The Obstacle Meter – 10: Giving Up Favorite Foods

10: Having to Give Up Favorite Foods

I would eat healthier but I do not want to give up my favorite foods.

Before we give you any advice in this category, we would like to tell you a story.  There was a man who really enjoyed his Coca Cola, so much so that he would consume 12 cans in an eight-hour workday.  He knew that drinking 12 cans of Coca Cola/day was negatively affecting his health, but he was not sure how to change.  He knew that he was never going to be able to go cold turkey and he also did not like the taste of diet soda.  So, he and his dietitian came up with a sneaky good plan. 

He could still drink as much Coca Cola each day as he would like but there was one rule to doing so.  He could only keep one can of Coca Cola in his work mini fridge at a time.  At the start of his day, he would put a room-temperature can of Coke in his fridge.  It would take a couple of hours for the can of Coke to cool down to the temperature he preferred to drink it at.  After he finished his can of Coke, he could put the next room-temperature can of Coke into his mini fridge to repeat the process.  This tiny little act (one can of Coke in the fridge at a time) reduced his soda consumption from 12 cans/day to 2-3 cans/day.

This story is an example of establishing NUTRITION RULES for yourself.  Nutrition rules are not based on any medical guidelines, rather they are arbitrary rules that you come up with for yourself to help you navigate tricky food situations.  For some people and some foods/drinks you will have to give up those foods (i.e., alcoholics) but for the vast majority of the foods and drinks we consume you will not have to give up your favorite foods, but you will probably have to change the frequency with which you eat them and/or the portions with which you consume them. For example, some of the rules that I have adopted are

  1. No more than two alcoholic drinks per weeknight.
  2. One bag of potato chips for my weekly snack, once they are gone, they are gone (note: some weeks I do not eat potato chips, but I will usually have some type of snack).
  3. Eating breakfast sausage on very rare occasions (birthdays or anniversaries); note this excludes bacon in other meals :).
  4. Drinking orange juice out of a small tumbler glass (if we have orange juice around at all).
  5. When drinking soda, making sure it is diet only.  Unsweetened iced tea is another alternative.
  6. I am not a sweets guy so lucky for me this is not a problem.  Actually, check that if they are there, I will definitely eat them.  It is best for me to not keep them around.
  7. For extra-large bagels, I only eat one half at a time.
  8. I take tiny (small) dinner portions per serving rather than one large plate.  If I am hungry, I will go up for more.  We rarely serve food at the table so the food is not right in front of me and easily accessible, allowing me to graze more than I would like to.
  9. If I feel like I have had a too many alcoholic drinks lately but would still like something to drink in the evening (out of habit and comfort) I will mix myself a virgin drink (i.e., diet tonic water and limes, no gin).
  10. I would rather die than eat healthier alternatives to some foods such as rice cakes, pretzels or dried fruit.  If you need to hit that pleasure button, hit that pleasure button but do so in a controlled fashion.

Ok, so these are a few of the things that I have done.  You can work on refining your diet and establishing your own NUTRITION RULES in a few easy steps:

Keep a Diet Record: how do your favorite foods contribute to excessive calories?  For some people this might be soda, for others chips, for others certain meals, such as Chipotle.  Keep a diet record for a few days. Look up the calories for the food you are eating and note the portion sizes you are habitually consuming.

Identify Problem Foods: analyze your diet record and make note of the foods that significantly contribute to extra calories whether that be in terms of food frequency or portion size.

Pick One to Focus On: start with just one problem food to work on changing.  You are more likely to succeed if you systematically change one food at a time rather than trying to solve every problem at once.  Do not be surprised if it takes you a month or longer to solve one problem.  This is not a race; it is a lifestyle change.

Find Alternatives: now make your goals. They must be specific so that you can measure whether you are achieving them. Think about the problem food you identified: is there something you could substitute that is lower in calories without sacrificing the pleasure of eating that food? Can you designate an appropriate portion size? Can you choose to eat it only once a week instead of every day? This part is 100% your decision: choose something that will make a significant impact on your diet but is still achievable.

Practice: practice your goal. Even if you have slip-ups, keep at it. Once you master your goal, you can return to step 1 and continue to refine your diet.