Vail Health Insights column: Make a positive change in your nutrition | VailDaily.com

Vail Health Insights column: Make a positive change in your nutrition

Rod Connolly
Health Insights

The Vail Valley is one of the healthier communities in the country. Our populace is active and seeks a high quality of life. Still, the No. 1 goal fitness professionals hear from our local clients is that they would like to lose some body fat and lean out. This can be for either aesthetic or performance-related goals and is deeply personal for many people.

Nutritional planning is by far the most effective component of a successful lean-out process. But it often is the area that is least addressed, especially in active populations.

Summer is a great time for implementing a positive nutrition plan with increased success. The hot weather naturally reduces our appetites; we like to feel light and lean for our outdoor activities such as hiking, running and cycling; and healthy, fresh produce is abundant, tastes great and is easy to prepare.

While there is a lot of misguided information on nutritional strategies, many active people do have enough working knowledge on the specifics of what to do in creating a healthy nutrition plan. So why do so many of us stay stuck? Why do we always hear "I just want to lose these last 10 pounds"?

To have success — especially long-term success — it is imperative to understand the way humans make positive change.

The truth is, change doesn't always feel great. It can be scary, intense and challenging. It can strain relationships. It can upset stasis and equilibrium. It can invite criticism and complaint. But positive, healthy change is one of the most powerful and beneficial things a person can do. It dramatically improves confidence, self-esteem and cognitive and emotional function.

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I know most people reading this article are looking for the typical snap shot "tips" on what to do. I want to address the grittier areas of what truly creates positive behavioral change.

It is hard to make big changes in your life, and you have to enter into that process expecting that you will experience a few setbacks. What separates the people who succeed at achieving their big-picture goals from those who do not is not that they never fail. It is in their response to failure.

How do you frame your goals?

Often, the way you state your goals can get in the way of your success. When you are on the verge of giving up, look at what you set out to do. Did you set yourself a positive goal such as eating healthier food or exercising regularly, or did you create a negative goal such as eating less or avoiding distractions?

Negative goals are almost always doomed to failure, for two reasons. First, when you are constantly trying to stop yourself from performing an action, you have to ride your mental brakes, using brain systems that are prone to weakening and giving out. Second, your habit-learning system does not learn from the experience of avoidance. You generate habits when you perform an action that is related to an environment. You learn from doing. You do not learn when you don't do something.

Create goals with flexibility

There is a tendency for people to set up their goals in all-or-nothing terms. You may create a strict diet to which you have to adhere. You strive for going from being a couch potato to a daily exerciser.

The problem with these all-or-nothing goals is that you are either succeeding or failing. In the case of a diet resolution, you are either sticking to the plan or you have given up. Breaking the diet a little feels like failure, which can lead you to break it a lot.

If you find that your small failures become catastrophic ones, then you need to think about whether you are creating too strict a boundary between right and wrong in your goals.

Create better environments

One of the biggest sources of failure is the environment. It is hard to resist temptations in your world. The more you are forced to confront temptation, the more likely you are to give in.

That means that you need to seize control of your environment and structure it to make the actions you want to take easy and the actions you don't want to take difficult. If you find that you are spending too much time each day checking your email, then close your internet browser for a few hours a day. Consider removing the email app on your smart phone.

Be kind to yourself

Finally, remember that failure is not a sign of weakness. It is just a sign that changing your behavior is hard. When you realize that you have failed at something, you will feel bad at first. Give yourself a chance to experience the sadness or anxiety that may come along with a failure. Then, after a few hours (or perhaps a day), get back on the horse. Learn from the experience and move on. Studies show that acceptance and self-kindness are paramount to sustainable positive change.

What to do tips

OK, now for just a few of the "what to do" tips in nutritional programming for leaning out.

• Don't fear the fat — Dietary fats have been demonized for a long time. Healthy fats such as avocado, olives, coconut, fatty fish, olive oil and coconut oil should be abundant in your lean-out nutritional plan.

• Slow down — Watch most people as they start a meal. It looks like they are entering a Nathan's food-eating contest. Eyes glazed over, utensils never leaving their hands. Slow down, enjoy, put your fork down between bites, and chew. You will end up consuming less, feeling less lethargic, drop a few pounds … and have a little more class.

• Let the sweet go — Americans are addicted to the sweet. The food companies know it, and they have us on the hook. Most of you know that some form of sugar is added to nearly every processed food or drink available.

The sweet factor is supra stimulatory. It has screwed up your taste buds. It is highly addictive and not only promotes overconsumption but also negatively dims your palate for enjoying very tasty and healthy natural foods. If you are a "water is boring" or "this tastes bland" person, then wake up. You are not 12. Eliminate the sweet for a full week, and you will notice the cravings will dissipate dramatically.

Rod Connolly is an exercise physiologist, coach and owner of Dogma Athletica in Edwards. For more information, call 970-688-4433.