you take pleasure out of reading labels and managing your macros as you’re doing, keep doing it. I’ve found that in situations where people actually enjoy the effort they put in, the journey ends up being more rewarding than the destination itself.
“I’ve been following Mark’s diet for several years and I love seeing posts about what he eats during the day. But what does your day look like?”
Let me start by saying that knowing what works for you and your body is nutrition gold. It really is. You can read every nutrition book in the world, follow dozens of “healthy” food bloggers and influencers, and copy Mark’s diet (or mine) to a tee, but since every human is unique — and responds differently to different foods, it’s important to know what works for you.7 
For instance, I follow the Primal way of eating fairly closely, as you might expect.8  Most nights you’ll find me with a grilled ribeye and plate of steamed veggies smothered in butter. Maybe a square or two of dark chocolate. But sometimes, I’ll have an evening where I partake in some good old-fashioned carbs and dairy. For me, nothing beats delighting in a few perfectly crispy, salty roasted potatoes accompanied by a thick dollop of rich, organic sour cream.
I know exactly how my body responds to foods like these. And armed with this information, I can choose to treat myself without any fuss or worry. I encourage you to find what works for you too. When you start your day with eggs and bacon do you feel satiated or starving? When you drink coffee are you wired or alert? When you indulge in carbs do you get sleepy or energized? Like I said, everyone’s different and no amount of researching how other people eat will give you the same answers as listening to your own body.
Got thoughts? Share ‘em in the comments below.