The traditional bulking and cutting phases allow us to have mental breaks between the trials and triumphs of dieting. A few months of eating “normal” food with a bit more than average protein consumption, then a clean break for summer and diet season. There is something about mentally checking out that allows us to refuel our minds and give it 100% when it comes to get super-strict and tighten things up.
But what about for those that want to stay lean year round? In this case it can truly become a mental struggle – even more than a physical one. It is that looming sense of never being able to eat the foods that you love that sends many of us cowering back into the “bulking” phase.
I’ve found that having a few simple things to look forward to in your diet on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis can make a sustainably lean physique entirely possible. Keeping the right mental approach to staying in shape year round is the key. Most of us aren’t capable of being entirely robotic when it comes to our diets, so having some variety is just what is needed to keep shredding up!
Here are five of my favorite treats to get excited over and help you stay lean throughout the year.
TREAT #1: Chocolate
Chocolate? Yes, believe it or not, unsweetened chocolate is an often-overlooked health food. Try to choose one that is as pure as possible and be sure to read the label carefully to ensure that it does not contain added chemicals. Since unsweetened baking chocolate can be bitter compared milk chocolate, try melting it down and adding a bit of organic stevia or monk-fruit extract. When it hardens, you will have a very low-carb, high fiber, and healthy-fat rich snack that will give you the pick-me-up that you will likely need.
TREAT #2: Almond Milk Hot Cocoa
For those hunger pangs between meals, or a no-guilt pleasure before bed, try taking some unsweetened almond milk (organic preferred) and mixing it with a bit of unsweetened baking cocoa (the powder, not the chocolate from above). You can choose whether you would like to add stevia to make it sweet or leave it unsweetened. Regardless, sipping on some hot-cocoa definitely tricks you into believing that you are no longer dieting, even though you are!
TREAT #3: Partied-Up Cauliflower
Cauliflower is one of the most nutritious vegetables that you can consume when trying to stay lean. Because of its bulk and fiber, it satiates quite well. But it is not always fun to eat plain cauliflower, and often times it’s hard to get excited over. Try spicing it up and making cauliflower into a crunchy treat. First, steam or boil your cauliflower, then mash it until it is smooth in texture. Add some spices and salt, roll it out into a thin layer on a baking sheet, and then bake until it is crispy and has a similar look and feel to thin crust pizza. The little bit of crunch and the savory-ness turns ordinary cauliflower into something delectable without adding too many unnecessary calories.
TREAT #4: Kombucha
This one is not for everybody. Kombucha is an acquired taste and certainly doesn’t appeal to some, however, the health benefits of this fermented drink are quite prolific. Generally speaking, there are a few trace carbohydrates in Kombucha, so if you are aiming for an ultra low-carb approach, it may not be the best solution. But the digestive benefits far outweigh the very subtle spike in insulin that may occur. Kombucha contains over 50 different kinds of probiotics that will help you absorb more of the nutrients that you are consuming on the daily.
TREAT #5: Low-Calorie (Diluted) Guacamole
Avocados contain a large amount of Alpha-Linolenic Acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that can only be obtained through the diet. These omega-3 fatty acids helps increase fatty acid oxidation in the body (fat burning) and also help cognitive (brain) function. The problem with avocados and guacamole is that they’re calorically dense, so finding a way to dilute the concentration of calories can make it a great snack to satisfy your hunger between meals. If you take 1/4 cup of avocado and mash it along with some vinegar, tomatillo, salt, and water, you have a guacamole-like snack with about 1/4 the calories per tablespoon than traditional guacamole, but with all the taste!