In my last few posts I’ve been outlining some of the tools and skills Dr. Kessler suggests in his book about overeating. I talked about being mindful when the urge first enters your mind in response to cues, and how to grab that moment to lessen the temptation and turn away the obsessive food thought.
I also talked about how useful a buddy can be. Someone you can count on to lovingly give you extra accountability and support. This is something we often neglect out of shame and/or pride, sadly making our success less likely. No one is an island after all. We all have habits we wish to shake, and willpower alone is not going to cut it when it comes to dealing with conditioned hypereating.
Another tactic I’d like to share involves becoming aware of your triggers and reducing them.
One example is my habit of spending a lot of time in malls. Now that I can shop at all the clothing stores, malls are a wonderland for me! And malls involve walking, which burns calories. (Yay!) That means I’m going to need fuel if I hang out there too long. This can spell trouble without a back-up plan. Food fairs are almost an impossible place to find a healthy alternative. Smoothies seem healthy, but are full of sugar. And try finding a salad bar without tempting additions – like creamy dressings, croutons and protein sources pumped full of fat to keep them moist.
Since I know this can be a trigger I have to be prepared with my own healthy snacks; easy to pack things like almonds or protein bars (that are NOT simply candy bars with protein – read your labels!). I carry my trusty protein shake to sip on to keep hunger away, as well.
If the smells of the food fair are a trigger then the key is to find a little bench in another part of the mall in order to enjoy your food. (Have you ever noticed that washrooms are located in or near the food area? Sure, it makes sense to put them there, but mall designers also know that any excuse to get patrons near those tempting smells will draw them in, hungry or not.)
If that coffee shop that serves great donuts is on your way to work, then you can lower the temptation by finding another way to drive. It might be a nuisance at first but once you get that trigger under control you can resume that route using your renewed resistance. But why make things harder on yourself? Resisting triggers is hard enough without tempting yourself unnecessarily.
Another technique is to ban trigger foods from your home.
This is where the support of family comes in. While it may seem selfish to ban food you can’t eat that your family enjoys, consider this: Is that food any healthier for them? Can they access that food when they are out, or when you are not home? As long as that food is not in your sight, as long as that food remains hidden to you, it’s as good as not there. I realize this is a difficult issue for most of us but it’s worth doing as much of this as you can.
Plan your meals and buy only the groceries you need for those healthy meals. Try as much as possible to enlist the family in a healthy eating goal. After awhile the routine you build will help you resist that urge to buy those trigger foods when you are shopping. You might think this is unfair to everyone else but remember they are being conditioned to hypereat as well, and people increase their chances of success at almost anything by using teamwork.
Torturing yourself at night while your family devours a bag of chips and dips is not going to build willpower or earn you martyr points. Explain to your family that this is something they are doing to help everyone live a longer healthier life. What family wants to watch their loves ones die from something so preventable as obesity? The more we talk about these challenges and share them the more likely we are to experience success.
It’s important to use mindfulness to start identifying triggers, and then to create strategies in order to lessen your exposure to them. Remember, it’s not about pure willpower overcoming bad habits. Dealing with conditioned hypereating is about re-wiring your brain’s reward system, about breaking the loop of trigger-urge-reward. Our brains can be very resistant to breaking this conditioning so any tools that help are well worth embracing.
I’ve been adopting many of Dr. Kessler’s techniques as I read his book, and they’ve helped me stay on track for over a month now. It’s not always been easy, but it’s been a success. I’m not foolish enough to think I’ve won, however. I know this is an ongoing battle, but maintaining health IS a daily battle for everyone, whether it involves hanging on to bad habits like smoking, or procrastinating on good habits like exercise or brushing your teeth.
Our bodies are the houses of our consciousness, and we have to maintain them throughout our lives. We don’t get to sell them and move on to a newer model once we’ve trashed them.
That’s a fact that we just can’t deny.
Next post I’ll talk about more strategies, like portion control, and re-wiring the reward system.