In my last article I wrote about all the excuses and justifications we tell ourselves when we’re about to make a bad food choice. If you missed the article you can read it here.
Judging by the emails I received this article really resonated with a lot of you. It seems that many of us are pretty adept at convincing ourselves that it’s fine to have another slice of cheesecake even though our choice takes us further away from the result that we want.
If you remember from the previous article, when you notice yourself making these justifications you always have a choice;
Below I’ve listed some strategies that you can use to help you make the right choice and overcome your justifications.
Habit, eg. “I always have dessert after my main meal”.
Habits are hard to break – all that stuff about it taking 21 days to make or break a habit has absolutely no scientific basis. And you certainly can’t avoid the situation and never eat a main meal again! Simply expect to feel the desire and then choose to either satisfy it and take the consequences (eg. guilt, regret) or accept the desire and choose the benefits of being in control (eg. high self esteem, good health).
Deprivation, eg. “I deserve it”, “I don’t want to miss out”
These justifications focus solely on the food and your desire for the food rather than the whole picture. So instead tell yourself “I deserve to feel good about my body” or “I don’t want to miss out on good health”.
Stress, eg.“I need a few drinks to help me relax”, “I always eat too much when I’m stressed”
Making bad food choices in times of stress will actually make your body more stressed. Sugary, refined foods cause the release of stress hormones while stress itself makes the body more acidic so adding more acid forming foods such as sugar, wheat, alcohol will aggravate this further.
Using relaxation techniques such as meditation or going for a leisurely walk are far more effective for combating stress. Your brain may not think so initially, the best reason for a large glass of wine may seem far easier to justify than the reason for a walk around the block! It’s only when you’re stressed that you can make real changes. We can’t possibly avoid stress for the rest of our lives but do remember that your response to stress is your choice.
Physical Wellbeing, eg. “I’ve got a cold”, “I’m pre-menstrual”, “I’m tired, I need some energy”
If you’ve conditioned yourself to eat in response to a physical ailment then any ache or pain can be a cue for an addictive desire.
I consider myself to be an expert when it comes to experiencing pre-menstrual cravings and, rather unhelpfully, there are some physiological explanations for feeling that you could eat a horse in the few days leading up to your period! This is a topic I will write about in more details at a later date as there are preventative measures you can take to limit the strength of your cravings.
Remember that the best cure for your cold, tiredness, headache etc., is eating whole, unprocessed foods and drinking plenty of water. If you ate a high GI (glycemic index) lunch (eg, a sandwich, crisps and a chocolate bar) and are experiencing a mid-afternoon slump, filling up on more high GI food is not the answer.
Social, eg.“Everyone else is eating, I don’t want to feel left out”, “it would be rude to say no”, “I’m being sociable by eating this way”
This is a tricky one and it takes a bit of practice to be able to say “No thanks” when you feel under pressure from other people around you. It’s funny how we let other people dictate what, when and how much we eat but it’s important that you are able to politely decline and feel okay about doing that.
However, it’s worthwhile mentioning that other people may unconsciously try to sabotage you. Bear in mind that they may be finding it hard to say no and could be using the exact same justifications for their food choices. So when you say no this can be uncomfortable for them, especially if they are not ready to make changes for themself just yet.
Pleasure and satisfaction, eg. “I won’t feel satisfied until I have some more”, “it looks so good I have to have some”, “I really enjoy my food”
By justifying your food choice with one of these excuses you are chasing the immediate pleasure and placing a higher value on that than your health and well being. Most people get pleasure and satisfaction from eating but we need to learn to distinguish between natural and addictive appetites. Refer back to your ‘Choice’ statements and as your self esteem and confidence grow, so you will your ability to make the right choice.
Denial eg.“It’s only a small amount”, “I put on weight just by looking at cake”, “I have a slow metabolism”
Denial is a really powerful way for an addiction to justify itself and we can become extremely good at fooling ourselves that it is “only this once”.
Notice how often you are using these justifications and keep in mind that you always have a choice. Having strong self esteem will keep you going when it gets tough.
Waste, eg. “It’s wrong to throw food away”, “it’s rude to leave food on my plate”, “it will have gone bad by tomorrow so I’d better eat it now”
There are people who are starving in this world but eating that extra dessert isn’t the solution. Throwing food away can be a very powerful thing to do. It’s your way of saying “this food is better in the bin than in my stomach”.
Convenience, eg.“I don’t have time to cook”, “I walk right past the takeaway on my way home”
If health is truly a priority for you then you will find the time to cook. Of course it will be a bit more time consuming to begin with but once you establish a few favourite recipes you can start to cook in bulk and freeze portions for the following weeks.
If you choose to eat in certain restaurants then it’s pretty likely that you know what you will eat. Take a note if you justify making poor food-choices because you have limited options at the local kebab shop – good quality food is available if you really want to find it.
Good day, eg.“I’ve lost some weigh so it’s OK”
If you’re a yo-yo dieter than this justification will be very familiar to you. However, when you start to focus on improving your self esteem and caring for your health rather than weight loss, choosing to stay in control of your eating will be a strong motivation.
“I burned off 500 calories at the gym earlier so I can treat myself”
Counting calories has nothing to do with taking control of your eating. And of course counting calories is no guarantee of weight loss anyway – it depends where those calories come from and the hormonal effect they have on your body.
“I’ve been so good I deserve it”
This is a common one and is often used when people focus on counting calories for weight loss or when they’ve just completed a detox programme for example. If you have low self esteem then success at anything can feel strange and you may get drawn into sabotaging yourself just so you feel like ‘you’ again. This video by one of my mentors, Dax Moy, shows you a really simple way to work on improving your self esteem and it’s something I will be writing about more in the future.
Bad day, eg. “I’ve already blown it today so I might as well keep on eating this way”
If you find yourself in a cycle of complying with eating rules (eg. following a strict diet) and then rebelling against these rules, this justification will sound familiar. If you tell yourself “I mustn’t, I shouldn’t, I won’t, I’m not allowed, I’ve got to stop….” etc you may comply initially but sooner or later you will rebel. Instead remind yourself that you always have a choice.
Low self esteem, eg. “I am an overeater”, “I have no willpower”, “I’ll always be overweight”
If we have underlying beliefs of inadequacy then we tend to act on those beliefs, even when they are false. Our lack of belief in our ability to take control of our eating can be a big obstacle, one which won’t disappear overnight. But it’s important to remember that we never stay still, things will change. So the first time you refuse to use a negative belief as justification for a poor food choice probably won’t spark a life changing transformation, but if you continue to do so, in time that’s exactly what will happen!
Past and present upsets, eg. “I’m feeling sad”, “I’m bored/lonely/depressed”, “eating helps me cope”
In this situation your conditioned response is triggered by an emotional state and it can be challenging to manage your desire, especially if you’re feeling low. Whenever you feel upset and want to eat give yourself some time to feel your feelings. Overeating can be one way of covering up and suppressing emotions and it may be that you need to have some counselling to help you deal with these feelings.
- Awareness is power. Make a note of all the justifications you use and then pay attention to how often you use them.
- Identify the justifications you use most often and then make the choice to use them or not.
- Accept that this process may be uncomfortable. When you challenge your justifications you no longer have a ‘good excuse’ to make bad food choices.
- Consider that any painful emotions you may be suppressing with food are unlikely to get worse if you choose not to make that poor choice. In fact you may find that by making good food choices and thereby boosting your self esteem, these feelings pass by more quickly than before.
- Congratulate yourself for starting to take control. The more you ‘call out’ these justifications the easier it will become.
If you’d like further help with any issues I’ve talked about in this article, please feel free to contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.