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When it comes to nutrition choices, we hold all the power in our own hands. I’ll admit it, no one forced that peppermint latte on me this morning, it was all me. I made the choice, and my body has to deal with the consequences of that choice. Drinking a few lattes a week has become a bad habit. Sure, I love the 20 minutes I spend drinking the latte, but then I spend the rest of the day beating myself up over it. “Girl, you’re such a weak-willed flunkie!” So why do I continue to do it?
It can be quite a challenge to find the motivation to change bad habits, especially when it comes to food…oh-so-yummy and pleasurable-while-going-down food. I’m sure you can think of a few new habits you’d like to adopt, right? Maybe you want to lose a few pounds, or eat less refined sugar. You know what you need to do; it’s just a matter of gathering up the willpower to see it through.
And that’s the tricky part. Eating right is a total psychological power struggle. We’ve got habits we need to break, willpower we need to increase, and changes we need to introduce. If we are going to win this battle, to finally put ACTION behind our goals, we need help! Let’s look at two “mind tricks” that might help boost our self-control and activate our willpower.
“I Don’t Eat That”
Four powerful words. There’s research behind this one, so don’t roll your eyes at me just yet. Research published in the Journal of Consumer Research last year found that there is a dramatic difference between thinking “I don’t” and “I can’t”. Imagine you are at an RV campground that’s throwing an amazing BBQ dinner. The dinner was great, and now the servers are coming around with slices of chocolate cream pie. You see it, and think “I can’t eat that.” That’s sort of a wimpy thought when you think about it. It’s like you are trying to talk yourself out of it or already starting on the post-gorging guilt, because you know you’re about to succumb to the temptations of all that chocolatey goodness. Now, replace thinking, “I can’t eat that,” with “I don’t eat that.” Even better, announce it out loud! It seems like a subtle difference in language, but social psychologists will tell you that even small word tweaks like this can have significant effects on our thoughts and behavior. So! Next time you find yourself face to face with a tasty but terrible temptation, try saying, “I don’t eat that!” And remember your goals. Every good choice you make puts you a step closer to reaching them.
Distractions: Exercise, anyone?
Have you ever heard of the HALT acronym used by Alcoholics Anonymous? It also works well when it comes to changing our nutrition habits. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. So, when you start feeling yourself going for the fridge, you need to literally halt. Analyze why your hand is pulling on that fridge handle. Is it truly for hunger? If so, then press on, friend, and enjoy that apple. Or, could it be some other emotion…angry, lonely, tired, or even bored, driving you to the kitchen? It is easy to get our emotions mixed up with hunger, so it’s important to analyze our motivation behind eating. If you determine you truly aren’t hungry, then it’s time for a distraction. How about a little exercise?
Some research done at the University of Exeter in England tricked its test subjects. They were told they were engaging in a study solely about exercise. One group exercised for 15 minutes, then had to sit at a computer and answer questions. The other group did no exercise, but still had to sit at a computer and answer questions just like the exercisers. Next to each computer was a bowl of chocolates, a small gesture of appreciation for their time, or so the participants thought. Unbeknownst to the test subjects, each of the bowls of chocolates were weighed. Turns out the people who exercised ate significantly less chocolate than the ones who did not. Thank your endorphins for that. Exercise releases endorphins, which curbs our appetites and leaves us feeling contented. The moral of this study….when you’re feeling snacky, distract yourself with a little exercise. A 15 minute walk around the RV park will work wonders on your willpower!
Of course, there are plenty of other things you can do to distract yourself. Phone a friend, work in the garden, do a crossword puzzle, or simply get yourself busy. The HALT strategy is a great tool to help you identify whether or not it’s time for a distraction.
Bottom line, it is your choice. Because what you eat or don’t eat…well that’s all completely up to you. Getting to work on those goals can start right now, if you choose. Now you have two strategies you can use to get you on track. After all, it’s never too late to reach your potential.
Feel free to share any mental tricks that you use in the comments! What works for you?