Me and my wife ate mostly junk food for a bit more than a month time at the end of 2020. Now, we did not do this because we wanted, but it was kind of a necessity. We were renovating our kitchen, and with the pandemic, there were not many alternatives, especially since we did underestimate a bit the amount of time it would take us to finish the renovations!
For a bit of context, I am a personal trainer, and my wife is kind of an advocate for eating healthy and unprocessed food. This was not something we did lightly.
Just so you get an idea, this is what we ate during these times:
Breakfast: Essentially coffee upon wake up and then cereal with milk. If we found ourselves hungry in the middle of the morning, we just ate more cereal.
Lunch and dinner: Hamburgers, pizza, premade wraps, noodle soup, or microwave meals. Sometimes premade salads from the supermarket. After some time, we started eating some soup at night that my wife’s grandmother prepared for us.
Snacks: Cookies and similar. Salt crackers with cheese from time to time. Very rarely we would eat fruit (mostly bananas).
Remember, we had no water in the kitchen or a place to prepare anything. So, our focus was on selecting food that was easy to prepare/eat and to clean up after.
Could we have done better? Yes, of course. If we knew it would take us as much time as it did, we would have prepared differently. But when we were in it, while also working full time, our only focus was finishing the renovations as soon as possible to get back to normal.
We considered: do we prefer to take more time to finish the kitchen by eating better, or sacrifice healthy eating for a few more days and get everything ready? We chose the latter.
An important note here. We were highly attentive to our body cues. We tried to eat only when hungry and we were careful to not overeat. This was super important because we were eating highly caloric foods, so we needed to minimize the impact these would have on our system.
How we felt during these times
First, we were exhausted. We were working and used every free hour of the day to work in the kitchen. We took off tiles, plastered and painted the walls, removed all cabinets, changed plugs, and even made small changes to the plumbing. And then we installed the new cabinets, cut the wood countertop, added new tiles, and set up the lights. We did this all by ourselves for almost 2 months. Some parts we finished as we had already a place to cook, thankfully.
And we were hungry. Like really, hungry. Especially during the more physically demanding part of the work. I was eating more than usual and still feeling hungry.
But strangely, I never felt bad, physically. I thought I would have less energy, but that did not happen. I was super focused on the job, and that I needed to finish it as soon as possible, so I do not know if that helped. But I can say I was never lethargic or anything. I did not expect this.
And also, no digestive issues. I thought eating like this would surely make me feel terrible. But no. No problems of any kind, even on the days when I ate more than usual and did not have heartburn.
The biggest surprise was getting tired of the food quickly. I could not think about eating another noodle soup or frozen pizza.
Finally, we started craving salads and vegetables. But with no place to wash and prepare, we opted to buy the premade ones. As I remember it, it tasted even better than pizzas at the end. My wife’s grandmother’s soups also helped a lot.
We got fat! I am not going to lie, this took a toll on us. Both of us gained some weight and even lost muscle. Being physically active while working in the kitchen is not the same as weight training.
Our efforts being cautious not to eat too much, attentive to our body cues, and even throwing a salad from time to time was not sufficient. I can’t even imagine the result if we did not do this.
It was kind of eye-opening. How even feeling so hungry all the time and being careful did not prevent us from gaining weight while eating this unhealthy diet. And while the vegetables we ate were for sure helpful, it was not enough to counterbalance the negative effects of such a bad diet. While I did not feel as bad as I imagined, the impact was visible just in a few weeks.
Getting back on track
Even craving healthy food and greens were not enough to eat as we did before the renovations right away. And we had plenty of motivation to get back on track. But we failed. Initially.
We are back on track now and I want to tell you how we did it and how to avoid the mistakes we made.
Make a plan
I thought that my old habits would just magically come back. Well, they did not.
And if you are not used to planning meals and prepare healthy and balanced options you will also not start doing that from day one. Even if your fridge is full of vegetables and fresh food. Actually, that can be a problem because you might spoil food.
So, sit down for a bit and plan. Decide how many meals you want to have set out in advance, make a grocery list, and define when to cook. Will you cook every day or opt for meal prep? Do you need food ready sometimes due to your work? Consider your schedule and habits.
Do not plan everything!
Sorry for the contradiction, but I mean it.
Leave some things unplanned for the sake of your sanity and good adaptation. Do not try to do everything from day one – this is not a crash diet (plus, almost nobody should do those anyway).
You can do this by focus on main meals only or by planning only week meals – whatever works for you is ok. Leave some room for creativity and to be spontaneous. Life needs also to be enjoyed.
But, as in the latest point, make sure there is food around for that creativity as well – plan for the unplanned moments.
Do not focus on “dieting”
If you are reading this and your focus on eating better is to lose weight, let me challenge you to try a different approach. Before thinking about counting calories or cutting food, just focus on eating better.
I know this might not be as motivating as a “4-week program to get abs” kind of ad, but this will actually help you more than restrictive plans and crazy diets. Think like this: “I allow myself to take the easy road”. Or “I give myself the time to get to my goal”. It is a different kind of mentality, but it might get you closer than ever before to your goals.
Once you are confident in your new implemented habits, with good planning and the ability to be spontaneous without guilt or overeating patterns, you will be ready to take it into the next step. Probably you will see already some results, and after that, you will collect the benefits of taking it slow.
Eat enough, without getting too hungry
I ate no breakfast for most of my life and never planned an afternoon meal. I used to be more than 8h without eating a proper meal during the day (only random snacks or coffee) and fasted for around 12h in the night/morning. And no, I was not following an intermittent fasting diet. This was just how I ate normally. I was hungry all the time.
My final advice: make yourself a huge favor and make sure you eat enough meals and avoid getting too hungry. I always ignored this advice and now that I am eating 4 times a day (full meals, not snacks only) I can see the difference. Eat enough, to avoid eating too much later.