It has many names: binge; indulgence; treat; cheat day; but whatever you call it, it’s the same thing: overeating. You’ve gone and eaten something that is not in line with your goals. Whether it’s too many calories, too much sugar, too many carbs, even just too much salt or whatever, now you are off the reservation in hostile territory and you need to find your way back. This happens to all of us (happened to me the other day and will no doubt happen again!), but this is where a lot of weight loss warriors get lost and are never seen again. It’s like a there is a black hole where they enter in and never come out (probably stuck in there with all our missing socks!).
Humor aside, it really is a serious matter if you are trying to lose weight or eat healthier. Those of us who wander off track usually fall victim to one of two traps (or both). The first is the failure mindset trap and the second is the cravings trap. There is also the consistency stumbling block that just seems to make everything so much harder even if you find your way back.
But first you have to get back to friendly territory, which means dealing with the failure mindset. All of us have been there. It’s not only about weight loss; this is the mindset that says you tried to do something and didn’t accomplish it. It’s the voice in your head that says “You’re never going to be able to play Chopin’s Polonaise in front of people, so what made you think you could do it this time?” It’s the voice and way of thinking that keeps you from trying what you really want to do. It’s the voice of fear, telling you that you are a failure, you’ll always be a failure, so don’t even try to be better at anything.
This mindset is sometimes referred to as a kind of mental quicksand, because a lot of times you don’t realize you’re stuck in it until you try to get out, and then, it seems like the more you try, the more mired you become. You get used to the failure/ negative voice in your head telling you that you can’t do it (whatever “it” is) and so not only don’t you not attempt it, you start rationalizing why you can’t or why it’s not a good idea. Once you start listening for the voice, you begin to recognize the negative voice when you hear it. Believe me, it may sound like a sensible friend, but it’s not. It’s like Iago, pretending to be Othello’s trusted advisor but truly his worst enemy. (Personally, I’d love to cast someone like Michael J. Fox as Iago- someone who looks like a trusted friend instead of a creepy villainous fiend- really, who trusts someone who looks like a mugger?! But Michael J. Fox? Now there’s a trustworthy soul!) Your negative voice is the same way: it sounds like your buddy but it’s really invested in keeping you in failure territory! DON’T LISTEN TO IT!!
For me, it was the voice that said “everyone in your family has weight problems; it’s genetic, so you can’t help it and you can’t fight against it.” “You know, if you do lose all the weight, you’ll need surgery to remove all that extra skin and you’ll have scars all over your body, or worse, you won’t be able to afford/ get the surgery and then you’ll just have all that loose saggy skin! Better to be fat and not have those problems!” “You know, you’re really not that fat/ unhealthy! You can still do lots of things and a lot of guys like chubby chicks!” Yeah. That’s the voice of my ‘friend,’ keeping me in failure territory! This is also the voice that leads you down the garden path that takes you OFF THE RESERVATION to tour this little region of purgatory! “It’s one cookie- really, are you going to be so uptight you can’t have one lousy cookie?!” “You were really good and on track all month; you deserve a piece of cake!” “All of your friends are going out to eat, and if you don’t go with them, you’ll look like you’re too good/ too uptight/ unsociable/ whatever.” This is the negative self talk that tries to keep you down, as opposed to the positive self talk that boosts your morale.
So now that you’ve learned to recognize the Iago voice when it speaks to you, you need to reply with the positive self talk that counteracts Iago’s insidious influence. I discussed this more in depth in my post entitled It’s Me or the Cookie: I can v I can’t, so this is a little refresher course. Elizabeth Benton (PrimalPotential.com) likes to use affirmations, where you tell yourself daily how strong you are, how you can make good choices, how you can do this. Personally, I like inspirational quotes (my personal favorite is Hannibal’s ‘I will either find a way, or make one.’) The only thing that matters is that you find a way to inspire you and use it daily and whenever the insidious negative voice starts leading you astray. One of the biggest tip offs it’s that Iago voice talking to you: you have a discussion with yourself over it! When you’re at a restaurant and it’s between the broiled salmon and veggies or the chicken fettucine, it’s the voice that says don’t order the boring salmon. It’s the voice that reaffirms your negative feelings when you step on the scale and see you’re up a few pounds or you measure your hips and there’s no change. When you start hearing the negative voice keeping you down and away from your goals, reply with the positive self talk that boosts your confidence and reminds you that you are stronger than you know (because you are!). If that means keeping little notes in your pocket, purse or phone, do it! (I have post-its all over my cubicle at work and on the fridge at home!)
