Are you finding it difficult to keep up with your commitment to staying low carb, especially during challenging times? We’re only a few weeks into the new year at this point, so perhaps you are trying to get back on track after indulging in a little too much holiday cheer and the subsequent thud that comes with ‘back to normal.’ Whether you’re stressed from that or something else, there are steps you can take to make tough times a little easier. This post on how to Embrace ‘Good Enough’ is the first, in of series of eight, that will discuss the strategies and tactics I developed in an effort to move along the continuum from “surviving” to “thriving.”
In my previous post, Taking Low Carb Through the Curves, I shared a bit about the chronic health challenges I’ve experienced over the past year that have kept me from blogging (and a lot of other things). While also giving our regular readers an update, I wanted to pass on a few things that I’ve learned along the way that have helped me cope.
Many of you may think that whatever challenge or stressful situation you have at the moment isn’t that serious, but I’ve come to realize that these skills would benefit anyone experiencing a stressful period. Any type of change, whether it’s positive or negative, can be stressful. Stress ebbs and flows throughout all of our lives.
Goals, Strategies, and Tactics
If you think of your goal here as being to maintain your low carb way of eating, whether it’s in order to lose weight, hold your weight steady, and/or improve your health, strategies would be the bridges that take you from where you are to your goal. Tactics are the smaller steps you’ll take along the way, day-to-day or even moment-to-moment. I’m going to share some of the tactics that have helped me, but these are simply examples. I think of them as tools in my toolbox; sometimes a hammer works, other times I need a screwdriver. While these strategies have guided me in adjusting to the many different ways my illness has affected me, this blog is about living low carb. As such, it seems most helpful here to focus on the various tactics I’ve used to keep up my low carb way of eating, both for my overall health, and in order to maintain my 130-lb weight loss.
Embrace ‘Good Enough’
For those of you who’ve followed this blog for awhile, you may recall that I am a former professional chef and life-long ‘foodie.’ In other words, I can be obsessed with food, and I’m pretty particular about what I eat. OK, I’ll admit it — I’m picky! I also happen to be a bit of perfectionist — just ask my sister, Deb! Those traits seemed to work OK for me before my illness when I had the energy to cook and create an appealing variety of low carb dishes, using carefully sourced ingredients chosen to meet specific nutritional targets.
What I’m getting at here is that it has been a challenge for me to embrace ‘good enough.’ I realized that my quest for perfection had contributed to an “all or nothing” attitude that was interfering with my goal to stay low carb in order to maximize my health and maintain my weight. Over time, I learned that to recognize that:
♦ Not every meal, or even most meals, need to be a culinary experience. Settling for simple, even somewhat boring, has to be good enough for at least the time being. I don’t have a personal low carb, grain-free chef that is going to prepare my food to my taste and standards — she’s out sick. 😉 My husband can do a few basic non-low-carb meals in the kitchen, but I haven’t had the energy to give him keto cooking lessons (even though he is willing)! Once I had blown through the make-ahead soups and meals that had accumulated in my freezer before I became ill, I was back to square one. Over much of the last year, while I occasionally had the energy to prepare eggs or a simple soup using boxed broth, much of the time I rotated through a small assortment of mostly ready-to-eat foods that could help me balance convenience and nutrition with relatively appealing choices.
♦ Not every food choice must meet my ideal approach to low carb nutrition. I relied on rotisserie chicken, high-quality deli meats, canned tuna, eggs, greek yogurt, whey protein powder, and relatively “clean” protein bars. Some days and weeks, my diet included more protein bars that I’d like to admit. They became their own food group, especially when I didn’t have much of an appetite, or I simply couldn’t face another hard-cooked egg or whatever else happened to be immediately available in the fridge. For much of the time I’ve been ill, I had little desire for low carb vegetables. It’s only recently that I started adding them back regularly. While vegetables clearly have some health benefits, they are not actually needed for survival.
♦ I can simplify by choosing foods that are “on plan” and avoid ones that are not. I often don’t have the mental focus to track my food intake and macros on my handy app. Most of the time, thanks to four years of continuously eating low carb, I can roughly estimate my carb, protein, and fat intake. At it’s most basic, my approach is to minimize carbs (for me, under 30 grams net carbs per day), focus on getting enough protein to protect muscle mass (for me, about 100 grams per day), and keep my dietary fat moderate enough to avoid gaining weight. That’s not to say that I hit those targets each and every day, but rather they are a guide. I don’t worry about eating ‘balanced meals.’ In fact, I now rarely eat what most people would consider a “meal,” but rather a bowl of soup here, or some scrambled eggs there, combined with whatever else that’s on hand that isn’t “off plan.” I find that it’s good enough if I simply focus on incorporating low carb foods from mostly whole, minimally-processed sources that, in total, roughly meet my daily carb limit and protein goals.
