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Food Guilt Is a Waste of Time—and It’s Sabotaging Your Weight-Loss Goals

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Indulging in delicious treats is good. Indulging in food guilt about it is the exact opposite. You might know the feeling: That sinking pit in your stomach after having a donut, cheeseburger, or even adding an extra sprinkle of feta to your salad. Then, of course, the steely resolve not to give in to your craving next time. It may seem like restriction is the only way to stay on track. But actually, if you want to lose weight, being too strict about every morsel that passes your lips can sabotage your goals—not to mention your self-esteem.

Before jumping in, it’s important to keep in mind that health looks different for every person. If you want to lose weight, what works for you might not work for others, and vice versa. And if you have a history of disordered eating, it may make sense to talk to your doctor before starting a new eating plan. Even if you don’t want to lose weight, it’s worth trying to kick food guilt to the curb, because it doesn’t do anyone any favors.

It’s one thing if after eating something and feeling sluggish or ill, you decide you’d like to provide your body with different kinds of nutrients. But feeling guilty is a natural, ingrained response to doing something bad. Therein lies the root of the problem. “I see people calling food ‘good’ or ‘bad’ every day,” Abby Langer, R.D., owner of Abby Langer Nutrition in Toronto, tells SELF. This practice is harmful because it moralizes what you eat in a way that’s all too easy to apply to yourself. “It makes people feel like they are good or bad based on their food choices, but that’s not the case,” Langer says. “It’s important to understand what this kind of thinking really does.”

One of the most common responses to food guilt is to spiral out of control, Laura Cipullo, R.D., C.D.N., C.D.E., C.E.D.R.D., owner of Laura Cipullo Whole Nutrition, tells SELF. “If people have a cupcake, they think they’ve blown it all and eat even more,” she says. (Some call this the “what-the-hell effect.”) This catastrophizing can lead to taking in way more calories than you would if you just let yourself have something tasty without it being so emotionally charged, thus potentially making it so you can’t lose weight.

As Langer explains, no food is good or bad. There are just things that are healthy for your individual body, then others that aren’t as healthy for your individual body. “You can reframe it by thinking, ‘This isn’t the healthiest choice, but nobody makes the healthiest choices all the time,’” Langer recommends. Cipullo adds that you could go the route of thinking of some foods as nutrient-dense and others as less nutrient-dense.

Instead of dividing food into good and bad camps, Cipullo suggests reminding yourself that in life, all foods fit. You can incorporate everything in moderation, which is not only a sustainable way to live, but also a kinder way to treat yourself. This also helps ward off the deprivation that comes with trying to avoid food guilt, she explains, and makes it possible to have food that pleases your taste buds while still losing weight.

“I tell my clients there’s no such thing as perfection, so don’t even try,” Langer says. “Once you accept that and know the brownie or ice cream is part of normal eating, you know nothing bad is going to happen.” Unlike an all or nothing attitude, thinking this way helps you rein in the habit of believing that since you already indulged, you might as well continue to be “bad” and let all healthy eating fly out the window for the foreseeable future.

When you view food as fuel for your body, some that fuels it in the most ideal way and some that doesn’t but isn’t inherently evil, you can get closer to your goals—and be happier overall. “There’s no one ‘perfect’ diet everyone should follow,” Cipullo says. “Everybody has to find what’s right for their body.”

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The Power of Connected Training

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Heart rate training is not just for serious athletes. Anyone — at any level — can benefit from tracking. While strapping something onto your chest that reads your heart beat can be an intimidating endeavor (and then there’s all of the math…) — the real-time feedback helps us push ourselves in ways we would never do on our own.

We reached out to gym-goers who got monitors and got hooked — whether it was to help rehab, to level up, for inspiration or to fire up their competitive spirit. Think of it as your omnipresent trainer (or something along those lines).

