I know from first-hand experience how difficult it is to change your lifestyle for the sake of improving your health and well-being. I also know that once you’ve committed to making those changes, you don’t want to fail. That’s especially true if you’ve failed in the past — maybe with a diet you just couldn’t stick to.
The problem is that sometimes even the most strong-willed people fall back on behaviors they thought were a thing of the past, like eating junk food, drinking that second (or third) glass of wine, stepping on the scale to check their weight, watching TV in bed, yelling at the kids (or their partner), staying up late, skipping the gym…
…whatever it is that you promised yourself you wouldn’t do again.
For some of us, thinking about the possibility of making the wrong choices or giving in to a temptation is stressful and anxiety-inducing. And while that’s entirely normal, the problem is that stress and anxiety make it much harder to continue making positive choices. Plus, being under chronic stress might even be more detrimental to your health than eating the wrong type of food or skipping a workout.
I’m not suggesting that you easily give in to every temptation that comes your way, but I do recommend being aware of how these triggers affect your state of mind. Because if maintaining a healthy lifestyle leaves you in a state of chronic stress or anxiety, you need to modify your behavior or change your goals and expectations.
Stuff That Stresses Me Out (And How I Deal With It)
Let me give you a few examples of how my desire to live a healthy lifestyle has elevated my stress levels, and how I overcame those issues.
When I transitioned from a strict ketogenic (low-carb high-fat) diet to an animal-based diet that allowed for much more carbs (from seasonal fruits and honey) than I was used to, I felt guilty every time I consumed carbs. It felt wrong, and a part of me thought that I was making bad choices.
I acknowledged those thoughts and remembered that I had programmed myself to see carbs as evil. Viewing unhealthy food as “poison” is one of the hacks I use to avoid the temptation of eating foods I want to stay away from. And while this strategy worked great for me over the past few years, it backfired during my transition to eating more carbs.
To change my perception of carbs being evil, I focused on how I felt after consuming them (not while eating them), and I realized that I felt great. I also realized that my sleep improved.
At the same time, my metabolic flexibility and my ability to endure longer fasts remained intact. Feeling the positive impact of consuming up to 70 grams of carbs a day (which is still considered “low-carb” for many), reprogrammed my brain to be OK with having carbs. These days, consuming carbs doesn’t trigger a stress response.
Another example is related to my eating behavior when I’m stressed because of work, parenting or other reasons not related to my goal of living a healthy lifestyle.
When I’m stressed, I tend to overeat and I gravitate to processed carbs in the form of sweet potato chips or plantain chips. In other words, I get the munchies. While neither sweet potato chips nor plantain chips (fried in pure coconut oil) are the worst food you can have, they’re processed snacks that contain more energy (calories) than I need while being relatively low on the nutrient-density list.
In other words, they deliver a ton of calories but very few micronutrients and I realize that eating the whole bag is likely not a great idea. But sometimes, I do it anyway (especially at the end of a long and stressful day at work). And I used to stress out about it after the fact.
The next day, I’d realize that making the wrong dietary choice wasn’t great, but stressing out about it made the situation even worse.
After getting stressed out about my “poor” choices of food a few times, I decided to change my strategy. That meant acknowledging that sometimes getting stressed and responding with less-than-ideal food choices is hard to avoid because it’s what the human body is programmed to do.
Think about it: when our sympathetic nervous system kicks in, it puts the body into fight-or-flight mode. But once the immediate “danger” is averted, our brain tells us to consume as many calories as possible so we’ll have enough energy to be ready for the next “attack.” It’s a mechanism that humans have had for millions of years — one that’s meant to protect us.
These days, our fight-or-flight response doesn’t get triggered by a sabertooth tiger or woolly mammoth trying to attack us, but by being confronted by difficult decisions we have to make and the anticipation of the consequences of our decisions. In other words, it’s usually stuff that isn’t even remotely life-threatening. But our brain and nervous system aren’t good at distinguishing between the two experiences.
