All too often we make it too hard on ourselves to make good eating choices. All we need to do is strengthen our resolve, and then we’ll be able to make better food decisions.
The answer lies in the power of willpower!
It is not new news that willpower is like muscle: it gets fatigued. With that in mind, how are we supposed to make it through the day with so many disciplined, self-regulating decisions to make? By the time the day is over (or maybe just half over), our willpower is more than spent and it’s all we can do to not dive headlong into the fridge and eat our way out.
So what can you do?
Well it would probably be good to continue the basic discipline of proper hygiene and getting to work on time. But if you can change your environment to one in which there aren’t as many hard decisions to make, you’ll be more likely to stay on track.
To give an illustration, let’s use the candy dish scenario. Say you work in an office or have a spot at home where a candy dish lives. Say that candy dish is full of your favorite candy (Hershey Kisses would basically be the end of me). If you have to walk by that candy dish dozens of times per day, you also have to tell yourself “no” to that candy dozens of times per day. We all know how this story ends: willpower diminishes and you give in. If this happens multiple times per day and week, think of all of the extra calories of candy that get eaten simply because the candy dish is in your field of vision. If you change your environment to where that candy dish is out of sight, out of mind (get rid of it, change your walking route, etc.), you are much less likely to eat that candy. What’s more, you will have some willpower left to get yourself to the gym after work and maybe even eat a sensible, home cooked dinner afterwards!
Here are 5 more strategies you can use in your daily life to help create an environment where it is easier to make the healthier choice.
1. Pre-portion and plate your food before setting it out on the dinner table and put any leftovers in the fridge or freezer. Cooking at home is one of the best ways to control portions and calories, but family-style dining is the worst when it comes to over-eating. You fill up the plate, chow down, then refill. Chances are if you gave yourself time, fullness would have probably registered halfway through the first helping. If possible, predetermine the proper serving size, put that on the plate, and immediately package and freeze or refridgerate the rest. If there is a platter full of food staring at you on the table, it’s too hard to resist the temptation to eat more of it. You are much less likely to pull the leftovers out of the fridge and reheat it to have a second serving. That extra element of inconvenience may make the difference between eating two dinner’s worth of calories or stopping at one.
2. Have some ice cream! But put a little bit of it in a small bowl. I am not a fan of
low-fat, low-sugar desserts. Blech. I would much rather have a smaller portion of the good stuff than a vat of weird fat and sugar substitutes. When there is only a little bit of the treat to enjoy, the tendency is to savor it and eat it more slowly. And when the bowl is empty, you will most likely feel satisfied with your dessert and also proud of yourself for not over-indulging. Now who doesn’t want to feel like that every day?
3. When out at a restaurant, smoosh your silverware into your food when you’ve eaten enough. I’m serious! Restaurant meals are delicious. But they’re also
hugemungous and caloriffic. Make the decision beforehand to eat only half of the meal, do it, then do whatever possible to get it away before you eat the rest of it. Other strategies are putting a napkin over the plate, asking the server to take it away immediately upon finishing (the longer you wait to ask, the more extra bites it’ll cost ya), splitting the meal with someone, or boxing it up as soon as you’re done. Once I bought a frosty from Wendy’s and after looking at the calorie count realized I wasn’t interested in blowing all those calories on this one fake ice cream treat. So I dumped half of it out in the trash before having the chance to change my mind. What was I going to do? Go back in and order another one after finishing my half serving? No way. There is a lot to be said for getting food out of your field of vision and out of immediate reach.
4. Drink water! Being dehydrated contributes to hunger pangs. Drinking enough water will help control your appetite. I say help. It’s no substitute for eating enough food at regular intervals (8 hours between meals= no bueno). When you are ravenous, your food willpower is greatly diminished. Drinking enough water throughout the day is just one little thing that will help keep you from getting to that point of feeling starving. You know, that point when you’re more likely to hit the drive-thru instead of just waiting until getting home and making something sensible (just me?).
5. Ditch distracted eating. Stop getting popcorn at the movies! Is it really that good? Are you seriously even hungry? Ok I don’t want to beat down too hard on the movie
popcorn lovers out there. If it’s something you absolutely love and can’t live without, then go ahead and make room for it in the “calorie budget”. If not, consider ditching the movie snack-munching habit. It’s proven that we eat WAY more of whatever bottomless snack that’s in front of us when we’re distracted. What kills me is that it’s not even worth all of those calories because we’re not even really enjoying it. I say “we” because I fall victim to this too when I’m not paying attention. If you’re going to indulge, choose to do so on something that you really like, and savor it. Eating should be an experience, not an involuntary action.
So there it is. Think of your environment and how you can use these strategies to make it easier on yourself. A great book to read that expounds on the topic is Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. This book seriously changed my life. It opened my eyes to how different factors affect how, what and how much I eat- without even realizing it! Buy this book or borrow it from the library. It’s a short, entertaining read and is completely worth your time.
Now go out there and eat mindfully!