What we eat doesn’t have to be so complicated, so let’s stop overthinking meals.
How to Stop Overthinking Meals
In this episode, we’re talking about overthinking food and the tactical things that you can do, the actions you can take to get out of overthinking and into being brilliant at the basics.
Today we’re talking about overthinking meals.
What we eat everyday, what we tend to overthink, overcomplicate, and then it ends up getting so hard that we’re not able to do it in real life.
In this episode, we’re not just talking about overthinking, we’re going to get right to the tactical things that you can do, the actions you can take to get out of overthinking and into doing.
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For those of you who come back every week-- so grateful for you! Thanks for being here.
I’m super pumped for today’s episode, and it’s actually one of a three-part mini series that we’re doing.
In this “overthinking” mini series, we’re going to cover meals in this part, movement next week, and mind + mindfulness the following week.
I want to give you this information in a super concise, tactical way so that you can listen, you can share it, you can spread it, and you can do it.
By the end of the mini series, you’ll have everything you need to know to stop overthinking and really live a well life full of all the things that just make you feel really good.
I want to give a little shout-out to Allie Casazza over at The Purpose Show.
She did an episode on over-complicating exercise and I thought it was brilliant and wanted to do something similar with my own spin on it, with the gentle-wellness approach infused; thanks for inspiring this one, Allie!
On overthinking in wellness:
Let’s start by talking about the term “overthinking”.
I raise my hand right here and now to say that I am a queen of overthinking.
But I think overthinking is more of a catchphrase for mindset blocks.
We talk about mindset blocks all the time here, but to review, mindset is really the thought patterns.
When we take in information or have an experience, the brain interprets that according to certain patterns.
That's the mindset pattern and it leads to actions and habits and eventually to results.
It’s often something we’re not even aware of, but the cool thing is that it’s totally changeable.
I think when we talk about overthinking we’re talking about mindset.
I think it’s important to know that it’s not your fault, it’s not about shaming or blaming, these are just ways of thinking that we've practiced over and over and it happens to everybody in one way or another.
And the really cool part is that it’s totally changeable, we’ve practiced one way, so we can practice another.
That’s really the point of the gentle movement and all of these strategies and tactics around overthinking meals, it’s about flipping the script on those thought patterns to say “it doesn't have to be this way, it doesn’t have to be so complicated, I don’t have to apply perfectionism or all or nothing to the situation”.
You can go a different way, and you will end up with a different result, which is pretty magical, but also science-based.
“When magic and science come together, that’s always a good thing”.
In the research that we’ve done here at the Feel Good Effect on wellness mindset blocks, we found that there’s really three big ones standing in the way for so many people.
Those three things are perfectionism, all or nothing thinking, and comparison.
These three blocks show up again and again and across the board when we’re talking about wellness, meals, mindset, or movement- anyway you look at it these things come up (especially in our wellness personalities).
If you haven’t taken our Wellness Personality quiz, it’s only four or five questions so it’s super easy to take.
Take the quiz here and we’ll send you your personality type and also a resource guide to help you unpack your wellness personality and provide you with some resources.
If you’ve already taken it and know your type, that’s awesome and it’ll help you really dig into this episode, but we’re also revamping those resource guides so once we get them fully updated you’re going to get a new version along with even more tactical, targeted resources just for you.
On wellness mindset blocks and approaching how we eat:
For Dynamos, your biggest block tends to be perfection or perfectionism
For Seekers, your biggest block tends to be comparison.
And Cultivators, your biggest block tends to be all or nothing.
But don’t get caught up in putting labels on things- it’s less about that and more about finding ways to undo old mindsets and dive into new ways of thinking.
It’s really about self-knowledge and finding tools to unpack this stuff, which we’ll talk about more when we get to what I think are the five ways to get into changing the way you eat and eating to feel well without overthinking it.
It really blows my mind how we’ve over complicated this topic around food.
I’ve actually heard from some of you who are looking for answers and who have even heard guests who really resonated with you but who feel overwhelmed by the idea that either you’re not doing it right or you’re just having trouble getting started.
And while I think there are so many amazing tools, resources, guides, and experts out there, I think that when we overfocus on that we often miss the basics.
“Wherever you are, really focus on being brilliant at the basics”.
This is a quote often attributed to Vince Lombardi, but I think it was originally Muhammad Ali.
At any rate, the idea is that to be great you must be brilliant at the basics.
And I get it, being brilliant at the basics isn’t sexy, I think we want to skip ahead to five-part smoothie or the adaptogenic latte or eliminating one food group.
And depending on who you are, those might be really helpful, but not at the cost of the basics, of the things that actually move the needle and, let’s be honest, the ways that you eat that are actually sustainable that you can be consistent with.
I’m going to give you five things to think about and five things to potentially take action on.
At the end of the show I’m going to invite you to just pick one, I think you’ll have more success by just picking one and really executing it.
On the five things when it comes to meals:
I think these five things are the most agreed upon in the scientific community on food and eating.
But let me just tell you now, if you brought five, ten, fifteen experts on food together, they might not agree on anything.
