Strategies to Reclaim Dominion Over Your Diet
We are given signals that let us “know” when to seek, acquire, and eat food through the complex, yet elegant, programming of our neuro-endocrine system. Thankfully, we are also given signals that tell us when we’ve had enough food and can stop eating. As the complex, higher thinking organisms we are, we can consciously and temporarily override these signals and eat more (or less) than we need. Most of us do this regularly, for a variety of reasons. Concurrently our ability to “override” our hunger and satiety programming is triggered unconsciously, causing us to eat uncontrollably. The compelling presence and accessibility of “junk” food readily serves as such a trigger. In this post I’ll share some strategies that can help you take some control over these unsought junk-food binges.
Let’s define “junk” food as any food that contains, through processing, excessive amounts of fat, sugar, or salt. These added ingredients, how they are produced, and the combination they are added and manipulated conspire to make you want more. The amounts and combinations of fat, sugar, and salt found in junk food would never occur naturally. Though it may seem like a problem in your head, this is more of a problem of industrialized society. Over consumption of fat, sugar and salt can contribute to chronic health problems and undermine your health and performance goals.
Chances are if your reading this your appetite has been hijacked by some overly-processed, highly-palatable junk food, quashing your intentions to eat moderately. To succeed in limiting junk food intake, understand this battle won’t be won in a complete sweeping annihilation of all junk foods ever. This is an unrealistic expectation. You win this battle in small, incremental steps, with differing and varied degrees of victory. The ultimate outcome is sensible, rational, and satisfying management of all that you eat.
To do this, I have two complimentary approaches you can take. The first is the adjustment of the overall behavior surrounding the seeking and acquiring of food. So things like when and where you go food shopping, or how you determine when to eat out and who, if anyone, to go with. The second is modifying your reaction to those"in the moment" junk-food triggers. For example, in trying to curb that late evening ice-cream craving, using the first approach, you might concoct a way to remove or prevent ice cream from being in your freezer to tempt you; While the second approach, the in-the moment trigger, you would might try eating it slowly or employ some other practice to disrupt the signal bringing about the out-of control ice cream consumption. For the former, overall adjustment of food seeking behavior, here are some ways gain control of the fight:
Give permission- Though this may seem counter intuitive, giving yourself permission to indulge can be a powerful way to maintain control. Make that leftover piece of cake your breakfast. Enjoy it, savor it, then move on with your day. This can alleviate the anxiety of worrying about it all day. This “anxiety” is an energy drain, and likely will end up with a complete break down later in the evening, resulting in an over-the-top cake eating binge. You may find that once you are past your breakfast indulgence, other cravings, for healthier food, normally “masked” by the desire for junk food, become clear throughout the day. This is a normal response as we are programmed to crave nutrients we need. When giving permission, keep it simple, no need to attach any rules. Like these for example:
- if I exercise for an hour, THEN I will eat that ice cream, or
- first I must eat something “good”
Simply allow yourself the indulgence, enjoy it, move on. Not allowing a craving to “fester” all day may be all you need to get some control back.
Specify- The platitudinous, blanket excuse “everything in moderation” could be made useful by defining the word “moderation”. What does that word mean to you? A food indulgence once a day, twice a day, once a week, once a month? What is acceptable to you? What fits into your overall plan? Declare this definition, write it down, tell your support network, paste a picture or description right on the fridge (or wherever the insulting food is found). As noted above, with giving permission, attach no rules or “if’s” to this definition, such as “if I finish this project” or “if I run three miles”. Pick what is acceptable, one scoop of ice cream per day for example, then own it.
