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The 80-20 Rule: If I Can Do It, So Can You

Anytime we make significant changes in our lives, it is often very difficult to be “good” 100% of the time. I personally think these changes need to be gradual in order to ensure the best outcome possible. My goal is 80-20: be “good” 80% of the time, and the other 20%, make smart choices but allow yourself quality “cheats” that put a smile on your face.

When I first started to eliminate “SAD CRAP” from my diet, I couldn’t help but realistically think, how am I going to do this? I have spent the last 15 years of my life as an endurance athlete consuming a VERY high-carbohydrate diet that often included my favorite meal: rigatoni bolognese. Add in fresh bread, a glass or two of Pinot Noir, and on occasion, tiramisu (my favorite) — does life get any better?

After getting the news that my triglycerides were high for the second straight year, I knew it was time to make a change, especially since a strong history of cardiovascular disease runs in my family. My doctor was so concerned, he recommended I schedule a CT scan of my heart to investigate if any blockages had developed in my coronary arteries. Fortunately for me, the outcome of the test was 100% blood flow, zero calcifications.

Since the ole ticker was just fine, I continued my focus on making some serious changes in my eating habits. I started with a two-week eating plan designed to help “recalibrate” my body’s sugar control circuits. My program consisted of 6 meals/day with a focus on protein (organic, pasture-raised, 100% natural meat, poultry, fish and eggs), vegetables (leafy greens such as kale, arugula and spinach), fruits (limited to before or after exercise) and healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil, avocados and raw nuts).

I tested my blood sugar before and after every meal with a glucometer to make sure my blood sugar was not moving up and down like a roller coaster (for non-diabetic individuals, optimal blood glucose levels are between 80-100 mg/dl). I tried to eat every 2-3 hours, which required a little extra advance planning, shopping and cooking on my part. At first this seemed to be more work then I could handle, but once I started eating “better” I was shocked just how good I felt. All of those concerns of not being able to eat my typical, high-carb diet were a distant memory.

If you think you can’t make similar adjustments to your eating habits, you can. I’m proof of that. It takes a little extra effort, but it’s worth it. Here are a few things that have helped me in this transition:

Prepare food in advance. After doing a big grocery run, cut up vegetables into bite-sized portions and store in tupperwares. This makes it easier to grab snacks or throw together vegetables for salads and fruits for smoothies.

Order hard-to-find-items online. A lot of the good meat, chicken and fish might be hard to find in your neighborhood grocery store, so order it online in advance. I get a lot of great food from U.S. Wellness Meats. In addition to the standard fare, they have delicious “good for ya” bars, trail mix, and jerkey — all foods that are easy to grab for mid-day meals.

Have a list of healthy snack options to choose from. My good friend and nutritionist, Lenny Parracino, sent me a list of great “grab-and-go” snack tips that has been incredibly helpful in staying on course throughout the day. (Disregard the “cookies” at the bottom; this list is posted in Cafe Miles at the office, and one of our employees was being funny!) You can use this list as a guide — or make your own based on personal preferences.

How do you make eating healthy easier and more manageable? Share your own tips in the comments! Next time, I’ll talk about how my eating has affected my overall fitness and training for Timberman 70.3 in August and the Wine Glass Marathon in October.

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