Just yesterday, my client Maggie was blindsided yet again—this time by the obsequious benefactor of free samples at Whole Foods. Grocery stores are one of Maggie’s downfalls. She has a very hard time getting through her nutritarian shopping list without being waylaid by the bulk trail mix section or the artisan cheese case or the fresh-baked bread corner. Generally, though, Maggie is a great planner—she always knows what she’s going to eat and where she’ll get it, or she brings her own food along.
But there’s another kind of planning that’s just as important as formulating a food plan ahead of time, and that is preparing for the various and numerous roadblocks (like free samples!) that will most certainly present themselves between now and chow time.
Another client, Jenny, loves to go to potlucks and other food-centered gatherings. Recently I inquired as to her plan for an upcoming concert reception, where fancy, plentiful, and gratuitous hors d’oeuvres would abound.
“I’m going to avoid the bad stuff and just stick to crudité and sparkling water,” she affirmed with utmost certainty.
“That’s your food plan,” I pointed out. “What about a plan for circumventing the multifarious temptations you’ll encounter there?” Shall we call it an anti-food plan? “What will you do when your eyes stray from the celery sticks to the smoked salmon and herb cream cheese bagels?”
My Dear friends, willpower—while helpful in a pinch—runs dry in a matter of minutes, so “intending” or “trying” to stick to your food guns won’t work for events lasting for more than half an hour or so.
Luckily, there are numerous strategies Jenny (and you!) can employ to help her enjoy schmoozing with the maestro and orchestral members without succumbing to temptation. Let’s look at a couple here.
Postponing the fulfillment of desire is not a priority in our instant-gratification culture; however, allowing a predetermined amount of time to pass between the end of the symphony and the beginning of the feeding is beneficial in two ways. First, waiting builds discipline (which is also antithetical to Americans’ you-only-live-once philosophy)—even if you eventually give in, postponing the satisfaction of an urge makes you stronger. Also, since the event will end at some point, eating later allows less time for more eating!
When your wait time is up, don’t just start piling on the crustless mini quiches and gourmet deviled eggs. Instead, survey the spread from start to finish, pick one or two gotta-have-it items, and sit down to savor them leisurely. If you want more, repeat the process.
Now, if you’re like Jenny, you will expect these two strategies to magically release you from the desire to snack during the whole reception. Then, when you find yourself craving, you pull a, “What the hell,” and dive in unrestrained.
Well, that’s not how it works. I mean, you might still experience frequent, strong desires to saunter over to the buffet and have your way with the chocolate fondue fountain. But if you employ these two tactics (wait and choose judiciously), you still get to eat what you want, only in a more controlled fashion. And if you utilize these tools repeatedly in the coming months, you will get increasingly better at saying, “no,” to SAD (standard American diet) fare and ,“YES!” to all the good stuff (like fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, and seeds).
What I hope you’ll get out of all this is that they key to making more healthful food choices is not trying to eat better; the secret lies in employing tools that will gradually make healthy choices much easier.
Caroline’s compulsive eating program helps people adopt a nutrient-rich diet by teaching them the psychology of permanent weight loss.
This post was originally published at healthyfoodnow.com.