Making Healthy Lifestyle Changes: Boot Camp vs Club Med

Bootcamp or Club MedDo you find yourself oscillating between two extremes when it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes? Being super hard on yourself in order to eat perfectly, then completely letting yourself go and eating whatever is there? Or exercising obsessively for a few days…and unable to get off the sofa the next few days?

I call these two extremes Boot Camp vs. Club Med.

When we’re in Boot Camp mode, we expect everything to be hard

Boot Camp mode sounds like:

If it isn’t hard, I’m not doing it right

I have to deprive myself

I am never good enough

I have to eat/exercise perfectly otherwise I am flawed

No pain, no gain

Only by criticising myself can I move forward

The problem with Boot Camp is that it isn’t very pleasant to be there. So when we can’t take it any longer, we swing over to the other extreme and go into Club Med mode.

Club Med mode sounds like:

It shouldn’t be so hard

I don’t feel like making an effort

I deserve a treat

Who cares if I don’t achieve my health goal – I just want to feel good right now

I don’t want to make any decisions – someone else should decide for me

It feels comfortable right here even if I’m not moving forward

Do you recognize yourself in these extremes – perhaps more in one than the other?

Boot Camp mode helps us step out of our comfort zone and move towards our health goals…but it is often motivated by fear and is tough to keep up in the long-term.

Club Med mode feels good in the short term and keeps us safely ensconced in our comfort zone…but doesn’t move us any closer to our health goals.

So is there a third mode that is more effective to making change?

I call the in-between mode Yoga Retreat mode. In Yoga Retreat mode, you push yourself past your comfort zone and you do it from a place of love and wanting what is best for you.

You realize that a certain amount of discomfort is necessary for moving forward in life…but that this doesn’t have to be extreme and painful (Boot Camp) or something to avoid altogether (Club Med). You start becoming a little more comfortable with being uncomfortable. You realize that the discomfort of a craving or a workout won’t kill you and can actually move you towards the person you want to be.

You notice that you don’t need to live in extreme control and willpower – you can actually trust your body to make the best decisions for you. You don’t have to throw away the chocolate because you think you lack willpower (Boot Camp) or let yourself go and eat the whole bar (Club Med). In Yoga Retreat mode, when you eat chocolate, you do so mindfully, savouring every bite and taking true pleasure in the experience.

Yoga Retreat mode is motivated by self-compassion even when there are set-backs – even when you forget to eat mindfully 10 times and remember once. Instead of an attitude of “I already ate two cookies – what the hell, I’ll just finish the packet”, Yoga Retreat mode is about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, reminding yourself why you are doing this and taking action towards your goal.

Yoga Retreat mode is about loving yourself into change.

It is motivated by a desire to live more fully instead of a fear of never being good enough (Boot Camp) or a fear of stepping out of your comfort zone (Club Med).

I know that for a long time, I swung between the two extremes (spending more time in Club Med mode) and that it is only by applying the principles of Intuitive Eating and Mindful Eating that I was able to create a much healthier relationship with food and find exercise I actually enjoy instead of having it feel like punishment.

Can you relate to this? Which camp do you find yourself in most of the time?

Intuitive Eating: Life lessons from 85 year old Lydia

lydia2Lydia is my adopted Swiss-German aunt, someone I have had the pleasure of knowing all of my life.

At 85, she embodies the very notion of living in harmony with her body and spirit. She finds simple pleasures in life in a way few people are able to. When it comes to food, she is naturally attuned to her body in a way that I believe is possible for all of us to learn. I find that she is a wonderful example of intuitive eating.

For this reason, I wanted to share a little of Lydia’s philosophy in an interview I did with her in Bern on how she eats and lives.

How would you describe your relationship to food?

When I eat, I am directed by things I like to eat because they make me feel good and happy. It’s that simple. If something is very healthy but I dislike it, I don’t eat it. And if something is unhealthy but makes me happy on some level, I try to eat it in moderation because I know that if I eat too much of it, I will feel bad.

I also think it is important to eat what is healthy without being a fanatic. If I am invited somewhere, I will mostly eat what is served, except certain meats. It’s important to stay realistic.

What eating guidelines do you live by?

I try to eat a great variety of food and the best quality possible. I eat lots of vegetables, whole grain cereals, fruits and nuts every day – I find that walnuts and almonds are especially good for me!

I try to eat very lightly in the evening, just soup or bouillon or yoghurt as I find that this is what works best for me.

Do you have any weaknesses when it comes to food?

I love sweet things! I try not to exaggerate though. I often have a cup of black or green tea after lunch with good quality dark chocolate. I often buy the best quality chocolate from a confiserie – one for each day of the week.  On the weekend, I take great pleasure in buying a piece of quality cake which I fully enjoy.

Do you enjoy cooking?

I am not a great cook, I must say. I like to cook, but it is done in a very simple way. I don’t like to spend so much time in the kitchen.

How do you eat your meals when you are alone?

I take great pleasure in eating and I make sure I don’t have any distractions like TV when I eat. Sometimes I will call my sister to tell her I ate something fantastic, just to ‘share’ the meal with someone though!

What is the link between what you eat and how you feel?

Body and spirit go together. We need to eat a balanced diet, because otherwise, how can our spirit be balanced? You also don’t love yourself if you are harming yourself with too much food.

Food is a wonderful part of life but it isn’t my priority. Spirituality, work that gives satisfaction, people I love and who love me back, being joyful – these are all very important for me.

So where do you find joy?

Everywhere! You have to walk through life with open eyes and look for little things that bring you joy.

And be grateful. People who give thanks for what they have are more joyful.


