You know that saying “out of sight, out of mind”? Well, it’s usually true for treat foods. When those chocolate bars and potato chips are sitting up on the shelves in your kitchen it’s a lot harder to forget about them.
Believe me, I know what it’s like. There was a time when I couldn’t keep any chocolate or ice cream in the house because I would HAVE to finish the entire thing, whether it was a giant-sized Toblerone or an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s (sometimes two). Now, I have tons of chocolate leftover from my birthday last weekend (my friends know what I like!) that will probably take me a couple of months to get through…if my chocoholic husband doesn’t get to it first, of course!
It’s taken me a long time to fix in my mind what I’m eating and not eating at a particular time. The treat temptation is much weaker because I never deny myself something I really, really, really want. Still, having the chocolate around means that I’m eating more than I usually would. When it’s not around, I’m less likely to want it.
I normally recommend to my clients that they not keep tempting foods around the house. Even someone with a relatively healthy relationship with food will be more likely to eat things that don’t benefit them when it’s in plain sight on a daily basis. So keep those treats out of the house and try to buy single servings while you’re out, or for consumption that day.
Dysfunctional Food Relationships
Just keeping food out of sight doesn’t always work for people with food issues. In my darker, unhealthier, heavier days while I was struggling with digestive problems, I never kept any treats around the house. Still, when I was feeling particularly down (perhaps after having to cut an evening karate class early because of stomach pain), I would leave the house at 10 or 11pm in the evening to walk to a corner store and stock up on chocolate bars, potato chips, and shortbread cookies to be consumed IMMEDIATELY.
That’s an altogether different issue that needs to be dealt with separately, so if this is the case for you then seek professional counselling. No amount of “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” will help when food is your way of coping with sadness and pain in your life. It’s common, and it’s painful. An unhealthy relationship with food is often the symptom of something deeper, so don’t just try to solve the problem on your own…or with a silly diet.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, there’s another key thing to remember about tempting foods.
Beware the TV!
I don’t watch much TV, and if I do it’s a time-shifted episode of Modern Family or an old episode of 30 Rock. When I see live TV for short periods of time, the one thing I notice is the amount of food ads that I’m constantly subjected to. Pizza, fried chicken, sugary cereals (“nutritious for kids”!), burgers, soft drinks…you name it. The ads make foods that I would never eat, like cereal and cheeseburgers, look so appealing that I want to run out and get some.
It’s no mystery to me why people have such a hard time avoiding these tempting foods when the average American (I think the stats are similar in Canada and most Western countries) watches 5 hours of TV a day. That’s a whole lotta tempting food that you see and hear about each day. No wonder you’re constantly thinking about it! The way I see it, reducing your TV consumption automatically reduces some daily food temptation…so reduce your TV time (spend more time in the gym, reading, or meditating).
Diets Make You MORE Food Obsessed
Going on a long-term, reduced calorie diet will get your mind thinking about food A LOT. That’s why I don’t recommend obsessively calorie-counting as part of a nutrition plan, or even trying to fit your macros (protein, carbs, fat) strictly every day. Even just trying to “eat clean” has plenty of drawbacks, with its grey areas and judgementally categorizing foods into “good” and “bad” based on incomplete information. Few foods are GOOD for everybody and few foods are BAD for everybody (perhaps with the exception of man-made trans fats, but even those can be consumed occasionally without serious issues).
Inevitably, changing your nutrition plan in any way makes you think about food more. That’s ok if the feelings you have are generally more positive (“I feel so good about eating more vegetables” or “My cravings are so much lower now that I’m eating more protein”), just beware that being overly restrictive can make you obsessive about food.
I once went on a Naturopath-prescribed no-sugar (except for fruit), no-alcohol, no-dairy, no-gluten diet for nearly five months to try to deal with my digestive issues. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. What it did do was make me obsess about food so much that I had dreams several times a week about going to buffets and eating all the foods that I wasn’t allowed to have. Not something that makes you a joyful person the next day, believe me.
What, You Don’t Have Full Control Over Everything in Your House?
Maybe you have a spouse or partner or roommate or kids (or some combination of these people sharing your home) who aren’t always on board with your particular goals. I’ve seen more than one client’s nutrition plan get derailed when someone sharing their home has unintentionally, and occasionally intentionally, refused to cooperate. Maybe your wife likes to keep some chocolate for “emergencies”. Maybe your husband insists on eating those tempting Kettle Chips every night after dinner in your presence.
We would love to think that the people who love us always have our best intentions in mind and want us to do what’s best for us, but sometimes their needs aren’t in line with ours. Ask politely for your loved ones to respect your wishes. Come up with a compromise that means less tempting food around you.
The one thing I take issue with is people keeping lots of treat foods around “for the kids”. Your kids don’t need those treat foods any more than you do, especially if you want them to grow up healthy and happy. They’ll be exposed to plenty of crappy food outside the home so there’s no reason to keep it at home for them as well. Go out for ice cream or pizza or all-you-can-eat-sushi (that’s our family’s personal fave!) with friends once in a while and make it a special event. Make sure your kids know that certain foods are occasional treats and not staple foods and they’ll grow up ahead of most other kids out there. I shudder when I see kids constantly being stuffed full of crackers, cookies, lollipops, white bread, biscuits and fries on a daily basis. Is it any wonder we have a child obesity crisis?
I’ll get off my soapbox to summarize…
You won’t always have full control over what food is in your vicinity. Remind yourself that you’re making a daily choice to be leaner, stronger, and healthier. Some foods support that goal and others don’t. Learn to get your joy from things other than food.
Treats are OK though!
If you’re thinking that I want to ban you from all treat foods – I swear I don’t! I certainly don’t mean to imply that you should always avoid tempting treat foods…sometimes you should have them and enjoy them! The key is having a plan. Keep your day’s protein up and reduce your usual carbs and fats to account for the additional amount you’ll consume in your treat food. Let’s face it, most people’s favourite treat foods are high in carbs and/or fat, but don’t have a relatively high amount of protein. Yes, burgers and fried chicken drumsticks have protein, but with a disproportionate amount of fat and carbs packed in. So make adjustments to the food you’re eating on the day (and perhaps on the day after) to keep working towards your goal of getting lean.
Life’s more fun with a few treat foods…just don’t let them tempt you too often. Enjoy your food. Pick the foods you really want carefully. Don’t get suckered in by the close proximity of some tempting food.
P.S. Don’t read too many food blogs or look at tempting recipes…those don’t help either! 🙂