Eat the right thing
November 2, 2016 11:05 PM   Subscribe

What specifically do you tell yourself to successfully override food or alcohol (or other) cravings, drives towards emotional eating, temptation, etc.?

Let's say there are two groups of people. One group has no problem acting in their own best interest when it comes to health because it's the rationally correct thing to do. For instance, my friend decided to go low carb/no sugar and seems to follow this decision without any issue because, well, it's her decision and she wants to do this, so why shouldn't she.
On the other extreme, my relative has diabetes and extremely poor health made worse by food choices that her body can't handle. Nonetheless she seems almost every day to eat candy, cake, white bread, and Doritos. Each time she says something that expresses denial, like "It's normal to have dessert" or "people do this all the time, what's the big deal."
I am looking for examples from the middle -- people who DO have the denial voice in their head but override it successfully more often than not. What do you say to yourself?
NOTE: I am not looking for actual physical diet-based advice such as "eat enough fat and calories so you don't have cravings." Or "Never eat any sugar and cravings go away." Rather, I'm looking for habits of thought/self talk.
Assume that this advice is for people who know the best ways to eat but still have unconscious or automatic self-sabotaging impulses. Or that some people will want to eat the Halloween candy even after they've had enough fat and protein and calories for the day, even after they've made a decision not to eat candy, or eat more than one piece of it, or whatever.
What specifically do you say to yourself that guides you back to your rational, self-caring, disciplined food (or alcohol, or tobacco) decisions, and overrides the more primitive drives and habits of denial?
posted by flourpot to Health & Fitness (45 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
The only way I ever succeed at self control of this sort is to have a rule I can apply with zero wiggle room. No high fructose corn syrup! No dairy! No alcohol! That kind of thing. I'm terrible at making any sort of judgment call in the moment of temptation. "Minimize carbs" was impossible for me. Ultimately if I knew a little bit of sugar was okay I'd always end up just eating whatever it was I wanted.

Given the popularity of uber strict diets with clear rules and restrictions, I suspect this is super common.
posted by potrzebie at 11:30 PM on November 2, 2016 [9 favorites]

I have a bunch of strongly flavoured sugar-free pastilles in my drawer and I eat one or two of those when I have the cravings. The combination of strong flavour and chewy-ness seems to be enough to trick my brain for a while. I also know that if I eat more than say 4-5 a day then I have consequences, so that helps stop it spiraling out of control. I also drink a lot of water since often I'm just thirsty rather than hungry anyway.

The self talk, it does nothing. I spend all day not eating something then eventually either give in or give up and end up eating just as much un-needed sugar or whatever as I originally wanted to anyway. So then I get some hours of feeling grumpy and the extra sugar, instead of just going straight for the sugar. I need some way of physically divert myself, and since chewing gum makes my stomach hurt, Läkerol does the job.
posted by shelleycat at 11:37 PM on November 2, 2016

Oh also, when I'm exercising regularly and getting enough sleep my metabolism seems to even out and the cravings calm down a lot. Feeling rested also makes my will power go up so the end result is much less pointless snacking. So again, it's a physical thing rather than relying on my treacherous brain.
posted by shelleycat at 11:42 PM on November 2, 2016 [6 favorites]

Even though it might look like a simple difference in will power from the outside, I think it's usually not. Speaking as someone whose probably been both of those people at different times, I think it is down to an interplay between habits- both in terms of what you eat and how you use food- and self confidence in your ability to follow through. Basically, when food has taken a back seat in my life I've found it easier to ignore cravings, largely, but when I'm feeling awful about myself/body/ability to do diets, it's been much harder. Thus, as a teen, I was not very good at saying no, but as I've gotten older/more busy/less self conscious I've also developed better confidence in my ability to just stick to a plan. Which is kind of paradoxical because being on a diet does, ime, require letting your diet dictate your plans for a period of time, but it's more about the amount of emotional space it takes us that is key.

Also I've found methods that work for me after a lot of practice, so that helps too.
posted by jojobobo at 12:01 AM on November 3, 2016

So, just a little while ago, I was driving home from a thing and thought, "You know, I could stop for late night taco bell or fries or something..."

And then I told myself, "There's really nothing on the way, besides, you're not even hungry."

Then it turned out I was wrong, and I drove past a Carl's Jr. I don't even like Carls Jr, so it was pretty easy to tell myself, "You don't even like Carl's Jr. Besides, you can have a whiskey when you get home."

