Good intentions are a dime a dozen, and when it comes to switching from some version of the standard American diet (SAD) to a nutrient-dense diet, today’s take-no-prisoners commitment can easily disintegrate into an I’ll-start-fresh-on-Monday attitude tomorrow. Almost within the wink of an eye, you’re right back where you started.
Well, before you throw in the towel only to promise to retrieve it again tomorrow (or right after your birthday or on January 1), let us apply a handy (and life-saving) childhood lesson. Recall that, upon reaching a traffic intersection, you are to stop, look in both directions, and listen for vehicles before crossing. This routine has undoubtedly saved many a pedestrian’s life, and now I want it to start saving lives otherwise cut short by the diseases of affluence, like type II diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Here’s the protocol:
Stop. Before digging into (or ordering) that bloomin’ onion or those coconut shrimp, take a pause. Breathe. Don’t worry, that deep-fried, cheese-encrusted, corn syrup-sweetened plat du jour isn’t going anywhere.
Look. Take a moment to get grounded in the present. Sounds hokey, I know, but it works. Look around. What do you see?
Listen. Now turn your attention inwards. What are you telling yourself? Maybe, “I want chicken nuggets now!” Or perhaps, “I’m still upset about yesterday’s staff meeting. I deserve some comfort.” How about, “I’m tired of this diet! Besides, I can’t eat like this forever!”
And now for a bonus step:
Respond. After tuning into your inner perturbations, put yourself in the role of a counselor or friend whose job it is to help you stick to your healthy food plan. As that helper, what would you say to the thoughts above? Try something like, “You could go get chicken nuggets, but if you give into every craving you have, you’ll never lose weight.” And, “That’s great that you can identify what’s eating at you! Now what’s another way to deal with your upset that doesn’t involve food?” Finally, “These feelings of frustration and doubt are temporary. They will pass shortly whether you eat or not. Why don’t you wait half an hour, and if you still want it, go for it?” Note that the purpose of the response is to motivate you to stick to your healthy eating habits, not to let you off the hook
It might not look like it on paper, but this whole process only takes a couple of minutes. Let me show it to you in action courtesy of one of my clients.
Mandy was headed home from a fun afternoon bowling with friends when she spontaneously decided pull over for a McDonald’s ice cream cone. But just as she reached for the door handle, she remembered to stop. Taking a deep breath, she began looking around, noticing the freshly detailed console and shiny dashboard. Outside, in the space adjacent to hers, a family of four was spilling noisily out of their blue luxury SUV. She then turned her attention to her thoughts (listen). “I want a sandwich. I’ve been so good lately with my eating. I just want to let go for a while!”
Next, stepping into her role as a friend responding to those thoughts, “Well, you could have a sandwich, but what’s gonna happen if you continue giving into these cravings? If you drive home right now, you’ll probably forget all about soft serve and be so happy later that you didn’t cave in. Or, if you still want it after your healthy supper, you can always come back and get it.”
Next time you consider eating something off your nutrient-dense food plan, stop, look, listen, and respond. Even if you go ahead and eat anyway, you have planted a self-control seed that will germinate, sprout, and grow every time you use this tool. In other words, practice! This technique, which will begin slowly changing your brain to support healthy eating habits habits, only works if you use it over and over again.