No Willpower, No Problem at Foodie Thinking

No Willpower? No Problem

So my husband likes to read. If you ask him what one thing in life would make him the happiest, he would answer “enough money to buy any book I want and enough time to read them all.” I think that reading is to him what exercise is to me. There must be several times during the week that exercise must occur in order for me to feel normal. I, on the other hand, am a doer. I do like reading, but if I’m really honest, I basically never get to it because there are more things I need to DO. And I’m REALLY good at coming up with things to do. But a sweet part of married life is that your lives intersect on a daily, often hourly basis. So I find myself reading a chapter of one of the books he has been reading (he knows I wouldn’t get to the full book quick enough, so he assigns a specific chapter he thinks I’d be interested in). This time, the chapter happened to be SPOT ON for the direction I have been thinking.

The book: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life                 Author: Scott Adams

Scott Adams is the creator of Dilbert, the widely-known comic strip. His writing style is blunt, honest, and you guessed it, entertaining. I have only read the chapters Diet and Fitness, but I have to say that I agree with at least 90% of what he says. He comically repeats over and over that you should never take advice from a cartoonist, especially if it has to do with health. He’s speaking in his book from his personal experience and scientific studies. So I advise the same if you read this chapter, his method may work for some people, but not for all. And never take advise about health without consulting your doctor.

I love his initial claim that “I eat as much as I want, of anything I want, whenever I want.” He then explains that you can change what you want.

     My experience, as odd as it sounds, is that I can change my food preferences by thinking of my body as a programmable robot as opposed to a fleshy bag full of magic. This minor change in perspective is more powerful than it seems. Most people believe there is no strong connection between what they eat and how they feel. I call that perception the Fleshy Bag of Magic worldview. When you think of yourself as a fleshy bag of magic, you either assume there is no direct connection between what you eat and how you feel or think your diet has some impact but it’s unpredictable because life is complicated and there are too many factors in play (Adams, 182).

This is one of the main reasons I set out to write this blog. To prove from other peoples’ and my experience that we can change what we crave. This is powerful foodie thinking. If you have ever felt like you needed a big salad or something nutritious after a week of binging on Christmas food, you know what I’m talking about. I have seen this work for me in as a gradual processes with several ingredients. So has my husband. We recently had a discussion about things we used to dislike which we have grown to like over the last several years. For me, it was bananas. Didn’t want to touch ’em. When I was in college, I knew that I wasn’t getting enough potassium (after reading something in nutrition class or researching it on my own…I’ve always been a foodie geek) and that bananas would be basically the only way for me to get enough. I grabbed one on a day that I felt confident I could choke it down. I put as much peanut butter as I could on each bite. I did this numerous times. Now, I can grab a banana and eat it by itself (although I do prefer a bit of peanut butter with it).

My husband had a similar experience with avocados. I KNOW!! He didn’t like them!! This was also a college experience. He figured he should get rid of one of the only food aversions he had, so he asked his mom to start making his sandwiches with avocado on them. He accurately assumed that he would be hungry enough after classes to eat it without paying attention to the avocado. Now he asks for avocados on his eggs and always puts a few in the cart when we grocery shop together.

The next thought from Scott I’d like to reference is about willpower:

      Science has demonstrated that humans have limited supply of willpower. If you use up your supply resisting one temptation, it limits your ability to resist others. Struggling to do anything has a steep price because you don’t want to use up your willpower and energy on something as unimportant as staying away from the candy drawer. You might need your willpower later for something more substantial. What you need is a diet system that doesn’t rely on willpower. And that means reprogramming your food preferences so willpower is less necessary (Adams, 186).

This is an entirely new concept to me. I had not thought to take most of the willpower out of establishing one’s diet. Scott recommends cutting out all simple carbs, such as white rice, white potatoes, and white bread. If you use all your willpower to simply cut out simple carbs, and tell yourself that you can eat anything else, you will probably notice a big difference in your energy levels. I notice a huge difference in my overall energy when I don’t eat an abundance of simple carbs. But it’s so easy to consume a lot when you are hungry and that’s the easiest thing to grab. That’s why we try to PLAN our meals and snacks so that it is easy to grab something we enjoy that is healthy. Scott references this as well: keeping healthy snacks easy to grab. We love keeping bananas, oranges, apples, and grapefruit on hand for an easy snack. I also like having some mixed nuts (preferably lower-sodium) on hand to grab when we are cooking dinner and just need to tide ourselves over for 45 minutes until dinner is done. I enjoy a few slices of cheese for a snack as well. I will also work on some recipes for snacks in weeks to come.  If you replace your easy-to-grab snacks with something healthy that you would enjoy anyways, you are setting yourself up for success.

 

This has challenged me to think differently about my own food habits. To be honest, giving up simple carbs kind of scares me. Scott does mention that he isn’t as hard on himself during the evenings he is out with friends, which I think is excellent advice.  And I do like the idea of setting myself up for success by 1. changing my preferences so I don’t need to use as much willpower and 2. using my willpower on the changes that are most important instead of spreading it out on too many small variables.

I set a goal for myself last year to stop ordering lattes with sugar in them. I love a good hazelnut latte. But I knew that the corn syrup that they put in the average latte is harmful to my overall health. So I started ordering plain lattes. It wasn’t quiet the same. Two options I tried were ordering a plain latte with whole milk (makes it naturally sweeter and filling) and also adding hazelnut stevia drops (so far, I have only heard good things about sweetening with stevia). It has taken time, but I now prefer my latte much less sweet. I like the whole milk option, and if I don’t have my stevia drops, I just ask for the least sweet option. I’ve noticed now, that getting a fully sweetened Starbucks latte now makes me feel a little sick. I hope that by the time I’m 30, I order plain lattes as a default.

In other words, these things take time. Changes in your preferences may take years. But overall, it will be much easier than always trying to force yourself to eat vegetables that you don’t like. I remember reading something in a wedding magazine about diet before the big day. It advised to not go on a big “flash diet,” but instead make some small changes that will stick with you for years to come. You are getting married to this guy and sticking with him for life, so why make yourself look 5 pounds skinnier for a few weeks? Why not make some changes that will look good on you for years? That’s largely how I view my food choices now. I want changes that I can make one step at a time. I want them to stick and become habit.

To wrap up, let me provide a few links for you. I may be referencing Scott’s book in a later post again since there are a variety of great points in his Diet chapter:

If you’d like to check out some hilarious Dilbert comic strips click here.

And if you are interested in the whole book, you can buy it here.

 

Please comment and share if you have ever successfully changed one of your food preferences for the better below!

 

4 thoughts on “No Willpower? No Problem

  1. lauradances says:

    Fun note about lattes, I started doing lattes with a little honey and cinnamon, and they’re SO delicious!! If I’m getting it at Starbucks, I’ll ask for a latte with one packet of honey for a tall (usually 2 for a grande) and cinnamon steamed with the milk. There’s no charge for honey or cinnamon, so it’s a cheap flavor option too! A few Starbucks I’ve been to have been weird about either putting the honey in themselves or steaming the cinnamon with the milk, but most of them are fine with it and even say they want to try one too. šŸ˜Š If you make lattes at home, they’re best when you put the honey in the mug first, pour the espresso over it and mix and then steam the cinnamon with the milk – or add it when you do the French press frothing I saw you do. šŸ˜Š

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Great piece. At different times of my life I’ve been able to maintain a strong body image and eat well and feel great…other times I’ve not kept a focus on my body and i fall prey to bad choices.

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