We live in a food-centric society. Every other commercial on TV is about either some fast-food stop where you can get a “value meal” or family restaurant that serves huge portions of comfort food, a “nutritious” breakfast of sugary cereal fortified with whole grains you should make for your kids, or some easy dinner that you can prepare in a snap (just add water to all these chemicals!). There are magazine ads for sweet and salty treats, sodas, and even “healthy” versions of decadent desserts. And while half the advertisements are for food, the other half are for diet plans! No wonder we’re such a mess!
I won’t tell you the kinds of things you shouldn’t be eating if you are trying to lose weight or improve your physique, because you most likely already know what those are (and if you don’t, check out our nutrition articles). Yet we just can’t stay away, can we? Despite our best efforts, we always find an excuse to eat things that we know are bad for our diet goals. I know, because I am guilty of this too. We say to ourselves things like “Oh, just one bite” or “I had a stressful day, I deserve it” or “I’ll have this now and eat a salad for dinner”. Once we start to waver, there are often people around us who push us over the edge, encouraging us to indulge, or just have a little taste. It seems like we can’t seem to make the right choice.
But what if, just once, you said no? What if you could look temptation right in the face, and acknowledge the fact that while you absolutely want that bite (or whole piece) right now, you’re not going to have it. What if you made your will to stay on track stronger than your desire for a treat that may make you happy for 30 seconds, but will fill you with regret and disappointment for much, much longer?
I will tell you that I have to do this just about every day. Yes, I have my diet plan. I bring meals and snacks with me to work so that I have all my nutritional needs to last the whole workday. I know that if I cheat once it won’t be the end of the world, but I also know that cheating just once opens the door for more cheating…which will derail my efforts and bum me out, big time.
There is at least one moment during each day that I’d like to eat something that’s not in my lunchbag. When I stop to get a coffee in the morning I am tempted by tasty sugary pastries (darn you, cute and tasty petite vanilla scones and old-fashioned donuts…especially the chocolate ones, which they rarely have these days). As I stand in line waiting for my turn, I stare at them…and even though the calorie counts are looking me right in the face reminding me of the huge mistake I’m about to make (490 calories in a donut, or 140 in a single petite scone – but who wants just one? Give me all three!) I consider getting something. No one will know, just me. I’ll skip my rice cakes this morning to make up for it. I’ll have just one today, and then no more, I promise.
No, I shouldn’t do it. Stick to the plan, you don’t need this. Oh, but they taste so good! Then I get to the counter. Oh crap, my turn…what to do? Ready, go!
“Hi, can I help you?”
“A small coffee, please.”
“Sure! Any pastries?”
My head says “Just this once…”
And my mouth says “No thank you.”
What? Yeah! I made it! But then I look in front of the cash register and see some dark chocolate and think “Oh that’s healthy, right?” Ack, here we go again! No, stay the course! Look away! I grab my coffee and run.
My immediate feeling of pride is deadened ever-so-slightly by the fact that even after successfully dieting for 3 months to compete in a bikini contest, I am still challenged by a love for sweets and carb-rich foods. I wish I could just turn it off, but I can’t.
The solution I’ve found is to do just what I said above. Look right at whatever it is I know I shouldn’t eat. Acknowledge that I want it, and then say to myself, “I’m not going to have this right now. Just this one time, I’m NOT going to have it.” That’s not to say I might not have it later, but that’s another decision for another time. This time, the decision is no. And I walk away.
One time may not seem to be that big of a deal, but if you can do that more than once, imagine how that will add up. Can’t imagine it? Check this out. Here’s my list of things I wanted to eat last week:
Sunday: Coke, Parmesan Goldfish, Peanut M&M’s, Dark Chocolate Bar
Monday: Apple Cinnamon Muffin, Banana Bread
Tuesday: Old Fashioned Donut, Vanilla Scones, Peppermint Patties
Wednesday: Curly Fries, Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
Thursday: Skinny Cow Ice Cream Sandwich, Brownie
Friday: Donut or Vanilla Scones, Tortilla Chips
Saturday: Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie, Gelato, Chocolate Martini, Plum Wine
I’m a little embarrassed to post this list, because it shows what a piggy I could be if I didn’t practice the restraint that I do. But I think it’s important for you to see that I, like most people, enjoy sweet and starchy foods. I also think it’s important to see all these things listed out, and how many calories and grams of sugar, carbohydrates, and fat I DIDN’T consume by saying no…one choice at a time.
It’s not like I’m thinking about these things all the time. In fact, by eliminating sugar from my diet (I do have some artificial sweetener in my coffee), my cravings for sugar have diminished significantly. Eating balanced meals at timed intervals has done wonders to stabilize my hunger (or lack thereof) throughout the day, so I’m not famished and dying to shove food in my mouth at random intervals. Still, certain foods show up in front of me in one way or another, and while I may not crave them, I am not numb to their temptation.
But here’s the thing: I don’t NEED these foods, I just WANT them. And a lot of the time I don’t even really want these foods specifically, I just want something different (perhaps because admittedly, I’m too lazy to put more variety into my cooking).
This cognitive understanding of my motivation to eat is hugely important. By understanding the difference between what is a want, a need, or neither, I am able to stay in better control and find the strength to pass on foods that I know will taste good, but will keep me from my health and physique goals. Eating healthfully and eating a “clean” diet is a very mindful process. NOT thinking about what we put in our mouth is what gets us into trouble; as such, getting to a better place requires much more thought and intent. If it’s not on your “plan,” you need to actively decide to keep that food out of your mouth.
It will be a bummer at first, I won’t lie about that, but in time it gets easier AND feels better. With each “no,” you will gain confidence in your strength and resolve to stick to your plan. As you start to reach your goals, your achievement will be incentive to keep up those good choices.
However, I also know that there will be times that you will choose to say “yes,” and that is okay! Understand your reason for that choice, whether it be a “planned cheat,” a celebration, or you say “screw it” – that’s fine too, it happens. Accept it, enjoy that moment, and move on (but get back at it!).
It all starts with a choice.
Give it a try. Practice “Just Saying No.” Try keeping a list for yourself. For one week – heck, start with just one day – write down all the things you wanted to eat, but didn’t because it wasn’t in your plan, and would keep you from reaching your goals. Once you have that list, add up all the unnecessary calories and grams of sugar, carbohydrates, and fat you prevented yourself from consuming. Be proud of yourself for sticking to your plan. Challenge yourself each day to THINK about your food and CHOOSE the one that will make you healthy, happy, and proud.