How to stop screwing up on your diet (part 2)

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By Ari Snaevarsson, Features Editor

Read part 1 of Ari’s series here

What to do when you fall off the wagon

In answering this, I am going to speak in broad terms so as not to prescribe you an “eat these foods and do this thing” potion.  What will work flawlessly for one person might have no relevance whatsoever for another, so I want to cover my bases and leave you with at least one tip you are able to implement effectively.  Let’s get into it.

Analyze what went wrong

The first step is to stop and take note of what exactly went awry in the moment.  In this article, we will delve into the first two important questions that fall under this step, leaving the last one for next week’s edition.

What was the specific thought that justified it?

Before grabbing that box of Oreos, ask yourself what thought process, in particular, ultimately justified your actions. Someone once pointed to the phrase “screw it” (worded differently), mentioning that nothing good usually follows that motto.  But it could be anything in your case; maybe you decided you have “been good this whole week.”  Maybe you told yourself, “there is no way I can keep this up in the long run” or the more common “what can one (box of) cookie[s] do?”

Regardless of what it is, the most important thing is that you identify the thought.  What we are working towards is taking power away from the content of the thought by shifting your focus to the process of it.

What follows is to actively challenge the thought.  A method I have found particularly useful is to visualize your mind as an auditorium, with the voices in your head as individuals in the audience.  This way, you start to see the self-defeating or otherwise unhealthy thinking patterns as just that: unhealthy, recurring thinking patterns.

Clearly the voice telling you, “there is no way you can keep this up in the long run” is not some rational ideation but rather a manifestation of a tendency to think you are not good enough.  And so when such a thought arises, rather than submitting to it and giving it a voice, you stop what you are doing and point it out in the proverbial audience.  This is formally referred to as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

What food triggered it?

Moving slightly away from the more psychoanalytic steps, we have a seemingly obvious one.  In the words of writer Robert Orben, “Most people would like to be delivered from temptation but would like to keep it in touch.”  Despite what we might enjoy telling ourselves, there is only trouble to be found in keeping those sugary, fatty temptations lying around.

But this is not always as simple as not having Costco-sized packs of Chips Ahoy sitting in the pantry.  We all have proclivities for different types of food, and it may not always be the prototypical “binge stash” food that sets you off.  Just as you make note of the pernicious thoughts running through your mind in that moment, it is important to realize which foods you constantly find yourself going for.

However, I have strategically placed this after my segment on thoughts.  While important, the specific foods themselves are often only the expression of deeper problems.  For some, in fact, getting rid of the food triggers they identify may prove inconsequential, as it is really the need to binge-consume something that is driving their decisions.  But for those for whom the issue is not quite as symptomatic of disordered eating, simply removing the problem foods could be a valuable step.

Next time

In Part 3, I will start with one final question that falls under this category of analyzing what went wrong.  I will also give a brief introduction to the next topic at hand, analyzing the actual diet itself.  Stay tuned!

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