This obviously won't work if you already have the junk food right in your house, or it's a meal time, or if you are really hungry and really like the thing. But subbing with something else that is OK is probably a solid idea. For example shelleycat's sugar-free pastille idea, or my whiskey, or perhaps replacing taco bell with a sandwich or carrot sticks.
posted by Sara C. at 12:02 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Meal plans seem to help: then it's not like 'no snacking!' but more like 'just wait 30 minutes more and then you can have that scheduled snack that won't be bad for you'.
posted by Skyanth at 12:15 AM on November 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I only started losing weight when I started thinking long-term. I tell myself that I'm going to have to live with person who eats this (ie: who is overweight/unhealthy). A year from now (or ten), do I want to be fat with high blood pressure and low energy?

On top of that I tell myself to be real about how much I'm really depriving myself by skipping the garbage. I'm not even hungry right now, so I won't go hungry if I skip this crap. Tomorrow I'll barely remember the craving. A year from now I certainly won't remember depriving myself of a bag of chips—or eating it! But I'll certainly know how fit I am, and I'll either be happier or miserable because of it.

The answer is always clear and obvious and it's easy to repeat it until I manage to distract myself enough to forget about my craving. (Which is also an important part of this. TV/Internet/games are poor distractions for this. Physical activity of any kind is much better.)
posted by Ookseer at 12:15 AM on November 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

I do this sort of ridiculous thing where I self-congratulate when parts of my body succeed. Like, "Good job ankle, way to stick it out on that last wobbly step, I felt the wiggle there, you kept us stable!" Or "Good job brain, way to be the boss of mouth in the face of a delicious office treat - thanks, brain."
posted by samthemander at 12:48 AM on November 3, 2016 [32 favorites]

I am constantly learning and relearning this. Much like potrzebie, I need all-or-nothing rules. I have done a couple of Whole30s and find them really helpful for "resetting" whatever bad habits I've established. I am currently on Day 11 of my third Whole30 (with a number of failed Whole30s to add to the two full ones I've already done). One of the reasons I decided to do it this time was because I'd gone from "beer and a burger" once a week to "three beers with dinner, dining out super heavy foods every other night" and it was starting to make me feel really gross.

And that's the thing. Eating like shit makes me feel GROSS. Especially if I do it for a couple of weeks/months at a time. But I have a *really* hard time with reconciling the instant gratification part of my brain with the future-thinking part of my brain. Like, I'll be all "This personal pan pizza is gonna taste sooooooo good right now" without rememebring that in four hours I need to go to a yoga class and I'll feel nearly sick from being so stuffed.

When I did my first Whole30 I realized a lot of my cravings were wrapped around habits. For example, I really like to go to art museums, and it's sort of a tradition of mine to have a glass of processo at the museum cafe after I've walked around. Now when I go to a museum I have pretty much a Pavlovian craving for prosecco. When I'm not drinking I try to combat that with sparkling water or something. Also, when I used to run errands I would always stop and gas up my car first, and get a Coke at the gas station. It was weird the day I realized that the only reason I was craving a Coke was because I was out running errands, and my brain just associated those two things together. Whole30 is really big on being an N=1 experiment, and I think that's a big part of what you might refer to as self-talk, which is examining the WHY behind our bad habits and patterns. This was eye-opening to me.

The science and methodology of Whole30 (and I'm really not trying to espouse this program, I just know that it *really* works for me) is really sound too. When I'm eating this way (getting enough protein and fat) I truly am not HANGRY all the time. And when I do get hungry, it doesn't feel like an emergency. Also, they are serious about cutting out added sugar to help cure sugar cravings. I don't have a sweet tooth at all — I prefer salty treats — but last week I had a dinner in which the fish sauce had sugar as an ingredient. The whole next day all I wanted was something sweet to eat or drink. Your brain gets wired to crave those highly-satisfying foods. (The book Salt Sugar Fat talks a lot about this.) Which is why cutting them out entireley for a duration helps to "reset" those cravings.

