Food For Thought

a closeup of a colorful salad

Promises, Promises

Coach Caroline, 05/04/2015

Have you ever sworn off a certain food or beverage, declaring sincerely to the world that, after this weekend (month, year, or birthday), the addictive substance will be forever removed from your table? Boy, I sure have. In my earlier efforts to eat healthfully, I must’ve pledged to eradicate chocolate and its related sugars and white flours hundreds of times. Of course, each swearing-off was accompanied by a goodbye binge, since I was never to eat the offending food again! Yet, despite my best and most genuine efforts to uphold my promise—including parking my car at a friend’s house 20 miles away so I couldn’t drive to get my fix—my efforts always resulted in me backtracking abashedly, with new promises in hand.

“Ok, well, I’ll only eat one piece of Earth Fare Triple Layer Chocolate Cake per week,” I pledged. Having convinced myself (again) and placated my guilt at yet another failure, I’d sit back and savor my “one” sweet treat for that week.

That is until a day or two later, when the familiar old craving kicked in—and before I knew it, I’d fallen back into full-blown sugar addiction (again).

I thought if I could just stay off the cane juice for long enough, my addiction to sugar would disappear. I was at least partially correct in that assumption; unfortunately, I was missing two key components necessary to make this image of a sugar-free me a reality.

First, I didn’t know anything about high-nutrient eating—that is, consuming mostly fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. Instead I was aiming to follow a diet based on cereal, pasta, and fake meat products. While those foods may be vegan, they are not rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants—necessary ingredients for disease-resistance, longevity, and food addiction recovery.

Second, I lacked an understanding of how my mind worked—specifically, I didn’t understand how to build and maintain motivation and willpower. I didn’t know how to tolerate urges. Over time, though, I began learning mental and behavioral tools and strategies to help me stay on track, even in the midst of stress, disappointment, and celebration. I no longer depend on that spontaneous, capricious motivation that comes along periodically—and then disappears, leaving you right back where you started.

Y’all, it’s hard to change any habit permanently, but it’s not impossible. Here’s a good place to start. First, add a huge mega salad with beans to your daily routine. Allow yourself to eat anything you want for breakfast and supper, but insist that you have an extra-large bowl of raw veggies (lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, etc.) with beans (I like mine on the bottom), a handful of raw nuts or seeds, and a splash of balsamic or rice vinegar. It’s very satisfying to dig into a huge mega salad when you’re hungry—true hunger is the best taste aphrodisiac!

Notice what your mind tells you about this XL salad. For instance, let’s say you have a huge mega salad three days in a row, and on day four, right when it’s time to start chopping veggies, you hear, “Maybe I should have something else today. Variety is important.” Or maybe, “I don’t have time to do this. I’ll just get something healthy at the corner store.” Or, “Nobody’s perfect. I’ll restart the salad tomorrow.”

When those thoughts arise—and they will—your job is to come up with as many responses as you can to them. For instance:

“Maybe I should have something else today. Variety is important.”

Hmmmm. That’s interesting. Where have I heard that before? Maybe the last diet I was on, and the one before that, and the one before that? I think I should stick to my food plan, which is a huge mega salad. If I really want something else, I can PLAN to have it in a few days.

“I don’t have time to chop veggies. I’ll just get something healthy at the corner store.”

Really, the corner store? What do they have that’s healthy? I’m asking for trouble if I don’t make this salad. Besides, it’ll only take a few minutes to prepare.

“Nobody’s perfect. I’ll restart the salad tomorrow.”

I don’t have to be perfect, I just need to stick to my food plan today. I can always plan ahead for less healthy food—that way I’m in charge and not my cravings. Besides how many times have I told myself I’d get back on the horse tomorrow? And here I am still trying to lose weight and eat healthy.


To take home:

1.     Don’t swear off anything. Instead, make it your goal to eat a huge mega salad no matter what.

2.     Take it one day at a time. When an overwhelming craving for a lunch-time pizza buffet arises, plan to satisfy that craving the next day. You’ll learn to tolerate urges—thus building willpower—without giving into them (a necessary skill for lifelong weight loss), and you’ll see that cravings pass whether you satisfy them or not.

3.     Talk back to those thoughts that tempt you away from your salad. Over time, your helpful self-talk will start to overpower derailing thoughts—this takes lots of repetition, so practice, practice, practice.

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