Sheri’s Rants #5

Posted on December 23, 2008 by

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The Day After…(a tirade about WILL POWER)
I want to share with you an interesting holiday phenomenon.
It goes like this: you do GREAT with your food on the actual holiday – your plan is tight, your resolve is strong, your resistance to refined food is high and you pass the holiday proud, happy and empowered. You perhaps had a nibble of this or a piece of that, all perfectly acceptable in a well-rounded plan.
Then you wake up the next morning, and this is where things get interesting. More people binge on sugar and crap in the days following holidays and high emotion events than on the actual day itself. Here’s why:

You have a limited supply of will power. It is not a deep pool, it’s a finite amount.  Will power is the ability to restrain yourself from your impulses.   If you’re busy restraining yourself at home from brownies on the counter, at work from homemade peanut brittle, and at the Mall with the food court, then you’re draining off some of your will power all day.  The more areas of your life that you’re exhibiting will power, the more drained your personal pool is.  Sooner or later, your will power will be low and you’ll be around some food that is normally unappealing and BAM, you’re gone into binge land (“I don’t know what happened, I was doing fine and then there was this old crusty pint of ice cream in the freezer…”)  When you use up all your will power,  it’s gone.   You’re left with whatever your default thinking and behavior is (you know, the stuff that got you to where you are).
The primary issue with the winter holidays are the many exhaustive opportunities to burn up will power.  To a person new to taking care of themselves, this is interesting. It’s interesting because it’s a rare person that is actually in touch with the boundaries of will power.  When will power gives out, there is no warning light.  It just evaporates.   If you are in a heady time of newly learning healthy eating habits, then when that will power evaporates, you’re going to dive into whatever is available.
“If it’s in your house, you will eventually eat it.” Period.   Will power is not reliable. We all overestimate how much we have.  Many new clients argue this point – “oh, but I never even LIKED that candy so it’s okay to have a bowl of it on my desk…” but eventually folks figure it out.  Trial and error is a fantastic process.

So what you want to do is eliminate as many of the pedestrian causes for will power as you can.  That way, you keep your reserves for when you really need it:
Like when you’re pumped up and on a roll and in full combat mode for the office parties, the social celebrations.   Say you’ve successfully made it through several rounds, you’re feeling strong –  and at some random party you thought you had nailed  you’re horrified to find yourself stuffing not one, not two but three brownies into your mouth washed down with a glass of bubbly, and unable to stop.

Or how about waking up the day after Thanksgiving or Christmas, exhausted emotionally, mentally, perhaps physically if you were the person doing all the cooking.   You get up and wander into the kitchen and there’s the leftovers.  The cake someone brought over and oh-so-kindly left,  the box of chocolates sent from the office, or the cookies your husband brought home from work, and BAM, you’re stuffing it into your face. Powerless, and a tad freaked out by it, but unable to stop.  Sometimes it can take days to rein yourself in.  Common stuff.

Plan for these times.  Before a high emotion event make sure that your house is stocked with healthy food choices that are easy to prepare or already prepared.  Have your menu done.  Get up, have a glass of water and follow your plan.  Behaviorally go through the  motions, trusting the process.  If you did eat sugar at the event, you’ll have some cravings and withdrawal.  Stay on track and ride it out.
As you learn to take care of yourself, you will learn there are many things to rely on rather than the limits of will power ( some of us are born with very little of it).   You will learn to control your environment.   You learn where it’s not safe to go (I can’t tell you how many of my clients cannot be in a coffee house that has pastries without a binge),  you learn what’s not safe to have in your house,  you figure out what rooms not to go into at work, and you learn how to maneuver dinner parties and other celebrations.  You’ll start having more fun, because you won’t be under the stress of all that restraint.  As you learn to relax and feel good about what you are doing, you’ll be able to start exposing yourself to those situations again, because they will no longer possess an ‘impulse’ that you need to resist.  This keeps your will power very high.  It is very valuable to have some of that in reserve for those days you arrive somewhere hungry, tired, cranky, angry, or generally unsettled.

A long time ago, I couldn’t pass up a cinnamon roll.  I did quite a bit of baking (healthy; whole wheat, honey, whole grains, all that).  I was addicted to baked goods – if there was a cinnamon roll on a table that thing would have my total attention until I ate it.  You know that level of stress?  I was also unaware that my constant illness and migraines were from my grain allergies.  Fast forward to now.  I don’t pay baked goods any attention at all – not even stopping to look.  I associate wheat with great pain, and my impulse to eat it disappeared.  As my impulse went down, my restraint went down – and baked goods no longer require will power.  That allows me to spend that energy somewhere more positive and fun.  Bonus!

As your knowledge about yourself increases, and you feel better, you won’t let anything get in the way of feeling good.  You’ll cherish and protect it.  The whole will power issue will improve.  It won’t go away – we’re human after all – but you will get more skilled at managing it.

(Dedicated to MJ.  You know why.)

Posted in: Sheri's Rants