Thirty days seems like a long time, and on Day 1 it can seem nearly insurmountable. But regarding self-talk, the thing that works best for me when I want nachoes or a Coke or something is to tell myself "Just make it through today. Tomorrow you can have that." Pretty soon it's Day 11 and I'm 1/3 of the way through the program and invested enough in it now that I don't want to break my "one day at a time" streak.
posted by Brittanie at 1:36 AM on November 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

I ask myself "Do I want this more than I want to be at my target weight?" Usually the answer is "Actually no" and I can leave it, and if the answer is "Hell yes!" then I have it. But these days it's usually no because, a bit like Sara C. mentions, when you take a minute to really think about it you might realise it's not really as appealing as at first glance. Note that this is my aim and not necessarily for everyone. "Do I want this more than to be healthy/feel good/have this money to spend on something else" etc would all work if the person really does want that alternative. I have lost a lot of weight in the last year and a bit following a plan where I eat healthily most of the time and have some sweets/chocolate every day. I can't do restrictive diets where certain foods are totally off limits because eventually I rebel and eat ALL THE THINGS. And that's the thing I think I've realised - everyone's boundary needs are different.

What I'm doing works for me but maybe your relative needs something different. And I do believe that comfort food is addictive and like all addictions there is a root cause and finding that out is more helpful than any mantras or diet advice. It's called comfort food for a reason. If you feel unworthy, for example, then the answer to "Do I want these Doritos more than I want to manage my diabetes?" might actually be "Yes because I'm useless and I don't deserve to be healthy and I'm sad and they make me feel better" you know? Self-talk aside I had to be in a better place emotionally before I was able to deal with a huge change in my eating habits. And don't underestimate how much someone lecturing you can make you dig your heels in when it comes to what you put in your own body. It's great that you're concerned but please don't tell them "all you have to do is try X" because when it was me it just made me feel even more shitty mixed with defiance which equals eating more crap. Support people when they ask for it but other than that I'd respect their right to make their own choices.
posted by billiebee at 2:06 AM on November 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

eating before going shopping honestly works for me. makes me more easily resist buying junk food i don't need. and once it's not bought, it can't be eaten when i'm back home.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:11 AM on November 3, 2016

I make the choice not to buy the things I will eat impulsively while I'm in the grocery store. That way when I feel the craving to eat it, it's not available, and I have to eat something else.

I'm a little different than your relative since I don't have a health problem I need to manage by being strict with my diet. I will still eat candy, drink soda, and eat chips. And I will occasionally binge on something, but I don't worry too much about it. I am very against (for me) all-or-nothing rules about my diet, which I know is not an option for everyone.

I just don't make it a habit to buy these things in large amounts, so my overall consumption of them is low. If they re in my apartment, I will eat them, but it is much easier to resist in the grocery store when I have lofty plans for what my meals will be that week.

I also drink a lot of (unsweetened) green tea because I am a boredom eater / drinker. I don't use this to "replace" a craving, that never works, but if I have a cup of tea already it's a lot easier to put off the candy.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:44 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

The most resistance I have ever, ever had was when I had this totally wicked Ashtanga yoga practice going. I could be standing at the check-out line at the local grocery, and there they'd be, The Spawn Of Satan -- dark chocolate Snickers bars. Right there! Right next to me! When I was totally into that practice, I wouldn't even flinch, I'd be all "Oh, look at that -- The Spawn Of Satan." and then I'd turn away, not even an inkling of a wanting. And that carried over to *all* shit food. It was actually quite amazing.

I injured myself, pushing my body past where it could go. I healed from that injury, and did the exact same goddamn thing. And then my yoga master, the one person I was willing to work with, he moved out of town. I kept the practice going for a while, and have a few times gotten back into it deeply, but never for long. And all the goddamned cravings came right on back.

Now I'm on this kick where I'm riding my mountain bike, at least 11 miles every day. Today was Day 254, consecutive, not missed on day -- rain or shine or heat or whatever else, I'm getting that ride in. I've shed all of the fat back off that I'd put on after my inability to hold to Ashtanga, and I'm in great shape -- my cardiologist was literally shaking his head as he compared my cholesterol number from my blood last year to what they are now. Even still, it's not *as* foolproof as the Ashtanga practice was, which truly was some sort of voodoo or some shit.

Most people won't commit to a physical regimen though, and honestly, it is easier for me because I have time to spare. But it's *not* just food causing them their problem I'd bet; I bet they're not moving. Myself, I love riding that bike so much, and I love what it's given me so much, and I'm actually sortof dazzled by the streak I've got going also, and very stubborn, and intend to keep on doing it. It's my sport. It's my fun activity.* Walking is a real wrist-slitter for me -- I come home tired and unhappy. Running is great, I get to go to Disneyland within the first half mile or so but it's pounded my knees and spine to bits, and I can't do it any more, and won't. But the bicycle thing, it's just a gas.
*I have had two wrecks, one completely Not My Fault and I went down HARD on fkn concrete and tore my elbow up, tore my hip up, tore up my left leg. My elbow needed stitches but I was pretty sure they'd have wanted to take a picture and see if it was broken, they'd put a stupid cast on it if it was broken, and then I'd just have to cut the cast off so I could keep my consecutive streak going. So I didn't get the stitches I needed, and it took twice or three times as long to heal as it otherwise would have. The other bike wreck was nothing much, I was climbing on a diagonal and got south-ways and went down but it was in dirt and rocks, not that big a deal.