I’ve been on those panels at wellness conferences and what’s fascinating is that these people who are out there giving advice can’t agree on anything when it comes to how we eat.
If we take a step back and do a high level view, I think these are the five things that make the most sense, that are the most actionable, and potentially have the most research backing them up.
1 | Eat more vegetables.
I know, could we get more basic than that?
But what we know about the impact of plants and vegetables on our bodies is undeniable.
Vegetables are amazing, and they make a big difference.
They are filled with so much nutrients, so much fiber, they have all these amazing things that our bodies appear to need, and yet that so many of us are missing.
For many people, you could go for days and not eat a vegetable more than the lettuce on a burger or parsley garnish here and there.
So when it comes to vegetables, you can really take an additive approach, which is a game changer for so many people.
You can change nothing, except for adding a vegetable to every meal (... or lunch and dinner… or just dinner).
Here’s what happens when you ditch perfectionism, comparison, and all or nothing thinking, all of these options become available to you depending on where you are and what you need right now.
Veggies are where it’s at.
Maybe you feel like you’ve got your eating locked in but there’s someone else in your household or life who’s really struggling, this is the perfect start.
Have them add a veggie to their plate at lunch and at dinner, even if it’s a piece of pizza and then some carrot sticks or a burger and a side salad.
We can incrementally inch our way toward more abundance of vegetables until they become the center of our plate and at most meals.
But really, on a daily basis you can think about the two out of three rule: if at least two out of three meals have veggies in it, you’re doing great.
And if that’s not the case for you that’s an area you can start focusing on.
2 | Reduce the amount of fake food.
Fake food is anything that’s highly processed or just really far from its original source, what it looked like as a whole and now it’s been processed further and further away from its original form.
So, really switching your focus to add more real food to every meal as often as possible.
I’ll share a bunch of really great resources with you at the end so that you have a place to go to collect all of them, but for now, here is what you need to do in order to focus on making sure you’re eating real food over processed and fake stuff.
Read all the ingredients.
Instead of looking at all the nutritional stuff on label, simply look at the number of ingredients.
If there’s a lot more than five, chances are it’s not real food and chances are there are a lot of ingredients in there that are super processed and that your body doesn’t really need.
The five ingredients or fewer is a great challenge to go through your pantry to go through your fridge and freezer, check out the ingredient labels.
Particularly, I know for many people, the refrigerator door is a place that many fake foods like to hide- condiments, sauces, salad dressings.
Same thing with those frozen entrees you might have hanging out in the freezer, take a little look at the ingredients.
And it’s not about judgement, it’s not about good or bad or that you should never eat anything that has more than five ingredients, it’s really about awareness.
If you’re eating a lot of processed things you’re probably feeling it in your body, in your energy level, and that’s an amazing opportunity to flip things around and think about focusing on adding real foods.
Maybe replacing some of those salad dressings with something homemade, or even taking some extra time at the grocery store to read through the salad dressing labels and picking one with fewer ingredients.
And also with ingredients that you can pronounce- if there are words in there that you can’t pronounce or that sound really unpronounceable or not like a real ingredient, it probably isn’t.
3 | Cook more.
Now I hear this collective groan from some of you who are self-declared people who hate to cook and/or who have no time to cook.
And I’m not here to tell you that you need to fall in love with cooking or that you need to find a whole lot more time, I get it and that’s totally fine.
And, as a mama who works full-time and picks up the kid and has to make dinner, I feel you.
I don’t have endless hours to be in the kitchen making food everyday.
I think we carry a lot of baggage around what cooking means and this is where perfectionism, all or nothing thinking, and comparison really show up.
So think about your own definition of cooking or what comes up for you when I say cook more.
Do you feel like it has to be perfect, or it has to be what you see on food blogs, or what your grandmother cooked when you were growing up?
Do you find that comparison thing coming up for you, maybe looking around at what you used to do, what other people are doing?
Or does that all or nothing idea come up, like if you can’t make a two or three hour meal or meal prep for four hours on the weekend then you don’t even bother?
I get it!
But I also have to say, cooking can mean a lot of things and you can reclaim what you want it to mean to you.
In a lot of ways, my cooking it simply about assembling real ingredients in a few minutes.
For example, I just threw so things in a crockpot before I started recording this episode: I threw in some potatoes, some chicken, and some salsa.
Sometimes I’m almost embarrassed with how simple my recipes are, but then I remember, I don’t need to be embarrassed because this is exactly what I’m talking about.
Those are three incredibly simple, real food ingredients that, when combined, make a meal.
And that counts.
I think sometimes we say it doesn’t count if we take a shortcut, or buy some pre-prepped stuff, or just use the same recipes over and over again, or make the simplest five ingredient recipes on a regular basis, but of course that counts!
That’s how we make this stuff work and be sustainable.
And the thing is, when you cook for yourself or the people in your life, you eliminate so much that you don’t need.
When you cook, you control the ingredients which is a complete game changer in how you feel and how you nourish your body.
This is an amazing place to start- if you feel like you’re overthinking it, just start cooking more, like one time a week.
Wherever you are, add one day and see where it goes.
4 | Start noticing patterns.
This isn’t something you have to do, it’s something you have to think about.
