I'm a personal trainer/fitness instructor and I often joke with my classes that I workout to support my eating habit. I say it in jest but I often do find myself falling into the habit of thinking "I worked out today, I deserve a treat!" Unfortunately, that attitude has caught up to me many a time. (You can only blame the dryer for your pants not fitting so often. Curse you dryer!!!)
Although I have struggled with my weight over the years I have reached a healthy maintainable place where I can treat myself and not have to go insane at the the gym to make up for it. The balance may tip now and then (always in the gaining direction. Blerg!) but I have learned some tricks along the way to change course and get back to where I want to be. I am not a nutritionist so I'm not going tell you what to eat. We all pretty much know this anyway - more veggies, less processed stuff, smaller portions, blah, blah, blah. That being said, I can tell you how to think about food and possibly how to stop it from jumping into your face with wild abandon.
The good news is that none of this is rocket surgery. The bad news is we have to eat so there's no way to avoid making decisions about food on a daily, if not hourly basis. (Full disclosure: I'm the kind of person who is thinking about lunch while eating breakfast, and dinner at lunch, etc...) That being said, I'm a staunch believer that small changes add up to big ones. I hope you can take one or two of these habits and make them work for you.
1) Take control of what you can control: There are 21 meals in a week. Add the suggested 2 snacks a day to that and you have 35 food eating opportunities. Add end of the day/dessert/treat eating and you've got 42 separate times that you are likely to be consuming something - good or bad. If you look at your typical week, how many of those 42 food intake opportunities can you generally control? For instance, during the work week I don't have anyone else dictating what I have for breakfast, morning snack, lunch, or my afternoon snack. I'm usually at work and as long as I plan ahead I have control of at least 20 meals and snacks. That means that I am in charge of almost 50% of my food without even trying. (Theoretically anyway.)
How many food moments are you in control of? Obviously, life happens and a lot of the time children, significant others, co-workers, friends, and, yes, moods will take some of your control away. However, taking control of what you can control will lead to a lot more healthy decisions in the long run. Knowing you've got a few good food moments under your belt and in the works will allow you to freak out less about the times when you can't easily make healthy decisions.
2) Don't drink your calories: Even if what you are drinking is "healthy" you're still going to be taking in a lot of calories. For example, how many oranges do you typically eat in a sitting? I'm guessing just one, right? If you have one cup of orange juice you're consuming the calories of 2 - 4 (or more) oranges without any of the fiber that will fill you up. You're still going to be hungry but you'll already have taken in enough calories to have counted as a meal. Add a meal on top of that and you're already behind the eight ball calorically. When it comes to unhealthy beverages like soda, you're not even getting any nutritional value, just calories. As for diet soda, I could write a separate post (or thesis) all about it but I'll just say that drinking anything that makes your body crave more sweet things and think it's even hungrier is just setting yourself up for failure. Wean yourself from your current beverage crutch and drink more water.
3) Beware the weekend: These two days will ruin an entire week's worth of good behavior. We think, "I've worked hard all week and goshdarnit, I'm going to treat myself!" If you can change that mindset slightly and eat as many meals as possible as if it were a weekday you'll have more success overall. I'm personally a fan of big weekend breakfasts but that's not going to help me reach my weight loss goal. Although I'm disappointed in the moment that I didn't get to eat pancakes and bacon, in the long run I'm not even going to remember I had oatmeal instead.
Did someone say weekend?
4) Beware of "surprise" food: This is the stuff that sneaks up on you when you are least expecting it so you're not prepared to resist it. You're minding your own business and BAM! - there in the break room is cake from someone's birthday party. Or leftover pastries from a breakfast meeting you didn't even attend. It's hard to fight off a foe when you're not in the mindset to do so but if you take a second and say, "That's surprise food. I didn't even know if existed two seconds ago. I don't need it." you may be able to walk away unscathed. (If that doesn't work pretend someone brought it in to work to poison everyone. Why are we so trusting of food in the break room anyway?)
