You Can’t Really Control What You Eat (damn!)

cookie-jarIn your efforts to adopt a nutrient-rich eating style, have you ever—after a mac and cheese rampage, maybe—chastised yourself with, “I’ve just GOT to make healthier food choices!” Or perhaps, upon emptying the cookie jar, “I just gotta stay motivated, stay focused! [then I’ll be able to stick to a healthy diet].”

Well I’ve got good news and bad news. First the ugly: you can’t really control what you put in your mouth. You read it right. You’ve probably known it intuitively for years, and science is beginning to confirm that willpower is weak and short-lived, and when willpower flags, environmental cues take over. What are environmental cues? They’re all around you in the form of fast food mega chains, mini marts, the office kitchenette, the m&m’s jar on your supervisor’s desk, cupcakes at your kid’s soccer game, super bowl commercials, vending machines, church socials, AA meetings—in fact, where isn’t the environment encouraging you to eat? For better and worse, we live in an overly abundant food culture in which cues to eat abound on every street corner, day and night.

The good news? You have a lot more control over other behaviors. That means you can choose to live by a set of guidelines which, when adhered to, make it considerably less pleasant to overeat on bad food you encounter in your vicinity. In other words, you’ll derive much more benefit from maintaining these disciplines than continuing to “try” to stop eating junk.

The key to the guidelines I’ll soon be divulging is consistency: do them every time no matterconsistency what. That means if you’re eating a big salad with beans, eat while following all the guidelines. And if you planned a bowl of sweet pea soup with banana nice cream for dessert but succumbed to a tuna melt with kettle chips instead, follow through on the standard procedure outlined below.

Mind you, in my work with people who are attempting to switch over to vegetable-rich eating, I advocate quite a number of techniques and strategies for overcoming cravings and spontaneous eating urges, many of which I have written about in prior blog posts. So here’s a list of some of those strategies including links to articles so you can learn more about each one.

  1. Weigh and measure everything you eat.
  2. Eat very slowly (everything, even contraband!), putting your fork down between bites.
  3. Make a plan. Spontaneous eating is the devil’s playground.

The famous refrain for real estate is, “Location, location, location.” The refrain for retraining your brain to choose healthy eating should be, “Practice, practice, practice.” That is, practice the above skills every time you eat no matter what you eat, and you will see a gradual change in your ability to consistently choose nutrient-rich goodness.

Caroline’s Crash Your Diet 10-week Willpower Boot Camp helps people adopt a nutrient-rich diet by teaching them the psychology of permanent weight loss.

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