Taming Impulsive Eating: Padlocks On The Fridge or Gratitude?

11/10/2016 12:32 pm ET

A group of us were celebrating a dear friend’s birthday, and when the time came for dessert, the waiter presented the birthday gal with an adorable Red Velvet cupcake, the single candle burning bright. Clearly not a treat to be shared. No problem, as the waiter came round the table, we each ordered our respective yummies, amid a chorus of “Really, I shouldn’t,” “Oh, well, just this once,” and “It’s a special occasion, what the heck.”

Because whether it’s concern over added weight, or – in my case – concern over too much sugar and the threat of high cholesterol, most of us think we really shouldn’t.

Only you know how it goes, you had a rough day at work, or you’re feeling lonely, or you’re watching a movie – how can you not munch through a movie? Or the zillion other reasons why you obey that impulse to grab a pack of salty fried chips, eat the ice cream, crunch your way through an entire bag of cookies. Then you turn around and wonder, “How’d that happen?” and to swear to yourself, “Never again.” Yeah, right. Like that’s a promise you’ll (I’ll!) keep.

But here’s the thing: what if there was a way? What if there was an alternative to padlocking the fridge, manacling your hands together, or the usual – feeling deprived and depressed.

Most of our impulsive eating has nothing to do with pleasure. We seek to soothe a frustration, an annoyance, an emotional emptiness, by eating whatever is our “comfort food.” Recent research, however, points to a gratitude process as being a remarkably effective way to quiet those impulses.

Gratitude? What could gratitude possibly have to do with foregoing a doughnut ice-cream cone? Well, the study showed that people who had higher levels of gratitude in their daily lives were better able to delay gratification until later for greater rewards. They were more patient and less impulsive. Professor David DeSteno, one of the lead researchers, said: “That suggests that the more you regularly experience gratitude, the more self-control you have in various areas of your life.”

Regularly experiencing gratitude doesn’t mean hours of soulful contemplation on the glories of life. Not that such meditation isn’t lovely, but a regular practice of gratitude is actually much simpler and easier than that.

Just grab a pad and a pen, or your trusty phone, and as you settle down for the night, take a few moments to write down/type in five things you were grateful for that day. Five ordinary things, you know, like the traffic was lighter today on your way to work, a funny bit landed in your inbox that amused you, the sun felt good on your face as you walked to an appointment, your child did her chores without complaining. Little things. Big things as they come along. The magnitude doesn’t matter, what does is your regular, daily, practice of appreciation.

Gratitude makes life overall feel better, which in turn makes it easier for us to tolerate the frustrations, annoyances and unpleasantness that crop up in our lives. With that, we are more patient, less quickly frazzled, more able to withstand the momentary “feel-good” of impulsive eating or other such distractions.

No, you won’t forego the pleasure of indulging in a tasty impulse every so often. But you’ll be indulging because you really will enjoy that double-double-chocolate ganache, not because you’re lonely, or frustrated, or bored.

With that, you won’t have a case of the “I shouldn’t haves” because you’ll have indulged on purpose, deliberately, for the sheer pleasure of it; conscious, aware and knowing. Way to go!

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