You know how it goes. You¹ve done it hundreds of times. You make a grand plan on how to finally lose weight. You reprogram your mind. You throw out all of your Achilles heel snacks in your cupboard. Maybe you decide to plan, to journal, to measure, to weigh, to count points, to join the program. You are perfect for about 10 days, then you "blow it all" on the perfect temptation. I know my perfect failing temptation. They work every time. Brownies. Or, maybe slightly-undercooked, chocolate-chip cookies. Or, if the stars all align properly, crème brulee.
In reality, the perfect sweet temptation may be just the perfect tool to help you control your weight. You see, when you undermine your diet efforts with the ultimate indulgence, you are merely recognizing something you have known all along. You are giving credence to something that is as much a part of you as your desire to control your weight. You are giving in to the very human desire to have some fun and passion and impulsivity in your life.
Now, in our day-to-day lives, we have little real ability to engage our desires and impulses. In our work day, we have very real and measurable expectations and goals. We are watching and being watched. I can think of few areas where there is less room for impulsivity than the grind of our jobs. And, in our families, the real pressures and performance needed to be a good parent, spouse... these are areas with no real "wiggle-room" in the things that count.
But, in our eating and dietary choices there is real potential for change. For choice. For impulse. For a "devil-may-care" attitude. So different from what the rest of your life asks of you. Remember your last meal of celebration? A birthday maybe? You were handed a menu and told to "see what you like." There was a world of choice and options. Heck, you were invited to "go crazy." In fact, in all of our restaurant endeavors, excellence in choice is what brought us there in the first place. That and the promise of indulgence.
We have to realize that for most of us the only arena of real choice and guttural passion left is in our diet. The sooner we embrace this need and world of desire, the sooner we can start to take control. So, here is my recommendation. Start by deciding that you will not deny yourself an amazing dietary indulgence. You are no longer allowed to say "I do not eat desserts." Or, "I am cutting bread out of my life." These draconian denials have never proven to be durable promises anyhow. Why continue the charade?
Next, decide that your indulgences will be monumental. Not ever casual. If you need a brownie, is the dried out one "from the box" in the office common area really what you want? No. It will be wholly unsatisfying. Decide that you want a brownie and then plan on the where and when of your debauchery. Go to that fantastic bakery up the street and get the big honking one with the ground up toffee topping. Enjoy. Do not cheapen your base self by pedestrian temptation and fleeting desire. Food is the one area where we can indulge and be extravagant. (And, we have already decided that we are done with feeling bad about this.)
So, my diet prescription for you is to veer off of your diet only if it is spectacular. If we limit our indulgences to things that are truly worth our time, then we can finally get rid of all of the casual and additive calories that are the real poison in our dieting efforts.
So, skip the daily frappuccino. Pass on the chips at lunch. Don't even look at the Snickers Bar in the vending machine in the break room. But, when you are out with your friends or family, at the restaurant you love to go to, after the perfect meal with those you look forward to hanging out with, it is definitely time to dive into the hot fudge sundae. Heck, get one for yourself alone. This is worth it.
How to travel for business and still lose weight.
I hear it just about every day in my practice as a bariatric surgeon. Someone coming in after a week of business travel and telling me that "the trip ruined my diet." I am amazed at the pain that is experienced after these trips. And, more often than not, it takes weeks or months to fix a 5-7 day "screw-up."
I always try to get some details about what happened. It always comes down to the essential tenets of "we were entertaining the clients and I thought it would be rude to eat that differently from everyone else," and "I had to eat off the menu and there was nothing good for me."
I have a lot of patients who travel and I have to do a fair amount of traveling also in my business endeavors. So, I have come up with a few easy and reasonable tools to take control in these situations. And, in many cases, you will actually eat better while on the road.
First, never eat off the menu. I also call this rule "Everyone makes a chicken breast." When you are going out to eat, before you get there decide what you really want and what fits into your dietary needs. Then, just order what you want. Heck, you are paying for it. And, it will not seem obnoxious to those you are with if it is a reasonable and simple request.
As an example from my travels, I am constantly being taken to steakhouses when I am on the road. I take the menu and do not even open it. When the waiter asks for my order, I get "a salad, light dressing, no cheese or croutons, a filet mignon (without the butter sizzle) and a whole mess of veggies with no butter." I have never been questioned about this. The waiter just nods and goes on to the next person in my party. And, if I am in a place that doesn't have good steaks, I can opt for "a chicken breast -- however the chef makes it best and not too oily." It always works.
Second, do your research. Just about any place that you go to these days has an online presence and their menu posted. So, use that smart phone or free wireless during your downtime and get to work. It will take about three minutes. Look at the menu when you are not hungry -- maybe just after a meal, when you have control. Then, objectively decide what you are going to get at the restaurant. And, stick to the plan. Your dining party will be massively impressed by your decisiveness when you say "I don't need the menu today. I am definitely getting the broiled salmon. I hear it is fantastic here." (And, you never even gave yourself a chance to be waylaid by the fettuccine puttanesca and its carb-laden temptations.)
