Let's face it, the holidays can be ground zero for temptation. How will you respond this season?
Too often we assume our initial decision to be healthy will become its own fount of self-discipline. Unfortunately, life presents us with plenty of scenarios that often unexpectedly challenge our good intentions.
What do we rely on in those moments? What self-talk is running through our minds? Do we have an adequate arsenal of effective responses to draw upon?
Check out these tried-and-true comebacks used by my clients when temptation lures you.
Be True to Yourself.
You’re at a get-together with some close friends. There are tons of carb-heavy appetizers and treats, and although they’re right in your face, you’re doing an amazing job avoiding them and sticking to your own plan.
One of your friends notices this and calls you on it, asking why you’re not eating anything while at the same time handing you a plate full of the exact food you’ve been avoiding.
You start to feel guilty for maybe seeming rude. You end up taking the plate from her and are now stuck with temptation directly in your hand. Should you be polite and eat it?
In these types of scenarios, it’s easy for us to feel as if we’re offending someone by our choices, to feel like we even need to lie in order to hide our intentions so we can please someone else.
In the end, we end up hurting ourselves.
I like to remind my clients that discipline is remembering what you want as well as letting others (whom you trust) know what you want.
In this case, it’s better to be honest about your desire to avoid the snack table because you don’t want to eat those foods right now but that you appreciate someone making sure you were taken care of.
If they are true and close friends, they’ll understand your desire to eat healthily, and they’ll respect your intention by not pressuring you to eat something you’d rather not.
Don’t Be Dramatic.
“Will I ever eat chocolate again?” or “How many glasses of wine do you think I can get away with each week and still lose weight?” These may be two of the most common (and dramatic) questions I hear from clients.
When we start to say no to something we love because we understand it’s getting in the way of our success, sometimes our minds begin racing with fear or regret that we’ll never get to enjoy that food - “ever again.”
Remind yourself that saying no now doesn’t mean saying no forever.
Sometimes you will feel like you’re the only one eating healthily. To boot, receiving commentary from friends and family about your choices can be less than helpful (i.e “You can’t drink wine? No way could I stick to a plan like that!”).
When temptation hits, tell yourself that the taste of that particular food or beverage will never feel as good as being at your goal. And because you have full control of your choices, you may not eat or drink that item today, but you could choose to in the near future when you’ve planned for it and decided you truly want it.
Make a Concrete Plan.
I always think of one of my past clients, Paulette. She had a high-profile job in which a client of hers (who owned a bakery) was constantly bringing her fresh chocolate muffins on a regular basis for a gift.
Paulette – a self-identified chocoholic and too polite to say no – always accepted, although she knew it would result in her eating the entire batch in one sitting and further distancing herself from her weight loss goal.
When we discussed this, we both learned that the plans we created for Paulette to say “no thank you” or throw away the muffins didn’t work. She felt too much guilt. We needed to come up with a new concrete approach.
So, for the next few months, whenever Paulette received muffins she would bring them to me. It meant literally walking across the gym floor past all the people on cardio machines to my office with a bag of muffins in hand. She’d hand them to me and watch me throw them in my garbage – no emotion in sight. Then we’d get right into our coaching session to discuss the week prior.
It might sound silly, but it was an effective plan. Every time that specific temptation came her way, she knew what to do, and it worked for her. Over time, that situational plan fostered genuine confidence that allowed her to finally start saying no to her client with a reason why.
If you assume temptation will always present itself (and have a realistic plan for it), you’ll be much more successful at avoiding it.
Devising plans for recurring events, like Paulette’s, is imperative, but it’s also important to come up with strategies for on-the-fly scenarios.
If you’re going to a party tonight, assume someone will ask you if you want cake (or other temptation) and decide now (before you get there) how you are going to respond. This could also mean taking the time to plan out and identify key events where temptation is sure to find you - and at which of those occasions you’ll allow yourself to indulge.
For example, if you have a kid’s birthday party and a girl’s night out coming up, you may make a plan to eat clean and avoid all “temptation” foods at the birthday event while you allow yourself a couple of adult beverages when you’re out with your girlfriends.
Know When to Remove It - or Yourself.
Lisa was a long-term client of mine who came to my weekly, large group nutrition classes. Oftentimes, we’d talk about temptation foods and how most of us couldn’t avoid them if they were in the house.
