Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Best Diet Ever

We've all heard the expression "no food tastes as good as skinny feels," but dieting doesn't have to be that extreme. It's important to remember that overreacting is simply a fragile ego convincing us to rationalize and justify our reactions rather than accepting that life - as well as dieting - can be challenging. 

It takes courage to look inside ourselves and our responses and energy to modify the behaviors that are keeping us from our goals - be that dieting, exercise, increased productivity, or healthier personal relationships. 

One of the first steps in dieting is to laugh off the mistakes we've made in the past - defining mistakes as allowing ourselves to live a sedentary lifestyle while making poor nutritional choices. 

The nice thing about being alive is that we can change behaviors and create new and improved habits that fuel our egos "excellent job" buttons. 

As well as being overly sensitive, our egos love confidence boosters, which is why dieting and exercise can be so enthralling. When you invest 30 - 90 minutes of your day working out (lifting weights, walking, running, biking, rollerblading, swimming, playing tennis, etc.), your body reacts to the novelty of what you just did for yourself as well as knowing that what you did will help you look and feel better (the more you do it). 

This is what gives us the confidence to keep going. It's a combination of both the immediate reward (despite the work), as well as the knowledge that we're going to be rewarded going forward. 

In this respect, exercise and healthy eating is a double-whammy for the ego, which responds happier and more confident each time. 

The brain responds to novelty, a powerful signal that tells us what to pay attention to in the world. Novelty causes a number of brain systems to become activated; such as the dopamine system, which lies deep in the brain stem, sending out a "feel-good" neurotransmitter that creates euphoria. 

Essentially, dopamine is the "gimme more" neurotransmitter. When you're doing something "right" for yourself, your brain wants more of it. 

The idea of having an apple for a snack, for example, isn't always appealing. Sometimes we "crave" something "yummier" or "heartier" but when we choose an apple over one of these other tempting snacks, our brain will react positively, keeping track of our "good-for-me" deed. 

Write this down, and you'll double the effect!

Keeping a journal of what you eat and what exercises you do will help you stay on track and provide an additional boost of confidence. 

Sharing that journal online or with friends will also help you stay committed. This commitment fuels the ego, giving it that proverbial "pat-on-the-back" or "high-five" that it so very much craves.

Take for example a typical breakfast. 

Many people indulge in waffles, croissants with ham and cheese, or Eggs Benedict.

As delicious as these foods are - and they are delicious! - so too can be a healthier choice like cereal with fruits and nuts or an egg-white omelet with a vegetable topping. 

Compared to other choices on the menu, these aren't always our "first-picks," but if you're hungry enough, and you will be if you're working out and cutting back on fats, your body will be really happy. Interestingly enough, the hungrier I am the more satisfying healthy food tastes. 

Taking that a step further, once I've eaten a healthy alternative, instead of telling my ego to keep track (so that I can eat something yummy later, in exchange), I simply let it go and consciously remind myself how much I enjoyed that particular meal. 

Just like we tell ourselves that we really "loved" that chocolate cake or blueberry muffin, we can also tell ourselves how much we enjoy yogurt with granola. The brain registers this information in the same "happy" place and tucks it away for later. 

Rather than get into which exercises to do, which supplements to take, and which foods to eat - or not eat - the best diet is the one to which you commit yourself. 

If you're going to cut out calories, start with little changes that don't overwhelm your system and ego. These small "wins" trigger that happy dance inside your brain, which will be obvious to the people around you, who will most likely reciprocate with some positive changes of their own. 

But remember, there's NO guilt trips allowed - for yourself or for others who aren't ready to commit. Changing any behavior starts with us. No one forces us to eat hot dogs and ice cream. Even if the people in your household (kids or adults) are eating Cheetos or Oreo Cookies, you don't have to give in. You can actually be your own best friend in this respect. If your ego needs a pat on the back for saying "No, thank you" to a freshly baked chocolate cookie, then reward it with a little "me-time" rather than giving in. 

Your ego will profusely thank you later. 

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