Many of us set weight loss goals and push full steam ahead for the first few days or weeks, and then suddenly "fall off the wagon". We keep trying to hop back on unsuccessfully and can't quite figure out what we're doing wrong... other than feeling sabotaged by an endless brigade of sweets, and food in general. We just don't know how to delay gratification for the greater goal of increased health. In fact, we've been taught just the opposite in our society. The Daft Punk song title "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger" comes to mind as a motto for how we're conditioned to live.
Thus, we feel like we can't succeed when faced with food challenges because we don't have enough willpower. We judge ourselves as not being strong enough, not thin enough, not good enough. We feel guilty because we didn’t live up to our goals. We feel shame that we have no control over ourselves and food.
These are obviously some powerful emotions, no doubt. After going through the dieting ringer once or twice, it can be disheartening to try and get back on the wagon. Well, you can. With these hacks you hop back on with some real oomph (and a healthy dose of practicality)
Here are my top 3 life hacks for hopping back on the wagon, and staying on for a good long ride...
Hack #1— Move Into Discomfort, Not Away From It
Don’t avoid tempting food situations like a family party or a night out with friends. Move into them and celebrate the times when you are able to say "No" or walk away. The really cool thing about making good decisions most of the time is that as you do, you literally send excitatory impulses to activate your pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for executive control. Thus, your ability to self-govern increases as you practice actually doing it. You can literally rewire your brain to get excited when you say “No”. It's right there in the science! This can restore a sense of self-control and build confidence, eventually giving you more freedom around food.
Hack #2— Planning Ahead
Premeditating your response to any situation in which you know you will likely face temptation increases your chance of overcoming it. For instance, if you know that there will be pressure to have a big slice of cake at your nephew's birthday party, have a decision made and a go-to statement already rehearsed. Even if you simply say, “No thanks, I'll pass", if you do it with confidence and decisiveness, you're less likely to face backlash from others. You have to feel it in your gut that you're making the right decision. This increases your chance of success and empowers you to forge ahead.
Hack #3— Be Present
Pay attention to what you're eating and how it's making you feel. Do you feel pleasant? Uncomfortable? How does that affect your thoughts about the food and about yourself? Be present with what happens inside you on a daily basis. When you notice that you're mind is whining and throwing a tantrum about desperately needing that chocolate brownie to live (yet again), laugh at the thought instead of taking it so seriously. Being present and non-judgemental helps us let go of guilt, shame and thoughts that just don’t serve us well.
Other Helpful Tools:
Create a plan
A plan provides structure and brings awareness to our routine. It also eliminates the chaotic nature of food binges, and spur of the moment relapses. Plan out your month and schedule your reward meals... because life is too short not to have chocolate. When you make Good Decisions Most of the Time your body is well enough equipped to handle the occasional indulgence. Knowing you will have a reward meal helps you “hold out” and can strengthen your ability to say "No".
Once you have a plan, prepare for the week. Shop on weekends or on your day off and know what each meal will consist of ahead of time. Creating a menu plan for the week increases your chance of sticking to it. If you have your lunch and a snack with you, you will be less likely to be tempted by that donut winking at you from the break room.
Be Gentle with Yourself
Know that the wagon is filled with other people facing the same challenges; you are not alone. Also remember that when you fall off, the wagon does not take off. It waits for you to wipe the chocolate off your face and hop back on. Know that there are no judgments on the wagon. Recognize that it is not about willpower. It’s about taking one step at a time, loving yourself and laughing when you falter.
For more inspiration, check out our eating psychology article Making the Shift from "I Can't" to "I Can".
You've got this!