Lisa often shared how she could easily leave a pan of brownies on her counter for weeks (without even touching them!), but for some reason between 3:00-4:00 every afternoon, she found herself in the fridge eating whatever she could find, even though she wasn’t hungry.
Over the course of our coaching sessions, we discovered some built-up anxiety for that time period (the hour in which her five children would come home from school and she’d have to be “Super Mom” again). She was treating that feeling by feeding herself.
Knowing that her fridge and that hour were triggering her behavior, she decided to remove herself from the setting completely. Each and every day from 3:00-4:00, she would go for a walk, calm down, and be ready for her kids when they arrived home.
It’s good to know and recognize what triggers tempt you and what circumstances elicit challenging feelings.
In Lisa’s case (as for many busy moms), having that "me-time" is imperative. When that time is up, we can feel anxious knowing all efforts are going to be for everyone else minus ourselves. Finding a way to pay ourselves first with some quality relaxation, activity or enjoyment can keep us from indulging in so-called “shadow-comforts” like emotional eating.
The same principle applies to other kinds of situations. Sometimes you may need to completely remove yourself from a scenario that tends to throw you off track or get in the way of your goals.
If you have a group of friends that won’t support your new eating behaviors, consider meeting them less often or only for coffee or phone chats instead of meals or happy hours.
If you know that going to the movies will always lead you to buy and consume the entire container of large popcorn, don’t go to the movie theater. If keeping ice cream in your freezer or cookies in a jar are dangerous for you, remove them from your grocery list and don’t keep them at home.
Have an Accountability Partner.
“I didn’t want to record that I had more than one piece of pie, so I completely avoided it altogether, knowing you were going to read my journal.” I’ve heard various forms of this self-report many times.
I’m a big fan of food journaling, but to the surprise of most of my clients, I’m not tracking and recording grams or calories for them. I suggest people use it and share it in our sessions to learn their specific eating behaviors and to discover realizations about their patterns.
Nonetheless, keeping a food journal and knowing your trusted nutrition coach is going to read it might be one of the best tactics to avoid temptation altogether – according to most of my clients!
Having an accountability partner can be key to avoiding temptations. That could mean keeping a food journal with a nutrition coach, using a tracking application, or even attending an event with a buddy you can turn to if you’re tempted to veer off track.
If you and your significant other are going out for the night and you only want to have one adult beverage, ask him or her to address it if you end up ordering a second. Having someone you trust who doesn’t enable you can make it easier to avoid temptations, and that person can also be a good sounding board for when it gets difficult.
Don’t Spiral Out of Control.
You’ve had a stressful week at work, but you’ve been disciplined with your eating and decide to say yes to your coworkers who ask you to join them for happy hour. They do all the ordering and, before you know it, a pitcher of beer with chips and queso are at the table and right in front of you.
You kindly ask the waitress to bring you some soda water with lime and decide that you’re going to have a few chips, only because you haven’t had queso in months and it’s your favorite.
After you do, you start to feel defeated. You determine that you’re now going to go all out by staying for dinner and ordering a burger and fries along with some dessert. Although you had a good time, the next day all you think about is your poor food choices the night before. You then decide your week’s weight loss goal is probably out of reach and you might as well not work so hard at eating healthily the rest of the week.
When it comes to indulging, I like to tell my clients this: “Allow yourself to slip, but not to fall.”
That could mean saying yes to chips and queso or to dessert after dinner. However, it’s important to own your decision to indulge (not to blame your circumstances or weak motivation), to enjoy it, and then to move on.
Too often enough, we associate guilt with these decisions. The result? Our negative emotional response much more than the food choice itself ironically leads us further away from our intended path. Suddenly, one choice leads to dietary disaster for the rest of our day or even week.
The truth is, sometimes our plans don’t go as we’d intended. If you find yourself veering off track, own it and end it there. Don’t let one choice set the tune for the rest of your day or week.
If you allow yourself space and compassion for occasional slips, you’ll keep those lapses in perspective and avoid abandoning your healthy intentions. Tell yourself that eating off plan isn’t any reflection on who you are as a person or how worthy you are of enjoying the good health and target weight you desire. Your willingness to get back on track after a slip, however, will demonstrate how ready you are to reach your goal.
Thanks for reading. Would you like support in addressing temptation or progressing your weight loss program? Talk with one of our registered dietitians or weight loss coaches today!
In health, Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss
This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.