Food For Thought

self discipline spelled out in cursive and pinned to a cork board

What Went Wrong? Diagnosing and Treating Dietary Disasters

Coach Caroline, 08/30/2016

A recent shopping expedition with a friend highlighted some major differences in our eating behaviors—not just relative to what we eat but in how we eat. Mind you, this friend aspires to follow a nutrient-dense, healthy diet style but has struggled with sugar, salt, and fat for decades.

Sound familiar?

Our outing began when my friend arrived at my house munching on a greasy bag of popcorn.

As we hopped into my Miata and pulled out of the driveway, he reached around and magically produced a second bag of popcorn and resumed his contented munching.

I was surprised—not one but two bags of what amounted to salted, buttered, fried corn, and it was only 11:00 a.m.!

“What’d you have for breakfast?” I inquired.

“Oats and frozen organic blackberries and walnuts,” he responded, proudly.

Where did he go wrong?

Well, with a belly full of nutrient-dense breakfast, he probably wasn’t hungry.

If you’re like most, your answer might be something like, “He shouldn’t have eaten the popcorn.”  Or maybe, “He should’ve gotten just one bag.”

But I disagree. Having studied behavioral economics (the science of why we do what we do) and working with people for years (myself included!) on dietary change, I have learned that attempting to control what you put in your mouth is an arrant waste of time and energy.

Your instinctual hunger drive is an inexhaustible force too strong to overcome. No, you cannot control what you eat, but you CAN control other behaviors around food. And exercising control over those behaviors will build discipline which will, over time, shift to your actual food choices.

So while millions of years of evolution had usurped my friend’s rational decision-making ability, he could have taken back some control by deciding to eat the popcorn while seated (and not driving). That’s right, he could just sit there in the car eating popcorn, slowly savoring each bite.

Do you think he would’ve eaten his way through two bags in this manner?

Wait, there’s more.

Our first stop in town was at T.J. Maxx, where my shopping companion picked up a discounted jar of salted and peppered Virginia peanuts.

“I’ve never had salted and peppered peanuts,” he  commented at the check-out. Walking across the parking lot, he pulled off the vacuum-sealed foil lid and resumed his methodical, mindless munching. By the time we reached the car, at least half of the 8 oz. tin of  legumes had disappeared down his gullet.

You may have surmised from the preceding popcorn incident that one of my rules for switching to a healthy diet is to eat only while seated (and not driving). This guideline would have served my friend well here because it’s doubtful that he would’ve put away half a jar of salty nuts while sitting quietly on a bench outside of a department store. In fact, he might not have even bought them in the first place, had he been committed to adhering to a few rules governing food behaviors.

Under these new guidelines, here’s a possible internal dialogue: “Hmmm, those look good. I think I’ll try them. Oh, but I have to find a place to sit to eat them. Then I could eat all I want, but what I really want is to walk around eating them mindlessly. If I can’t do that, they’re not worth it.”

What happens when you make a healthy food plan but allow yourself to eat whatever you want—under certain conditions—is that, over time, you begin to realize that gnoshing a family sized bag of BBQ potato chips isn’t really that much fun when you do it while seated and without distraction (that’s right, no TV or Netflix). And when you’re fully committed to sticking to the rules, when you follow through no matter what, you start to build discipline. Soon, choosing fruits/veggies/beans/seeds over steak/potatoes/sushi/donuts becomes much easier.

Start today.

Right now, commit to eating unhealthy food only while seated and without distraction. Go ahead and give yourself permission to eat whatever you want, but only with your booty glued to a chair and with your entire attention focused on the taste and texture.


Want to know more about Caroline’s strategies for sticking with a healthy diet? Schedule a call with her today and learn how to build willpower!

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