Tell your relative to get a move on. To find their sport, and then hold to it. One of my best friends has mocked me for *years* about my diet, and how much he just *loves* bacon and eggs and biscuits and gravy and ice cream out the wazoo and everything fried and greazy and tasty as hell but damn, it's not for me; I really do work at being a citizen, taking care of my diet. Two weeks ago he has this nasty heart attack, got to the hospital before he died, the popped a stent in, and now he's like the Mary Poppins of eating well, listens closely when I tell him what I eat, and what I don't eat.

Don't bring shit food in the house. Don't eat shit food when you're out and about, or don't do it often anyways. Drink your coffee or tea black, and if you don't like that then you're going to have to teach yourself to like it. Sodas are shit, HFCS is Spawn Of Satan, dark chocolate is Spawn of Satan, etc and etc ....
posted by dancestoblue at 3:04 AM on November 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

Making good food decisions definitely does NOT come naturally to me. I have to use a lot of different self talk strategies to convince myself to do the right thing, and it still doesn't work a lot of the time.

I also find that a hard and fast rule is the easiest to comply with, for example in a program like the Whole30. Then I'll see something I shouldn't eat (let's say a spread of free pastries at a meeting or a party feast of cake and cookies) and instead of trying to negotiate with myself which item I should be allowed to eat or how much, I just say to myself "no, all of that is absolutely off limits. Stick to the plan, achieve your goals, don't let yourself down", that type of thing. If telling myself it's off limits isn't helping and I'm still thinking about eating the wrong things, I think about whatever my diet accountability plan is. Usually telling people I know, social media etc that I am on a diet plan. If there isn't anyone around who knows that I'm on a diet or if I haven't told me family and friends lately, I'll press myself to somehow blurt out "I'm on a low carb diet." or "I'm trying to eat healthy" to someone nearby. This serves as a reminder to myself of what I'm supposed to be doing, and after that I can say to myself "look, you can't eat that cake/cookie/pastry, you just told Friend/Relative that you are eating healthy/eating low carb and what will that person think?" I'm sure that person would probably just think I'm a normal human being who has trouble facing down a plate of desserts, but for whatever reason when I'm desperate, it's much more helpful to me to think about how others would look down on me for failing than how I'd be disappointed in myself for not achieving my goals.

When I'm trying to do maintenance instead of a diet, I struggle more. I try to continually remind myself to eat a healthy option first. For whatever reason it helps me to think that maybe I could eat something unhealthy later, or maybe tomorrow, or maybe next week, I'll definitely eat that really unhealthy thing, but today, right now, this moment, I won't do it. And if I tell myself "just drink this giant bottle of water first and then consider it again" or "just eat this salad first and then come back to it", that can help me fill up a little bit and make it easier to control impulses than it would have been if I was still starving. Regular exercise helps a lot too because then I can say "would eating this miniature chocolate bar really be great enough to justify undoing all the hard work I just did? No! I can't waste all my hard work by eating something bad now."

Generally, if I find my mind drifting to junk food or things I'm constantly craving like macaroni and cheese, I try to repeat to myself things like "Sugar is poison. It tastes good but it's horrible to put into my body." and/or "Sugar could give me dementia some day! That's not worth it!" Or I go step on the scale and either say "self, you've got to make the right choice here or you'll never reach your goal weight." or "self, you can't eat that candy now, you've finally reached your goal weight and if you throw caution to the wind, you'll be up 5 lbs in no time, wondering how in the world this happened...."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:59 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I ask myself "How will I feel after I eat/drink this?"

It helps me apply the lessons from past experiences where I overate (or ate too much sugar/junk) and felt nauseated, or had one drink too many and felt dizzy and sick. It lets me think longer-term than just "Oh, that will taste good right now."

