I’ve lost count the number of times when I’ve heard ‘weight loss experts’ wax on about how you just need a little willpower to resist temptation. I’ve got more willpower than I know what to do with. I’ve got myself down and up the Grand Canyon in a single day, I’ve hiked for 7 days straight in Nepal at altitude, while fighting off a chest infection and an undiagnosed and un-treated bout of Graves disease, the symptoms of which include exhaustion and muscle weakness, and I’ve written five full-length novels against all odds. I may as well legally change my middle names to Persistence, Determination and Willpower for all the difference it makes. So I find it infinitely irritating that people think staying on a diet is all about willpower, when anybody who’s ever been on a diet knows that willpower has nothing to do with it after the first couple of days.
Me? I’m in week 3 and yes, I’ve had some rocky moments. In my last post Resisting Resistance, I talked about how I ended up eating MacDonalds two nights in a row. So, how did I go on night three? Glad you asked.
After the previous two nights, my entire drive home was consumed by thoughts of dinner and how I didn’t want a repeat of last night. And I really didn’t. I had my beef skewers, Harissa and yummy vegetables waiting for me at home and that’s what I wanted to eat.
So, on tonight’s trip home, I did something different. Every time I thought about food, I deliberately distracted my thoughts away from it. Now, that didn’t stop me thinking about bad food (and when I use the term “bad food”, please understand that it’s short-hand for “food that is bad for me” and not some moralistic judgement), but it did reduce the amount of time I spent thinking about it.
And here I learned another important lesson. The time spent thinking about bad food is the most dangerous aspect of it. The longer your thoughts linger on visions of juicy burgers and crisp golden fries, the more details you fantasise about, the more real they become and the more you become committed to eating them. Your tastebuds expect them – to the point where nothing else will really hit the spot for your hunger.
Not convinced? Think about this – now that I’ve detailed this food in the paragraph above, you’re tempted now, aren’t you?
And that’s what I learned. Thinking about it is a killer. Distraction stops you thinking. On my drive home I had to distract my thoughts about 20 times in the space of 15 minutes – it was damned irritating, I can tell you. But the upshot was that I got home without stopping for junk food that would clog up my arteries and make me fatter.
I suspect that with a little practice, distraction will get a little easier to do. I don’t think this is the perfect cure, and I know I’ll have to work on it further. But I hope a day will come when thoughts of MacDonalds won’t assail me at all on the way home. In the meantime, I do now have at least one tool to fight them with.
- Willpower depletion and the brownie decision (scienceblogs.com)
- Why You Can’t Make a Good Decision at 5:00 pm: Decision Fatigue (psychcentral.com)