“Budget the luxuries first” – Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
Heinlein, one of my favorite authors, gave the above advice as the recipe for a happy marriage. I believe that Heinlein’s advice is not only great marriage advice, it is also great advice for all things worth doing in life. In order for something to be successful, the luxuries must be budgeted first, and “dieting” is no exception.
When I say diet, I mean in the sense of what a person habitually eats, day in and day out, for life. I do not mean a fad diet, perpetuated on eliminating one of the food groups in order to trick you in reducing your calorie intake without you noticing, or even worse, something else like a juice fast to remove “toxins”.
For fat loss, as well as just trying to eat better for health and fitness, that means having a diet you can live with for the rest of your life and the key to that is a balance between eating foods that you enjoy, the luxuries, and the foods that provide you the necessary nutrition sustain a healthy body and mind.
Why Luxuries Matter
As someone who has lost and maintained a 200lb fat loss, I feel that this would not have been possible, and I would be one of the statistics who was unable to have permanent weight loss had I not adhered to budgeting the luxuries first. It is rather common to lose weight, and then regain it. I myself was stuck in this awful cycle because I tried the aforementioned fad diets. I found the dietary modifications unsustainable because they generally barred me from eating foods I enjoyed.
For me, budgeting the luxuries first means that I don’t need to entirely forego the foods that I love. While avoiding certain “unhealthy” foods, I could potentially extend my life by some insignificant number of hours/days/week (and even then, that’s not for certain), it would come at the sacrifice of the things that improve the quality of the remaining hours/days/week. That means my diet must include three things or it will be impossible for me to stick to permanently. Those things are wings, beer, and ice cream, and often in combination. (wings + beer, followed by ice cream + beer).
Decide what your luxury items are, the things that you want to include on a daily or weekly basis.
Is it going out for drinks with friends? Donuts or pop tarts on Sunday morning? Family dinner? Popcorn at the movies? If you are trying to lose fat and be fit and healthy, these things do not have to be sacrificed on the altar of healthy eating. While the majority of your food should be about getting the vitamins, minerals, and macro-nutrients that you need to feel awesome, and enjoy life, those “unhealthy” foods are just food. They contain protein, fat, and carbohydrates. They are not magically arranged in some fashion to instantly make you fat or ruin your progress. Sure, they’ve been combined to taste really good, but that should not deter you from eating them or even ensuring that you eat them regularly. What you save in sanity, will pay dividends in regard to your adherence to the rest of your plan.
But pay close attention to foods that you know once you start eating them, it will be very difficult for you to stop. Its very possible that a certain food is a binge trigger for you, and isn’t a good luxury to include. I know for a fact that a binge trigger for me is peanut butter and/or sugary cereal. And when I combine those two, watch out. Cap’n Crunch is still afraid of me!
Tuesday is wing night at a local bar, so on Monday when I’m preparing my Tuesday lunch and dinner, I first enter my wings and a beer or two into my tracker for the next day. The place I go for wings serves whole jumbo wings, so I just grab the nutritional information for 12 wings from Buffalo Wild Wings, and the info for a Guinness. With season salt wings and Frank’s Red Hot on the side, that puts me at 950 calories, 95g protein, 50g fat. I then just center the rest of my day’s food choices around that depending on my calorie and protein goals. If I was trying to hit 2200 calories and 200g of protein, that means I have 1250 calories and 105g of protein to get in other meals. I went out to a bar, had wings and beer and didn’t fail my “diet” because I haven’t eliminated foods. Instead, I made choices that allow me to enjoy life FIRST and meet my goals second.
The luxuries matter the most because this philosophy should eliminate your guilt over eating food. It’s just food. It’s not good or bad, and you shouldn’t feel guilty over eating it. You are likely already dealing with enough stress in your life, eating which is something you must do, should not be one of them. Putting yourself in a position to feel guilt on top of the other stressors in your life is setting yourself up for failure, and there is no good reason to do so.
Did your luxury item come up unexpectedly and you didn’t plan for it in advance? Don’t stress! You got this. Just rearrange things later in the day. Already late in the day and that isn’t possible? Don’t stress! You got this. Just let it go. It’s a single day. In the long run it doesn’t matter. What matters is what you make the slow, steady march toward your goals and that you now have a framework with which to get there without sacrificing things that add to your happiness and reduce your stress.
If you cannot fit your luxuries into your daily goals, you should probably reconsider what your long term goals are, why you are doing it, and if your daily habits are helping you achieve that. Obviously, if you have a deadline by which you must look a certain way, or be at a certain weight, this advice may not be practical to you. For the rest of us, this is not a race. The habits you build slowly are the ones that are more likely to stick around for life. The fat you lose without being stressed out about it, and that happens from the habitual choices you make that are not painful to you is fat that is much less likely to come back.
Reframing the “Unhealthy” Mindset
I believe that most people fail to stick to their lifestyle changes in the long term, because they hadn’t first considered what their dietary luxuries are, and instead they jump feet first into removing anything “unhealthy”, which in most cases happen to foods that they love, comfort foods that have positive emotions attached to them. Put those positive emotions to work FOR you instead of AGAINST you.
Consider healthy lifestyle changes analogous to finance and debt. Many people are in debt, and in order to climb out of that debt, they begin to eliminate luxuries and become more frugal in their spending. The end result is the fastest possible removal of that debt at the sacrifice of the things they enjoy. The balance has been upset, and they have become a monk. There is nothing wrong with being a monk of course, and if you take pleasure in it, by all means continue to do so. But as most of us were not cut out to be monks, finding the balance of happy and sustainable is the line we must toe in all things.
The solution is to budget the luxuries first. Put the things you want in front of you, and then factor in the habits behind them that will help you reach your goals. Rather than feeling like you’ve sacrificed the things you enjoy to reach a goal, you’ve instead made some room to add the things that will help you reach your goals, all while enjoying the journey.
Featured image courtesy of Pete Zarria and used under a Creative Commons License.