I'll now often say "That craft beer sounds delicious, but I know I would regret having another drink, so no thanks." Or "That homemade cupcake was delicious, but I know I'll be on sugar overload if I have another, so no thanks." Or even (not out loud, to avoid offending whoever brought them) "Those store-bought cupcakes always just taste sad and disappointing, and all the sugar makes me feel ill" and then (out loud) "Oh, no thank you."
posted by snowmentality at 4:56 AM on November 3, 2016 [16 favorites]

I am going to nth that planning is the key. Have one or two really healthy options for breakfast ans get in the habit if eating them. Pack yourself a healthy lunch for the next day with a couple servings of fruit right after dinner when you're not hungry. Fill your cart with fixings for 4 or 5 healthy dinners when you're at the grocery. Only put in a couple dessert items and unhealthy dinner options.

I have to go out of my way to eat unhealthy. Laziness leads to eating really healthy, although I'll admit, there's no quick take out on my regular route. With this method, you really only need willpower at the grocery.
posted by Kalmya at 5:36 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I was an obese child. I was obese up through high school. I was miserable and needed to change. Learning the right ways to eat is, of course, key. Just as important, though, is learning to tell yourself "No." It's an amazingly hard thing to learn in our instant-gratification culture, but it's something you simply must learn to do.

Tell yourself "No."
posted by Thorzdad at 5:39 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is kind of dumb, but it helps me with food cravings. When I'm dying for cheese or chocolate or ice cream, I try to picture a big plate of celery instead. I tell myself, "if you're not hungry enough to eat all that celery, you're not really hungry."
posted by galvanized unicorn at 5:41 AM on November 3, 2016 [9 favorites]

This is very silly but I say (often out loud) "Mizu, you are a a strong, independent woman who can make her own choices!" in jokingly strident tone. This applies to both situations: when I want a little motivation for the healthy choice as well as when I decide to have something junky and want to release some guilt.

I also am regularly thinking about how my food choices will make me feel after I've eaten them. For example right now it is getting pretty cold and I found out that my heating is broken and we have to replace the whole shebang so I will be cold at home for about a week. This means my brain is going to rich beef stew, loaded potatoes, big bowls of steaming pho, homemade hot chocolate, French toast and crispy bacon. But I know that if I eat all those kinds of things this week I will feel like crap afterwards. Taken individually they are all good to have, but in a chunk like that it will mess me up. So I know to be more careful about my snack choices and shopping choices so I will have lighter options to hand. And when I feel cold and want to turn to food to help with that, I can decide to put on squishy socks or take a hot bath instead, because I'm aware of where the urges are coming from.
posted by Mizu at 5:55 AM on November 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

For me, what works is external accountability. I strongly believe that this is a relic of public schooling: external validation for reaching a goal. Awareness of where this comes from hasn't allowed me (yet) to override it. So I signed up with my doctor's office for weigh-ins and monitoring a food log. Mostly, they don't even look at the log. But I won't keep it accurately for myself. Knowing my doc will be spot-checking my homework? That keeps me on the straight and narrow.

For most things, I'm able to let the process be the reward. I'm aware of myself enough to know that it doesn't work with food. Too many instinctive and societal things to overcome it on my own. Asking for supervision doesn't mean I'm weak; it means I know myself and where I need structure.

It's also very true that anyone non-medical getting judgey about my food/weight sets me off on a defiant binge-eating streak. So I avoid such discussions, or cut them off if I can.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 6:04 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have a plan, and measure. I'm not great at self-discipline, but managed to lose about a stone (14lbs) earlier this year by signing up to an online weight-loss thing that gave me a specific amount I could eat each day/week, and a way of logging what I ate against those totals.

It works for me because it takes the decision away. It's not down to you to decide - want some chocolate? Do you have enough spare calories this week? If so, go for it, if not have some fruit.
posted by penguin pie at 6:07 AM on November 3, 2016

I don't know it's about my self-talk so much as the base level understandings that drive behavior. I understand on a basic level that foods close to their natural state are better for me than foods that are factory products designed to stimulate on the sensory level and have poor nutritional values. So, on a basic level, I am telling myself that crap foods are exactly that and whole foods are delicious and inviting. The tags and associations I make to whole foods I see in my refrigerator and on my shelves say they are delicious and inviting and they do taste great.
I have a base level understanding that I am eating to feed a farm inside me that is what really feeds my body. If I do a poor job managing that farm's output by feeding it low quality inputs, the whole organism suffers.
I also understand that the nature of what I eat drives what I want. The more sugary crap I eat, the more I want it. So by choosing whole foods in the store I tend to fill my shelves with foods that taste wonderful but only in the context of eating other foods that promote that experience. Translation: eating sugary crap kills your taste buds' sensitivity to the orchestra that is a whole food.
posted by diode at 6:08 AM on November 3, 2016

For me it's all about having the right things on hand in easy and ready to eat portions.

