For as long as humankind has been around, we have been our own worst enemies. With obstacles like lengthening work-weeks, sedentary jobs and increased social activities, we hardly need additional challenges such as our inner selves. Our big, beautiful human brains seem to come with as many self-defeating quirks as positive attributes: negative thinking and unhealthy behavior patterns are just a few. Often times we are unable to remove or diminish unhealthy external factors such as a stressful work environment, at least we can work to remove or diminish some of our own unhealthy thoughts.
One of the biggest barriers to moving forward with any positive change is the dieter’s mindset. It causes guilt and creates shame while it pushes us toward continued unhealthy choices. While we may be bombarded with social, cultural, familial, and inner voices to cave to the enemy thought process, we don’t have to listen.
The Dieter’s Mindset: This has long been the primary adversary of the nutritionally dense dinner. You know the thought process, “I’ve already had one candy bar and blown my diet for the day, I might as well have a whole pizza for dinner and start again tomorrow.” Or my favorite, “It’s already in the house, I’ll just eat it all now and it will be gone, then I can start fresh.” Or, “Let’s just eat the ‘bad’ stuff now and then we won’t eat it again after we start the diet.” The promise to never eat it again, the urge to eat it out of the house, the need to consume as much as possible before the healthy food starts and the idea that once you’ve eaten one sugary or fatty treat you’ve ruined the day or week are all version’s of the dieter’s mindset.
Moderation within a healthy lifestyle is the new diet. I know you’ve heard it for years, "everything in moderation" or "it’s a healthy lifestyle not a diet." In these seemingly trite, over played verses are very real, very strong truths. If the belief is that one is ‘on’ a diet then there is the belief that one can fall ‘off’ the diet as well. And if there is one thing dieter’s are good at, it is falling off the wagon, in fact there seems to be a sinful pleasure in falling off the wagon as most of us land on pillows of soft marshmallows and lakes of creamy hot chocolate. A funny thing happens once that first ‘forbidden’ food is consumed, we decide it is a free ticket to eat whatever we want for the rest of the day. This is how a 300 calorie candy bar turns into a 3000 calorie disaster day.
What would it be like if we gave ourselves permission to eat a candy bar once in a while? If we did that, would we still end up binging on 3 king-sized bars in the car park outside the CVS? Or would just a few Hershey’s Kisses end up satisfying that pesky sweet tooth? What if we also gave ourselves permission to make what we consider to be mistakes? What if we give in to the pizza at the office luncheon or the smell of popcorn at the movie theater? Is this 500 calorie transgression worth hundreds or thousands of extra calories over the following few hours or days? Is it worth the guilt, shame and punishment we then inflict on ourselves for being ‘weak’ or whatever negativity we allow it to produce?
What if we simply ate the candy bar, the pizza or the popcorn and then went about the rest of the day making the same healthy choices we had previously been making? What if we still had our salad, our salmon or our smoothie for dinner? What then? I suspect we would find it easier to achieve our weight loss goals, we would have less sugar hang-overs, less binging, less heartburn and less self-loathing. I believe there would be more long-term health and more meeting of goals. Once we accept the frailties and challenges of the human nutritional experience and give ourselves permission to be imperfect beings who occasionally enjoy cake or mac & cheese, then the process becomes less daunting and dreadful and becomes more satisfying and successful…and dare I say…possibly even more enjoyable.