How you eat is how you work

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Or so I found out when I had my first call with my dear friend and annoyingly insightful weight loss coach Susan Hyatt.

I talked her into coaching me around health and wellness, because I felt like I was missing a key ingredient in being a well-rounded entrepreneur.

Or more accurately, I had become a well-rounded entrepreneur, especially in the segment of my body that sits on a chair in front of the computer.

And while vanity was a small driver, really, truly, I wanted to figure out why it was so hard for me to get back to what used to be an extremely physically active lifestyle. I adore working out, and feel better physically, mentally and spiritually when I do so. But for the last six years or so (the correlation with the age of my oldest son Josh is not a coincidence), I have not been able to get in a strong, consistent pattern of healthy eating and exercise.

The beginning of the journey: awareness

When you hear “weight loss coach,” you may think of someone who scolds you for failing to exercise, or who gently ‘tsk tsk tsks” you for sneaking in a Snicker bar at 10 o’clock at night.

Susan is not that kind of coach.

Our entire first conversation centered around work — what I was doing, what I was feeling, and how it was working for me.

I quickly realized that while I was extremely fulfilled in what I was doing, I felt overwhelmed. And that no matter how much I accomplished in one day, I always had a nagging feeling that I was neglecting something or someone important when I shut off my computer and closed my office door.

Susan asked:

“What are you afraid of?”

I said:

“Saying no.”

She said:


I said:

“Because I will be disappointing someone, or leaving them behind.”

Whew, here I thought I was going to be talking about eating more broccoli and fewer donuts, when the real issue was my inability to act with backbone.

The business lesson that came from that insight: I need to do fewer things, with more impact. Saying no to some requests means saying yes to bigger things, and taking care of me.

 The f’ing food journal

My first homework assignment was to track what I ate in a food journal. As I experienced tremendous resistance filling it out, I lovingly titled it “The f’ing food journal” in my emails to Susan.

In the food journal, Susan uses a tool called the Hunger Scale (originally created by Brooke Castillo in her book If I Am So Smart, Why Can’t I Lose Weight?).

Imagine a scale from -10 to +10.

When you feel -10 on the Hunger Scale, you could eat a herd of donkeys, or would crush a can of refried beans with your bare hands if it meant eating them 10 seconds sooner than getting a can opener.

When you feel +10 on the Hunger Scale, you have just had your fourth helping of Thanksgiving Dinner, after having changed into a Moo-Moo so you can fit in one more piece of pumpkin pie before bursting a button on your jeans.

The trick is to eat when you feel a -2, and stop when you feel a +2.

So in your food journal, you note what you eat, when you eat it, what number you are on the hunger scale when you start, and what number you are when you stop.

Samples from mine look like this:

Friday, July 22
5:30am – coffee and non-fat milk (1/2 and 1/2)
6:00am – 7:00am – 2 refills
7:00am – half of an Oat and Honey granola bar (Rosie’s leftovers)
9:00am – nonfat latte from Starbucks
1:00pm – salad, turkey, small bit of mac and cheese, green beans (was luncheon after my speaking engagement)
5:30pm – spinach and tofu/white rice/pad thai and chicken (-3 to +3 – stopped earlier than usual, and I never eat spinach and tofu, so that was interesting!)

5:30am – coffee and non-fat milk (1/2 and 1/2) (-1 to 0)
6:00am – 7:00am – 2 refills
7:00am – cereal (-3 to +2)
12:00 – granola bar (-3 to +1)
1:00 – salad, 2 chicken wings, carrots/broccoli/sweat peas and ranch/cold cuts and chips (-1 to +5 – was at party)
6:00 – leftover spinach/tofu and white rice (-3 to +3)

5:30am – coffee and non-fat milk (1/2 and 1/2) (-1 to 0)
6:00am – 7:00am – 2 refills
7:00am – granola bar (-3 to +1)
12:00 – potato chips and iced tea (-4 to +1)
3:00 4 small Bits -o-honey candy (-2 to +1)
5:00 – grilled steak, corn on the cob and salad with ranch, ice cream + hot fudge (-3 to +6 – was eating while cooking, felt stuffed)

As you can see, paying attention to what you eat, and how you feel before and after eating it can be extremely illuminating.

My penchant for multiple cups of coffee in the morning definitely leads to afternoon crashes, which are fueled by sugar. Weekends, with unstructured time can lead to mindless grazing.

After some childish resistance to filling out the food journals, Susan helped me see that they were not one more damned thing to do in the day, but rather insight into what my body needed to feel alert and strong and powerful.

