There is an expression in the fitness world that says “abs are made in the kitchen and not the gym”. What is so true about this statement is that all your hard work in the gym can be completely obliterated if you are still eating a bad diet. I have witnessed a loved one lose more than one hundred pounds in a little over a year and all she did was completely change her diet. She never stepped foot into a gym, exercised to her favorite DVD or used any at-home equipment. At the same time, I know avid runners, bikers and tennis players who are significantly overweight. This is proof enough that a consistently healthy diet that is a larger part of the weight loss equation than many people may think.

If you are like me and spend nearly every day exercising, you are fortunate enough to have the luxury of indulging on occasion. Sure, sometimes you want to enjoy a piece of your birthday cake or your grandma’s homemade cookies and there is no reason you should not. The problem, however, is when those occasions change from seldom to often. This is what stalls weight loss and undoes all your hard work.

As moms, it can be difficult to avoid finishing your child’s leftover fries or nibbling on their snacks, but you must also realize that every little bit of “here” and “there” nibbling adds up quickly. Here are some great tips for not getting caught in the trap of eating away your workouts:

  1. Keep track of how many calories you burn during each workout. If you burned 400 calories in a kickboxing class, do you really want to eat those two chocolate chip cookies that add up to 120 calories, 18 grams of carbs and 5 grams of unhealthy fat (not to mention the 9 grams of sugar)? Now your workout is down to only 280 calories. If you eat four of those cookies, you are down to 160 calories. Seems like a lot of work just for some cookies.
  2. You are not a trash bin so do not eat like one. Just because your kids leave food after a meal does not mean you are supposed to finish it. The best way to deal with that is to clean their plates immediately. Take it, dump the food out, and wash the plate. The longer it sits in front of you, the more likely you are to eat some (or all) of it. I have found this highly effective especially when the kids leave some left over dessert. I immediately have them throw it out rather than leave it sitting on the kitchen counter or the table (not to mention it teaches them to clean up after themselves).
  3. Earn the right to eat something sinful. Make a deal with yourself or a friend that if you eat healthy without cheating for five days (Monday through Friday usually work the best), then you will enjoy a special celebratory treat on the sixth day. Having a goal is one of the best motivators to stay on track and it gives you something special to look forward to.
  4. Have a food plan. This has become my mantra to those who find it difficult to eat healthy. I keep a food journal and every night I preplan the next day’s meals and snacks. And because I have been doing this for a while, I have created an arsenal of foods I can eat each day. Knowing in advance what you are going to eat saves you the trouble of staring at what you have and not knowing what to eat. Too often, what you will opt for is not the best choice. But if you already have it planned, you can save yourself the trouble of dealing with tempting foods that are not on your “okay to eat” list. Plus, it is a tremendous time saver in the morning as you already know what to make for breakfast. In some cases, you may even be able to make it ahead of time.
  5. Think about the workout you just did today. Did you do high-intensity training or maybe a tough-as-nails boot camp class or DVD? If so, do you really want all that hard work to be for nothing—or for a glazed doughnut? Probably not. And if you do eat that doughnut, you will no doubt end up punishing yourself by working out even harder the next day just to work off that doughnut. Now you are in a vicious cycle of overeating and overtraining. Unfortunately, you can never compensate bad eating with extra training. It does not work like that.

When it comes to food and fitness, the key is to be mindful of the fact that we do not exercise so that we can eat whatever we want. We do it to stay healthy, get stronger and be in the best shape possible, and eating right is a big part of that. So the next time you think the best way to reward yourself for a great workout is by having a tall cup of caramel flavored coffee with a muffin, stop, think about how hard you were huffing and puffing during that workout and whether you really want it all to be for nothing. Chances are you will not feel as good after the coffee and muffin as you did after the workout—both physically and emotionally. Life is all about feeling good, not feeling bad or guilty. So enjoy every moment of it, but do it healthfully.