The downward spiral. Anyone who has ever been on a “diet” has probably experienced it. You have a taste of something that you have defined as “off limits” and before you know it, you’ve blindly devoured a sleeve of cookies or a pint of ice cream and even though you’re full, you keep reaching your hand into a bag of stale Doritos. You feel gross. You vow to do better. Three days later, you’re in the same spot, surrounded by the same empty bags, making the same vow, once again sick to your stomach and regretting your all out binge.
For me, binges can happen for a number of reasons. Sometimes I’m frustrated with my lack of progress and I’m tempted to self-sabotage because I’m feeling deflated or hopeless. In those cases, binges are deliberate and planned. Other times, I grant myself permission for a small treat and just lose control, blocking out what matters most to me (my health) and getting lost in the moment. Usually, this latter type of binge happens when I’m too deprived. If my diet is so restrictive and my exercise extremely intense, I’m setting myself up to lose control. Willpower is finite and like a rubber band, if I stretch it too far, it’s bound to break.
No matter where you are in your fat loss journey I think most of us can relate to losing control and binging to some degree. Binges look different to different people and can be triggered by hundreds of different factors, but identifying and implementing strategies to avoid this junk-food vortex is critical to your success. The sooner we identify our binge triggers and adopt strategies to overcome them, the sooner we’ll find our unique fat loss formula and reach our goals.
Here are my top 5 go-to strategies for the times when I feel ready to dive head first into a hundred gallon vat of ice cream.
- Use “Just for today”
When I first committed to reaching my fat loss and health goals it was incredibly hard to imagine ever getting there. I had such a long way to go and attaining my goals seemed almost unfathomable. It was hard to imagine being lean and that made it easy to give myself “permission” to indulge. On a journey measured in years, what’s a day, right? That’s when I started implementing my “just for today” strategy. Instead of saying “screw it! I’ll start tomorrow; one day doesn’t really matter”, I re-commit to eating clean just for today. When tempted to binge I’d remind myself that nothing was off limits tomorrow, but just for today I’m going to choose discipline. That strategy allowed me to build momentum, start to see progress and made my goals more believable.
- Remind yourself of your goals
As I built momentum, I can’t tell you how many times I literally ask myself “What do you want more? This ice cream or to feel good about your body?” Nine times out of ten, the answer is the latter. The feeling I’d get at the end of a great day of eating clean and working out was far superior to the moment of pleasure I’d get from indulging (not to mention the subsequent guilt). I’d rather feel good about my body. I’d rather feel proud of myself and excited for my future. Over-indulging leaves me feeling frustrated, bloated and defeated….that is NOT worth the few minutes of pleasure that giving in would provide.
Sometimes I go so far as to open up my goals that I have listed on my phone and read through each of them. It’s a great gut-check and brings me back to a place of being focused and motivated. Re-read your goals and ask yourself what you want most.
- Consider your alternatives
Dying for something sweet? I get that! It doesn’t have to be your co-worker’s grocery store birthday cake that isn’t really that delicious anyway. How about some trail mix with almonds and cranberries? A square of rich, creamy dark chocolate. Or turn some chocolate protein powder into a creamy chocolate pudding or a mug cake with some coconut cream. Need a salty fix or feeling tempted to dive head-first into a bag of Lays? How about you make some homemade sweet potato chips and enjoy them with pico and guacamole? There’s always a way to make a better choice.
- Walk it off
This is something I do all the time. These days, when I get a craving, one of my first instincts is to go workout and see how I feel about the craving afterwards. Sometimes I’ll get a good, hard weight workout in. Other times I’ll jog or do backyard sprints. If I’m tired I might just jump on the treadmill and take a long, slow walk. The release of endorphins provided by exercise improves your mood and decreases your stress level – that’s often more than enough to eliminate your craving completely or at least take the edge off.
- Go to sleep
I love this one for many reasons. My cravings usually come at night. I’m slowing down, I tend to get a little bored and the accumulated pressures of the day have my stress level at its peak. Plus, I’m tired. My decision making is never the greatest when I’m tired so this is a high risk time. By choosing to sleep instead of indulge in something I’ll likely regret immediately afterwards, not only am I avoiding the temptation to eat but I’m also giving my body a chance to recover so that when I wake up, I’m rested, relaxed and in a much better position to make healthy choices.
Avoiding a binge isn’t always easy but don’t ignore what you want most for what you want now. Cravings are a fantastic tool you can use to understand what drives you to eat and what types of situations put you at risk. Are you more likely to binge after a stressful day at work or when you’re really tired? Identify the patterns and practice these strategies. The more aware you are the more control you have. There are countless options you can try in the process of identifying what works for you. Try a hot bath or a board game with your kids. Read a book or call a friend. The most important thing is to be present and aware, to not bury your head in the sand and “start fresh tomorrow”. Own it, understand it, find a strategy that works for you and practice.