Start noticing how you’re approaching meals and food during the week.
Are you skipping meals because there’s nothing on hand?
Or are you eating off your kid’s plate because you didn’t have anything for yourself in the fridge?
Are you eating leftover donuts in the staff lounge in the afternoon because you didn’t have a healthy, sustaining lunch that gets you through that afternoon slump?
Do you not have groceries on hand so you end up hitting the drive-thru, maybe you had good intentions but time got away from you?
For most of us, these patterns reoccur; it doesn’t just happen one time, it happens a lot.
But when these patterns come up, it’s not a signal to beat yourself up, instead, it’s a matter of making small tweaks.
So if you notice those patterns, that’s one area that you can address.
Next week, maybe prep yourself one lunch.
You broke that cycle, that pattern that wasn’t working for you and you came up with a solution.
5 | Simplify grocery shopping.
Okay, after five years of doing this work, of the gentle wellness movement, I come to know one thing for sure: one of the biggest barriers to people when it comes to meals is not having the right food on hand.
Maybe you’re willing to cook and spend some time, but collecting the ingredients and making sure they actually go together to make a meal, the struggle is very real.
(Maybe we can do a whole episode on simplifying grocery shopping, again I can’t think of anything less sexy or exciting but if that sounds cool let me know and I’ll do another mini series on that).
But for now, I want to give you one actionable tip: shop with three fallback meals in mind.
Most of us have a handful of recipes or meals that we can just throw together, we don’t even need a recipe, we know them by heart.
Some of my fallback meals are the salsa chicken crockpot recipe, meat or lentil sauce with pasta, taco bowls, and we do a big pan of roasted veggies with a sauce once a week.
So here’s how this tip works: I have a little piece of paper or a note on my phone that has my go-to fallback meals and then a list of ingredients for each one.
And when I’m at the store, I make sure I get those ingredients.
I know this sounds so simple, but I think it will help so many people.
One, it helps make sure you don’t miss things, but also on days when you’re exhausted and don’t want to meal plan, you just know for sure that you’ll have those three or four meals that you know you and your family like.
So those are my five, and they’re so incredibly basic.
But if you can get brilliant at the basics, everything changes and it becomes so much simpler.
There’s no more overthinking because this becomes a part of your life, a way of life, a way of being well that doesn’t cause you to beat yourself up or burnout.
1 | Eat more veggies- just add more when you can.
2 | Reduce the amount of fake food and eat real food.
3 | Cook more- that doesn’t have to be complicated, it can just be assembling whole food ingredients
4 | Notice patterns and when you notice something not working, find a tweak and a fix.
5 | Simplify grocery shopping by focusing on those three to four fallback meals with a standing grocery list that you always have with you.
Here’s what I want you to do: it’s one thing to listen to a podcast and then move onto the next thing, but it’s another to decide to take action and pick one of those five things and try it.
And that’s what I want you to do, that’s my invitation to you today.
Because, listen, I know you’ve got this.
Give us a shout, let us know what you’re working on and we can also maybe connect you with other people who are working on the same thing.
And then I want you to pay attention: What’s working? Really importantly, how do you feel? Is there any part of this that’s burning you out? Can you take a step back and simplify even more?
Eating, cooking, preparing, and filling your life with beautiful, real food is a process that always takes little tweaks.
So pay attention and ask those questions: What’s working? How do I feel? Is something burning me out?
And then come back, make that loop, make tweaks and see how it goes.
And when it comes to getting out of that overthinking trap, I want you to ask: What would happen if it doesn’t have to be perfect? What would happen if I stopped comparing to the latest diet trend or stylish influencer or version of myself from five years ago? What would happen if I let go of this all or nothing thinking and lean into the idea that everything counts?
This is the gentle revolution. This is change. And you can do this. One thing, one action.
And that’s what I want to leave you with: I believe in you, I really do.
It’s not that I believe that you can do everything perfectly and if you just put your mind to it, everything will change.
I just believe that through this approach, an incremental and intentional approach to wellness, one that it filed with joy and what works for you, that change is possible and feeling good is possible.
Definitely share this with a friend. I try to make these really concise, really action-packed, and under 25-minutes so you can fit them into your responsibility-filled lives.
Come back next week because we’re going to do the same thing with movement.
I’m going to have another set of action items for you, and you can take the momentum from this week and build on it to next week.
I promised you resources, so here are a few places I can send you, either past episodes or some of my favorite influencers and industry leaders who can help you out in some of these areas:
For noticing patterns and simplifying (especially if you’re skipping meals and want to do a little more meal prep, baby steps): my Simplified Reset, which is a ton of recipes and grocery lists all done for you.
One of the big testimonials from people is that it’s helped them not to skip meals and to have nourishing food on hand without having to work too hard.
Another resource is a show on meal planning for people who hate meal planning.
The Purpose Show, Episode 93: Stop Over-Complicating Exercise
The Key to Feeding Your Family Healthy Food, with Taesha Butler
How to Thrive with Real Food, with Sarah Adler
Preparation, Persistence, & Food for Life, with Laila Ali
How to Fall in Love with Cooking, with Sonja Overhiser