Ask a Health Coach: Who’s Keeping You Accountable?
Hey folks! In this week’s Ask a Health Coach, Erin is answering your questions about shaking up your eating routine, wrangling sugar cravings, and how to know if you should hire a health coach. We love getting your questions, so ask yours in the comments below or in our Mark’s Daily Apple Facebook group.
“I’ve been paleo for about six months and I’m getting sick of eating all the same foods day after day. What ideas do you have for mixing things up?”
This is a question I get asked all the time. And my answer is typically something in the realm of, “if you’re sick of eating the same things, then eat different things.” Honestly, if a nutritionist tells you what to eat, you’ll have some resistance to some of those foods. It’s one of the reasons I don’t offer meal plans to my clients: I don’t really want to tell people what to eat! As humans, we’re pre-wired to resist when someone tells us to do something that goes against what we’re familiar with. That, and the fact that I want you to learn how to feed yourself long after our sessions wrap up.
Maybe you’re not sure what to eat. Thankfully the internet is filled with amazing resources, including this one right here. Eat anything on this list, in any combo you want. It’s that simple! No complicated recipes required. Still need ideas? Keep reading.
Here’s an exercise I use with my clients that might be helpful here. Take a sheet of paper and make a chart that has three columns and seven rows.
- Write the numbers one through seven in the first column
- Jot down your favorite proteins in the second column
- Add your favorite veggies to the third column
In less than a minute’s time, you’ve got a week’s worth of meals. And if you really want to get crazy, mix and match the proteins and vegetables in your chart. I’ve had clients assign numbers to their protein and veg lists, and then use a pair of dice to throw together meal combos; gamifying it, somewhat.
One of the best ways I know to help is by educating you, setting you on the path to take care of this stuff yourself. Because in the end, who’s going to be there? You. And if after this, you get bored of eating the same things again, grab a fresh sheet of paper and make a new list.
You absolutely have to love every bite of food you eat, or you’ll struggle to stay on your Primal path. We want this to feel effortless, and rewarding, and enjoyable.
“I need to get back to keto, but I’m struggling with sweets. My sugar cravings are really bad this time! And it doesn’t help that my wife is always bringing home desserts. Suggestions, please!”
It can be frustrating when a partner, spouse, or roommate isn’t on the same page as you when it comes to your health. It’s one of the most consistent hurdles I help my clients navigate. Obviously, if the sweets weren’t in the house to begin with, you’d be having an easier time here. That’s a conversation to have with your spouse. Might your wife be open to having special designated “treat days” a couple of days per week, where everyone gets to go out and treat themselves to their fave indulgence, but those treats don’t live at home full-time?
Let’s talk for a moment about your own struggles with sweets. As you’ve noticed, ditching sweets from your diet can be difficult. I see a lot of my own clients spiral into self-destructive patterns of guilt and shame when they struggle, thinking they should be stronger or more determined or have more willpower. The thing is, we’re hard-wired to seek out quick energy. Plus, we’re constantly bombarded by advertising and messaging that encourages us to indulge in an array of less-than-healthy, hyperpalatable foods.
Does that mean you’re doomed to fight your cravings forever? Nope. It just means you have to go about it a different way. Maybe you’ve noticed that your cravings for sweets kick in any time you have a stressful day or feel anxious or deprived or smell something that reminds you of your favorite snickerdoodle cookie from childhood.
Cravings are often more psychological than they are physiological, so see if any of these factors resonate with you:
- Being too restrictive. Depriving yourself too much or even perceiving that you’re being deprived can end up backfiring. Studies show that traditional “dieters” have significantly more food cravings, especially for sugary foods.
- Emotional associations. Cravings are tied to the brain’s memory center. Knowing that the areas of the brain activated by cravings are also in charge of housing memories can help you start to break the cycle.
- Chronic stress. Sugar consumption temporarily increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates mood. So, when you’re feeling stressed, instead of reaching for a treat, find a non-food way to decompress.
- Existing rituals. When you consciously or subconsciously seek out sweets in specific situations (i.e. at the movies, summer BBQs, after dinner), you form the expectation that it will happen every time. Become aware of your triggers and start to develop rituals that better suit your goals. (By the way, I’m of the personal belief that some of our “treat rituals” ought to be allowed to stick around. I think humans are hedonistic pleasure-seekers at the core, and too much rigidity just brings us right back to to bullet point #1…)
The only person responsible for your actions is you; and I say this to empower you. You’re in charge, here! Understanding the reasons for your cravings is the first step in taking back your power.
“After months of trying unsuccessfully to do it on my own, I think I’m ready to hire a health coach – someone who can answer my questions, guide my macro targets, and help me stay accountable. Any tips on what I should be looking for?”
I have a section on my intake form for new clients that basically asks these three questions:
- Are you prepared and excited to embark on a change?
- Do you have the support you need at home and in your life to succeed?
- Are you prepared to hold yourself accountable to the changes prescribed?
Why do I tell you this? Because even if you decide to hire a health professional, you’ll be the one doing the work. A health coach isn’t technically your accountability partner; they’re your guide to your own self-accountability. In my practice, I teach my clients how to create accountability from within so that after we’re done working together, they have the skills to keep going, which is really what long-term health is all about.
Whether you hire someone or continue to do it solo, this is the time to reacquaint yourself with why you wanted to make this change in the first place. Reconnecting with your ‘why’ is crucial if you want to navigate the ups and downs of your journey.
It’s also important to know where you stand on support. I can’t stress the importance of this: your support network, and the support of your environment are some of the first factors to square up before you embark on massive change. Are your friends/family/co-workers onboard with your goals? If so, great. If not, decide what you need to do to stay on track, regardless of their attitudes or behaviours. Your coach can help you strategize ways to support yourself, if and when your support network fails to step up to the plate.
And finally, figure out your potential barriers. What obstacles might come up? And what’s going to motivate you to keep going when it gets a little uncomfortable (which, by the way, it always will)? Knowing the answer to these questions will help you stay the course. Your health coach will take great care of you during your working relationship, and will be a steady source of education and support, but ultimately, you need to be there for yourself.
What about you? How do you handle accountability?