When it comes to the foods you LOVE, there’s a lot of confusion around how to incorporate them into your diet. A lot of our favorite foods often get labeled as being “bad” foods, so we think we have to avoid them altogether (and that’s just a suckfest!) All of the foods you love can be part of a healthy lifestyle… but they can also be a gateway drug straight into fuck-it mode (you know, when 1 cookie turns into 12) without the proper self constraint.
So go grab your favorite drink, pull up a seat, and let’s talk about how to tread the waters between indulging in the things you love while also exercising self control to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
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Self Constraint is NOT limitless
Would you believe me if I told you that most people who are successful with their diets (you know, the ones you see and constantly wonder HOW they do it), don’t actually have more self control than you? I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t… but it’s TRUE. Let’s talk about it…
I first learned about this idea while listening to the audiobook version of Atomic Habits by James Clear (seriously, if you haven’t read this I highly recommend!). In it he offers an interesting perspective on habit formation and creation. He says that it’s really clear in research that highly successful people (in any area of life – career, family, finances, health, you name it) do NOT necessarily have more self-control than anyone else.
What they DO have is a realization that every person, no matter how awesome you think you are (and not gonna lie, you’re pretty damn awesome), has a finite ability to exercise self control. We only have so much capacity to make decisions every day and self-control works the same way… We can only say “no” to things so many times before we just can’t anymore. It’s not about figuring out how to have more self constraint and beating yourself up when you don’t… it’s about acknowledging that you only have so much capacity for exercising self control and then RESTRUCTURING your environment so that the amount of times that you’re in a situation that requires it is reduced.
In other words, you’re minimizing or taking away your triggers so you don’t have to exercise self constraint ALL THE TIME.
I’ll use a practical example to demonstrate what this might look like. Let’s say you looooove grabbing your Starbucks latte on the way to work, but you know damn well you can’t leave without one of those bombass lemon pound cakes. So in order to reduce the amount of times in your day in which you have to practice self control, switch up your routine. Instead of going to Starbucks, make your coffee at home or go to a cafe that doesn’t have those pastry options. Practicing self control strategically doesn’t mean you have to completely change your life… It’s about restructuring things to set yourself up for success.
Saying “no” is exhausting. Restructure your environment so you don’t feel like you have to say it all the time.
My personal example
There was a time when I would go full-on fuck-it mode and I couldn’t figure out WHY. It wasn’t a specific food or restaurant that was causing me to do this, so I was left asking, “what the hell is wrong with me?!” I couldn’t find the common denominator! It seemed like I would just go into lose-my-freaking-mind mode, eat everything within arms reach, and couldn’t figure out what was causing it.
UNTIL I started paying attention to the specific trends around my fuck-it-mode episodes, rather than the specific foods I was eating. This is when I realized that for me personally, it was less about the food or environment and more about what I was doing and experiencing that was reducing my ability to exercise self control. I’ve learned that my three main triggers are:
- Lack of Sleep
When any of these three things are present, my ability to exercise self constraint PLUMMETS. And when any of these three things collide it’s a total dumpster fire. I have learned that when these things combine, I am not going to do well. But now that I know this, it has allowed me to restructure my environment accordingly. For example, if I’m really freaking tired because I had a shitty night’s sleep, I know that drinking is out of the question. I know it’ll make me waaaay more likely to make decisions I don’t like, so if I’m really tired, I take drinking off the table. A great way to do this, even if people want to go out, is by offering to be the designated driver! This allows me to have a fun time and puts me in a position where I don’t have to exercise self constraint.
A Common Trigger
I want to make sure to touch on one of the most common triggers I hear from many of my clients: the pressure of finishing your plate. Whether you’re a parent who feels like you need to finish your kids’ plates after dinner, or whether you feel like you need to finish your own even if you’re full. This trigger usually comes from a place of not wanting to waste food, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it can create habits that you don’t want and aren’t helping you. You might not want to throw your food in the trash can, but when you put this pressure on yourself all you’re doing is using your body in place of a trash can.
Your body is NOT a trash can.
If this is a trigger for you, it’s time to change your environment. Put smaller portions of food on your plate, or ask your partner to take care of the kids’ dishes after dinner. When it comes to practicing self constraint, instead of beating yourself up and thinking “I need to work harder, be better, and have more self control”, start changing your environment and reducing the amount of times you’re forced to say no.
If you’ve been feeling like there’s something wrong with you… know that there’s not. You’re not lacking self control, you’re not weak, and you’re not failing! If you’re struggling with self constraint it’s likely that you just have an environment that forces you to say no all the time…and you’re tired of it (which is totally normal!)
It’s time to create an environment that supports your goals, makes you feel safe, AND makes you feel like you don’t have to restrict yourself ALL THE TIME. Put things in place to support you throughout the day. Use your environment to your ADVANTAGE, in a way that complements you and your goals.
If you’re having a hard time identifying what is triggering you, start looking for trends rather than specific foods. You can also reach out to me on Instagram and we can brainstorm together!
If you think you’ve got this topic down and want to learn more about weight loss, check out this blog I wrote about why you may not be seeing results!
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