5) Redefine "special": I once heard a mom explaining to her child that "no, you can't have ice cream on the way home because you've already had your "special" for the day." That particular phrasing stuck with me. As an adult I'm technically allowed to eat whatever I want. It's one of the few perks of being an adult. (Yay cake for breakfast!) However, because of that, if I do eat whatever I want, the things that used to be special can become normal daily occurrences and no longer fall under that "special" category. If I have a daily beverage at a coffee shop, an afternoon pick-me-up from the vending machine, and then ice cream at the end of the day I've had three things that should be special but aren't. Cake for breakfast sounds exciting because it is (hopefully) a rare treat. If I had it every day it wouldn't be. Remind yourself to keep things that are special just that, special.
Why yes, I am eating cake for breakfast. I'm a grown up dang it!
6) Be boring: Did you know that your brain has a limited amount of decisions it can make in a day? The more decisions you have to make early on in the day, the fewer you are able to make later. Or at least the fewer GOOD decisions you are able to make. That's why your will power is so low at night. Not only are you tired, but your decision making center is as well. So when you're sitting on your couch and a commercial for a food comes on your brain says, "Yes, I would like that. Let's hit the fridge." There's very little left of you to say "STOP! Remember you're making good decisions!" "No I'm not. And you can't make me!" Essentially your brain is a 4 year old after a day at the amusement park - cranky, tired, and unable to be reasoned with. Help yourself by limiting the amount of decisions you make on a daily basis.
For a long time I didn't want to adopt this habit. "But I'm a creative person! My palate needs variety! Life is too short to have the same breakfast everyday!" Actually, life is too short to be making decisions that early in the morning. What I found that finally helped me lower my weight and keep it off was to have the same thing for breakfast every day and almost every day for lunch. Boring? Not as much as I thought it would be. At breakfast I'm still too tired to be upset that I'm having oatmeal or yogurt again. I just get my coffee, get my bowl and sit there reading a magazine. I'm just happy I haven't really had to use my brain yet. For lunch, which is something I have control over (see number 1 above), I've pre-made and portioned out what I need to bring to work. I've found that I enjoy a baked chicken thigh, veggies, and an apple. I can handle that about 3 - 4 days a week and not feel like I'm depriving myself in some way.
7) Find alternative treats: Love chocolate? If your first thought when getting a craving is to get a large mocha Frappachino with whipped cream, perhaps consider a small iced mocha latte instead. You'll go from 520 calories to 290 and still get to have a chocolate coffee beverage. Or replace your daily Snickers bar with some dark chocolate and almonds. You don't have to completely deprive yourself but you can certainly make better bad decisions.
8) Bribe yourself: Self-bribery is the only way I accomplish things sometimes. An example: if I get this blog post done I get to watch three episodes of Grace and Frankie...or four...we'll see how it goes. Make a bargain with yourself. Find something, preferably not food related, that you can reward yourself with if you reach certain goals or make certain decisions - a new book, a movie out, a nap in the hammock, whatever it is that makes you feel good.
9) Figure out what kind of eater you are: Emotional? Mindless? Restrictive? Over the years I've figured out that I am what I like to call a competitive eater. I don't mean the kind that eats 40 hot dogs at a time. What happens is this: if I think someone else is "competing" with me to eat the food I want (the pint of Ben & Jerry's I bought for myself), my default is to eat the whole thing so they can't have it. I turn into Braveheart yelling, "You may take away our lives, but you'll never take my ice cream!" (It's not my finest moment, I know.) However, if I am certain that my pint is safe (after a few of those Braveheart experiences my partner has been well trained not to touch it.) I can make it last at least the four prescribed servings over as many days, if not more.
I decided a picture of actual ice cream was too mean to include in a post about weight loss so here's a truck instead. You're welcome.
10. Know yourself: Imagine, if you will, some sort of work project, something challenging but not impossible. You've been told you can work on it whenever you want as long as you get it done by a certain deadline. You probably already know enough about yourself to realize that if you are a morning person you're not going to pull an all-nighter to get it done. Conversely, if you are a night owl you would rather pull out your fingernails than get up early to work on it. Ultimately, you're going to work on it when it makes sense for you. When it comes to controlling your food intake, the same knowledge of your own best practices comes into play. For example, some people can do things in moderation and some people have to go cold turkey. You have to know which you are. I found the book Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin really helpful in figuring out my best practices when it comes to creating and sticking to habits.
There you have it, 10 tips you can pick and choose from to help you be successful. I'd love to hear about others that have worked for you. Leave them in the comments.
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