I few months ago, I had this conversation with Tina, a prospective client:
“How about your husband—is he on board with your desire to eat healthier and lose weight?”
“Yes, he’s very supportive,” she assured me. “He’ll help me any way he can.”
Then, a few weeks into my 10-week compulsive eating program, I had this conversation with Tina:
“Looks like y’all had a big pizza for supper last night. Tell me about that.”
“Well, my husband got home from work and said he wanted to go out for pizza, so we did.”
“Oh, I see. Did you ever talk with him about how it’s better for you if you can plan ahead for these dietary indiscretions and that it weakens your resolve when he spontaneously suggests going out?”
“No, I didn’t. He shouldn’t have to change anything. It’s my problem. I’ll have to learn to deal with it.”
Finally, two weeks later:
“Three Krispy Kreme donuts, eh? Tell me what happened there.”
“My husband bought a dozen and left them on the island in the kitchen. When I walked by the third time, I couldn’t resist and just gave up trying.”
I’m sensing a theme here.
Right on the kitchen counter in front of everybody? This, from a “supportive” husband (what would an unsupportive husband look like?). Yet Tina continued to buy into the belief that she had to do it on her own--had to live around highly stimulating and addictive foods (like sweets, bread, fried foods, cheese) and somehow learn to NOT eat them.
Environment Determines Behavior
Early in our relationship, my boyfriend, knowing that I follow a nutrient-dense, vegetable-rich diet, would bring over cheese and bread to supplement the gourmet all-veggie lasagnas and deep pots of spicy bean and veggie chili I conjured up. I was, of course, welcome NOT to eat his high-calorie, low-nutrient offerings—no skin off his nose—but reality soon made it clear to me that NOT eating two of my ex-binge foods was NOT a realistic expectation.
So, having banished long ago the unhelpful belief that I should be able to handle my compulsive eating on my own, I asked him not to bring the stuff over. I explained politely that the frequent presence of fresh-baked seeded baguettes and free range organic cheddar was draining my willpower—even if I managed to resist, I was more likely to succumb to some other spontaneous craving later.
He heeded my request, albeit with chagrin, and I was back on track.
Another client, Beverly, with the same “nobody should have to change their behavior because of me,” belief system, called me recently from her car. She was on speaker phone, and her niece, who was driving, could hear our conversation.
“She’s been very supportive,” my client assured me about her niece. “I just have to start saying ‘no’ to her food.”
Ah yes, the old, “I just have to. . .” Have you ever tried that one? Has it ever worked for you? It never worked for me, and it wasn’t working for Beverly.
I decided to take advantage of the fact that her niece could hear every word. “The best way your niece can support you,” I began, “is by NOT ordering fresh-fried sweet potato chips and chocolate chip pancakes while y’all are together.”
I could hear her niece in the background—that was a little farther than she was willing to go in support of Beverly. It turns out she, like most “supportive” friends and family members, was happy to assist Beverly by telling her, “You shouldn’t eat that.” But she also had the unhelpful belief that she shouldn’t have to make any changes just because her loved one has diabetes or heart disease or can only wear plus sizes.
My dear friends (dieters and supporters), the current research on behavioral economics says that the environment virtually controls your behavior. I know, we all like to think we are deciding our own fates, but mostly, it just isn’t so. If we were choosing wisely all (or even most) of the time, the majority of the ten leading causes of death in America wouldn’t be diet related. Please do not expect yourself or a loved one to consistently resist bad food sitting in plain sight.
Organize a family or roommate pow wow in which you ask for help—specifically by requesting that housemates remove or hide unhealthy food from the common areas. Also, let them know that they can support you by NOT suggesting spontaneous eating outings—instead, y’all can plan ahead each week for a meal out.