Yesterday was the first day of Spring Break for my husband and kids. I came home from work to find an empty bag of Snickers Minis on my kitchen table. Seriously?!? The entire bag? In one day?
My first reaction was to be angry. Guess who is eating straight lettuce with no dressing for dinner tonight? Guess who is heading to the gym immediately after eating that pile of lettuce and doing burpees till their legs explode? Guess who isn't getting a single piece of chocolate in their Easter Baskets? Don't try to hide in your rooms . . . you know who you are!
Then my mind went back to a time several years ago when I would have eaten the entire bag of Snickers Minis . . . all by myself . . . in one day. The one big difference is that I would have hidden the bag. I was a pro at gorging myself with sweets or salty snacks or fast food stops and then getting rid of the evidence before anyone saw it. I had zero self-control. There was no guilt or shame. I felt a sick kind of pride that I got away with it and nobody knew my little secret.
If I wanted an Oreo, I couldn't eat just one. I'd literally eat an entire row and then the entire package. If I was at a party and there was a tray of scrumptious appetizers, I would pop one in my mouth and then have another and another and another. After awhile I became completely numb to the harm I was doing to my body.
When I reached the point in my life when I wanted to start making healthy choices, I knew that my lack of self-control was one of the biggest hurdles I would have to overcome. After much trial and error, I discovered three tools that work for me:
1) EXAMINE why I'm eating. Am I eating because I am stressed out? I've learned that there are much better ways to handle stress than shoving chips down my throat! Am I eating because I didn't have time for lunch at work and while I'm cooking dinner there is a brand-new box of crackers sitting on the counter? I should put a handful of crackers in a small bowl so I know how many I'm eating. And while I'm waiting for dinner to cook I'll pack my lunch for tomorrow and include small healthy portions I can eat on the run. Am I eating because the food tastes so good and I simply want more? I need to slow down and enjoy it.
2) ENJOY the treat. Sometimes I don't pay attention and I'm truly inhaling the food. How easy is it to pop a mini Snickers in your mouth and swallow after a single chew or two? Your taste buds have barely had time to register the fact that there is food in your mouth! Stop for a moment and focus on what is in your mouth. How does it taste? Sweet? Sour? Salty? How does it feel? Smooth? Nutty? Hot? Cold? I find that when I pause and enjoy the food I'm eating, I'm likely to eat less yet feel more satisfied - both physically and mentally!
3) ESCAPE - When all else fails, run away. Just the other day I bought a bag of jelly beans. What was I thinking? I can mindlessly eat an entire bag of jelly beans in one car ride home from work. It only took me a second to recognize that I was going to have no self-control in this situation. So I enjoyed a few handfuls and then threw the bag away. When I am at a party, I stay as far away from the food table as possible. If we're having dessert and I'm too tempted to have more, I leave the room.
I didn't master these tools overnight. It took time and practice for me to learn what worked for me and how to use them. Just like me, my family will need time and practice to learn how to master self-control. They also will need a teacher. I guess that is me! And since I'm off from work today, class starts now!