I originally wrote this post for Christmas but then I realised that it’s actually applicable to practically any situation, holiday, celebration you can think of where the temptation to eat something that you don’t want to might be too much. Managing to stick to your eating goals can be tough. It’s much the same challenge although some situations are more difficult than others. These tips can help you get through without having to give in, feeling like you’re being rude or feeling deprived and help you stick to your eating goals. I think that feeling deprivation is the most difficult one to deal with.
The thing to remember is that what we eat rarely has anything to do with the food itself and more to do with trying to avoid feeling a certain way (deprivation anyone?) or as an attempt to relieve anxiety or stress. This hardly ever works because you end up feeling bad about yourself or feel the need to “punish” yourself or balance all of the food out with a lot of exercise or fasting. This is a really unhealthy way to view food. There is no moral attachment to food. No food makes you inherently good or bad for eating it. Some are healthy and some unhealthy but eating something unhealthy doesn’t make you a bad person.
Nor does it make you weak willed or greedy or any of the negative things you are thinking about yourself in the aftermath. These irresistable foods are manufactured to be addictive, not filling (they block satiety) and make you crave more. I loved the film “So I Married an Axe Murderer”. This 1993 movie featuring Mike Myers and Nancy Travis was a fantastic comedy and the wonderfully talented Mike Myers played his own father as well as the main character. The father is a cantankerous Scot who complains about everything and is a conspiracy theorist. He has this conversation with his son Charlie and his son’s friend Tony:
Stuart Mackenzie: Well, it’s a well known fact, Sonny Jim, that there’s a secret society of the five wealthiest people in the world, known as the Pentavirate, who run everything in the world, including the newspapers, and meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado, known as The Meadows.
Tony Giardino: So, who is in this Pentavirate?
Stuart Mackenzie: The Queen, the Vatican, the Gettys, the Rothschilds, and Colonel Sanders before he went tits-up. Oh, I hated the Colonel with his wee beady eyes! And that smug look on his face, “Oh, you’re gonna buy my chicken! Ohhhhh!”
Charlie Mackenzie: Dad, how can you hate the Colonel?
Stuart Mackenzie: Because he puts an addictive chemical in his chicken that makes you crave it fortnightly, smartarse!
“Because he puts an addictive chemical in his chicken that makes you crave it fortnightly, smartarse!”
Now The Colonel might not be putting addictive chemicals into his famous recipe BUT food manufacturers know that if you put the holy trinity of carbs, fat and salt into a food you make it addictive. That is why processed food is almost always high fat, high carb and high salt. It’s guaranteed to get you hooked and keep you coming back for more. It’s worth repeating that it is not your fault that you crave these foods. They’re literally designed with higher consumption in mind. Many of the processed foods we regularly consume on a standard western diet don’t need to be so high in sugar or fat but they are so that you keep buying them.
Saying no to these foods is so hard. One that I still struggle with is crisps (potato chips) which is the literal embodiment of my example. High carb, high fat and high salt. Portion sizes are really hard to control for me, if I had a whole bag I would eat a whole bag. Knowing that it’s not my willpower, or lack of, that keeps my hand going back into the bag is comforting. It helps me not berate myself or call myself names. Repeating the point that they are specifically designed to to be like this helps stop self blame.
Obviously it’s better not to start to eat them at all but we’re not superwomen and sometimes this will get the better of us. I have found, though, that a little preparation work before a situation you know will be tempting is helpful. Surprise carbs are the hardest to resist and sometimes you will be successful in resisting and sometimes you won’t (no failure here, that word is banned) and that is ok. It’s not the end of the world but if it feels dangerous to you there are things you can do to stop yourself from sliding back.
Preparation is your friend when you know that you are going to be facing temptation. Luckily most of these situations are predictable. Set into our yearly calendars we know that holidays like Easter and Christmas (if you celebrate), Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and all of the other holidays and celebrations that are centered around food, happen at mostly the same time every year. That means that if you have a plan in place for one you can apply that to all of the holidays or celebrations that you might face temptation.
Before we get into the tips I also want to remind you that choosing to indulge under your own self controlled rules is perfectly ok, don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t ever have something. At different times, depending on your mindset and commitment, it might be perfectly possible for you to indulge in something that, at another time when you feel more vulnerable, would spell disaster. It’s not clear cut for everyone. I know that I used to think that I could never have just one but when my mindset is strong and I am in a good place I can actually manage to have just one and it not be dangerous. The difference is WHY you have it. Emotional eating or rational balanced choice. There is a huge distinction between the two motivations.
