by Angela Reed-Fox
"If I'm good, I'll have earned a treat."
Ever heard anyone say that? Ever said it yourself? Did you know you could be talking yourself out of permanent weight loss results?
Did you know that how we think and what we say to ourselves and to others has the power to either move us forward or hold us back?
In this post, I'm going to break down the different reasons why thinking in this way can be sabotaging all your efforts, and making it much harder to achieve your goals, and most importantly, to maintain them indefinitely.
"If I'm good..."
Right here, we're back to being 4 years old, and being told that we were being 'good' if we ate our broccoli. As a child our experience is very much black and white, and we make sense of things by sorting things into binary categories. I remember as a child being told that brown bread (which I didn't like) was good for me. I then assumed that white bread had to be the opposite - it had to be bad. "It's not bad, it's just not good for you" was the reply. That seemed like really weird grown-up logic that made no sense whatsoever to my young brain.
The problem is that we seem to retain those binary categories for food, even though for other things, we tend to ditch them over the years. If I said "write a list of 'bad' foods" or asked "what do you eat when you're being naughty?" you'd be listing foods that are high in salt, sugar, and/or fat - and foods that you enjoy, right?
If I asked you to list 'good' foods, or the foods you eat when you're being 'good', your list would probably feature a lot of fruit and vegetables.
Food is food.
The fact is, food is food. It isn't inherently good or bad. Surprised?
If I asked you what was good about an apple, what would you say? Perhaps you'd think about the vitamins and other nutrients, water content, fibre, the fact that it might actually keep the doctor away. That's easy. What about a gin and tonic? That's harder. Yes, nutritionally it's pretty empty - and you'd prefer it to have fewer calories, but it does bring a benefit if you like the taste, perhaps the taste is attached to specific memories you have, or perhaps you find it particularly refreshing on a beautiful summer evening. If it's something you enjoy, would you seriously entertain never experiencing that cool fizz at the back of your throat ever again?
Therefore, most food will be of some value to you. Naturally, there are some foods that you can and eat more of (fruit and vegetables are the usual candidates) and there are some that you would be better to reduce (alcohol, high fat/sugar/ salt foods) - but that's not to say they should be eliminated.
None of us is Oliver Twist, we don't need to earn this. The concept of 'earning' food or rewards for eating well could quite easily be what's holding you back from health success.
There are many reasons why we eat - and only one of them is 'hunger'. Here are some other reasons we may eat:
Not all of them are destructive. Eating in our culture is often a sociable activity - and food has been designed for us to enjoy. However, problems abound when we use food in some specific ways. For example, using food as a 'treat' or as a 'reward' for good behaviour. Usually the food we choose as a treat is high in sugar, salt or fat. By using it as a 'treat' or 'reward' we are instilling in it a value which it doesn't have. It means we treasure it, and we tend to hold it above others. Chocolate is a common 'treat' food - it's cheap, high in sugar, and handily packaged. It gives us a hit, it tastes great - we enjoy eating it, and then frequently regret it afterwards!
What do do instead? Treats and rewards are good to have in life - particularly when you're trying amend or embed new habits. But you need to choose your reward carefully. I'd advise that you choose something that you enjoy - that isn't food. A massage, a manicure, a lazy half hour with a good book. Trying to eat 'all the right foods' and then having a bar of chocolate to celebrate having done so makes no sense. And it makes you fixate on the chocolate as it's the reward.
Getting back to moderation
'Cutting out' foods doesn't work long term. We fixate on what we like and 'aren't allowed', making it difficult to succeed, and even more difficult to maintain our results, because we know that spending the rest of our lives not eating those things we really like but are 'naughty/bad' isn't going to be much fun.
'Retune' youself by ditching food rewards, pick different things - you might need to be inventive.
Think about when you eat - and why you eat. This could be the key to abundant health success.
There is a way to achieve and maintain results, without cutting out favourite foods. It's that middle way that would confuse our 4-year-old selves - but it's a way that works. Once we know how to achieve equilibrium, and how to make healthy, moderate food choices, we can have the health and body we want as well as the lifestyle we enjoy. It's less about what you eat, and more about how you think and eat.
Let me help you. If you're sick of doing what still doesn't work for you, and ready for success, join me. Click below to find out more about how the CardiaOne programme can bring you success, or join CardiaInside for tips mailed straight to your inbox.