Use an anti-shopping list- Identify those trigger foods, the ones you constantly crave, can't stop eating, don't agree with you, rather you don’t feel good, emotionally and/or physically once you are done. Write them into a list. This is your anti-shopping list. Traditionally when you make a grocery list, you write the list at home, then use it to determine what foods you buy, return home and put the food items away into cupboards and refrigerators. With the anti-shopping list you work in reverse order. Start in the home and remove all the items on the list from your fridge/cupboard, under the pillow, and/or in the pantry. When seeking food you actively avoid places that serve those foods, or the sections of the store where they are stocked. In other words you avoid the items on your anti-shopping list. While you're at it, you can extend anti-shopping cleanse to the office as well.
Break out the velvet rope- At the grocery store or market (real or virtual), your cart, bag, or basket is a vessel that carries the food that will nourish you and your family. That will help you stay healthy and support your all of your life's goals and desires. Access is not to be given lightly. Allow those foods that support your goals and health to walk the red carpet, unhook the velvet rope, and enter. Rescind access to those foods that are not worthy. No longer will they be allowed free reign to glide into the sacred halls of your kitchen or pantry and flaunt, flagellate, and flirt with you until you consume them. You are the defender, the Maitre d', the guardian of your cart and you don’t have to take lip from any disgruntled food item upset at not being granted access. You are important, and what you nourish yourself with is important. If it helps, wear your most intimidating, authoritative outfit when you're food shopping and let those offending foods remain on the shelf.
Remind yourself why
Why do you want to eat healthy? Write it down, and post it where you will see it. On the fridge, in the cupboard, on the dashboard, at the office. Better yet, accompany this post with a picture of an image that produces joy, peace, and/or strength. A picture of your kids/grand kids, a place you plan to visit on your active vacation, an activity you enjoy doing (a bike, a tennis court, skis). This relates to another strategy, capturing the Wellness Vision.
Routinize your meals
|No more skipping breakfast or lunch! Eat within an hour of waking, then two more times before dinner. Set an alarm or reminder on your phone or scheduler to remind you its time for your meal. Have them ready to eat in advance. Many times our evening cravings are simply the result of not eating enough during the day.
Emulate a powerful Wizard
Sometimes you are very strict when shopping and eating out, and you enjoy your chosen foods just fine but others inadvertently (or vertantly) infringe. When hosting, tell those guests who wish to bring food, which would be helpful and welcomed. Get your family/friends/roommates on board with your eating goals, so there are no surprises when food shopping together, celebrating, or eating out. If anyone should approach your doorstep, table, cart with offending food, you then have permission, to tell them, in your most commanding voice, YOU SHALL NOT PASS! Be sure to have your grey robe and staff handy.
Cravings for highly processed, hyperpalatable, foods with excessive amounts of sugar, fat, and/or salt, a.k.a., junk food, occupy our mind, thoughts, and given time, drain away energy. Energy you’d much rather use for other things. While there is room in our diet for just about any food, and indulging a bit can be just fine, we shouldn’t be made to feel anxious or drained trying to limit or avoid junk food. Putting a bit of time into implementing one or more of the strategies above can save you energy, reclaim your dominion (or cupboard), and, of course, limit those cravings. Feel free to post below your reactions to any of these suggestions as well as any success you have had (or haven’t had) with them. Stay tuned for some additional strategies you can employ for those “in-the-moment” cravings.
Ready to make a change in your diet/eating habits? Better yet, ready to improve your life? Check out my remote, holistic, Nutrition Coaching program!
Published by mattktraining
I am currently the Owner of my soloprenuerial company Matt K Training. Through my fitness and nutrition programs I help adults develop skills and practices that help them eat, move, and recover well. Over the past 20 years, in various roles such as a Personal trainer, Exercise Physiologist, Clinical Researcher, and Health Coach I have helped hundreds of adults reach their health and physical performance goals. When not working, I enjoy active pursuits such as playing right field for the Charlton Giants (in a 38+ competitive baseball league), playing tennis, hiking, backpacking, and rock climbing. I also enjoy indoor activities such as playing strategy board games, reading and discussing science fiction literature, dabbling with my guitar, finding creative ways to eat oatmeal, and being a good dad.