As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Google nutrition advice and you’re likely to come across a host of articles advocating moderation spouting some kind of message like:
If you simply eat in moderation you can eat whatever you want.
I don’t know about you, but I see a fundamental flaw in this advice. Moderation begs the question, do you actually trust yourself enough to be able to moderate your nutrition intake? I think a critical first step to embarking on any change to your nutrition habits is asking yourself this question:
Do I trust myself enough to be able to eat a moderate amount of [enter any food] and feel content?
You may be thinking this is a somewhat loaded question, but let me take it a step further. We all know we have trigger foods, foods that when put in front of us turn us into full blown eating tornados, eating every last bite that is there (think Cookie Monster when a cookie is placed in front of him). We don’t really know why we have this reaction to certain foods, but we know exactly what is going to happen when we are exposed to these foods.
Now here is where camp moderation will tell you, just have a few bites and stop. After all, said food is not going extinct. You can always have more. This is what many will coin as having an abundance mindset, which, while I think is great advice philosophically speaking, because it’s true, food is abundant and not lacking, the problem is we tend to eat our favorite or trigger foods like they are going out of fashion, making having an abundance mindset the last thing on our mind. This behavior has become automatic in a sense. It’s likely we do not even realize how much we are consuming until we’ve eaten the whole darn thing. So why not moderation you may ask? I mean, wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could just have a few chips or cookies and stop? That’s a big resounding YES for me! But the reality is, certain foods hit the pleasure center of our brain like a shot of heroine into our vein; we don’t know why we need it other than it brings us immense pleasure. So how do we start to rewire this behavior and trust ourselves in the face of these trigger foods?
In all honesty, some very well disciplined people may do moderation extremely well. They are used to constant states of deprivation and learn to overcome their desire to conduct unhealthy behaviors quicker than the average bear. But in my experience, the percentage of people that are good at this skill is not very high. It requires a lot of brain power and, the highly illusive, self control, to succeed at moderation. And while I think moderation is a worthwhile goal to strive for, the more important task is to learn to trust yourself enough to get there. So what is the best way to gain more trust in yourself and rewire nutrition behaviors that are not serving you? Let’s break it down into a few easy to digest, practical steps.
Step 1. Abstaination – simply put, the easiest way to avoid consuming copious amounts of your trigger foods is to avoid them altogether. If it’s not in your kitchen you can’t eat it. If you don’t order it you can’t eat it. While this seems pretty drastic, I can speak from experience that it’s highly effective. Much more effective than try and just eat a little and stop. Try this for 3-4 weeks and see how you feel.
Step 2. Test Moderation – once you’ve had some time without consuming your specific trigger food(s), try having a little and stopping. Maybe 2 or 3 bites. If after those bites you feel like you can happily stop and like the trigger food no longer has power over you, congratulations you can safely move into the Moderation camp. However if you have a few bites and those few bites lead to you uncontrollably eating every last one in site, moderation may not be in the cards for you. But guess what, that is perfectly okay! I believe most people fall into the Abstaination camp than Moderation. And while you may be starting to head into a deep depression, thinking you can no longer eat your favorite foods, calm down for a minute and understand this is only data. This has lead you to discover something about yourself and you have the power to decide what you do with this new data you have gathered. If you decide that you have a moderation issue and still have goals to improve your health via nutrition, move onto Step 3. If you have determined you are a Moderator, you can stop right here and more power to you!
Step 3. Abstain most of the time, treat yourself some of time – as depressing as it may sound to have to abstain from certain foods most of the time, you gradually learn to embrace and accept this, as you start to physically and emotionally see the improvement it makes in your life. So why treat yourself some of the time if abstaining works so well for so many? Because I am a firm believer that too much restriction can drive a person crazy, literally. In order to prevent this possibility, and accept that there will be social situations that may put temptation right in front of you, give yourself the latitude to indulge in your trigger foods occasionally. Words of caution come with this advice, as some trigger foods have enormous ability to derail us completely from our health goals. If you know deep down that eating a certain food is going to open Pandora’s box, avoid it like the plague! No sense in destroying all your hard work and effort for one fleeting moment. Only you know what has the potential to set you down this path. So I’d urge you to simply listen to your gut. You know what you need to do and have learned to trust yourself enough to make the right decision for you. Don’t let peer pressure get the best of you either. If you know you need to say no, say no and make zero excuses for it.
I hope I have given you a little bit of hope and direction when it comes to learning to trust yourself more when it comes to your nutrition intake. Trust the process and know that the more you can learn about yourself, the more empowered your choices can be. And if you need extra guidance on how to better approach this process feel free to reach out and we can discuss a customized plan that will play to your unique strengths and weaknesses.
Stronger by trusting ourselves,