We’re all prone to tunnel vision at some time or another. We get locked into one way of thinking and forget that we locked the door ourselves. When it comes to weight loss, we often don’t realize we’re locked into tunnel vision because we’ve never seen outside the tunnel. Even when presented with outside-the-tunnel options, we may not recognize them as options they are: to us, they may seem crazy or completely out of our reach!
When it comes to weight loss, so many of us think in the ‘All or Nothing’ mindset: either we’re completely on board with our diet or we’ve blown the whole thing. This is where most of us get stuck in the tunnel. We look at our Diet as difficult, restrictive, bland and miserable. We see it as something temporary and our goal is to get done with it so we can go back to our Normal Life aka Eating Like Before. Welcome to the Diet Tunnel!
The most successful weight loss plans aren’t diets: they’re lifestyle changes— as in permanent. But permanent doesn’t mean we’re locked into that Diet Tunnel. It doesn’t mean we can’t ever eat bread or pizza or cinnamon rolls again. It means we are selective about when we eat them. It means we think about what we eat before we eat it! Not thinking before eating is how many of us gained as much weight as we did. We see it; we want it; we eat it! At the end of the day, most of us never thought about how much we ate during the day, unless we were super stuffed. If we did happen to think about it, we either moaned about how “out of control” we are or we gloss over it and leave out some of the foods that we tell ourselves ‘don’t count.’ These would be things like the odd bites of pastry or the handful of chips at lunch or the energy bar we picked up at the gas station to ‘tide us over’ until dinner.
Five tortilla chips really don’t amount to much but five chips + one Quest bar + half a danish begin to add up over the day and the week and finally take up residence on your muffin-top belly. They count, but how much they count depends on you and whether you thought about them before you ate them! This is where most of us are in that Diet Tunnel: we see the chip basket on the table and our first thought is “NO CHIPS!” Having a few chips is okay as long as you think about them and then before you grab that Quest bar on the way home, you pause: “I already had a handful of chips and half a danish. Maybe I should skip the bar.” If you really want that bar, maybe you skip the butter on the Brussels sprouts at dinner or cut the sweet potato in half. You are in charge of your eating and you don’t get points for making yourself miserable, starving yourself or eating only lettuce. This is why the permanent lifestyle changes win out over the Diet Mentality: once we learn to eat healthy things we enjoy in a way that keeps us healthy and losing weight, we don’t have to moan and groan about the chips or the ice cream or the bagels. The key is balance, not deprivation!
The other place where most people get tripped up is when it comes to eating at home. In an effort to promote healthy eating, a lot of magazines, books and websites publish recipes: healthy food, usually low calorie or low carb, and full of flavor! It’s a great idea…IF you enjoy cooking!! Some of us aren’t fond of long ingredient lists or complicated steps or hours of prep time. That doesn’t mean I’m stuck with boring bland food unless I get take out or go out to eat. It means I have to look outside that Tunnel and see what options are available to me that I feel comfortable making at home. This can mean putting something in the slow cooker when I leave for work; it can mean preparing a lot of food on the weekend and putting it in the fridge or freezer. Usually for me it means I make three or four burgers, steaks or ribs on one night and heat up the rest during the week. (I usually undercook the ones I’m saving for later so when I heat them up again, they aren’t overcooked.) This works for me because I don’t need to eat something complicated: I like simple food. For me, ‘make it yourself coleslaw’ and a pan-fried pork steak are just fine for me! That doesn’t mean they’re bland either: I usually dress them up with some of my favorite spice blends.
If you really don’t feel like cooking, there are healthy options at most grocery stores. My old standby is still bagged salad/ veggies and rotisserie chicken! They also have frozen burgers ready to reheat, frozen quiche and many other healthy options you just need to reheat.
Getting out of the Tunnel doesn’t just mean food or cooking: it also means activity. When your main evening activities are sitting in front of the tv and eating;or getting online and eating; or reading and eating; or [insert sedentary activity here] and eating, you need to look for something else to fill your time. Believe me, doing what you used to do and thinking about not-eating is just rubbing salt in the wound. It’s a lot like an alcoholic hanging out with his drinking buddies and thinking about not-drinking. When my uncle stopped drinking, he started hanging out with my dad a lot. There were phone calls every night except for his Meeting Night and lots of activities on the weekends and it was for the same reason: my dad has never been a drinker so when he’s with my dad, it’s never an issue or an option. While we may not all be food addicts, we still have behavior that triggers us to eat out of habit. How many of us automatically stand in the popcorn & soda line when we enter a theater?
When we’re used to getting a bag of chips and sitting down to watch our usual show or we hit the Starbucks to grab a Frappucino and scroll through our Instagram, those are triggers. We can still watch our show and scroll but we are usually conscious that ‘something is missing.’ Triggering the craving is making it harder than it needs to be! It’s keeping us locked in the Tunnel as well as pushing us over the edge when it comes to ‘sticking to our Diet.’ That doesn’t mean you can’t ever watch tv or hit up a Starbucks, but it does mean that you have to think outside the Tunnel. That can be something as simple as watching tv and keeping your hands occupied with something else, such as folding laundry, writing in your journal, playing tug of war with your dog, or (in my case) doing my nails. There was a transition period, since I obviously can’t do my nails every night, but once I got in the habit of doing something other than eating while in front of the tv, the trigger went away. The same is true for just about any behavior or activity: if it triggers the impulse to eat, either replace the eating with something else or re-evaluate that activity’s importance in your life. If sitting at Starbucks is too much temptation, find someplace else with WiFi to scroll through your phone. (My gym has free WiFi!) Or maybe you make a new ‘phone’ habit, like doing it at home or you check your social media at home on the laptop?
It takes some practice to find out what’s outside the Tunnel and what options will work for you and what won’t. I hear a lot about “batch cooking” on healthy lifestyle podcasts but while making that much food doesn’t work for me, I do a version of it that does: instead of cooking one burger or serving of veggies every night, I do enough for two or three and just warm up the rest. When I hit Starbucks, instead of a macchiato or a latte, it’s brewed coffee or an americano with cream. Sometimes I’m really out there and just get tea! The activities don’t have to be drastically different- they just have to be different enough to change your triggers and keep you on track with your weight loss goals.
Having a solid support system is critical when it comes to seeing outside the Tunnel. As I mentioned before, if we’re not used to looking at things differently, we probably won’t see the options available. This is where having resources come in. I have a fitness community (My Fitness Pal) but you can still use any supportive community (Facebook, Instagram) or even website with ideas or recipes (Nom Nom Paleo; Primal Potential, etc). The idea is to surround yourself with options and try them out! There is a way out of the Diet Tunnel but until you unlock that door yourself, you may never get out.