So what do I do about it? As I said above, I acknowledge what’s happening, and if I feel like I can’t down-regulate my sympathetic nervous system with breathing or some of the stress-relief gadgets I mentioned in this article, I allow my body to fulfill its needs of consuming calories. And I’m OK with that; I know that my body can handle it, and that I can do better next time if I don’t stress out about it.
And once I’ve calmed down and my parasympathetic nervous system is back in charge, I spend a few minutes with breathing and mindfulness exercises to acknowledge what happened (again), and to allow myself to be OK with the choices I made.
What You Can Do to Make Living Healthy Less Stressful
The most important thing to remember is that stressing out about the poor choices you made in the past isn’t going to improve your future health. In fact, stressing out about that doughnut you shouldn’t have eaten just exacerbates the situation. Acknowledge that you made a poor choice, find ways to avoid that temptation in the future, and celebrate every step you make in the right direction. Just don’t make the mistake of being OK with perpetually poor choices for the sake of not stressing out; you have to be accountable for your actions and do what you can to correct them.
I strongly believe that moving in the right direction is more important than trying (and failing) to live a perfect life. Of course, you have to be able to realistically assess your current state of health. If you’re suffering from a chronic disease such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer’s, you’ll likely have to be more strict than someone who is metabolically relatively healthy.
But regardless of your state of health, it’s also important to acknowledge that if you give in to certain temptations, it’s not because you lack willpower. Your body possesses powerful mechanisms — such as the bacteria in your gut and your ancient survival mechanisms — that control what foods you crave. That doesn’t mean you’re powerless and can’t positively influence these mechanisms, but doing so might take more than just willpower.
Sometimes, for example, you have to trick or hack your body to get back to its natural state. For example, replacing sugar with healthy fats (e.g., grass-fed butter or bacon fat) or non-caloric sweeteners (stevia or monk fruit) is a great way to remove processed carbs from your diet.
While I encourage you to fight cravings and temptations as much as you can (with the help of a hack, if need be), I also want you to be OK with occasionally losing that battle, knowing that I don’t win every battle, either.
I also want you to recognize if the gadgets you use to track your health progress (scales, sleep or fitness trackers) are causing you anxiety.
If you feel anxious about looking at your sleep data in the morning because you went to bed late or had too much to drink, get rid of the sleep tracker (at least until you’ve figured out how to leverage it in a more positive manner). Or if you get anxious every time you step on the scale because you’re afraid you gained a pound, get rid of the scale!
And if you’re anxious about eating an entire bag of potato chips after a stressful day at the office, then don’t buy any more potato chips. If you don’t have them at home, you can’t eat them.
In other words, remove the temptation!
This framework has proven to work for me and my family over and over again. We got rid of our scale because my wife used to be anxious about tracking her weight. She also got rid of her WHOOP strap for a while because WHOOP’s daily recovery report caused her anxiety. (She’s now back on WHOOP, but with a positive mindset.)
As far as nutrition is concerned, we stopped buying foods that we don’t want our kids to eat. Since then, we’ve had no more fights with our kids about food. Whatever we have at home, they can eat.
Now I’d like to hear from you! What are some of the temptations you have a hard time not giving in to, and how do you feel about it when you can’t resist? Let me know by hitting reply!
Also, don’t forget that stress increases your body’s demand for micronutrients and antioxidants. That’s why the entire Kummer Tribe supplements with desiccated beef liver capsules every day. The capsules are entirely tasteless but provide 25 of the most bioavailable vitamins and minerals our bodies need to fight free radicals.
If you want to give my Grass-Fed Beef Liver supplement a try, make sure to use code BLOGLOVE20 to get 20% off your first purchase.
In good health,
I’m a healthy living and technology enthusiast.
On this blog, I share in-depth product reviews, actionable information and solutions to complex problems in plain and easy-to-understand language.