How to stop screwing up on your diet (Part 8)
By Ari Snaevarsson, Features Editor
Readers will recall we left off last week with a discussion on some potentially workable ideas for dealing with the difficulties of dieting. What I will propose in this week’s article, which marks the last segment of things you should do, is a method that you might not expect to go hand-in-hand with mindfulness. That is, I will posit, substantiate, and explain that there is a well-established place for ceasing to brood over food, while still maintaining that a mindful look inward is a crucial component to making this sustainable in the long run.
STOP thinking about it… Wait, what?
Another idea, seemingly contrary to everything I have just stated, is to stop thinking about it. I know, much easier said than done. But sometimes, especially when the cravings get to the point of “there is absolutely no way I am not going to buy a box of donuts and have a field day,” switching your focus can be just what the doctor ordered.
While I still hold that employing mindfulness and CBT tactics can be instrumental in creating a long-term paradigm shift and rewiring of thought patterns, this is not always viable in dire situations. To make an analogy: I advocate for healthy eating and healthy stress management, sleep, etc. as some of the best ways to increase energy levels, but I would be a fool to say there are not times when a large coffee with two or eight shots of espresso is called for.
Move onto the next task
So in these “emergency” situations – or in all tempting situations, if you find you are one of the people who fares well using this approach – make a concerted effort to move onto the next task at hand. This is not easy, and fully habituating to it will take time, but the results will pay off tenfold. It is the low-grade, chronic stream of self-defeating and otherwise unhealthy thoughts that make adherence so difficult most of the time, true. However, these acute frenzies possess the wherewithal to throw a week of productive dietary mindsets and healthy lifestyle habits out the window and launch you into the same old trap, or worse yet, an all-out binge.
Do not allow yourself to sit and think on whether or not you should make that trip to the vending machine. This is a lose-lose situation, because either you do end up giving in, or you are able to move past it. But by this point you have been weighing out the possibilities and visualizing the act for so long that you make this decision an unnecessarily difficult one and will be less likely to make the right decision again next time this happens.
It is not hunger that is making you hungry
Realize that for most people, it is not the physical sensation of hunger that is driving these “diet slips” (unless you are heavily dieted down, as in the case of preparation for a physique contest). It is instead a combination of expected norms at odds with your personal goals and the rumination of unhealthy thoughts.
Take the example of two students preparing for a final exam. One’s study routine consists of a trip to the library where he or she sits down, looks over all that has to be done, freaking out about the amount of work left, weighing out the benefits of studying versus going back home and calling it a day, and then finally starting to study. The other student sits down, sees how much work needs to be done, starts to get stressed, but immediately blocks it out and begins on the task at hand.
While both students may get the job done, and may even receive similar grades on the exam, the latter will be far better off in terms of creating lasting study habits that work. The first student will set a dangerous precedent where subsequent study sessions, in any class, become unnecessarily daunting tasks marked by that same degree of pressure and agony. Soon the brain links the act of studying with the feeling of despair, which is obviously a terrible thought pattern.
In short: Most of the time, you should be working on building healthy thought patterns that are conducive to long term adherence. This might require a combination of mindful and cognitive-behavioral exercises. Some of the time, however, you will find yourself in an “emergency” situation where these may no longer be viable options. In such a situation, you would be well advised to block out any sort of thinking and simply move onto the next task.
In the next article, we will transition into the topic of what not to do. There was strategic placement in structuring this series in such an order; I want to emphasize the importance of inclusion, versus exclusion, in any sort of diet you adopt. It is unproductive to strip your body of the one thing it craves, fail to replace the stimulus, and then expect to maintain this for any appreciable amount of time. Stick with me because we are almost there!