A few months ago, we heard a fascinating question from a workshop attendee. Well, to be honest, the question itself wasn’t fascinating, but our answer (or lack thereof) we found mighty interesting. The question posed to us was this: “If you were going to “cheat” and make a bad food choice, is it better to choose something that’s less bad?”
We Don’t Do “Less Bad”
This idea of “less bad” is a common theme at our events; folks hear us present our views on “optimal nutrition” all day long, and then persist in asking what their “less bad” options would be. (For the record, we do not fall into the trap of answering these questions. Our job is not to advise you on the “less bad”, our job is to tell you what is optimal. But we digress…) After pausing a moment, we both answered (in unison), “Not necessarily.” And while our audience gaped at our response (what kind of nutrition consultant would actually advise you to choose the gluten-bomb over the gluten-free?), we did our best to explain. Our best, unfortunately, was pretty inadequate – not because we didn’t have a coherent thought process, but because there are so many factors in play when making a not-so-good food choice.
It’s Crazy, But It’s True
The thing is, eating well isn’t really all that complicated. No, it’s not, despite how difficult it may have been to get yourself to our side of the nutritional fence. If you’ve got our Shopping Guide and MealSimple™ template, making smart food choices is easier than easy. Choose foods off our list, using our “good-better-best”, nutrient-density and fat hierarchy recommendations. Create meals and snacks following the meal planning template. Use our guidelines to help you evaluate for yourself whether you’re eating the right amount to accomplish your goals. Repeat. That’s it – really. If you’re following our clear, concise guidelines, you literally cannot go wrong. See? Eating good food is pretty simple.
What gets really complicated is choosing not-so-good food. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Eating well is difficult, but eating junk food, comfort food, cheap-and-dirty food has always been easy. And that’s true… until you start thinking about making better food choices. Once you start caring about the food you put in your mouth, the situation flips. Eating clean is now far easier. You’ve got your Whole9 “rules of the road” – your lists, your guidelines, your handbooks. Stay firmly on the pavement and you’re in good shape. But what happens when you go off-road, away from your lists and guidelines and handbooks? That’s where things get muddy, where it’s not so clear-cut, where (until today) we couldn’t offer you any guidelines as clear and concise as those outlined in our “road map” for healthy eating.
But the “less bad” question got us thinking… what is our criteria for making an “off road” food choice? When do we opt for the “less bad”, and when do we eat the “real deal”? How do WE know when to indulge and when to pass? We realized we actually had good answers for all of these questions… we just needed a vehicle to communicate them to our readers, workshop attendees and consulting clients.
Everybody Loves a Good Flowchart
We spent the next month documenting our thought process on taking your nutrition off-roading. What started off as a free-form discussion turned into a handy little flowchart, designed to help you make the right not-so-good food choices for yourselves. The chart walks yourself through a series of checkpoints that all lead to one of three conclusions – don’t eat it, eat the “less bad” option, or eat the real deal. It provides you with structure, a forum for intelligent self-reasoning, a map of “guidelines” to follow in previously uncharted territory.
Walk yourself through this “cheat sheet” every single time you want to indulge in an off-plan food or drink. While many of the questions here might seem obvious, do not dismiss any of the steps. They are all carefully designed to increase awareness and accountability, and at some point will probably keep you from crashing face-first into a box of glazed donuts. You’re welcome.
Print It Out. Refer To It Often. Evaluate Your Results.
The flowchart steps (and conclusions) should be self-evident after a few walk-throughs, but the beauty (and effectiveness) of our Guide to Nutritional Off-Roading is that you use it each and every time you consider indulging in a not-so-good food choice. We all find ourselves slipping back into old patterns and habits, no matter how many Whole30′s we’ve done or how long we’ve been eating “clean”. This flowchart will help keep you honest, and probably keep you eating better (and healthier) than you might otherwise.
We’d love to hear how you use our Guide to Nutritional Off-Roading in your own life, within your gym or with your family. Post comments, questions or your own walk-through results to comments. Looking for other Whole9 resources on “eating dirty”? Check the Resources page, where we swear we have just as many articles on “cheating smart” as we do on eating healthy.
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