You are free to choose, but you are not free from the consequences of your choice. A universal paradox.
When I first went Paleo, my trips to the grocery store became a lot more concise. Produce section, meat counter, swing by the cooler to get some eggs… and I was done. I almost never entered the isles, because there was almost nothing down there I could eat.
I usually went into the store with 2 recipies in mind, and then I would see what was on sale in terms of meat and veggies. I’ve never been one to just ‘stick to a list.’ I’m too creative, too free thinking… my mind wanders and I start to dream because I like food and I see all of the possibilities for the ingredients. And this can be dangerous when you’re dieting because you might end up walking out of the store with some items that are ‘impulse purchases.’
I remember one day, early on in my weight loss, walking past the end cap of the cookie isle and seeing that the Peperidge Farm Soft, Dark Chocolate cookies were on sale. Thoughts started bouncing in my head… Those are so good! It’s dark chocolate! One bag won’t hurt you! You can eat them slowly, like one a day! Those types of food and thoughts got me to ‘overweight and miserable’. So why was I still reaching for those damn cookies?? Maybe because I’d had a bad day at work, or a song came on and I missed someone, or I had been doing so well, I was trying to sabotage myself. I don’t know. But there I stood, starring down those cookies, unable to move.
I realized that all my thoughts about wanting the cookies were starting to make me feel guilty, as if I’d already eaten them. As if it was a done deal, and I’d fallen off the wagon, and I might as well go home and stuff my face because this is too hard and I’m never going to lose all this weight!!!!!!!!!!!!! See how quickly my mind got out of control? And I hadn’t even bought the freakin’ cookies. Yet.
If I bought them, I would have to make about a hundred more choices. Like how many cookies to eat when I got home, how many to save for later, when would I eat the rest of them, could I let them sit in my cupboard without eating them, how long could I do that… until my brain would convince me to just eat the damn cookies and probably all in one sitting. Thankfully, I had a moment of clarity….. all I needed to do then, in that moment, was make one choice: walk out of the store without the cookies.
So I did.
And it made me feel strong. Like I’d punched those cookies in the face. Like a boxer, I put those cookies on the floor with an upper cut to the jaw and they weren’t getting back up. Knock out. First Round. BOOM.
And I liked that feeling.
So a few days later, I was in Whole Foods. The way mine is set up, you are almost required to walk past the bakery area before you check out. They do this on purpose, because it’s smart marketing. Not only does everything smell good over there, but it looks pretty too. Now normally when I’m on a ‘diet’, I would shuffle quickly past the bakery and try to avert my eyes lest the scones and the cupcakes with their shiny glazes and crystalized sprinkles manage to lure me into their web. But this time, was different.
I had punched those Pepperidge Farm cookies in the face, and now I wanted to punch something else.
So I chose to walk over there, to the land of frostings, cremes and powdered sugar dustings. To wander around all the displays, look at all the pretty packages. As I walked, I focused on how I felt, in my body. I had been eating cleanly for over 3 weeks and had lost nearly 20 lbs at that point. And I felt amazing – I felt that way because I had stopped eating all of the stuff I was looking at. The foods I said I ‘loved’.
If you ‘love’ something, it shouldn’t make you feel like crap.
And suddenly, punching the entire bakery section of Whole Foods in the face was easier than walking away from that first container of cookies. I walked to the check out and left the store with food I felt good about. And more importantly, I felt good about myself.
That bakery section didn’t own me. If I had wanted to buy something I could have, but I didn’t. Because I am in control of my choices, and that day, I made a choice to not buy products that had gotten my life to a point of unhappiness.
Now I won’t lie to you. There have been times in the last 9 months where I have made different choices. I’m not perfect with my eating; it’s not realistic to think I will be. The important thing, the thing that is different about me now vs. how I used to be, is that I can accept that my choices have consequences. Every ounce of food I put in my body will produce an outcome and I am wholly responsible to whatever that outcome is. The way I feel, my energy level, whether I get headaches from sugar highs or a stomach ache from too much dairy – that is all within my control.
I am grateful for having the experience with those cookies early on because it taught me the easiest way to control any outcomes is to make one choice that puts an end to all other choices: Whatever it is, don’t buy it. Once you buy something, you have to continue making choices (when? how much? etc) and these choices get progressively more difficult. Why? Because every time you tell yourself no, you use your willpower. Willpower is just like any muscle in your body: in order to make it stronger, you have to exercise it… but working it too hard, or for too long, without rest, will leave you fatigued and in pain, and eventually, you’ll snap. You’re setting yourself up for failure if you do not target your energy/willpower where and when you need it the most. It’s why runners training for a marathon only do 1 long run a week and run less the closer they get to big race. You gotta save something for the main event!
Key to Success: Identify and prioritize where and when to use your willpower.
How does this work for me? I do not make my home a place where I have to exercise my willpower; I make home a place where I can rest and replenished my willpower. When I am home, my choices are easy and temptations do not exist. Period. I avoid places that might test my willpower unnecessarily (example: I pay at the pump rather than walking into the gas station, where I will be confronted with the connivence store food group trifecta of chips, soda, candy.) I use my willpower at targeted places I cannot avoid: the office, the grocery store, or restaurants/special social events.
I challenge you this week to figure out ways to store up your willpower and use it more effectively! Remember: don’t waste your energy going 15 rounds. Punch your problem foods in the face, knock them out, and walk away. And don’t forget to revel in your victory when you do 🙂