And I’ve seen that when I, and my clients, allow ourselves to have what we want, whether it’s chocolate, sex, sleep, TV, or potato chips, and don’t beat ourselves up for enjoying it, you’ll find yourselves at a happy weight. Not only that, we enjoy our lives and feel well on a regular basis.
Science and experience back this up. A study by Nichole Mead and Vanessa Patrick proved that when a person tells themselves they can have something they desire, just not right now, they will eat less of it and feel more satisfied. The cravings relax their death grip on the brain and body, and you like yourself a lot more because you’re saying, “Hey body, yes! Good idea! You can have that! Let’s just wait until later. You rock.”
This flies in the face of what most diet gurus recommend, and how I used to teach my clients and programs. Years ago I told my clients to clean out their fridge and detox their cupboards of the treats they were supposed to avoid. Now, this is still true if we’ve discovered through a food-sensitivity experiment that they need to avoid gluten, dairy, sugar or some other food.
Now I make a different recommendation, and it works so much better, feels easier, and helps my clients relax. When I began researching these studies in the last few years, as I was exploring my own cravings and trying to understand the foundations of how a healthy life is truly lived on a daily basis, I realized they proved how I was living my own life and how my most successful clients got happy and health quickly.
My own cupboards are stocked with the best quality options of everything I want. Real grass-fed butter, and my favorite organic soy creamer. 75% dark chocolate and cold honey crisp apples in the fridge. Organic spicy chicken sausages, baby bitter greens, raw sauerkraut with whole grain mustard, and Earl Grey tea – in decaf and regular.
My favorite foods are always around, I eat when I’m hungry and I never feel deprived. I eat slowly, at the table, and make a lot of yummy, MMMM sounds. Yes, I often crave chocolate after lunch. But I know my body and brain well. I know that if I eat chocolate right after lunch, I’ll get foggy and tired and won’t work very well. I’ve learned that if I tell myself “Nice! I love that lavendar chocolate up in the cupboard. I’ll have some after dinner tonight,” the craving usually evaporates and I often have a bit later. I’ll often make myself a cup of spiced decaf chai tea or drink some of my favorite chia seed kombucha instead, and I’m satisfied. Many nights I don’t have any chocolate at all. But when I do, I enjoy the heck out of it and don’t feel guilty one bit.
Deprivation diets are based on struggle, effort and willpower, all of which are in short supply for modern women and men. Relaxation and permission to enjoy is based on self-love and trust. Establishing healthy habits is the first priority. Use your willpower to create the habits, then you can ease into enjoying your food, eating out with friends and family and not be so freaked out by “sticking to the rules.”
My client Mary had a similar journey to mastering her cravings by developing new after-lunch habits. Mary worked in a hectic law firm in midtown Manhattan. Most days she would skip breakfast, and grab coffee and a pastry on the way to work. She would get take-out for lunch, and work at her desk while eating. About three o’clock Mary would get cravings for candy, coffee or potato chips. She was trying to stick with a diet plan to control her blood sugar, and couldn’t lose weight and keep it off. Once she “caved” to her afternoon cravings, she would feel the familiar “what the fuck” effect and binge on whatever snacks crossed her path.
When we began working together, I helped Mary create a new breakfast habit. After going through a food sensitivity experiment and three-week detox, we discovered that Mary needed to have protein in the morning to feel her best, and avoid dairy and gluten. We started her on a breakfast smoothie habit that included raw greens to help her digestion.
Instead of working through lunch with take out balanced on her lap, Mary began making her own giant lunch salads, topped with her favorite tuna, eggs and olives. In the afternoon, when she needed a break from computer work, we set Mary up with a walking break. A five minute walk to a nearby juice store, where she picked up a tangy-sweet apple and greens juice, got her moving and hydrated. Once back at her desk for the afternoon, Mary was energized from the walk and enjoyed sipping on her green juice that became a favorite.
Sure, the afternoon chocolate and chips cravings still came up sometimes. And sometimes she had them when she wanted them. But usually Mary told herself “Yes you can have that tonight after work, once you get home and put your feet up. If you eat it at work, you probably won’t even notice it because you’ll be too busy to enjoy it!”
The trick, as Mead’s research showed, is to give yourself, later, exactly what you desire – and not a substitution. By allowing herself to enjoy real chocolate or real potato chips when and if she wanted them, without shaming herself, Mary’s cravings naturally reduced and she started eating better, and in less quantities.
Studies show that when people tell themselves they can have their cravings just not right NOW, they are liberated from the internal conflict and don’t end up eating as much later due to the self-loathing and guilt. Putting off the “guilty pleasure” to some vague future moment was emotionally and mentally easier and relaxing.
The other aspect of this work that’s so fascinating to me is this:
Depriving yourself is not effective because you’ll throw away your commitment once your willpower is gone. If you tell yourself you can have it later, you relax. AND you aren’t depleting your willpower this way.
But I think first you have to build up your trust with yourself that you are count-on-able. Once you start to believe that you’re reliable, those moments when you tell yourself you can have it in the future? You believe yourself and relax.