It's easy to eat Doritos because the energy required to go from an "I'm hungry" thought to feeding the hunger is low. Open a bag, start munching.

So I make sure I don't buy Doritos. Or anything else that's high in calories and low in nutrition. (Pasta, bread, etc) I try to keep the fridge and pantry stocked with high protein, low sugar items - like cheese.
posted by INFJ at 6:09 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Alcohol and simple carbohydrates are in a special category for me where if I have any, it sets up a horrendous craving. I have to think of it like an allergy. I suspect that someone like the relative you describe is in a similar position. It's hard because sugar and carbs really make you feel good for a while, much different from other kinds of indulgent foods. So you have to have an incentive to say no, and often you only discover it after you try abstaining for a while and realize how bad the stuff is actually making you feel.
posted by BibiRose at 6:15 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I want dairy, I remind myself that eating dairy for me = 3-4 days of bad muscle and joint pain, and often an emotional meltdown as well.

When I want wheat/bread I remind myself that it makes me feel tired and means I have more headaches and more migraines.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 6:18 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

In order to find the magic sentences, I think it's important to consider origins. "Everyone else does it" is a sentence I use myself, and I'm a type 2 diabetic. It's doesn't feel like denial when I use it. It feels like frustration. The world is not really designed for low carbohydrate eating. While a certain type of mindset can make grocery shopping and finding food while on the run an adventure, those tasks can also be very time-consuming and/or depressing. They're a reminder that what's considered harmless and mildly indulgent by most people is, somehow, far too much for me. (Brown breads can have even more carbs than white breads, by the way. Constant label-reading = also fun or depressing.) It can also feel picky, which I'm not really otherwise. Meanwhile, weight loss or other longer term goals don't resonate with me at all-- in part because while they might help me manage my type 2 diabetes, they are not likely to make it go away completely.

I know you didn't ask for habits, but for me? Because it's more complex than "denial," habits and sentences work together. I try to go food shopping when I can see it as an adventure, and skip it when I don't. I buy items that are friendly to my diet, but still feel like indulgences and/or snacks. (Sometimes things that would horrify "healthy eaters," but are ok for me, like mushrooms that I cook in loads of garlic and butter.) All of that helps make this sentence work: "I already know what Item With Too Many Carbs tastes like, and it's very likely going to make me feel like crap a couple of hours from now. What will I be doing a couple of hours from now? Do I want to feel like crap while doing it?"
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:30 AM on November 3, 2016 [6 favorites]

I tell myself that I have not had a cigarette / drink / whatever for x days which was difficult. By just having one now I would be resetting that counter and I'd have to start all over again.

So I would have go through another x days to get to where I am today whereas if I resist, then in that same x days I will have not had one for 2x days.
posted by jontyjago at 6:40 AM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Decision fatigue is a good search term that might catch some of this.

If a person is having to make choice after choice and gets ground down by always choosing between the 'healthy option" and the "bad option" it gets harder to make the choice. And the cumulative nature of this isn't limited to food. Walkin vs biking, tv vs reading a book, rage flipping your desk at work vs ten deep breaths.

I can't really speak to what I personally do about food because 'choosing the healthy thing' hasn't really been a struggle for me, but there has been some good research on it. And a lot of that research points to decision fatigue.
posted by bilabial at 6:41 AM on November 3, 2016 [4 favorites]

My oldest started playing Pokemon Go on my phone, but since I need my phone during the day, I play on my walks to and from work. It's definitely easier to walk by the snack place or bar when there's an item drop or Pokemon to catch nearby........sometimes it's about habit substitution instead of breaking one habit......
posted by zizzle at 6:44 AM on November 3, 2016