The path to making good choices about what I eat is actually the path to my power.

So I renamed it “The Power Journal.”

I still go through long periods of time without filling it out, but I have started to think very differently about how and why I am eating.

This is how business awareness develops as well.

You may have started your business with a frenetic pace, or with a less than secure sense of direction. This may have created patterns of overwork, underpricing, and lack of strategic focus.

Before you can change your behavior, it is useful to pay attention to what you are doing, and why you are doing it.

Notice things like exactly where your money goes each month, or look at your calendar with a strategic eye to see if the way you are spending your time lines up with what you want to accomplish.

When you know better, you do better.

What’s next?

Susan and I are going to talk about fuel foods and planning, so that it is easier for me to make good choices about food.

We are also going to talk about ways to build on the regular exercise I am getting in my two nights a week mixed martial arts classes, and once a week yoga classes.

Not surprisingly, the more I focus on my overall health, the better business decisions I am making. I am getting more work done. I am getting much more focused and feel an underlying sense of serene power.

Guilt and shame are terrible ways to get healthy for the long-term. They don’t work in business either.

I look forward to updating you with progress, and welcome insight and ideas that you have developed over the years about how to live, work and move in a way that feels good to you.

Have a great weekend!

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25 Responses to “How you eat is how you work”

  1. […] From Pam Slim’s blog “Escape from Cubicle Nation” […]

  2. Claire Bronson says:

    Great post and I can relate as well, the food coaching that I did changed my life… food is such a big mirror and it’s amazing how mindlessly we do it. Brave of you to post your food journal! I still do one to keep me aware even though my coaching ended months ago! Appreciate the share!

  3. Pam, I’m almost annoyed at you for writing this post … because it’s addressing something I am always thinking about but have nothing about!

    I continuously go from being ‘super good’ to ‘horribly, couldn’t-be-any-worse’ when it comes to my intake. I’ve resisted the food journal but reading through your words, I’ve been inspired.

    So many of my close friends are very careful about their intake as well as their exercise routine … but they don’t have a business, two extremely active children … so that’s my ‘excuse’ to me. If someone held me accountable each and every day – ensuring I exercised and ate appropriately – you know damn well I would do it, because I wouldn’t want to let them down.

    It’s ridiculous in many ways — I’m very driven professionally. I provide ‘kick-butt sessions’ to VAs who want to build their business. Yet I need someone to kick my butt because when it comes to my own exercise and diet – it comes and goes in waves.

    You’ve given me a soft kick … and openly admitting to this on your blog just might give me a bit of that harder kick I need! 😉

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Pamela says:

      Cindy!! Oh yes, I totally relate to your story! I had a very similar one, or so I thought.

      A big shift for me was realizing that taking care of myself was feeding my professional power, as well as ensuring that I have great energy and health for my kids.

      You may want to check Susan out — she is a phenomenal coach, and will rock your world!

  4. Ralph says:

    Good stuff! I like the “Power journal” title. Gives it a bit more purpose.

  5. Susan says:

    This topic is near and dear to my hear Pam. I started a program in April and very quickly learned that very little of my journey had to do with food. I too am learning and relearning to say “No to others.” I am abundantly aware that the metaphore fits all areas of my life. Noticing that I had to say “No” to others around food choices helped me to start to see where I was struggling with saying “No” in other areas. One of my lessons has been that I need to take time alone to just be quiet. When I am not getting that I try to please others and I get lost in the process…and yes I know better!

  6. Shawna says:

    I heard an interesting idea for those who want to keep a food journal but don’t want to be bothered writing it all down: use your smartphone to photograph everything you eat just before you eat it. That way you have a visual journal that includes exact portion size, and you’ve only had to press a couple of buttons.

    I can’t say how well it works as I’ve never bothered with a food journal, but if I were to keep one, I’d probably do it this way.

  7. […] From Pam Slim’s blog “Escape from Cubicle Nation” […]

  8. […] up this morning: How You Eat is How You Work. I had to take a look and see what this article was all about based on the title alone. According […]

  9. Love the comparison between how you work and how you eat! That’s interesting how your food-coach approached the subject of helping you change. Maybe I could use this Power Journal technique to help me get more work done. Instead of logging meals, log things I was doing and how productive they were. I bet I’d be amazed how UN-productive I am most of the time.

    Thanks for sharing this Pam!

