The other morning, I was packing the girls’ lunches. I was putting some Milano cookies in a snack bag when everyone started melting down. One of them couldn’t find the shirt she wanted to wear, and the other didn’t like the ponytail I had just done.
People were crying and whining and freaking out — and we were already late. So I ate a few of the cookies. For the rest of the day, I continued mindlessly shoving in handfuls of whatever was around, some of it good, some of it not so good: grapes, potato chips, red pepper strips, more Milano cookies. Basically, anything that was in front of me.
It was like I had opened the floodgates to the binge beast that I had to keep feeding for the rest of the day.
Has this ever happened to you? It’s super frustrating, because you know when you’re doing it that it’s totally pointless. Whatever it is that you’re putting in your mouth doesn’t even taste that good. (Case in point: Milano cookies.)
When you eat something mindlessly at the beginning of the day, you tend to continue doing it throughout the day. That’s because you’ve given up control, and it’s hard to regain it.
Then you add to it the “what’s the difference” mindset that takes over after that one slip-up. I was saying it to myself all day long after mine. I felt like I had already blown it, so why exercise all my willpower for the rest of the day? I figured I’d just start over tomorrow.
But, as you probably know, “I’ll start tomorrow” becomes, “I’ll start on Monday,” and that basically becomes, “I’ll start when I feel like it.”
(I should say here that I obviously still work on all this, too. It’s a lifetime journey for anyone who’s trained herself to eat emotionally, and that includes me.)
Even if you decide to gather your willpower and make up for it the rest of the day — saying that you won’t eat as much for dinner or you won’t have dessert or that glass of wine — you’ll be hard-pressed to succeed because you’ll have less confidence to stick with it after caving in at the outset of your day. And then you just feel worse about yourself when you do run out of willpower and give in.
The biggest problem with all of this isn’t the calories. It’s the psychological effect. When you feel out of control like this — when you’re really anything but — you give away your power. And when you give away your power, your inner critic is more likely to show up. Then it tells you that you’re weak, you have no willpower, you’re disgusting, and so on. Then you’re less likely to ever make progress.
So how can you prevent yourself from starting your day off wrong and derailing the rest of it? Here are some tips:
Slow down. Mindless eating is much more likely to happen when you’re stressed out or in too much of a hurry. You’re not present and therefore incapable of making a deliberate choice. Stop yourself, take a few seconds, breathe . . . then make a conscious decision and proceed.
Ask questions. When you’re taking a minute to gather yourself, ask yourself questions. Do I really want this? What am I going to get out of it? Also, and most importantly, where is this urge coming from? The answer to that question will be different for everyone, but understanding your particular drivers will go a long way toward your success. It’s easier to change your behavior when you understand why it’s happening in the first place.
Visualize. This may sound crazy, but trust me, it works. Imagine that there really is some kind of hideous beast in your stomach, and the more you feed it the bigger and hungrier it gets. Even better, the more you feed it, the more it insults you and tells you what a loser you are. Just before you shove that bite of food in your mouth, think about that troll and tell him to F off and that you’re not playing these games anymore.
If you stop and think about it, it’s really absurd that we make things like this so monumentally challenging. That we feel like we have so little power that we can’t stop ourselves from scarfing down three crappy cookies and that we have to summon all kinds of willpower to go about our day afterward.
I mean, honestly, it’s no big deal. And the bigger deal you make of it, the more power you give away. So take control that first time, build your confidence throughout the day, and win. Then do it again the next day, and the next.
And if you really do want that cookie, just eat it mindfully and consciously, because that makes all the difference.
You are bigger and more powerful than that beast, and you don’t have to feed it. Take charge, cut him off, and get busy feeling confident and in control — because you are.