The No-willpower Diet
BY: Laura Freberg
If you’re like many Americans, you probably started the new year with a resolution to lose weight. And like many Americans, your willpower is probably faltering about now.
Part of the challenge is that our ancestors did not have to worry about obesity. On the contrary, their primary concern was not having enough to eat. As a result, our bodies are programmed to survive famine. So instead of having natural controls to prevent overeating, our bodies will gleefully urge us to eat whenever food is around -- even if we’re not hungry. That’s why willpower so often fails us.
As a reformed chubby (I lost 80 pounds five years ago and have kept it off), I’d like to share some “environmental engineering,” no-willpower diet tricks I’ve learned that make it easier to eat healthfully -- so I don’t have to rely on self-discipline all the time:
1. Make cheating hard to do. Do not have convenient cheat foods in your house or office. Do have convenient healthy foods around.
2. Control portions. When you cook, immediately package the food into freezer containers with just one portion each. That way, when you’re tired and hungry and just want to zap something, you have a healthy dinner minutes away. And go ahead and hit the big-box stores for bargains, but immediately divide that big package of nuts or crackers into single-serving baggies.
3. Reduce the number of food-related decisions you make every day. Everyone has some willpower, but constant decision-making wears you down. By eating similar, healthy things every day (e.g., cereal for breakfast, sandwich with fruit for lunch, etc.), you aren’t tempted by an array of unhealthy choices at every snack or meal, because you’ve already made your healthy picks ahead of time.
4. Use smaller dishes. This gem is from Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, who found that we eat more when we use larger dishes. Switching from large dinner plates to small salad plates tricks your mind into feeling satisfied with smaller portions.
5. Be selective about treats. If I’m going to splurge, I would much rather have one of my husband’s gourmet tiramisus than a nasty package of store-bought, cardboard-textured cookies. Then, give your treats your undivided attention -- no eating while reading, watching TV, texting, etc.
6. Save restaurants and alcohol for rare occasions. You’ll avoid temptation, cut back on calories and save a lot of money for new clothes.
7. Make easy lifestyle changes: Switch from sugared to diet soda, or better yet to water. Putting a fruit basket on the dinner table was enough for one of Wansink’s families to lose weight -- it reminded them to make more healthy choices.
Once you’ve optimized your environment for healthy eating, give your willpower an added boost by weighing yourself every day. No excuses. If you’re up the tiniest fraction, fix it today -- not next week.Finally, keep a positive, long-term attitude. We all slip -- it’s just a matter of getting back on track right away. After years of yo-yo dieting, I know firsthand that losing weight and keeping it off aren’t easy. But having finally succeeded, I am living proof that it’s not impossible either.