Today we’re going to wrap up our series on ‘How to Be Your Own Nutrition Coach’ by breaking down how you’d make decisions for the design of your own program. Before we dive into the details, it’s important that you’ve read the prior posts as they provide the necessary foundation for our recommendations that follow. Find those previous posts here:
If this is the first time you’ve really formalized any process to coach yourself in nutrition, your best bet is to to make it so simple you can’t say no.
Here’s how to do it:
The process of digestion actually begins before food enters the mouth. The smells and anticipatory emotions all trigger a cascade of physiological mechanisms to prepare the body for food consumption. In order to ensure optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients, it’s important to put the body into a parasympathetic state, also known as ‘rest and digest.’ In today’s world, this is also a difficult ask of folks, as we’re more hurried and distracted than ever. To give yourself an easy win, aim to do things that don’t ask for a large disruption to your current routine. Why? First, if the change is just too large and insurmountable, you won’t carry it out long term. But more importantly, we want small easy wins because success breeds motivation. Not the other way around. Here are a few examples to explore:
- Chew each bite of food 20-30 times – this typically slows meal time down and allows for the salivary process to do it’s job. A slower meal time also allows for proper hormonal activity of “I’m full” to take place and hit the brain.
- Remove any electronic devices during meal time – this sets up a more relaxed environment, facilitating the state of ‘rest snd digest’ that we’re looking for.
- Eat protein and veggies first – since protein is satiating long-term, it’s beneficial to put it first in the meal versus something that causes a spike (and likely increased craving for more) in blood sugar. As discussed in previous posts, this blood sugar roller coaster is something to be avoided.
While I provided several suggestions in the previous section, it’s important that you choose the best option based on what you know about yourself. Also, resist the urge to be overly enthusiastic and trying to take on three, four, or more of those directives. Start with one, allow a period of time for measurement and mastery before adding the next one.
When it comes to personalizing your prescriptions, it’s important to remember that each pillar should inform and influence the others. For instance:
- You should aim to decrease the intensity and complexity of workouts if nutrition is not improving. (Remember: nutrition should play a large role in determining the type and magnitude of physical activity that you are participating in.)
- Example: if you have a big work deadline approaching, the ‘Manage’ pillar would take on a more prominent role. To facilitate a more cognitively demanding time, you might choose to take in a bit more water and adjust foods that improve your mental acuity.
Nutrition is a leading metric, which means that it leads to improvements not immediately realized. (To help understand this more clearly, think about it this way: you can’t expect one great meal to deliver the 20lb weight loss someone may be after). You should strive to quantify the result you are striving for. For instance, maybe you are looking to have more energy in the afternoon:
- You work on blood sugar management by having a balanced plate of food consisting of protein, veggies, and healthy fats.
- Set a google calendar reminder to go off at 2pm each day asking you to notate your energy level on a scale of 1-10, 10 being best possible. Chart this progress in something simple like a journal or spiral notebook.
- At the 30/60/90 day marks, you look back and evaluate: “Do I have better energy levels at 2pm today vs 30/60/90 days ago?” Use this information in the next step.
Refine and Repeat:
Not everything you do will work. And that is ok! This is why it’s so important to measure what you are doing. In the previous example, let’s consider two possible scenarios:
- Your energy didn’t improve, or got worse, in the first 30 days
- Your energy improved steadily through day 47 but then leveled off after that at a score of 7.5/10.
(Regardless of whether you adhered to the plan you came up with or not, the reality is that part of the process is to refine things over time.)
In scenario one, you would accept and acknowledge the need for a new prescription, identify possible outcomes, and set new expectations. It’s important that you are honest with yourself from Day 1 and committed not to trying out the hottest quick fixes, but rather long-term sustainable change.
In scenario two, you are at the point where something that was leading to improvement simply isn’t any longer. This is ok! Provided your conversation with yourself didn’t uncover any reason for you to suspect your prescription should have kept working, it’s time to layer on a new habit. So perhaps in addition to using the plate method of eating, you decide that a glass of water should be added upon wakeup and 60-minutes before bedtime. This does not mean you stop doing the first thing. You should also be aware that you may experience a bit of a backslide on your energy reporting. This is completely normal and simply due to a “new” stressor being put onto the body, but once the adaptation process occurs, the expectation is that you will move past you previous best.
So what should the nutrition program look like for you? As with so many things, it depends. YOU are the coach. But I can tell you this, the right program:
- Starts with an assessment
- Includes a healthy dose (see what I did there?) of education
- Is personalized
- Is measured against the result(s) you care about
- Is refined over time
Respect this process and not only will your results last, but then you can turn to those in your immediate charge (family and friends) and help them make last improvements!