Things that give me joy:

Having hope for the future. Having a key to my home – a cosy flat I love. Meeting with people at church. Talking to my family and friends. The 93 year old lady I help with her grocery shopping. Going to the market every week and buying fresh fruit and vegetables. Eating good food every day. Reading. Singing. Walking in nature. Feeding the birds in the winter. Playing the piano or guitar every day. Praying as soon as I wake up and being thankful for sleep, life and a new day. My patchwork group which has allowed me to feel productive since retiring. Being able to give to others.

We should also not forget to laugh, even at ourselves. I laugh even when I am by myself and I break something. Nothing is too serious.

Without joy life is too sad to live!

How often should you eat? 

How often should we eatHave you ever wondered how often you should eat? Should you eat 5 smaller meals, nibble consistently throughout the day or have 3 solid meals?

As is the case very often in nutrition, different experts have different opinions. This is probably due to bio-individuality: No one diet or way of eating works for everyone and the key is to experiment to find what works for YOU.

This is my opinon only, based on my own experience.

I used to graze constantly. 

I would have breakfast (usually cereal like Special K which I thought was healthy), then a snack like a banana or apple mid-morning, then lunch which I tried to keep ‘healthy‘ by having a very light salad, but filling up on bread. In the afternoon, I would start having sugar cravings and I would go for a Coke and whatever chocolate or cookies were lying around the office where I was working. Dinner was usually more bread with cheese (what I called a picnic dinner) or pasta or sometimes when I was alone and feeling indulgent I would have a ‘dessert meal’ – eating steamed brocolli followed by half a tub of ice-cream instead of a proper meal.

Not surprisingly, my digestion wasn’t great and I often had energy dips – which only led to eating more sugar.

When I began changing my diet, I started by adding in fats and protein to replace my carbohydrate rich meals. For example, at breakfast I would have oatmeal with nuts and seeds or a green smoothie with nuts and seeds (which provide both fats and protein) or eggs (again, a great source of both). I started noticing that my energy levels were more stable and I no longer needed my mid-morning banana when I asked myself whether I was really hungry. I then started making sure my lunches included a source of healthy fats and protein, even if I was having a salad or soup. I also started eating more filling lunches, often by bringing leftovers from dinner to work.

After a while, I noticed that I no longer needed to snack in the afternoon and I could wait for dinner to eat again. I also found that my digestion improved because I was giving it a proper break between meals to do its work more efficiently. And I lost a few kilos as well without going on a diet, but simply by eating more healthy, proper meals and snacking only when I was really, truly hungry between meals.

Why is that? A very simplified explanation is that after you eat, your body burns sugar from your meal as energy. Once it has burned the sugar, it starts burning fat, and this is when weight loss happens. If you think about it, even if you just eat a cucumber, your body gets busy digesting the cucumber instead of burning fat and if you are constantly grazing and eating late at night, you never really give it the break it needs to switch to fat-burning mode.

But hold on! Don’t switch to 3 meals immediately…

If you tend to have energy crashes, especially mid-morning and mid-afternoon when you start hearing the siren calls of sugar, stabilize your blood sugar levels first before trying to cut out grazing. In the beginning, aim for 5 smaller meals, with a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and even before going to bed if you are hungry.

This isn’t permission to load up on unhealthy snacks though! Make sure you have meals and snacks that are high in healthy fats and protein which fill you up and keep your energy stable. Possible snacks that are high in healthy fats and protein can include nuts or seeds, a hard-boiled egg, a little meat, fish or chicken, a piece of cheese, fresh or dried fruit with nut butter, 1/2 an avocado, humus with raw veggies, a small pot of plain, organic yoghurt, dates with sunflower seeds or these date and nut balls.

It is also important to reduce the following as much as possible to avoid energy crashes: Caffeine, alcohol, sugar, refined starches such as white rice and white bread as well as processed foods, sodas and even fruit juice.

Once you find your energy levels start stablizing, eat a little more at meals and start asking yourself whether you are really hungry for a snack. You will find that if you eat proper meals, you won’t actually need to snack, or you will need to snack less.

Experiment with how you feel when you don‘t snack between meals.

Notice how it feels to eat your next meal when you are really hungry. 

Of course, it is not just what you eat or how often that counts – HOW you eat is just as important. Properly chewing your meals and being relaxed enables you to fully leverage your digestive fire and assimilate more of the nutrients from your meals. Also, when you slow down and take pleasure in your meals, your mind registers that it has eaten and you feel satisfied for longer after a meal.

What about you – how many times a day do you eat? Do you feel it works well for you?


TED Talk on Mindful Eating as an Alternative to Dieting

This TED talk by Sandra Aamodt talks about mindful eating and intuitive eating as the only antidote to breaking free of diet mentality and truly healing your relationship to food.

This way of thinking  has completely changed my relationship to food. Rather than focus one size fits all diet, this is also the approach I bring to my Health Coaching sessions: Helping people start a dialogue with their bodies to start understanding:

♥ Hunger vs. satiety signals

♥ Real hunger vs. emotional hunger

♥ Food your mind wants or thinks you should or shouldn’t be eating vs. Food that feels good to your body

This quote from the video sums it up perfectly:

Learning to understand your body’s signals so that you eat when you’re hungry and you stop when you’re full. Because a lot of weight gain boils down to eating when you are not hungry.

How do you do it? Give yourself permission to eat as much as you want and then work on figuring out what makes your body feels good. Sit down to regular meals without distractions, think about how your body feels when you start to eat and when you stop. Let your hunger decide when you should be done.

It sounds simple, but as she says in the video, it took her a year to really be able to do it and I know that for myself, it is an on-going learning process – but  the only one that can lead to real freedom with food.

Find out more about my approach to Health Coaching grounded in intuition, mindfulness and compassion instead of control, discipline or deprivation.