Self-control can sometimes feel like it’s all or nothing, especially when you’re trying to stick with a strict eating plan to lose weight. The moment you veer off course with one indulgence, it’s easy to feel like you’ve failed, which makes it that much easier to throw in the towel. But, in reality, you haven’t failed, and it’s not all or nothing.
“Our typical understanding of self-control can be problematic in that it’s often viewed as the need to be in total control,” says Paul Davidson, PhD, a behavioral psychologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “This sets up a vicious cycle of feeling like you’re either in control or out of control, and with the many temptations and stressors we face in a given day, it is easy to feel control slip away.”
When it comes to healthy eating, self-control is all-too-often presented as the ability to say no to generally unhealthy, feel-good foods high in sugar and fat. This sets you up for a trade-off no one can stick to 24/7: Either eat ‘good-for-your-health’ foods and maintain self-control or eat ‘bad foods’ for pleasure and lose control.
In this sense, if you understand treating yourself to some chocolate is within your daily calorie goals and keeps you from feeling deprived or overeating, it’s ultimately a healthy, supportive choice — not a loss of control.
“A little cake at times makes it easier to have carrot sticks most of the time,” says Davidson. Recognizing that you can have smaller amounts of a less-healthy food as a treat is reasonable — and doing so can help you stick to an eating plan that’s healthy and balanced overall, he says.
Rather than viewing self-control as something you either have or don’t, think of it as an ongoing decision process where your goal is to have the benefits of a choice to outweigh the cons, suggests Davidson.
HOW TO TAKE BACK YOUR SENSE OF SELF-CONTROL
1. DITCH THE GOOD/BAD LANGUAGE
Any good dietitian will tell you there’s no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. “When you see foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ you can start to view yourself as ‘bad’ and ‘out of control’ every time you reach for a less-than-healthy food,” says Davidson. Make this switch: Think of foods as either ‘less healthy’ or ‘healthier’ (doughnut = less healthy, vegetables = healthier). And know that it’s OK to include both food types in a healthy diet. This way, when you have a less-healthy meal every now and then, you’re OK with it.
2. SCHEDULE TREATS
If you know you could never give up ice cream for good, don’t. Making the decision to enjoy ice cream is much more sustainable than trying to cut it out forever (and then eating the whole pint when you invariably ‘lose control’).
4. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LAPSES AND RELAPSES
There’s a big difference between a lapse (a temporary decision that might not best serve your weight-loss goals) and a relapse (a complete return to problematic eating habits), says Davidson. If you go over your calorie goals one night out with friends, that’s normal. Lapses are to be expected and don’t mean you’ve lost all self-control. If you feel like you can’t get yourself back on track, reach out to a doctor or registered dietitian for extra support, suggests Davidson.
The views and opinions expressed herein are solely those of its original author(s) and are not associated with Staple Fitness. This post was originally published by MyFitnessPal.