I am both people, by turns. I love what somebody said up there about "streaks." I don't have a sensible eating mode and likely never will. I'm either on a streak where I'm trying to win a biggest loser contest aerobicizing every day and eating nothing but kale and beef jerky and lemons or I'm trying to die of an embolism as quickly as possible. I find that resisting in public is much easier, because I can tell myself my urge to WIN is stronger than my urge to eat Publix cake. (It helps that Publix cake is terrible.) But when nobody is there to see or when I'm among cherished codependents than whom I don't have a desire to be more amazing, I'm less resistant to temptation. I think that thing where you congratulate your good, brave, strong ankle for keeping you from falling or your noble, epic fingers for not grabbing a knish is genius and will work for me. Trying it.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:06 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have always been a sensible eater, but when I was taking a medication that increases appetite as a side effect, I really struggled. After a lifetime of controlling my weight, and occasionally having a small treat them being satisfied, I craved sugar all the time no matter what. It was rough, I gained 20 lbs. What I'm saying is it's not just willpower.... Our brains are wired differently. Now that I'm off the meds, I lost most of the weight slowly and with little effort by making sensible choices. But on the drug? Couldn't have done that.
posted by Valancy Rachel at 7:13 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've had success after reading Eating Less in reminding myself how much better I feel about myself when I am thoughtful about what to eat and stick with my plans. Making it an issue of self-esteem for life rather a "one-off" has been an important part of getting away from "just this one treat" thinking (multiple times a day). She talks a lot about how important it is to acknowledge free choice, and getting rid of that need to rebel against my "virtuous eater" self has been key.
posted by ldthomps at 7:30 AM on November 3, 2016

The only way I ever succeed at self control of this sort is to have a rule I can apply with zero wiggle room.

This for me as well. That's why my current weight control method involves not eating at all on days when the number on the scales that morning was over the maximum allowed for that day. On a Not Eating day, nothing passes my lips but a couple of vitamin supplements and two litres of plain water. No flavours.

The self-talk goes something like this:

Inner child: Ooh, that looks good, yum yum, I'm gonna eat that...

Inner adult: NO! This is a Not Eating day. You know we don't eat on Not Eating days. We can keep our weight under control or we can die early. Not gonna die early. Eat whatever you like tomorrow. Not today.
posted by flabdablet at 7:46 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

1) As others mentioned, some people do better prohibiting certain foods like sugar because a little will make you eat ALL THE THINGS, while others do better giving themselves an allotted amount of unhealthy food per day to avoid feeling deprived. Figure out which works better for you.

2) I self-medicate with food, both to comfort myself because it’s yummy and to get the brain chemistry boost that carbs give me. If I find other ways to keep my depression in check, it helps.

3) 50 ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food has a lot of good ideas; not all work for everyone of course, but most people will find something in there that’s helpful.

4) Staying busy keeps me from turning to food out of boredom.

5) I’m often successful at convincing myself that a particular unhealthy food may be attractive but isn’t my favorite, so I might as well skip it. Like, doughnuts are nice but they’re not as awesome for me as cheesecake brownies, so why put something unhealthy in my body if it’s just okay rather than ABSOLUTELY AWESOME?

6) I don’t experience any immediate ill effects from poor eating (stomach discomfort, energy decreases, etc.) so can’t use prevention of that as a motivator. Weight and theoretical health impacts based on statistics are all I’ve got, and the latter are invisible and the former very slow to move in either direction. So when I’m serious about paying attention to it I reward myself with cash for healthy eating. I tie all my discretional spending to staying on track, and pay myself every day for meeting each of whatever goals I have (avoiding sugar, eating enough vegetables, not binge-eating, etc.). I don’t beat myself up for the days I miss, but get cash toward something I’ve been saving for on the days I do well, and start fresh every day.
posted by metasarah at 7:47 AM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I love junk food and sometimes it takes everything I have in me to walk away. Sometimes this also doesn't happen. Sometimes I have to talk to myself like I'm a 3 year old, as in "eat something green first then you can have chips". Other times it's "How's about a piece of fruit". Then there's times where I just say fuck it and go for salty crap.

It is a constant struggle and probably always will be. I'm also not convinced that other people do not struggle. I just think there are some of us who are aware of this struggle. Junk food is delicious even though it makes me feel horrible afterwards. It addictive like anything else and is a terrible relationship. Yup, I know I need to DTMFA.
posted by floweredfish at 8:11 AM on November 3, 2016

There are leftover m&ms in the house right now. I am starving and therefore acutely aware of this. At the moment, I am remembering the feeling of overwhelming m&m surfeit that I experienced Monday night. I am trying to get the bleaaaah feeling in my nose. It's working. Why is it working? Because my nose is so excellent and so deserving of congratulations and celebration. Such good work, nose! Such a champ! Great to have you on the team!