We all know that well meaning friend or family member pushing food on you. Food that you know you don’t want to eat. Food that you associate with emotional eating, comfort food that is usually in the list of things you avoid. It can be hard to say no to these foods and the reasons are often a complex mix of not wanting to be rude and feeling really deprived because everyone else can eat it but you can’t.
Below are my top 5 tips to help you out in these situations. It’s always better to plan in advance, have a strategy in place to help you out. If you are prepared to deal with the food pushers then it is much easier to say no and avoid temptation. It doesn’t always work of course and sometimes you give in. That is ok. It doesn’t make you a failure or mean that you are weak willed. Be kind to yourself knowing that you are still learning how to navigate this stuff and sometimes it won’t go the way you expected.
Here are my 5 tips to sticking to your food goals (or any goals actually!)
1. Be clear about what you want
Say it out loud, write it in your journal, put it on a post-it, send yourself a voice note – it doesn’t matter how you do it, what matters is that you make a solid decision about how it’s going to be for you. I wrote down my food based goals at the start of the year – I want to be on carnivore for as much time as possible. Writing it down makes the decision final and actually makes it easier to stick to because you don’t have to make on the spot decisions that make it harder to say no in the moment.
2. You don’t have to take what is offered to you
It’s not rude to say “no thanks”. You don’t have to eat something you don’t want to or haven’t made the choice to. There are plenty of excuses you can use to politely say no to someone who is insisting you have just one bite/slice/piece because it’s “that time of year”. You can say you’ve eaten already and you’re full or another good excuse is “I’m working with a nutritionist to fix some issues and she doesn’t want me to eat XYZ for a few weeks, so no thanks”. If you give someone else the “blame” for not indulging, most people will just say ok!
3. You can feel deprived and annoyed about missing out without eating
Feeling deprived is the worst feeling. My carb toddler comes out kicking and screaming about the unfairness of life and why can’t we have JUST ONE piece. I’ve had both outcomes from this – I’ve let the toddler win and I’ve put the toddler on time out. Both are not good feelings but one is much better than the other. When I let the toddler win I immediately regret it and I feel bad physically and emotionally because I know the food isn’t good for me. When I put the toddler on time out it hurts for a few minutes because I still feel deprived and annoyed that I can’t indulge but after a few minutes it passes and I feel SO GOOD that I didn’t let the toddler win. The toddler winning stops the feeling of deprivation immediately but the emotional aftermath is never worth it. Spending a few minutes feeling irritated by deprivation and afterwards feeling really good and accomplished is the better choice every time.
4. Have some “canned responses” for stressful situations
Let’s face it, as much as we love our loved ones, they can be a pain in the bum at best and rude or hurtful at most. You know what to expect from certain family members, you know the things they’ll say to try to bait you or know what buttons to push (especially siblings!) to get you to react. Instead of taking the bait (yes I know it’s really really hard not to) take a breath and say one of your “canned responses”. A really good strategy is to make them repeat the comment especially if it is meant to embarrass you or is derogatory. The first time they say it they will be met with reaction either from you or from others. Try not to react. Then you ask them to repeat it because you didn’t hear it, they will do so but won’t get the same reaction from others. Then ask a third time, “I’m really sorry, I still didn’t catch that”. By the third time they will be choking on the words and everyone will be straight faced as everyone realises that what was said was not funny at all. It works every time – try it yourself and let me know how it goes!
5. Distraction or Substitution
Distract yourself when you feel the temptation creeping in. Ruminating about your inability to eat just a few or about the unfairness of not being able to have just one will make you feel even worse and will prolong the feelings. Instead distract yourself in any way you can. Drink a glass of water and have a walk around your living room. Open your internet browser and look at luxury travel destinations (doesn’t matter if you have no intention of travelling), window shop for summer clothes or do something crafty with your hands. It doesn’t really matter what you decide to do as long as it takes your attention away from the thing you can’t have.
Substitution is the second option to stop yourself from sabotaging. Last Christmas, for example, I made myself a Keto Tiramisu using a mug cake, cream and mascarpone. It was simple but oh so effective because I was having the same dessert as everyone else but mine was keto and wasn’t accompanied by feelings of regret or the physical after effects of too much sugar. Find substitutions for your favourites using whatever is allowed on the diet you are on.
If you don’t manage to get through unscathed and fall completely off your weight loss path don’t feel bad. It takes a strong mindset to get through without indulging. If you do, don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t hate yourself or call yourself names. It’s just food and it has no moral value. It doesn’t make you a bad person, you’re not weak willed or greedy. YOU ARE HUMAN.