04/04/2022 # Home
Here are the 5 strategies that helped me turn things around.
I aimed for “good enough” instead of “perfect”.
I’ve seen it in so many clients. They want to follow the “perfect” diet.
So they adhere to strict meal plans (to the last measured teaspoon) Monday to Friday. And, the whole week, they worry incessantly about screwing things up.
By the weekend, though, the willpower gives out. They’re so sick of restrictive eating and can’t wait to eat food they actually enjoy. Bring on the weekend binge!
For most of them, there are only two options: perfect or crap.
So the logic follows:
“It’s Saturday, I’m out to lunch with my family, and I can’t have my perfect pre-portioned kale salad like I usually do, so instead I’ll just overeat a giant bacon cheeseburger and a huge heap of fries.”
If you take “perfect” off the table, things change. You feel empowered because there are now other options. Instead of kale salad vs. five servings of fries, there’s:
“I’m actually in the mood for a salad with my burger because I had fries at that work lunch on Thursday.”
Therefore, my solution: Always aim for “good enough”.
Throughout the workweek and the weekend, I started to consider my health and fitness goals, what I was in the mood for, what was available, etc. I came up with a definition of “good enough”, and aimed for that.
Remember: The decent method you follow is better than the “perfect” one you quit.
I let go of my food rules.
If perfectionism is the Wicked Witch of overeating, then food rules are the flying monkeys.
Food rules tell you:
- what you can and can’t eat,
- when you can or can’t eat it,
- how you can or can’t eat it, and/or
- how much you can or can’t have.
These rules take up an awful lot of mental real estate. They also set you up for disinhibition… aka “the Screw It Effect”.
Here’s how the Screw It Effect works.
Let’s say your #1 food rule is Don’t Eat Carbs. No croutons on the salad; won’t touch a sandwich; no potatoes with your omelet. Thanks.
But this Friday night, you find yourself out with friends, and everyone’s having beer and pizza. You hold out for a bit. Finally, you give in and grab a slice.
That means screw it, you’ve “blown your diet”, so you might as well keep eating. Cue the binge and uncomfortable after-effects.
Of course, if you have one food rule, you probably have several. That means there are lots of ways to “mess up” (and disinhibit). Maybe all night. Maybe all weekend.
Eating by the rules almost always leads to overeating crap, because once you deviate, there’s nothing left to guide you.
My solution: I ditched the rules and let hunger be my guide.
Non-dieters (or so-called “normal eaters”) eat when they’re physically hungry and stop when they’re physically full, no matter if it’s Wednesday or Saturday, morning or evening, work lunch or happy hour.
Start by paying attention to your own food rules and responses.
When, where, and how are you likely to say, “Screw it?” What might happen if you let go of that rule and really tuned in to your physical hunger and fullness cues instead?
I gave up on “Cheat Days”.
Monday through Saturday is all about being faithful to your diet. But Sunday… That’s Cheat Day.
Oh, Cheat Day. The happiest day of your week.
You wake up on Cheat Day morning like a kid at Christmas. Go hog wild all day long, eating all the stuff you didn’t permit yourself during the week.
As evening nears, you start to freak out. So you eat (and maybe drink) even more. Because tomorrow, it’s back to reality. Back to fidelity and compliance. And no fun.
Sure, some people find the idea of a weekly Cheat Day useful both mentally and physically. If this is you, and it works for you, then by all means continue.
But for most of the people I’ve coached, having one Cheat Day means the rest of the week is food purgatory.
My solution: I quit the Cheat Day routine, and gave myself permission to choose what I wanted all week long.
Like the Screw It Effect, Cheat Day depends on scarcity.
Scarcity makes us feel anxious, needy, and greedy. The counter to a scarcity mindset? Abundance.
For you and most people around you, food is abundant—not something to be hoarded or feared. (If that’s true in your life, be grateful. It’s a privilege.)
You don’t need to “cheat” because there’s nothing, and no one, to “cheat” on. Maybe you enjoy some dessert on a Tuesday night because you’re in the mood for it, or maybe you don’t because you’re satisfied from dinner.
What and when you eat is up to you—and your hunger and fullness cues. No matter what day of the week it is.
I owned my choices (Really. Owned them.)
Do you ever barter with yourself? Make deals, trades or swaps related to food?
“Okay, self, I’ll turn down dessert today… but I’m gonna collect on the weekend and you better pony up the whole damn pie.”
In this mindset, one “good deed” gives you license to “sin” elsewhere. These trades rarely pay off—they usually just amount to a lot of mental gymnastics that help you avoid making tough decisions and help you justify overeating.
Look, we’re all adults here. Trading off “good” and “bad” is for little kids and convicts. There is no “good” and “bad”. There’s no prison warden holding the keys.
Mind games like this undermine your health goals—and your authority over your decisions.
My solution: I started owning my choices, and letting my adult values and deeper principles guide me when I sat down to eat.
I started making food decisions by acknowledging the outcome I would expect, based on my experience. For example:
“I’m choosing to eat this tub of ice cream on Saturday night. I’ll probably feel nauseated and anxious afterward. In this instance, I’m fine with it.”
In the end, own your choices: Don’t moralize them. You’re free to eat and drink anything you want. You choose your behavior.
Just remember that different choices produce different outcomes.
It’s your call.
I stopped rationalizing.
Weekends present all sorts of comfortable justifications for eating a bunch of non-nutritious foods.
It could be anything:
- You were busy. Or maybe you had nothing going on.
- You were traveling. Or maybe you were at home.
- You had to work. Or you had no work to do.
- You had family/social meals. Or maybe you ate alone.
Any excuse will do. Powerless victim of circumstance!
But busyness, boredom, travel, work, or family dinners don’t inherently cause overeating. People eat or drink too much in lots of different situations. Their explanation simply matches whatever happens to be going on at the time.
Rationalizations are a convenient script. They help us make sense of—and perpetuate—our overeating or other unhelpful behaviors.
My solution: I stopped rationalizing and asked myself why I was really overeating.
Sometimes, you’ll want to eat crap. And too much of it. That’s normal.
But instead of falling back on the tired victim-of-circumstance narrative, take the opportunity to ask yourself what’s really going on.
Are you bored? Stressed? Sad? Happy?
Do this over and over and over, and you’ll start to see some patterns. That’s your pot of gold. That’s your opportunity to change overeating behavior—and do something else to address those emotions instead of bingeing.
Reference: Precision Nutrition