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January 29, 2013

A Case for NOT Prepping All Your Food

“The more you cook, the better you look.” Thank you to my friend and fat loss nutrition expert Dr. Chris Mohr for these words of wisdom. I agree with this statement. Besides, we know that in order to be successful in our fat loss journey, we need to be organized, prepped and ready. When we can see exactly what goes in our food and when we prep it ourselves, we can make sure it’s healthy. Food shop on the weekends, prep and cook for on Sundays, make sure the Tupperwares are washed and ready, stacked for grab-and-go in the fridge. Sound familiar? As a former competitor, I am very familiar with this way of doing things.

However, I think that there may exist a sliver of the population for whom prepping and cooking food actually makes compliance HARDER. Huh? Yes. Allow me to explain.

Is there ever a time when prepping food is not ideal?

I’d like to argue that there is. And it is how I have lived on the whole for the last 2 years.

When I was competing and modeling throughout the year regularly, I was obsessed with food and exercise, and my obsession at that time was certainly effective. I was able to control my circumstances, have my Tupperwares ready to go and stay focused on my physical goals. I prepped food on Sundays for years, even though I truly hate cooking and cleaning.

But for me, my obsession with food and exercise became a distraction. Many large distractions, to the point where my entire day revolved around how many minutes of cardio I had left to do, how many grams of protein did I still need to get in and whether or not my Tupperwares were clean.

Can incessant food prep make us too dependent?

Here’s the thing. Because my entire day was scheduled around meals and workouts, I didn’t learn the tools necessary for when my day was thrown–say, by having to go out of town, away for the weekend or ending up somewhere without my food. If I was caught without “my food” I went completely OFF the wagon and ate a bunch of crap. Why? Because I justified it, saying that there was no use in even trying when I couldn’t be perfect. In other words, if I couldn’t eat perfectly clean, then why even bother trying at all?

Moderation was not in my vocabulary. And if I’m honest, I saw moderation as a cop-out. It was for people will no willpower, or who “didn’t really want it.” The sad thing is that because I was so resistant to the idea of moderation, I would swing up and down in weight 15-20 lbs over the course of a year–directly correlated to my “on” or “off” state of mind.


Black-and-white “dieting” mindset vs. moderation

This is an example of the black-and-white “dieting” mindset where we feel that if we are not perfect (i.e. eating out of Tupperwares 24/7), then we are a failure, and why even bother.

It is the opposite of living a sustainably lean lifestyle. It’s a self-imposed prison of rules and rigidity. And if we break the rules, we might as well break them real good! By eating to our heart’s desire, right?

So back to food prep… I use prepping your food diligently as a metaphor for needing to be 100% in control of your surroundings and circumstances to the point that you don’t know what to do when you are not on control. Which can be dangerous.

Two years ago, I choose to stop prepping food. Just for a week. I was tired of it, disgusted by the same bland food I had been eating for years and honestly just mentally exhausted from the willpower I had been harnessing nonstop during those years. I knew that I could always go back to prepping every meal, but I wanted to see if I could handle not have it all prepped and ready.

Which of course led to a huge binge, right?? Surprisingly, it did not.

Will discontinuing food prep lead to huge binges?

Admittedly, I was scared to stop prepping my food. What if I got ravenously hungry?? How could I possibly stop myself from diving headfirst into a huge bag of Reese’s Pieces?? How would I be able to pull myself back from driving to Zacks for a huge fro-yo?? What if I ate too many protein bars or overdid it on nuts?? I would ruin my physique for good!! Right?

Turns out taking this chance not only allowed me to build SELF-TRUST but also lessened my obsession with food. I also did not gain a whole bunch of weight, nor did I eat Reese’s daily. This is the same thing many people who do Intermittent Fasting profess–it allows them to be less obsessed with food, not more.

I don’t think this is the answer for everyone. In fact, I think 90% of people will do better on the whole if they prep their meals. But for me and my journey, the biggest change came when I took a leap of faith to discontinue extensive food prep every weekend. I know some people feel like they need this, and that’s fine, but my #1 goal was to stop being obsessed with food.

I found that if I continued with my entire week revolving around and stressing about food shopping, prepping, cooking, tupperware, doing the dishes, etc (and then berating myself come Sunday when I just couldn’t mentally muster the desire to do it), I was, in those moments completely consumed with food. I was thinking about it often: when’s my next meal, do I have what I need, has it been 3 hours yet, etc. When my focus was always on making sure there was enough healthy food around, I was inadvertently obsessing over it. So if I indulged, I went big. When I deprived, I couldn’t mess up or else it meant I was a failure, and I was in a constant cycle of all-or-nothing.

Releasing the need to prep and cook food was the first step. Once I did that, food became less important. I was able to get a better hold on my cravings, understanding them better, I was able to feel the sensation of hunger myself (rather than eating according to a clock), and not stress that I was losing muscle every second if I waited a bit longer to eat.

I was able to start practicing moderation, knowing that food, especially desserts, booze and bread, would always be there so I learned to abstain more effortlessly. It didn’t take 100% of my willpower to skip these things anymore. This is a practice of course, but the first step in the practice is taking the leap and TRUSTING YOURSELF.

So, if you are like me and have felt obsessed with food, the first step in releasing that obsession so that you will not gorge yourself when you are “off plan” is to simply stop stressing. Try it. See what happens. The old way will always be there for you. Give it 4-8 weeks. Stop measuring, just workout because it makes you feel good, not because you have to. Do whatever you can. Do your best.

I don’t think the results will be nearly as catastrophic as you think. In fact, I think you will feel a lot more liberated :)

So, if you are not going to prep your food, what do you do instead?
Here’s how I handle it!

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