Mike McKee: “The Rehabilitator”

He got back in shape after a major accident thanks to the help of the Under Armour Record and MyFitnessPal apps, the band and heart rate monitor. Mike says, “It’s helped me get my life back!”

Ryan Biddle: “The Competitor”

Motivated by the constant data around meeting goals, eating right and sleeping, Ryan appreciates witnessing his aerobic and cardiovascular fitness improving. He says, “through all this, I become a better version of myself.”

Katelin Manning: “The Perfectionist”

On a constant journey to get better, Katelin says “it has improved my overall daily health performance and allows me to make sure my workouts are harder!” As a customer service representative for Under Armour, she wanted to know all about the products — and ultimately was converted.

1. Why did you get a heart rate monitor and band? How has your training changed?

Mike: Since I’d started tracking net calories and steps, I kept looking for ways to keep a more accurate log of it all, and the heart rate monitor and band seemed like the perfect choice. It really lets you know when you’re truly pushing yourself and when it’s time to pick up the pace. There’s no arguing with data.

Ryan: As someone who has a degree in adult fitness and is avid about training, being able to quantify workouts is a huge plus. Knowing your heart rate zone is important to tailoring your workouts to your specific goals: endurance, speed, weight loss, mass. The great thing about the UA Record with the heart rate monitor is it puts the heart rate zones in a graph so you can see how long you were in a specific heart rate zone.

Katelin: They keep me accountable for my workouts and show how hard I am working. Having the heart rate tracking available with the chest strap, I can see how to create workouts that mimic the heart rate patterns I get from running. I enjoy the sleep tracking because it helps me make sure I am getting enough. I find myself thinking about what time I will go to bed and what the number on my band will read once I wake up — and if I will be happy with it or need a second cup of coffee.

2. What advice do you have for people who are curious about connected training but haven’t pulled the plug yet?

Mike: Think of it this way: Would you really feel confident racing a car that didn’t have any gauges? Information is one of the most powerful parts of any sport. The more information you have, the more you can improve.

Ryan: Being a monitored athlete will tell you where your weaknesses are and the steps you need to take to improve them. It can quantify your workout intensity so you can go harder the next time and make those slow, gradual progressions that make you better.  

Katelin: I would definitely recommend taking the plunge. You will discover either how hard you are pushing, or slacking, on your workouts. It’s a great way to help with making small daily life changes and a great way to challenge yourself to your full potential.

3. What did you learn about yourself? Your training?

Mike: I learned just what it means to push myself. Every stage of fitness has a limit to be pushed. Each day is a new climb, a new run and a new challenge.

Ryan: That I can meet the fitness challenges I have set for myself.

Katelin: That my body is capable of great things. It’s interesting to see what you can accomplish when you integrate science into your workouts.

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Slow Cooker Italian Turkey Meatballs

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Want the secret to making the juiciest turkey meatballs ever? Add shredded zucchini. Since we’re all busy and want dinner on the table with as little prep time as possible, rather than frying or baking the meatballs first, this recipe from Skinnytaste plops them right into the sauce and lets them slow-cook together. For a complete meal, serve over whole-wheat pasta or zoodles. (A 6-quart slow cooker is recommended for this recipe.)

skinnytastefastandslowThe easiest, tastiest, most convenient healthy recipes—ever! With Skinnytaste Fast and Slow, you can get a nutritious, flavor-packed meal—complete with a flourless chocolate brownie made in a slow cooker—on the table any night of the week. Gina Homolka shares 140 dishes that come together in a snap—whether in a slow cooker or in the oven or on the stovetop. Skinnytaste Fast and Slow is available everywhere books are sold. Get your copy today!

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Simple Sweet Potato Casserole

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We lighten up this fall favorite by holding back on the sugar and topping it with toasted oats and pecans instead of sugary marshmallows. Pecans are loaded with healthy unsaturated fat and more than 19 vitamins and minerals including vitamin B and E, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc! Whether you’re looking for a healthy side or dessert, our simple sweet potato casserole fits the bill.

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