Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Battle of Wills. Dealing with temptation.

The daily struggle with temptation is something we all experience. Some people crave salty, crispy snacks; others, sweet sugary treats. Whatever the flavor or texture, it's a challenge that we all have in common.

When I question clients about the progress of their changing nutritional habits, I often hear, "Well, I did OK, but then the kids had (chips, cookies or some other junk food) and I had to have some too". Other times it's that someone had a great week & blew it by eating a pan of brownies at the Sunday night family dinner. Let's face it. Temptation and having strong will power is difficult. If you're an emotional eater, it's even more challenging.

There are so many reasons for the midnight munchies and caving into temptation. For emotional eaters, high stress is the biggest trigger. For other people, boredom is another trigger. Typically (excluding emotional eaters), poor nutrition and the lack of appropriate calories for that individual often leads to after dinner binges.

There are two solutions to this problem. First, one must determine why they are so tempted. Is it something biological and just part of who they are? Could it be resolved through proper nutrition and balance? Is it emotional eating? Figuring out the "why" is always easier said than done. However, once an individual gets to the core of the situation, the resolution becomes much easier.

In the interim, the second solution is to create a temptation free environment. If you don't have those tempting snacks in the house, you can't eat them. If your craving is strong enough to make you get in the car and drive to the local grocery store, it's not so much an impulsive decision and you have some time to talk yourself out of it, thus resulting in making a better choice. It really is that simple.

Many people live in households where other family members (or roommates for that matter) don't share the same nutritional and fitness goals. One member of the family may claim that they don't need to get into shape and question why they are being made to change their habits. In this situation, a level of compromise and respect must happen. Of course, it is always up to an individual on what to eat at any given time. If one choses to eat junk, that's their choice. However, they should be respectful of those under the same roof who struggle with the challenge of changing their eating habits. It's not supportive to eat a bag a chips in front of someone who is trying to change and tends to go overboard with that particular snack.

In addition to determining the cause of the cravings and creating a temptation free environment, one can also use distraction and focusing on the "x factor" for motivation. It's hard to polish off a jar of peanut butter when you're busy with something else (reading, exercising, tackling the things you've been procrastinating on) or thinking about why you started working out in the first place. With these coping mechanisms, a person can be very successful at overcoming temptation.

So, skip the snack foods isle at the grocery store. You and your family don't need that junk in the first place and it will only be your downfall during those times of temptation. Out of sight, out of mind, not in your stomach and not on your butt.


e said...

In my experience and opinion, I disagree with your temptation theory. Removing the temptation does not teach you anything. You need the willpower YOURSELF to change. That's like going into the mall and expecting the candy shops and cookie stands to close down for the duration you're there. It's unreasonable and it's not helping you one bit.

If you can resist the temptation from your OWN HOUSE, you will in fact, be stronger for it AND you will be more likely to resist the temptation when you're out.

Besides that, unless your entire family is willing to change their eating habits and lifestyles too, it's simply not fair to them to not allow cookies or icecream simply because "mom's on a diet". If you truly want to succeed, you'll overcome your obstacles and become all the stronger (and better!) for it. Plus, really? You get an overwhelming feeling when you have a fridge full of crap and you don't touch a single bit of it. It's just so awesome to have that kind of inner strength.

And coming from someone who craved sweets HOURLY, and who ate from pure boredom... It's really not THAT hard to do if you *really* want to succeed and achieve your ultimate goal. :)

Kristin said...

It may be nice to think that everyone can resist temptation and develop will power the strength of steel, but that's not reality. The majority of society doesn't work that way. This is coming from not only my own personal experiences, but also combined with many years of professional experience as well.

Creating a temptation free environment is one of the most successful tools in dealing with cravings and binges. If it's not there, you can't eat it.

The mall situation is not so much a problem, because there are specific triggers for caving into temptation. These almost always occur at home, in periods of stress and boredom.

While it isn't fair to expect an entire household to adopt healthier eating habits, there should be a level of compromise and respect for everyone. The dieter respects the fact that other members of the house choose to eat as they like. The rest of the household respects the dieters efforts and instead of buying bulk bags of chips, choses to purchase smaller portion sized items so there aren't huge amounts of leftovers to tempt the dieter. It's a win-win situation and a very reasonable compromise.

It's been shown many times through various studies that creating a temptation free environment is a successful technique in reaching your fitness goal. This isn't just true to fitness, but other temptations in life as well. Think about the teenage sex drive. Sex and drugs effect the brain in very similar ways to food. For some people, the drive is too strong. For others, will power is weak and that's just who they are.

I do have to say that changing nutritional habits is the number one hurdle that the majority of people struggle with. Food means a lot of things to different people and many have strong emotional ties to it. Keeping temptations in the house is only going to set up that individual for failure.