It was a Friday morning—or maybe a Tuesday or Sunday; the particular day doesn’t really matter because this demoralizing situation was a recurring one. My mood and energy were low to begin with, which, as you may know, is a perfect circumstance for that perpetually hungry brain to take a shot at finagling yet another gustatory pleasure. And sure enough, my mind began serving up visions of all things chocolate. You’ll feel sooo much better if you eat just a little, it insisted. And I won’t stop bothering you anyway until you do! (At least my internal evil doer is honest—sometimes).
Make use of memory and imagination
Happily, having encountered this very same state of affairs on numerous occasions, I was armed and ready to fight back! Via my power of imagination (a tool always at my disposal), I pictured myself succumbing to the craving, holding a double-dipped chocolate malted milk ball in my mouth, feeling the smoothness, the meltiness, the sweetness. The supreme pleasure of an itch scratched.
But I didn’t stop there (where people usually stop when contemplating a breech in dietary protocol). I saw this fantasy all the way through the all-too-brief pleasure which was quickly replaced by a contrite emptiness and the thought, Well, the party's over. Now what?
Continuing my visualization, I could see that by twilight, I’d be feeling fat and bloated and having accomplished nothing for the day because I’d allowed myself to be lost, yet again, in an all-encompassing food fog.
That brief interlude down memory lane was all I needed to bypass the irksome craving, and I moved on to my to-do list for the day. When lunch came around, and I was hungry for the World’s Biggest Salad, I was so happy I didn’t eat a bunch of chocolate earlier!
Make Use of Your Failures
Another trick for your thin-for-life toolbox is recalling a situation in which you gave in to an eating urge. Imagine yourself succumbing to the desire followed by the cascade of events or feelings that might follow. For instance, does gnoshing a donut usually turn into several donuts followed by a sense of failure? Or maybe the donut’s not quite right without a Starbuck’s Frappacino? Perhaps after you eat something junky, you just feel really crappy—hopeless, fat, etc. Allow yourself to see the entire aftermath of eating off your plan—not just how enjoyable it would be. Remind yourself of the brevity of the pleasure—it’s pretty short-lived—while the consequences are much longer lasting.
Make use of past failures to create present successes!
Feeling bad can be good
One important caveat here, though, is that you have to allow yourself to feel bad when you do overeat or fall off your food plan. It’s ok to feel a little remorse when your behavior isn’t goal-directed—guilt and regret are emotions that help keep our behavior in line because we don’t like feeling them. They motivate us to live a valued life.
So don’t do like my boyfriend. When he has a bad food day, he shrugs it off with an I-don’t-care attitude, which makes it easier for him to repeat those eating habits in the future. I, on the other hand, never failed to wallow (perhaps a bit too much) in my overstuffed, sugar-crashing misery. In part, that was because I found it very difficult to get my mind off food once I got into it. But now I see the value in a little wallowing because it puts a bad taste in my mouth that I can recall later when I’m considering a replay of bad eating behavior.
Bring to mind a recent situation in which you surrendered to a craving despite your intention to eat well that day. How did you feel afterwards? How did it affect your dietary choices for the rest of the day or week?
Sometime in the next 24 hours, I want you to put the aftermath technique to the test. When that perfidious brain of yours presents you with an offer you can’t refuse, imagine yourself acquiescing, from start to finish—the brief pleasure of eating all the way through to the protracted hangover afterwards. Don’t just tell yourself, I know I shouldn’t eat this. That never works to stop bad eating. It only takes a few seconds to imagine the true aftermath of your behaviors, so try it soon and start reaping the rewards of nutrient-rich eating.