You want to eat healthily and lose weight. At a party, you’re offered a slice of delicious strawberry cheesecake. What do you do? What does your mental chatter sound like?
1) “I’ve been doing pretty good, I can have a treat every once in a while.”
2) “My diet has been awful today so I might as well just have that piece of cheesecake too and start over tomorrow.”
3) “I am going for a walk later so I’ll burn off those calories. I can afford to eat a slice now.”
4) “That cheesecake isn’t really that high in calories. It has protein and the fruit on top is good for me.”
5) “It looks delicious, but I will pass. I am more motivated to keep seeing progress in my weight loss goals and right now that is more appealing to me than eating a slice of cheesecake.”
There is a conflict.
You would love to have the cheesecake and you would love to lose weight.
This type of conflict is known as cognitive dissonance. It’s the tension we feel when we have two or more contradicting beliefs or values, or when we do something that doesn’t align with our goals, beliefs, or values.
Let’s examine each of these thought patterns:
“I’ve been doing pretty good, I can have a treat every once in a while.”
This seems very logical and balanced but there are a few potential pitfalls. The first one being the vagueness of “pretty good” and “once in a while.” Sure, eating healthy is important, but if your goal is weight loss you need to pay attention to portions and/or calories.
It’s possible to gain weight by over-eating healthy foods so if “pretty good” is a reference to quality without regard to the quantity you could easily be taking in more than you need and not even know it. Also, if you are not mindful of how often you allow yourself treats, you could easily think you are indulging “once in a while” when the truth is it’s more often than you think.
The Fix: Apply the 80/20 rule. If 80% of your meals are nutritious and the appropriate portion size then the cheesecake could fit into your 20%. When you are more intentional and deliberate with your treats you will find that a normal serving will usually satisfy you just fine.
“My diet has been awful today so I might as well have that piece of cheesecake too and start over tomorrow.”
Ugh. This one can be so damaging, not only to your waistline but to your self-esteem. It stems from perfectionism and you view eating something you deem as “bad” as meaning your entire day is shot.
It simply isn’t true.
Depending upon the kind of cheesecake, an average slice can be anywhere from 250 calories all the way up to 1,500 calories per slice (with the average being around 700 calories). It isn’t that terrible. Even if it was way more than you wanted to eat, it makes no rational sense to then ingest thousands of more calories and start over tomorrow.
The Fix: If you ate the cheesecake without guilt you could avoid the binge as well. Binging is only going to make you feel worse in the long-run.
If you decide to eat the treat you want, eat it slowly and enjoy every bite. Make the experience involve as many of your senses as possible and eat outside in nature if possible.
When you eat mindfully you get so much more pleasure from the experience. You’ll be better equipped to ward off a binge if you allow these types of experiences on occasion rather than sticking to a limited diet.
“I am going for a walk later so I’ll burn off those calories. I can afford to eat a slice now.”
This sounds logical as well, but the math doesn’t quite add up. Here is a chart showing how many calories are burned during different types of exercise. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-of-leisure-and-routine-activities
It would take around two to three hours of walking at a brisk pace to burn off about 700 calories!
The Fix: It isn’t a bad approach to do a bit more exercise when you know you’ll be eating heavier that day, occasionally, but as the saying goes:
“You can’t out train a bad diet.”
It’s not a foolproof, reliable approach. First of all, no one really wants to exercise after eating a big meal or heavy dessert. If anything, you want to sleep! It isn’t a good idea to try to make up for overeating by over-exercising. It will lead to frustration and obsession and is not an enjoyable way to live at all.
“That cheesecake isn’t really that high in calories. It has protein and the fruit on top is good for me. It’s better than the fried dough so it makes sense for me to order it.”
Ignoring or denying information that conflicts with an existing belief is another way we try to justify our actions. There might be a grain of truth to this statement but your selective attention could set you up for diet disaster if this is your go-to thought pattern.
The Fix: You can take pretty much any food and find something good about it nutrition-wise. You can always find something worse to compare it to as well.
Again if you find yourself making these types of comparative statements throughout your day and you are struggling with your weight or a health condition you might want to pay more attention to your diet.
Track exactly what – and how much – you are eating for three days (including at least one weekend day). Most of us are often surprised to find out that we are eating more sugar, fat, and calories than we assumed. Once you know the facts, set a goal to switch out some of those treats for fruit to help satisfy your sweet tooth.
“It looks delicious, but I will pass. I am more motivated to keep seeing progress in my weight loss goals and right now that is more appealing to me than eating a slice of cheesecake.”
Having laser focus on your goal is great. If you really don’t want to eat a slice of cheesecake at that moment it is fine to politely decline the offer.
The only danger is when you never allow yourself to have anything “not on your plan.”
You can become too rigid and restrictive that it leads to you binging after a period of time of being super strict. You don’t want to turn down party invitations or avoid get-togethers because you can’t eat anything that is being served because of your self-imposed diet rules.
The Fix: Adopt a flexible, mindful eating approach.
If you really want that cheesecake, have a slice and move on with your life. Continuous denial is going to set you up for a binge later on.
If you really honestly are not tempted by the cheesecake, don’t feel bad about not eating it. You have a right to say no, with no explanation needed.
One approach I’ve found helpful when eating dinner out (which isn’t too often) is to choose one area to indulge in: the appetizer, main course, dessert, or alcohol. I choose a normal-sized serving of one of these without any guilt.
I’ve probably had each of these types of thoughts about food in my life.
Nowadays I can honestly say I don’t believe in:
Rewarding myself with treats (by being “good” all week)
Punishing myself with extra workouts because I slipped up and ate something high in calories, sugar, or fat.
Having to justify why I eat anything
Eating something just because it’s there or because it is offered to me
Everything I eat is because:
I enjoy it
I enjoy how it makes me feel
I eat for energy and want to avoid feeling sluggish or weighed down
Can you relate to any of these 5 mental chatter scenarios? Share in the comments below!