When I first started my 30 Day Reboot (a modified version of the Whole 30 program), I was at a weekend conference with a friend of mine about 5 days into it. On the second day of the conference, as we were sitting at Panera Bread and I was eating a delicious spinach salad off of their “hidden menu”, she said to me: “don’t you just want a cookie sometimes?”
After I realized that she meant during this 30 days, and not in general (because hello, I love cookies!), it got me thinking about my mindset during this period. I’ve actually had a few people over the last few weeks tell me that they wish they had the motivation/dedication/self-restraint that I do, or that they wouldn’t be able to be around certain foods and not eat them. I don’t consider myself to have super human strength in self-restraint, but I have found this 30 days to be fairly easy, so what gives? What causes that mental shift in focus — going from seeing cake and NEEDING CAKE to seeing cake and feeling quite indifferent about it?
I think it comes down to one word: don’t vs. can’t.
For instance, if I walk into a bakery, with all of their amazing baked goods on display for all of my senses to take in (ohmygod that bread smells so good…), part of me is going to want one of those delicious treats. In the past, if I had told myself “I can’t” have one of those treats, I would want it more. However, once I decided to do this 30-day Reboot, can’t turned into don’t, and all of a sudden, it’s not some external influences telling me that I can’t have this food, but now it’s me telling myself that I don’t eat that — not for the next 30 days, anyway.
When you make it your choice, your decision, and take all of the external bullshit out of the equation (did I workout enough this week? did I have sweets yesterday? am I feeling sad/angry/frustrated/excited?), it becomes much easier to stick to a certain plan. Not to mention, I think it is much easier for the psyche to register “I am not eating cookies for the next 30 days“, than it is “I can never eat cookies again! Cookies are SO BAD!” See the difference? I’m not vilifying cookies, I actually really love cookies, and I think that they can find their way into anyone’s diet in moderation. Instead, I am making a conscious decision to say no to cookies for 30 days, and then when the 30 days is up, I can make a new decision on whether I want a cookie or not.
I think one of the things that is hardest for people when it comes to healthy eating is the stress of constantly making decisions. If you have a jar of candy on your desk at work, every time you glance at that jar, you are making a decision (whether it’s conscious or unconscious) on whether or not you should eat a piece of that candy. There is a great book called Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, PhD, where he talks about this very premise. The more times you have to make that decision to not eat a piece of that candy, the greater your chances of caving to the candy jar by the end of the day, if not by lunch time. According to the research presented by Wansink, our brains can only handle so much decision making in one day.
So doesn’t it make sense that when the decision is made in advance and there is no constant subconscious battling over whether or not you will have a piece of candy, your brain is free to focus on other things? Sure, sometimes I might want a cookie, as my friend suggested, but I’ve already made the decision, starting on January 6th, that I wouldn’t have any cookies for 30 days. So when I do see some delicious looking fresh-baked cookies, there is no internal cookie-or-no-cookie battle, there is simply the realization that the cookie looks good, but I won’t be having any at this time.
So really, for those who have complimented my determination, etc., it’s really just all about making decisions. Making your brain choose whether or not to have a cookie every time you see a cookie, is asking your brain to do an awful lot of unneccessary work. I think it’s also important to note that I’m not telling myself that I’ll never have cookies/bread/cake/candy again, I’m just telling myself that I’m not having it right now. Telling yourself that you will never again have your favorite food is kind of a form of masochism, if you ask me, but telling yourself that you won’t have that food for 30 days, or two weeks, or one week? I think we can all handle that. And I’m not saying that it’s always easy, just that it’s possible.
The point is, don’t make your brain work so hard. If you know that you eat cookies every night before bed, but you really want to learn to tame that craving, set some boundaries for yourself and stick with them. Don’t continue to make your brain make that decision every night — make it ahead of time, and hold yourself accountable. Decide that you won’t have cookies for 1 week or two weeks, and stick to it. Yes, the first few nights that you don’t have cookies will be hard, and you’ll definitely be tempted to dig in to that bag of Oreos, but if you give it a chance, and stick with the decision you made, you might be able to beat that craving after all. And I can almost guarantee you that after your time period is up, you’ll be much better at making those decisions on a regular basis — you will control your thoughts about the cookies, instead of the cookies controlling your thoughts.
Readers: What do you think of the difference between can’t and don’t when it comes to food? Do you think you could (or would) give up your favorite treats for 30 days?