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Have your cake and eat it

Stay off the wagon by never getting on it.

Psychology and the connection to our dietary behaviours reveal clear problems for maintaining a healthy diet. Eating a healthy diet, or at least, one which creates an energy/deficit for those wanting to lose weight, is not so much of a problem, sticking to and staying with the same diet is somewhat trickier…

Over many years of working with people who are attempting to manage their weight and/or have disordered eating I have noticed there is a clear relationship between having ‘glitches’ in behaviour and this leading to all out ‘relapse’. Say for example I have decided I want to eat very healthily during the week and save my treats, booze etc for the weekend and then I eat cake on a Wednesday morning… This may start an internal conversation relating to how I’ve just broken a contract… this leads to a cascade effect where essentially my thinking is: ‘screw it, I may as well forget it now and eat whatever I want’ in my part of the world something referred to commonly as throwing the baby out with the bath water.

If this sounds familiar, you have maybe had the same situation occur. Continuing with the cake analogy above, the fact is you’ve just eaten some flour, fat, sugar etc and it’s done… and perhaps we will consider that a healthy diet is not one where we meet a stringent set of rules that are never broken e.g., the cake rule! As we all know, if I eat cake every day or even several times a day, I am increasing the probability of weight gain and perhaps illness, but this is not caused by one piece of cake, unless we let that one piece of cake signal failure then it becomes much more…

This is relapse management 101, but the difference with ciggies, booze, drugs etc and diet, is that food is distinguished from these substances as we must have it every day and cannot live without it (although we also use it for pleasure, comfort in the same way as those other drugs of course).

Here’s the antidote: Create a structure for an essentially healthy diet e.g., 3 meals a day, least 5 veg and fruits on most days etc. Maybe you have intentions to ‘eat clean’ during the week and relax more at weekends (many of us do) and that seems like a reasonable plan, but in this way of thinking, you need to notice the thoughts you have when you eat outside of the plan: ‘what an idiot why did you eat that!’ etc. Now try to disconnect yourself from that thought by making up a replacement thought like this one:

it’s one piece of cake, I don’t need to throw the towel in, I can get back to eating healthily for the rest of the day…’

And remember if you are going to eat cake, eat a good one and always, always give it your full attention to enjoy every single morsel…

Dr Trevor Simper was a registered Public Health Nutritionist, in the NHS, a Senior lecturer in food and nutrition at Sheffield Hallam University and is now a practising Psychotherapist.

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