Third, ruin your meal. The way we are wired, when we are full we are in control. Remember your mom demanding that you "don't eat that just before dinner or you'll ruin your appetite!" Well, it is time to do just that. Before I go out to a sure-to-be-overindulgent meal on the road, I try to eat something real and substantial before I go out. I will eat a protein bar and an apple with a bottle of water before the meal. It is amazing how nothing looks that great when you are kind of full while reading the menu. Then I pull out my wholly truthful "I was starved after our last meeting and ate way too much in the room. I think I'm just going to get a small salad then an appetizer as my main course."
After practicing these maneuvers they will become sixth sense to you. You will save your indulgences for the times that you chose -- and not be victimized by the whims of your travel schedule. And, you'll probably find what I have found. That my diet is usually better when I am on the road. I am in much greater control.
How to keep your diet goals while working from home.
More and more people are working from home now. By choice or by situation. Whatever the reason, the transition to telecommuting or working from home results in a 15 or so pound weight gain. Your kids' Fruit Roll-Ups and the Cool Ranch Doritos in the cupboard are way too enticing. And, whoever heard of eating a handful? Heck, it's a lot easier to just bring the bag to your desktop computer. And, the leftover fettuccine? I know it's just 10:15 am, but you are pretty hungry. Wow, there is some of the birthday cake left over, too. It will be ok if you eat it now instead of tonight. It all goes to the same place anyhow, right?
Working from home is the ultimate in desperate diet situations. It has all of the potential for weekend indulgence, but none of the respect and control of the work week. However, in reality, the rules of how to limit the dietary dangers of working from home are to apply a few simple principles of organization and planning. Isn't your ability to organize and plan a part of why you believe you can thrive working from home?
First, realize what you cannot have around you as temptations. If you cannot be in the same house as Chips Ahoy cookies, then do not let them into your house. I am not saying that your whole family should suffer because of your indulgence weaknesses and be forced into a monastic dietary existence. Rather, I am saying that you should only get the stuff for them that you hate. Simple enough. I cannot have Oreos in my house. I dispense with them at a minimum of a full row at a time. But, I hate marshmallows and coconut in any form. So, guess what I insist be in all of the cookies and treats in my house? Yep, all are "contaminated" with coconut and/or marshmallow. Or, worse yet, anything with "sour" in the name. I hate that stuff too. This is the easiest rule to comply with. Fill your cupboard with stuff that you really don't like at all.
Second, pretend you have a "real work schedule." Set the time to "be at your desk." Better yet, incorporate the rituals of preparing to work -- take a shower, eat a reasonable breakfast, get dressed, and get to work. Be on time. And, set the reasonable times and intervals of your real-life work breaks and meals. If you are a half-hour lunch at noon gal, then set the alarm and take a real schedule break. When you worked in an office you weren't allowed to shuffle to the break room in your fuzzy slippers and stand at the fridge and eat the leftover fettuccine out of the Tupperware at 9:52 a.m. Why is that ok now? And, as you did in your office world, you need to plan your meals. Set up your brown bag lunch before you start your workday. Prepare your meals the evening before or morning of. In the real world of limited breaks and eating options, the rules of the what and when of eating are pretty well-defined. Get back to these rules.
Third, as a necessary caveat to the above scheduling rule, set a time to be done with work. The temptation to be constantly available and functional as a home-bound worker -- always a few steps away from more work to be done -- is a sure-fire stress inducer. And, as such, a similarly sure-fire trigger to stressful, impulse eating. When we are always working we never have time to plan and be mindful of good choices. And, food then becomes an easy and lazy indulgence. So, define when you are done working and stick to the schedule. There will always be more work to be done.
Fourth, realize that your sanity depends on getting out of your house or apartment and actually seeing people face-to-face. This is a needed reality check and easily forgotten when we are home-bound workers. And, there is no better way to simultaneously, casually see "real people" and help your health and weight-control goals than by going to the gym. I always joke that "in the history of man, no one has ever gone home after work and then gone to the gym. The gravitational pull of your couch is just too strong to release you into the world again." But, if you work from home, how do you escape this force of nature? Once again, you can only accomplish this by planning and scheduling it into your day. It will never happen spontaneously. It is virtually impossible to impulsively drive yourself to the gym. So, plan "getting off of work" at 5 and going to the gym before heading back home. Pack your gym bag the night before. Plan to meet a friend there on his way home from work too.
Real control takes real planning. Diet, schedule, working out. The same discipline that makes you succeed in the unsupervised world of your home office is the same discipline that will help you keep your waistline in check.
Follow Michael A. Snyder, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/fullbar