Reducing snacking & finding a balanced diet
Have you ever found yourself mid-meeting or after riding wandering into the kitchen, opening up the cupboards or the fridge and putting things in your mouth without even thinking?
Mindless nutrition behaviours such as snacking are habits that we’ve picked up over time and can be really hard to break, just as breaking your horse's bad habits would be too. It’s a really common occurrence for riders, you reach for a snack because you’re starving as you haven’t eaten much all day & been running around like a loon! You think that is going to help you feel more energised but then you hit a massive slump which then requires you to eat more or go for another sugary option which you think is going to keep you awake!
But in fact, this only makes the situation worse!
Whether you are riding or running a yard as your business or you work full time around your horses it’s really important to make sure that we have high energy levels throughout the day so that we can then go and ride or go to the gym at the end of the day and you can remain as productive as possible whilst also performing at your best!
When I initially start coaching riders I always ask to see a day of food photos, a physical picture of the foods you eat throughout the day. This is a great tool to see what people's norms & go to's are but often highlight WHY this behaviour is happening.
The best way to help yourself limit snacking is to have a balanced diet containing a good amount of quality protein, complex carbohydrates, good fats and lots of fruit and veg. We need to be thinking about what we are putting in our body and treating food as fuel not just eating for the sake of it.
Often we can get stuck in the trap of thinking we don’t eat anything all day or get the illusion that we don’t eat at all but this is the problem! When we are busy it is all about convenience, which can mean grabbing on the go and trying to find the fastest option whether at home or on the road. You can still make good choices in these scenarios but what we want to do is bring a level of awareness to you of how to improve your diet and also become more mindful of your nutrition in general.
If you’re really honest think about the last thing you ate today, do you truly remember how it tasted, how you felt when you put it in your mouth and if you enjoyed it? All too often when we either eat on the go, in front of the TV or when we’re driving there is little awareness of our behaviour & this is a big problem. The more awareness of our habits we have the more we can work to improve those & in turn the more mindful we will become.
Reducing snacking and increasing your calories throughout the day in terms of your meals is going to be what you want to focus on. Even if you think you don’t eat much all day if you’re eating 3 Mars bars, 2 packets of crisps and some sweets to keep you going and then dinner in the evening that does add up and you’ll be surprised to see where your calories truly are at! It certainly won't be "nothing at all".
So here are some tips to help you to limit your snacking and start to have a more nutritious diet all round that is going to help you feel & perform to your best.
Set yourself boundaries with your location of eating; Just like we wouldn't let our dogs go into a certain room of the house we have to apply some rules with ourselves. So many of us eat at our desks or in the car or in the lorry and this leads to mindless behaviours. It’s easy when you’re not thinking about what you’re doing to then overconsume or end up eating for the sake of it rather than listening to your hunger levels. A really simple way to handle this is by setting yourself boundaries in terms of where you eat. Hold yourself to the rule of no food at your desk or only fruit in the car and see how you get on with that.
Eat your meals with full awareness; What I mean by this is sit down and take the time to eat your meal. Yes, I know life is busy but quite frankly you need to make time for the things you want to make a priority and your nutrition needs to be one of them if you’re serious about getting results and performing at your best. Make sure you set & eat at the table if you can, try to avoid distractions such as TV or social media and be truly present when you eat. Think about how your food tastes, and how you feel when eating it and you’ll probably find that you end up eating less as you are so much more self-aware & actually listening to your body, rather than eating for the sake of it.
Increase your daily protein content; Protein is really important as it’s our most satiating macro. It has the highest thermic effect of food which means your body burns more calories to break it down as opposed to carbohydrates or fat. Protein is also really important as its role is to help your body & muscles recover from training sessions but in terms of changing behaviours & habits the biggest reason protein is a win is because of satiety. When I say satiated I mean feeling full, so if you include a lean, good quality protein sauce with each meal you’re going to feel far more satisfied after you’ve eaten and be full up for longer. This in turn is going to reduce your want & need to snack. Keep your diet high in protein!
You often hear people say when they’ve gone on a diet or lost weight, "oh I actually eat more now than I ever did before". The reason they say that is because they’re making better quality choices, eating more nutritious and less processed foods which therefore are lower in calories so you do indeed end up eating more volume!
Include good quality carbohydrates, Especially if you’re riding or training you need to make sure you have enough carbohydrate intake throughout the day. Our carbs are our main source of energy and if we don’t have carbohydrate the body will struggle to physically and mentally function properly and you’re going to end up feeling fatigued or slumped by the end of the afternoon! When you consume carbohydrates it breaks down into glucose and this glucose is used as your energy. When you eat more processed foods that have a higher content of refined sugar what happens is they cause a fast rise in blood sugar levels followed by a very fast drop which to you you’ll probably have experienced as a sugar crash. Whereas if we eat carbohydrates that we would class as complex, things like brown rice, sweet potato, vegetables & whole-grain bread these will release energy steadily across a longer period of time and give us much more balanced energy across the day. We want to keep our blood sugar relatively consistent throughout the day so that we don’t have sudden drops or crashes here & there. If you constantly rely on processed foods or try to avoid carbohydrates you’ll end up relying on sugar and snacking because you don’t have the energy your body actually needs. Try including a good source of complex carbohydrates in your lunch and dinner meals and see how that makes you feel.
Change one thing to get going; All to often when we try to improve our eating habits we focus on overhauling all of our behaviours and changing 100 things at once! I know it comes from a place of good intention but the problem with this approach is that it’s just not sustainable and also not realistic. Long-term behaviour change in terms of nutrition comes from small, sustainable changes done consistently that then become things you do every day autonomously in the long run. So for instance, if right now you only 1 piece of fruit a day maybe for the next seven days commit to eating 3 pieces of fruit within the day. Something as simple as that can really change your approach!
Keep yourself hydrated; Often feeling dehydrated and being hungry get mixed up and that can be a downfall. If you’re dehydrated that will obviously affect both your physical and mental performance but what can also happen is thirst can be mistaken for hunger. If you keep yourself hydrated you’re going to be able to feel when you’re genuinely hungry compared to actually just lacking a bit of hydration & you should find it's easier to manage your hunger levels across the day as well as them being more consistent.
Changing snacking behaviours isn't going to happen overnight but hopefully, these tips help you to start making some positive changes to your diet and nutrition habits. Keep things simple, the more balanced your diet the more balanced you will feel and the better you will perform! Eating well does not need to be complicated and it doesn't take a huge amount of change, we just need to focus on doing the basics well and nail 1 simple change at a time. Especially being so time poor for us riders mindfulness and self-awareness is a big part of it so the more we can create the better! If you have any questions on any of the subjects feel free to get in touch but I hope that helps.