So now that you’re out of the failure mindset trap, there’s the cravings trap to beat! Some of us are lucky and we don’t fall into this trap too often, and sometimes, just when you think you’re out, it goes off and BAM! there you are, wanting an apple fritter (or the chocolate crossaint your cubicle neighbor is talking about)! The cravings trap comes from going off the rez and eating something that wasn’t on your plan: the carbs, the sugar, the sodium, or just too much! So you ate it… sigh. And now you want more of it, even though you weren’t happy with yourself for doing it and you’ve gotten away from the negative voice beating you up for doing it, but your body is telling you it wants more of what you just had. A big part of that is biology: carbs and sugar send your blood sugar on a wild ride, going from extremely high extremely fast to extremely low. You all know the sugar crash that comes after you’ve binged on a whole box of Red Vines, and when that happens, your body is telling you to raise your blood sugar out of the basement by eating something and it knows that sugar and carbs (usually refined carbs like donuts!) is the quickest way to do that. So, it’s not uncommon after a binge that skyrockets your blood sugar for your body to start craving more of the same. FYI: it doesn’t have to be the “bad stuff” like carbs and sugars that send your blood sugar out of control- just eating too much can have the same effect. This one usually manifests as just being plain hungry after you’ve eaten too much. This is another place where weight loss warriors are never seen again because cravings are so not easy to get over. They get tired of fighting them day after day, especially it they are around the food they crave a lot. It gets hard when you see it, smell it and see other people enjoying it and you know that it’s not in line with your plan. If you’ve gotten out of this trap before, you know the way out: DON’T EAT IT! Way easier said than done! This is where you have to hang on until the ride ends, because that’s the secret: IT DOES END! When you stop eating sugar/ carbs/ salt/ whatever, eventually your body stops asking for it. I never thought I would get over my craving for pasta. Those of you who know me know that before I went Paleo, probably two-thirds or more of my diet was some form of pasta. The rest was pretty much bread- really wish I were kidding here! Those two forms of simple carbs kept me in the cravings trap for months! I’d hang out with my friends who loved bread and pasta; I’d go out with my family: more bread and pasta; even the dang commercials on tv: come get our free delicious dinner rolls and take more home with you! I was dying for pasta and bread! So I white-knuckled it; hung tough; went cold turkey- choose your metaphor! I stopped eating it and refused to go back! I was stubborn and refused to give into it, and eventually, I was out with my family one day and the waitress puts the bread basket on the table and……. I didn’t want any! I didn’t have to fight with myself either. I just didn’t want the bread and I realized I’d been walking past the pasta aisle in the stores without looking longingly at the boxes & bags of it. I’d gotten used to not eating the pasta and bread and stopped wanting it. Talk about an epiphany!
The other benefit to getting out of the cravings trap is that the farther away you get from whatever it is you’re craving, the more you lose your taste for it. I know from my own experience, after I have not had something I used to love for a long time (and ‘long’ is relative too!), if I do have it again, it just doesn’t taste as good. For example, there is an Italian restaurant that makes the best garlic bread, and I used to love it so much! But, I generally only get to that restaurant with either my friend J or my dad, and for months whenever I met up to eat with either of them, we went somewhere else. Eventually, I wound up at that restaurant with my friend and I decided to risk the bread. It was good, but it wasn’t the wonderful ‘mystical’ experience it had been before. It was definitely better than run of the mill bread from some Italian chain that shall remain nameless, but it didn’t have that I-must-have-18-pieces attraction that it’d had before. I ate it; I liked it; and that was the end of it. I didn’t have cravings for it, and when I go back there, I might have one piece, but maybe not. The same thing happened when I went back to other foods that I previously thought I would never be able to turn down. It’s like one of those perspective posters: up close it’s just a bunch of blobs, but when you get far enough away, you can see the image in it (it’s a unicorn!). When you get far enough away from whatever you are craving, you perceive it differently. For some of us, once we get distance, the food seems to lose its ability to grab hold of us. The trick to escaping this trap, though, is pretty much just to hang on and ride it out.
Finding your own Enemy Way
So now you’re back on the rez in friendly territory (you think) but there’s still that consistency stumbling block that keeps coming up. It’s like that trick step on the staircase in Hogwarts that Harry was always getting caught in: you think it’s solid, until your foot sinks into it and you’re stuck! You’re ignoring the negative Iago voice telling you what a loser you are and you’re no longer craving the foods that take you off the rez, but now that you’ve been off, there’s the draw to go back. It’s a little bit of the Iago voice telling you that you did it once before and it wasn’t the end of the road, but a bigger part of it is that you broke your routine and then everything was up in the air with the fallout and so now, you’re trying to get back into your pattern, but it’s not quite the same follow the numbers pattern it was before: you have to think about it a little more and that’s one of the ways that Iago gets back in. You need to get back into your healthy ritual that served you so well before you went of the reservation. It’s a little like you need to find your own version of a Navajo Enemy Way ceremony. This is a ritual that is performed for Navajos who literally journey out into Enemy territory; it’s to cleanse them of any negative residual spiritual effects of being out of Navajo territory (the Dinetah). [Side note: I am a huge fan of the Leaphorn/ Chee/ Manuelito mysteries by Tony and Anne Hillerman. Because the characters are Navajos, I’ve learned a lot about their culture. It’s based on balance and harmony, kind of like Taoism. They are great books just for the mystery too- check them out!]
Once you get back into friendly territory- no more negative mindset, no more cravings (hopefully)- you need to have your own little ritual to put you in the ‘moving forward’ frame of mind to cleanse you of any going off the rez residual effects. This can be something as simple as putting in an extra workout to give your metabolism a boost or doing some meal planning (focusing on moving forward) and then going to the grocery store to get the supplies (execution of your plan). Both of these give you the sense of accomplishment, making positive choices and actually moving forward. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate or fancy: the main thing is to do something! Once you start moving forward and are focused on that (rather than your latest foray into hostile territory), it’s harder for the consistency stumbling block to take you down, because you are literally a moving target. It’s momentum and basic physics: stopping a 300 lb linebacker is easier when he’s dithering around on the line of scrimmage, but when he’s been running hard for the past 20 yards, GET OUT OF HIS WAY! You want to be like that linebacker in motion: moving too fast to stop!
So, to sum it all up, all of us go off the reservation occasionally. When it happens, the first thing to watch for is the negative Iago voice telling you what a failure you are (it’s lying to you- again!) and the second thing is to be prepared for the cravings that usually come afterwards. Once you get past those two traps, do something positive to help you keep your focus on moving forward and avoid falling back into old destructive habits. Another of my favorites quotes is from Margaret Thatcher: “you may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” These kinds of battles we may have to fight for years to come, but the more we practice at winning them, the fewer and farther between they become!