This occurred to me recently when I was really tempted to do the “quick and simple thing” and get something for dinner that wasn’t the best choice. It wasn’t exactly junk food: I thought I could pick up something at El Pollo Loco on my way home from the gym. I think they have good food, healthier than most, and I wanted to get a salad, but…. the salad dressing which I love has too many processed oils and if I got the salad I wanted, there’s the flour tortilla shell , so “I’ll just not eat that!” Yeahhhhh, riiiight!
And therein lies the problem. I’ll tell myself I’ll only use half the dressing and not eat the tortilla shell, but we all know that won’t happen! Then I figured well, when I add it into MFP (My Fitness Pal), I don’t have to put in the tortilla shell or the dressing…. It was at this point that I stopped the bargaining with myself. It doesn’t matter what I put in MFP or my paper journal- what matters is what I put in my mouth! I can lie to MFP and I can lie to myself, but I can’t lie to my body! My body knows what I ate and it’s not going to ‘fudge’ the calories or the processed oils or the carbs just because I ‘fudged’ on my food journals! I can lie to everyone-even myself- and I can even believe the lie that “that little detour isn’t going to set me back much,” but my body and metabolism will show the truth: blood sugar spikes, cravings, and delayed progress on my goals.
It was the plain simple reality: if I really wanted to make progress, then choosing the Pollo Loco salad wasn’t going to get me there and no amount of lying or ‘fudging’ was going to change that either! Do I really want to make progress? Yes. Will that food choice get me there? No. So, I had my answer, and I came home from the gym and had the leftover rotisserie chicken and green salad that were in the fridge.
I’ve bargained with myself so many times over similar situations, and unfortunately, I’m pretty good at talking myself into bad decisions (not just with food and fitness, either!) This is where most of us run into trouble: bargaining to get what we want, and usually we ‘win’ because we want to believe the lie we tell ourselves. We want to believe that eating the birthday cake at our nephew’s party won’t hold us back any more than the pizza at the same birthday party and the cookies and the fruit punch. “It’s one day!” We tell ourselves that “we are adults and we’re entitled to make our own choices and eat what we want!” Yup! Absolutely true- 100%! You are totally entitled to eat all the pizza, donuts, chocolate, Rice Krispy treats, and anything else you want to eat. They don’t have food police (yet) and you aren’t breaking any diet-related laws. But, you probably won’t make a whole lot of progress towards your goals either. We trick ourselves into believing that we can eat all the ‘forbidden foods’ and still make progress. We’ll do some extra workouts, or we’ll fast the next day or two, or- when we fail to do those things- it’s just one day or one donut or one tostada salad with fried tortilla shell and creamy cilantro dressing!
‘One’ probably won’t do terrible damage to your progress, but even though we tell ourselves it’s only ‘one,’ is it really just ‘one’? This is why I like to keep a paper food journal (it’s easier to flip through than an app)- I can go back and look at all the ‘ones’ that weren’t going to set me back: there’s the cashew brittle from See’s Candy; there’s the chocolate cake from O’Brien’s Market; there’s the pretzel bagels from Trader Joe’s, and the licorice, and the white cake from Safeway…. and you can see it’s a whole lotta ‘ones’! But each time I persuaded myself that it’s just one, it really wasn’t. It was just the latest in a long string of ‘ones’! All of those little detours took me so far off track that I gained back almost twenty lbs! I remember thinking ‘how the heck did I get here?!’ and it was really simple: I believed the lies I wanted to believe. I am a great liar and I lied to myself about how these ‘ones’ didn’t matter! Twenty pounds later, the reality is that one and one and one and one ad infinitum eventually add up!
This doesn’t mean that we need to deny ourselves every little treat forever out of fear of gaining or going off track, but we need to be realistic when it comes to taking detours. Sometimes we are very good when it comes to policing our families and our pets. I know when my furry children want extra treats or ask for something that’s not good for them, I am pretty good at telling them no for their own good. Too many treats make for a fat kitty or a pup with an upset stomach, but when it comes to me? Well, one treat won’t be too bad…….. and so it begins! (Maybe if I put the pets in charge of my treats…..???) This is one of the reasons I keep the paper journal to flip through when I start thinking that “one isn’t the end of the world” because yes, the world will go on but my weight loss probably won’t! Is the licorice or pretzel bagel or whatever it is really worth the setback? Maybe it won’t be such a setback on its own, but on top of what I ‘treated’ myself to yesterday, it’s just too much too soon. This is why we need to take a good hard look at what we are telling ourselves and take an objective assessment. In plain language, are we lying to ourselves again? Hint: if you need to convince yourself or rationalize it, then, yeah, you probably are lying! If it really were a good choice, you don’t need to explain or rationalize or bargain yourself into making the decision. When was the last time you had to convince yourself to eat the broccoli or carrots?
Sometimes, it’s not as cut and dried as salad v chocolate cake, and you would think it would get easier, but… (oh, you knew it was coming!) the longer we are on this journey, the more complicated the choices become. It really is an interactive test: once you get past the easy questions, ie the Salad v Cake level, they start getting more complicated: how much is a ‘real’ serving?; how can you tell when you are really ‘satisfied’ v eating until you feel full?; which processed foods are too processed and where do you draw the line? This really is a good thing, although it won’t always feel like it. It’s because you are getting better at making the easy choices that you are starting to recognize the subtleties in the harder choices. Let’s face it: when you mostly eat fast food like I did, the question of bottled salad dressing full of processed vegetable oils never comes up! You’re still salad v fries level and salad is obviously better. Once the salad becomes your default choice, then you start realizing that you can improve on the choices you’re making, and you take it to the next level. It’s a sign of your continued growth and improvement.
If we do decide that the treat is worth it- and sometimes they are- we need to remember 1) it is a treat, which by definition means it’s something out of the ordinary! [‘Daily’ is not a treat- that’s a meal!]; 2) If it’s not worth it, don’t eat it! One of the mindsets we develop over the years is that if we start to eat something, we think we need to finish it. Part of it is the ‘don’t waste food’ mindset, which isn’t a bad one, but at the same time, if we start eating something and it really isn’t enjoyable, stop eating it! Either throw it away, save it for another day or feed it to the pets! It’s like the old joke where one woman is telling her friend about dinner at a restaurant: “the food was really awful!! And the portions were so small!!” Admittedly, it took me a while to get that joke because that was my mindset: eat the food even if it’s awful, because not eating it is wasteful. But if it doesn’t taste good, why eat it? Especially if it’s supposed to be a treat! Eating something awful isn’t a treat- it’s a punishment!
Before we end up putting the treat in our grocery cart, however, we need to take a good long look at what we are telling ourselves: are we justifying the choice because it’s what we want to hear or are we being honest about our choice? My biggest hint really is the rationalization/ bargaining beforehand: if I have to explain my choice to myself, then it’s probably a lie. I’m not too tired or too busy to work out. I don’t need the cookies, bagels or toast because “I’ve been really good.” If I want something special, then it better be worth the effort! The problem is not only is it easier to believe the lies we tell ourselves, but we really want to believe them! We want to eat the foods that comfort and please us and we want to make progress too! We really want love getting results, but then that carrot cake looks so good! It might even taste good, but the truth is when you stop making progress, that carrot cake will be pretty bitter. Lies never taste as good as the truth.