Forget Willpower: Seven Steps to a Healthy-Eating Mindset Even If You Love Chocolate
I was always pretty good about eating healthy, or at least I thought I was until I heard the three most dreaded words: “You have cancer.” Even though I am considered an expert in emotional eating and the psychology of weight loss, and have helped thousands of people with emotional eating, I now had to revamp my own entire diet.
Ironically, two surgeries and 33 radiation treatments later, people who didn’t know that I had cancer started to tell me I looked thin. No, it wasn’t the cancer. But yes, when you give up meat, dairy, eggs, sugar, chocolate (which deserves its own category) and most everything that tastes good, you will lose weight. Normally, I would have loved hearing this comment; but the truth is, I would have given anything to have my health back.
And yes, you are correct if you detect an edge in my voice. At the time, I did not know about Kris’ film or even her story; but I read as much as I could get my hands on. It became abundantly clear that I needed to raise the bar on my definition of healthy eating, which now included mostly veggies, fruit, protein shakes and supplements.
As the months have gone by, I find myself occasionally yearning to revert back to my former level of kinda-healthy eating. While I love my veggie meals and salads, I sometimes long to grab something quick that does not require cutting and chopping.
Here are seven strategies I use for staying on my plan.
1. Take crazy sexy good care of yourself. There are times when Ben and Jerry are calling my name, and I have carrots rotting in my fridge. Urges for sweets can be a signal that you need something. You may feel tired, discouraged or unsupported. The truth is – these are nonfood needs. Medicating these feelings with sugar or alcohol only makes things worse. Amp up your self-care, and these urges will make far fewer appearances on your life stage.
2. Give in. There are times when if I want something, I have it. If I tell myself I can’t have it, it only makes me want it more. Pay attention to how you feel during and after you are indulging in unhealthy food. Most importantly, care about how you feel. Usually, the negative experience of how I feel when I have it is enough to cure me of this desire for a good long time.
3. Learn from how you feel. After not eating meat for many months, my body really doesn’t react well to a juicy cheeseburger, no matter how appealing it looks. Keep this in mind while reading the restaurant menu.
4. Put it off. Research shows that telling yourself you can have it later reduces the urge almost as much as having it now. Postponing your indulgence, tricks the brain into thinking you are saying “yes” to it when you are really only saying “maybe.” Don’t tell yourself you can’t have it. Tell yourself you can have it later.
5. Manage your moods. Cancer or any other major life challenge comes with its own emotional roller coaster. Let yourself feel your feelings, but don’t get stuck in them. Use supportive therapists, coaches, etc., along with self-help techniques like Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFTs) and meditation to help manage your moods and reduce emotional reactivity.
6. Forget willpower! The average person makes well over 200 food decisions each day. Willpower is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more you use it up. It’s not something you can get more of really … and the more you use it, the more likely you are to quit. This pattern keeps you in a depressing cycle, starting with a massive commitment to change followed by eroding motivation and relapse into old habits. One of the biggest barriers to success is not lack of willpower, but the belief that willpower is the key to change.
7. Make sure it feels like a choice. It’s always easier to say “yes” to healthy eating if you see it as an ambition, rather than an obligation. What most people do when they decide to eat healthier is create a lot of rules, such as “no meat, no dairy, no sugar, no junk food, no eating after 7 p.m.” The problem with this approach is that it can make you feel deprived. Whatever food choices you make, they have to feel like a choice. Otherwise, you rebel because you feel like your freedom is being taken away.
Like Kris, I won’t say having cancer is a gift, because I wouldn’t give it to you. I think of it more as a cosmic assignment, or more simply put, the ultimate call to love – the call to love and honor yourself, your body, yes, even your cancer, the other wonderful people we share the planet with, and your insanely precious life.
Carol Solomon, Ph.D., is one of the world’s leading experts in using EFT to help people stop emotional eating, lose weight, and reduce anxiety and stress. She is the author of the “EFT Tips” newsletter, and the “EFT Weight Loss” CD.
Photo credit: Ed Yourdon