How to stop screwing up on your diet (Part 7)
By Ari Snaevarsson, Features Editor
Where I left things last time was an introduction into the next section of this series, namely actual diet changes. Some might read this and think the fact that it took seven installations to get to the actual recommendations for dietary interventions signifies my inability to get to the point in my articles. While it is true that brevity is my downfall in writing, I assure you this was entirely intentional. I cannot emphasize strongly enough the relative unimportance of changes to the diet itself, assuming you are not trying to follow a blatantly terrible diet that is fueling your relapses.
Some workable ideas
As mentioned earlier, my go-to when it comes down to the wire, and I am in a situation where an intense craving pops up (maybe in an instance when you are around food) would be to challenge the voices. Rather than allowing the voice that says, “Go ahead, treat yourself” to win without putting up a fight, it is imperative to stop yourself and really hone in on what is happening. Is it that you are physically incapable of stopping yourself from eating, or is this just the byproduct of a nagging line of habitual thought? Hint: You are physically capable of not eating.
Challenging this voice can even be accomplished by speaking out loud, although this has its limitations, as it is obviously not advisable while in public. But if you are alone in your room with snacks nearby, for example, verbal positive affirmations can go a long way. I have found that, just as the act of verbally communicating your problem can make things better in its own right, so too can a phrase like “I am stronger than this” said aloud. This almost makes the affirmation more “binding,” in a sense, not letting the thought of giving in fester in your mind and become the start of a regrettable decision.
This ties into the next concept I will address, namely a content-to-process shift. I picked this term up over the summer from a documentary on the topic, and it applies perfectly to this. Essentially, it describes the active switching of your focus from the “content” you perceive to the “processes.” For example, when caught in this decisive moment, you might shift your focus from the fact that you “really want food” and “have to eat something” to the sensory processes at play: the subtle physical symptoms you might be noticing (palms sweating, weak knees, Mom’s spaghetti, etc.), the feeling of being grounded and the points of contact you are making with the floor, or why your mind is bringing on this urge (which brings us back to all the points made earlier).
The umbrella term for basically all of these concepts would be “mindfulness,” something I preach heavily when talking to people who do not know how to stick with a diet. Mindfulness in its essence imparts a forgiving attitude of self-appreciation. It holds that enjoying this present moment is a far more productive use of your time than over analyzing the past or worrying about the future. I find that the concepts I have learned from spending some time each day practicing some type of mind-body relaxation carry over into nearly every facet of life.
Diet is no exception. Hand-in-hand with everything else discussed so far, practicing mindfulness every day in some form should allow you to reside in those moments of temptation, so that you may take a more caring look at your deeper processes. Stop and breathe, imagining that breath going to some body part and then really tuning into the sensations that come up.
And if it has already happened, then use mindfulness to acknowledge the circumstance, sincerely forgive yourself, understand that there is nothing that can be done now and worrying will only exacerbate the issue, and then “return to the breath.” In meditation, this means recognizing you have let your “thinking mind” take over and then literally returning to concentrating on your breath, without judgment. In this way, you aim to return to whatever it is you have deviated from without harshly judging yourself. While the sentiment stands, I reject the expression “You are your own worst enemy” on the basis that this does not have to be the case. On the contrary, with a little bit of practice, you can (and rightly should) be your own best advocate.
What about food hacks?
Some of the more superficial, although not necessarily inconsequential, strategies include chewing sugar free gum or drinking some carbonated beverage. There is some evidence that artificial sweeteners may increase appetite by not providing the level of nourishment our brains expect from such a high degree of sweetness, but there is nothing inherently unhealthy about them in their own right.
In next week’s article, I will move onto the tactic of not thinking about it. Believe it or not, mindfulness does include some level of not thinking about things, which I will explain. Then we can progress to discussion of what not to do when you have screwed up on your diet or fear you soon may. Stay tuned!