Another thing that I like to do is commit terrible violence against the junk food (rather than against myself, by eating it). I'm going to go and abuse a few m&ms, today, most likely by delivering them to the compost pile, which has lately been discovered by some expectant black soldier fly mothers. If you want an appetite suppressant, look for "horrifying larvae + compost," which is how I found out what these things were. There are some youtube videos of the dear little snorts tucking in that will help when nothing else will. If you have the luck to get a visit from the horrifying larvae fairy, I advise you to keep them around if you can. They will eat almost anything, which I'm finding out is rather nice because it greatly reduces the guilt attendant upon throwing away things that are technically food but that are trying to kill you. (Potato chips? Yep. Insanely hot peppers? Yep. Rotten stuff? Yep. Bacon grease? Yep. They're awesome.)
posted by Don Pepino at 8:37 AM on November 3, 2016

I ask myself if I'm actually hungry. If not, I check if something else is bugging me (I'm cold, my shoulder injury is acting up, I'm thirsty, I'm sad) and address that (hot tea, stretching, a walk, cute animal pictures). If I am hungry, I have actual food on hand to eat that will fill me up more effectively than candy. Also, I get hangry, so I always have a snack on hand, and I know that sugary snacks will just make me hangry and sugar-crashed later.

Noticing if you're actually hungry is key for me. Getting hangry is actually a blessing here, because to avoid that I have to pay attention to how hungry I am and heading it off before that point.
posted by momus_window at 9:48 AM on November 3, 2016

When you feel snacky at an inappropriate time, have some water and brush your teeth. Thirst and bad mouth tastes are both easily confused with hunger.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:39 AM on November 3, 2016

I can only do this by following strict rules, but I can only follow strict rules some of the time. Therefore intermittent fasting, as popularised by Dr Michael Mosley, is perfect. Two days a week I eat only 500 calories. The other five days I eat what I like but try not to go too far overboard. It's working great for me.
posted by hazyjane at 12:01 PM on November 3, 2016

In my case it's often cravings that have nothing to with hunger and everything to do with coping with stress.

So, urge surfing combined with not having food in the house that I will consume in large quantities. For example, I'm not tempted by several cups of brown rice, but I would be with any kind of cookie. Right now I may need to cut out some things I really like and that aren't unhealthy at all but that I notice I am overconsuming. Cheerios with skim milk, for example. I can eat like a zillion bowls of that.
posted by Stewriffic at 1:33 PM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

This sounds right along the lines of Gretchen Rubin's recent work on what she calls the Four Tendencies. I also recommend her book better Than Before, which is all about habits and why different people approach and experience habit-change differently in different circumstances. Her reasoning really helped me understand why I've found some goals/habits easy to adopt and others almost impossible.

Rubin also has a podcast called Happier that also often touches on these topics.
posted by pril at 2:10 PM on November 3, 2016

For me, if it's in the house, I will literally demolish the entire bag of whatever it is that I love in one hit. I know this about myself. So then the decision has to happen at the supermarket. If I don't buy it, I can't eat it. I've adopted this strategy for the last 15 years and it's mostly worked.
posted by Jubey at 4:45 PM on November 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Recently on Vox.
posted by metasarah at 6:36 PM on November 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

About the only thing that works for me is linking not doing x with incremental reward. For example - I wanted to buy an InstantPot. So every night I didn't drink, I recorded on my phone that I had earned £5. In 20 days I had earned an InstantPot - not a ridiculously short amount of time ("If I can go two nights without I will buy it") and not insurmountably long (each night earned £1, so it would take 100 nights). Same for going running in the morning - I set myself a spending goal - a treat that is not too minimal but nothing that is going to take forever (so not saving for a holiday, but maybe saving for a nice bag I really want for that holiday). Of course you should choose stuff that you can afford - no point going in to debt or something like that.
But I find that this 'carrot' works a hell of a lot more effectively than any 'stick' I have tried.
posted by Megami at 3:12 PM on November 4, 2016

I have three go-to things:

1. "Another time." (I don't respond well to absolutes, but I can delay for weeks with this one.)

2. I concentrate on imagining exactly how the food will taste/feel in my mouth to see if I really want it. My cravings are usually emotional, so imagining the taste and sensation reminds me that the thing I think I want isn't actually that amazing. It's just some sensations, which are really good, but they're not actually going to scratch the itch I'm experiencing.

3. Wait 5 minutes. This helps to break the link between craving and caving. Most of the time I no longer want the thing.
posted by Frenchy67 at 8:13 PM on November 24, 2016

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