♦ It’s OK to stop listening to people that tell you that you must follow every low carb or keto “rule” they espouse. Instead, lean on educated voices in the low carb world that will reassure you that ‘good enough’ is enough, especially during those times when life gets just a little too real. For example, one of my favorite voices of reason is Amy Berger, a low carb Certified Nutrition Specialist and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, who generously shares her wisdom on her blog, tuitnutrition.com, which she promotes as “a source of sanity in the sea of nutritional madness.” In one of her recent posts, Amy summed up her view:
“Low carb and keto are so, SO much simpler than people make them out to be. I understand that you are feeling completely overwhelmed, and I don’t blame you. But I assure you, there’s no need to be scared, confused, or worried. This is all much, much simpler than people on social media would have you believe with all their acronyms, rules, and crazy calculations. This is a way of eating. It’s just food, not blueprints for the space shuttle. 😉 …[I]f you’re confused or overwhelmed by low carb or keto, take a breath, stay calm, and just start. You don’t need to know anything about ketone meters, MCT oil, fat bombs, gluconeogenesis, making “keto” cookies, cake, or muffins from almond and coconut flour, or anything else, in order to take what is by far the most important and most effective step: eliminating sugar and starch from your diet. If you do nothing else but that, you’ll be about 85% of the way to success on low carb. All the rest is just fluff.”
In the quote above, Amy is specifically addressing those that are new to low carb, but her approach applies to anyone who may be struggling with stress or feeling overwhelmed. When I’m stressed, embracing ‘good enough’ helps me focus on the most important things.
♦ There are times I will falter, regardless of my good intentions. In my experience, successfully navigating a low carb way of eating over the long term means accepting that I will inevitably hit at at least one or two very real potholes in the road. That’s reality. The process of getting from where we are to where we want to be is not linear. In spite of unplanned detours, we can get back on track. Of course, it does help to be on the lookout for potholes.
• Beware! So-called “comfort foods” are an illusion, like a false oasis in the desert. One of our readers, Janelle, recently commented on my Taking Low Carb Through the Curves post that she finds herself “…struggling to resume low carb eating having fallen off the wagon following [her] brother’s death a few months ago.” It is universally human, I believe, to turn to food for comfort from even relatively minor stress, much less the profound variety that comes with grief or illness. We are so much more vulnerable to the appeal of the foods that are the worst for us, namely fast-acting carbs that give us that burst of dopamine — foods that are full of starches and sugars, especially highly processed ones.
In our home, we keep very few of those kinds of foods around to tempt us, with the exception of the microwave popcorn my husband often has on hand, and which I used to be able to easily resist. Once I became ill, however, there were a couple of times that, in depths of despair, I felt the overwhelming urge to have something carby, salty, and crunchy. My old “drug of choice” would have been potato chips, but the popcorn was there and I chose not to resist the temptation. Yes, it tasted good in the moment, but the comfort lasted only until I reached the bottom of the bag. Not surprisingly, a transgression such as this would kick up my blood sugar, which not only made me feel crummy, it also aroused monster carb cravings that I then had to battle. No fun at all!
After several forays into the popcorn pothole, I was able to see that I was making myself feel worse, not better. To get out of the carb-craving loop I’d created, I focused on having some protein with a little fat every time I felt the urge to eat, as often as needed, until the storm mercifully passed a few days later.
• It’s possible to abuse low carb foods for “emotional eating.” There are certain foods that are considered acceptable on many low carb plans, such as salted nuts, very dark chocolate, and cheese, that can end up being potholes. If you find yourself eating more of those than you know you should, you may be overeating in an effort to calm (comfort) yourself. For example, there were times I’d practically binge on salted peanuts. I had never had a problem with resisting salted peanuts in the past, but because they were the closest thing to a comfort food that was still “legal,” I found myself wanting them when I was feeling discouraged about my illness. While peanuts are relatively low carb, they have a lot of fat and the carbs do add up. After a time, my weight started to creep up, which made me feel even more stressed.
Sometimes, I would say to myself that I was just going to have a small portion, but once that was gone, I’d keep going back for more. At some point, I started to ask myself, when the urge struck, whether I was actually hungry. I’d then test that question by asking myself if I would be willing to eat some protein, such as meat or a hard-boiled egg, instead. If not, it was pretty clear that mere physical hunger was not the issue. When those urges kept occurring, I came to the conclusion that I was making it harder on myself by having certain foods in the house. Peanuts, along with a few other items, such as my favorite 85% dark chocolate, were banned for the foreseeable future. That may not need to be the case forever, but it is for now. Bottom line: learn your potholes, create boundaries that help you go around them, and expect others in your house to respect those boundaries as well.
I’m sure that there are other ‘good enough’ tactics that I may have missed, but these have been the big ones for me. Undoubtedly, I will have to adjust when life changes again, which it will certainly do. In the meantime, I’ll remember the old saying about “perfect being the enemy of good” and do my best to embrace ‘good enough’!
My next post in this series will be on my #2 strategy, Ask for Help. Until then, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section about any ‘good enough’ tactics have worked for you!