  10. […] create the career of their dreams through her books, blog, and classes.  In her article this week, “How you eat is how you work”  she touches on what I think is the biggest obstacles people struggle with when trying to become […]

  11. iDella says:

    This is very timely for me. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Pam,

    I’m so glad you’re talking about this, showing people that even someone as successful, courageous and confident as you can struggle with taking time care for yourself. Too many times we look to leaders and think they have it all figured out, then beat ourselves up for not being able to figure out something as simple as eating healthier and exercising more. If we can’t even do that, how in the world will be able to leave our job, start our own business, or do that thing we’ve always wanted to do?

    The fact you’ve enlisted the help of a weight-loss or “wellness counselor” who thinks beyond what’s on your plate is even more inspiring. It sounds like the process the two of you are going through has already uncovered the secret that most people miss. The answers aren’t within the diet “program.” They’re in the process of slowing down and letting everything you already know about what works for you bubble to the surface – then letting yourself indulge in those.

    When you can do that, you magically gravitate toward the food and exercise that feels best to you and you’re drawn to the people, relationships and career that empower you. Then one day, you find that you’ve built a stronger foundation that enables a life that’s better than you could ever imagine.

    I’m looking forward to watching your journey unfold. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  13. Max Daniels says:

    Susan asked: “What are you afraid of?”

    I said: “Saying no.”

    This is so fascinating to me! I will be very interested to find out what this means for how you do business. Thanks for your transparency, Pam. You are such a great model.

  14. Diane Hunter says:

    Love the metaphor to business. Woke up some awareness that I’m implementing right this moment! Thank you for showing the way. 🙂

  15. fas says:

    So true, and we never ever consider it. This is really bad that people eat junk and then are not in the mood to perform well.

  16. Karen says:

    Great post. I love the +/- system and may try to implement it in my own food journal. Thanks for taking the time to write this, it helped me.

  17. Maira says:

    I am so with you on this. Ever since returning from Lift Off and owning the mindset of “Dont F with my mission” this has included incorporating a healthier diet and exercise regimen for both overall wellness and vital energy needed to be a solo-preneur.

    The other great thing about doing a Power Journal, is that it asks you to stay connected to your body- an often missed key ingredient for those of us that sit in front of computers all day. I not only track my hunger, but how what I eat impacts my mood and energy level. So now (damnit) junk food is mostly out, as our sweets and gluten products b/c I end up being a raging b*&^! when I eat that stuff.

    Thanks for the greatpost!


    • Pamela says:

      That is so true Maira! Food awareness holds the clue to so much!

      Excited to see where it takes you. 🙂

  18. Amy says:

    Kudos for taking the step to figure out WHY it’s become so difficult to stick to a healthy regimen! Coming at the problem from the source will be extremely helpful in figuring out how to fix it, rather than trying to simply “eat better.” This is what I work on with my clients, too!

    I love how you bridged being mindful in your business to being mindful in your eating. I should definitely start a “business journal!” There’s no question I’d rev up my production and gain awareness of areas that need improvement.

    Thanks for the great post, Pam!

  19. Pam,
    I always wondered what a food coach did.
    She seems to help you focus on the “why” of eating rather than the “what.” It makes sense. If you’re more mindful of why you’re eating, you’re be more apt to be mindful in other areas of your life too. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  20. Jen Wak says:

    That’s a great bunch of insights, Pam. I was just talking to a friend this morning how my “van down by the river” feeling is causing me to not train the way I should. Because there will always be more work to be done.

    I’ve used a very similar Hunger Scale for myself and with clients on and off for years. By stopping and asking myself if I’m really hungry can change a lot of behaviors.

    I have a client right now who is photographing their food and sending me the photos. I don’t comment on the photos, but just having to send them causes behavior changes in the choices.

    I love that you brought it back around to tracking – because as you know it’s almost always impossible to improve what you don’t track.

    I just love this stuff, because there are as many paths to feeling awesome as there are people on the planet. And each person figures out how to get their in their own way.

  21. Jeanie says:

    I find that I’m an emotional eater, and therefore function better with strict “rules” like–I’m vegan, Paleo, or low carb. These admittedly arbitrary labels (since my food pendulum swings back and forth) force me to be more mindful of what I put into my body. Good food decisions fuel healthy choices in other esoteric areas of my life like decorating my home, or cleaning my car.

    These food labels also serve to mark me as part of a group, which is essential for feeling safe. How can I create if I feel out of place, shaky, unsure, etc? It’s no coincidence that my panic over this book has subsided since I calmed the emotional center of the brain with proper food choices (and familiar labels) in the last 2 weeks.

  22. Debi says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your story. I am across is while searching “weight Loss” on Twitter. Love how your changed the name of your food journal to be a way more positive and productive tool for you. Wishing you a wonderful weight loss journey. – Debi