When your "good" nutrition day turns into a "really $H!T*Y bad" day

In a recent conversation with a new client, we were discussing the flow of her food day. This particular client is a recreational athlete training for a 70.3 triathlon, wanting to better understand how to nourish her body for training while also pursuing some body composition changes (i.e., lowering body fat and increasing lean muscle). She commented "I tend to start my mornings being so good with food, but then it all turns to BLEEP [insert profane word here, readers!] by the end of the day."

I've seen it time and time again from many of you dieters and weight loss seekers: You start your food day "super good" and then as the day progresses, it turns out to be a crappy food day.  This is all relative, of course. A crappy food day for one person can be AHH-MAZ-ING for someone else, depending on goals and personal starting points.

What do I mean and why does this happen?  What do we do about it?

Take a read through this food log snippet:

  • Wake up at 5:45am feeling great and ready to give it my all for a kick butt day
  • Drink unsweetened green tea and another 16 oz water. At 6:30am, eat 1 cooked egg with wilted spinach, 1/4 mashed avocado on gluten-free toast. Satisfied!
  • At work at 7:45am, get settled in with another tea. Avoiding the donut aroma emanating from the break room. Stay focused, Woman!
  • Okay, it's 9am and I could eat off my left arm. Decide to eat my cheese stick and 1/2 apple I originally planned for the afternoon. Oh well, this will help with the DAT (donut avoidance task).
  • 11:30am Diving into my grilled chicken salad (romaine, tomatoes, bell pepper slices, shredded carrots, touch of balsamic vinaigrette). Happy I have veggies and protein!  Eating at my desk to power through this work day. 
  • 2pm Shooooot. It's the administrator's birthday and I couldn't resist the free carrot cake (no raisins, hallelujah!).
  • 3:15pm Glad to be leaving the office soon. Had to get a diet Coke from the cafeteria though as I'm so tired. Gotta get peppy for a run this afternoon!!
  • 4:30pm Start 45 min aerobic run (just taking handheld with water. I decided not to eat since I enjoyed a piece of cake earlier. 
  • 5:30pm Glad to be done with run - didn't feel all that great.  Super hungry so snacked on gluten-free crackers with cheese while figuring out what to do for dinner. Need to start some laundry and call my brother who is coming into town this weekend.
  • 7pm Heated up a frozen veggie burger and peas. Skipped the bun and topped the burger with mustard and ketchup. Ate a bowl of fruit.
  • 8pm Still feeling hungry - munched on nuts and had a few spoons from the Ben & Jerry's pint calling my name.
  • 8:45pm Had a cup of Calm Tea and ... honesty moment:  A couple more spoons of ice cream. I figured I already blew the day with the after dinner snacking so who cares about a few more spoons of yummy.  Tomorrow is another day so I'll try again!

There's a lot going on in this one day. Here are some observations - see if you noticed these too:

  1. Too light on the meal content.  Although she starts her day with quality food choices and inclusion of protein, fat, and a small amount of vegetable, her ~250 calorie meal is too light. Her morning snack and lunch are light as well. Some of us respond more favorably to heartier starts to the day to set us up later for less cravings and hunger. Restriction doesn't always bode well, nor is it the right strategy.
  2. In line with the above, adding more of the "power players" can help her feel full longer. So, it's not just adding empty calories to make for a higher calorie meal. It's adding one or more protein(s), fat(s), and fiber-rich foods. This can simply be achieved by doubling up on one or more of the ingredients she already planned or adding some other ingredient for variety.  Remember that even though it may seem "good" to have a light meal, if it isn't filling enough, we can end up consuming excessive calories at the end of the day due to more snacking.
  3. The workplace environment poses extra challenges. Many of us have been in this situation or we have been the ones to "treat our coworkers" with fat-sugar concoctions. It's tradition and it's the way we commonly celebrate and provide reward. While this topic could comprise a series of blog posts, I will suggest to you that times are changing (and change is needed). She avoids the donut love in the morning, but decides to cake partake in the afternoon. But guess what?  She's legitimately hungry too (recall the low-cal meals prior). Would she have eaten another snack if provided for free to celebrate the coworker's birthday, I wonder... likely yes.  Fruit kabobs and cheese plate? Yogurt parfait bar? See where I'm going with this?
  4. Self-punishment creeps in.  The "running on empty cuz of the cake" mentality. The run suffers as a result while she tries to redeem herself. If only the earlier part of the day had been more filling food-wise! Yet even so, the food relationship needs to be examined to banish the punishment behaviors. 
  5. Food planning is essential. See how her evening goes?  This may partly be due to lack of having a dinner plan in place. She eats light, then snacks, and snacks a bit more.
  6. The "I blew the day, so it's a crappy day now" mindset. Need I say more about this one? 

As you can see, there are many factors that can affect the flow of your food day. If you tend to have days where you feel "food defeat" at the end of the day, take some time to reflect and learn from your day.  Let's not keep repeating the cycle - you can break free and experience more success throughout EACH day... and day TO day.

Thanks for reading, 
The Nutrition Mechanic