The Importance of Planning Ahead

In my last post I mentioned that I have a huge midterm as well as a huge party this weekend, and am therefore hoarding my calories. This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but it was not so obvious to me at first.

When I first started losing weight, I really was afraid that if I didn’t eat basically all of my calories everyday (no more no less), then I wasn’t doing it right. This made it really difficult for me to have any sort of flexibility with my eating. And though I cannot be sure that this happens to others for the same reason, I frequently see them saying things such as:

  • They are afraid of eating out because they do not know the exact amount of calories in their meal, and therefore avoid going out with others at all costs and eat everything at home.
  • They are nervous about going to parties because there will be a lot of pressure to eat too much.

Or, if it goes the other way:

  • They MUST cheat on weekends, because that is when all of the beer and chicken wings are around, and they don’t know what else to do, so weekends just don’t count.

Now, these can be good strategies for individuals (something that you will come to learn is that I strongly believe that every individual is going to have a different relationship between health, food, exercise, and weight). Eating at home saves money, and most people can convince their friends to come over rather than go out; some people may have extreme pressure from friends and family to behave a certain way in social settings; having a cheat day (or 2) could help some  to have a healthier relationship to food.

There are numerous problems with these attitudes for me personally, though. First,I should admit that  my relationship with food is not super healthy. Allowing myself a cheat day or two would lead me away from the path of a lifestyle change back to up and down dieting. Second, inflexibility just seems impossible and undesirable in my life. I’m a busy student that frequently eats at restaurants (including fast food!), travels a lot (more fast food), is still struggling with confronting opinionated family and friends, and once in a while wants to enjoy eating two desserts without the day being a complete “cheat.”

So, what do I do instead? I plan ahead.

Every week, I try to think of things that are going to be going on that might impact my caloric intake:

  • Am I going to have a thousand meetings on Wednesday that keep me from getting in my workout?
  • Am I having a girls’ night that involves pizza and alcohol (two things I like to treat myself to) on Saturday?
  • Even worse – are these types of events falling on the same day?
  • Am I going to be driving 600 miles to see my husband with nothing but fast food and Coke Zero along the way?

After thinking about what is going to be going on, I think a bit about what that means for my eating habits the rest of the week. The most important one to plan is busy days (or just days where working out is difficult) where I know I will be eating a lot, because I have to eat a tiny deficit (say 200-300 calories) a couple of other days to make up for it. Others, I usually know that I can just fit the food in with an extra hard workout – perhaps I run 5 miles the day of the girls’ night and do not snack throughout the day.

I would like to note a couple of things. First, I do try to be somewhat flexible here. If it is the holidays (meaning Thanksgiving – New Year’s), I accept that there are just going to be too many things that I want to let myself enjoy and that I don’t want to be bothering my family on say, Christmas Day, to be like “oh, that peppermint hot chocolate had 700 calories, mom, thanks for ruining everything.” That would just be terrible. So I remind myself that if I count all the normal days and keep myself in check, the worst case scenario is a small gain (I gained 5 lbs last year over the holidays and maintained this year). Even if I have a week where I am over by 500 calories, I’m probably going to have weeks where I am under by 300 calories; in the grand scheme of things, paying attention and making predominately healthy choices is what matters. Second, I would like to note that this idea has become way more important in maintenance than in losing: if I was operating at a 1000 calorie deficit, I could eat 1000 calories extra due to unforeseen circumstances and simply maintain rather than gain or lose. Now that I am maintaining, my maintenance calories are something like that original 1000 calorie deficit was, I burn fewer calories from exercise, and if I fail to plan thoroughly and fall into a pattern of overeating, I will slowly gain back.

The bottom line: being half your size can sometimes be just as difficult as becoming half your size.

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