Nutrition Non-Negotiables: How to Have Your Cake and Be Healthy, Too

By Jen Comas

“Am I going to have to give up the cream in my morning coffee? Please don’t make me. I love it so much. 

nonnegotiables-cream-coffee-450x303A woman once asked me this before getting started with Girls Gone Strong’s Coaching program. She wasn’t worried about exercising, or intimidated by the habit work or her commitment to the mindset assignments. Her biggest concern was that she would have to give up the cream in her morning java.

For her, the coffee creamer was one of her “nutrition non-negotiables.” It’s something on which she really didn’t want to budge ––it was important to her and made her happy. We understand the importance of happiness when it comes to building a sustainable nutrition approach. We want our clients to focus on conquering the big rocks, the things that matter most, I’ve gotta tell you: having two tablespoons of creamer every morning is the least of those concerns.

Sure, we could overthink this and make a big fuss about exactly why she wanted two tablespoons of whole-milk cream in her coffee every morning. We could spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out if she is using her beloved creamer to fill some emotional gap, but that’s not the way we operate. Instead, we believe our time and energy is more wisely invested in the aforementioned “big rocks”, and not worrying much about the “small rocks.”

bigrocks-littlerocks-450x269Big Rocks vs. Small Rocks: Pick Your Battles

When we talk about “big rocks” we’re talking about the huge, supportive boulders that create our foundation for healthy nutrition. These are the biggies, and we have learned that most people could benefit greatly by making improvements in several of these areas, long before worrying about the smaller rocks.

Examples of big rocks:

  • Eating a serving of protein with each meal
  • Consuming a wide variety of vegetables
  • Drinking enough water

The small rocks, however, aren’t going to make a huge impact until you’ve got a good handle on the big rocks. It’s not worth it for us to worry about these things because the return on our willpower investment is so small. At this stage, worrying about the small rocks won’t do much more than trip you up on your quest for sustainable health and fitness.

Examples of small rocks:

  • Enjoying creamer in your coffee
  • Putting little butter on your veggies
  • Adding a sprinkle of bacon bits to your salad

woman-chocolate-cake-450x301We understand that context matters, and there may come a time in your health journey that one or more of these small rocks may be of importance to you. We can respect that! The small rocks are things that you should concern yourself with only after you’re consistent with the big rocks—and quite frankly, for most people, the big rocks need continual work to maintain. Taking care of the big things will make much more of an impact, both physically and mentally, than exhausting yourself on the minutiae.

Before going any further, it’s important that I clarify a something a bit more: Everything has to be within reason. While it’s totally OK to have a nutrition non-negotiable, if you want to get healthier and feel good, it really can’t consist of having one full-sized chocolate cake every day. Or, if you’re lactose-intolerant, it shouldn’t be a daily milkshake.

Give and Take

Our approach is lenient, but it still has your best interest at heart. The goal is to make you feel and look better, not to make you crazy by putting restrictions on certain foods that can be totally harmless. Your relationship with food, just like any other good relationship, must have a little give-and-take in order to work well. We know that we can’t eat whatever we want, whenever we want— we must compromise.

This means that if you take cream in your coffee, put cheese on your potato, or eat a square or two of chocolate each night, you may need to give in another area. This might mean opting for ground turkey instead of ground beef once in awhile to keep your fat intake in check, or opting for a huge pile of veggies instead of a mound of rice at some of your meals.

Here are some examples of how I use a give-and-take approach with my own food.

  • I make protein and vegetables at each meal primary; anything else is secondary.
  • If I plan to have a glass of wine at dinner (or after), I choose to pass on the bread basket and other carbohydrates with my meal.
  • If I have a really fatty cut of meat, I’ll choose to forego the butter on my vegetables or the cheese in my accompanying salad.
  • If I go out to breakfast and have a pancake, I’ll ask them to hold the potatoes on my order.

meals-potato-chicken-salad-450x303All of these are examples of how I make concessions most of the time. Of course there are meals once in awhile where I don’t give it much thought, and I enjoy whatever sounds good. However, we know that what we do consistently is what matters the most, so establishing some give-and-takes is a good idea.

In the end, it’s all about balance, and we firmly believe that balance and health can happily co-exist when it comes to nutrition. Answer these questions to help you establish your own nutrition non-negotiables.

First, and foremost, which of your big rocks need a bit more attention?

Can you get in an additional serving of vegetables each day? Do you need to beef up your protein intake? (Har, har, har… lame pun, totally intended.)

We all have things that we occasionally need to revisit and work on. That is our first priority. Then…

Which things are you not willing to give up?

This could be the creamer in your coffee, the butter and sour cream on your potatoes, the cheese in your salad, or whatever other flavor-enhancers help you enjoy your meal to the max, and leave you more satisfied. Got ’em? Great.

Now, where are you willing to make concessions in your diet?

oatmeal-blueberries-450x340Put another way, which things are you indulging in that don’t really make your heart sing? What are some things that you’re eating that are good, but not blowing your mind? How can you alter those choices to help you achieve better nutritional balance? Remember, with freedom comes responsibility.

Perhaps it’s going without your typical instant oatmeal packages that come sweetened with sugar and, instead, cooking your own plain oats and adding some cinnamon and fresh fruit for flavor. Perhaps it means passing on your morning toast in favor of a piece of artisan, dark chocolate with lunch.

The key to establishing your nutrition non-negotiables is to figure out which food items provide you with the most enjoyment. From there, start weeding out some of the things that you don’t love, and begin to make some concessions. This way, you still get to have some of the things that you love, while continuing to make progress towards your goals and staying healthy.

Establishing your non-negotiables and identifying your big rocks takes some time and work, and sometimes it helps to have a little guidance.

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About the author:  Jen Comas

Jen Comas is a Girls Gone Strong co-founder and GGS Coaching Head Coach, as well as a NASM Personal Trainer and USAW Level One Weightlifting coach. She has competed in figure and trained as a powerlifter, teaches and practices yoga, and is obsessed with motorcycles, dirt biking, and downhill mountain biking. Learn about Jen on her website and follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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