Why it is so much easier to focus on eating more, not eating less!
If you use self-control to lose weight you are destined to fail – and there is a psychological reason for that: Self-control is like a muscle. It gets fatigued during the day the more you use it. Your mind is strong in the morning, but all the wear and tear throughout the day makes it weaker and weaker. Until you give it some rest to recover. There is a lot of scientific research about this and I read a lot about it when I wrote my bachelor thesis on the effects of self-control on personal behavior.
“A person without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” Bible Proverbs 25-28
If you are exhausting your self-control all day, you have an incredibly high chance of slipping up.
See if you can see yourself in the following situation: You have been on a diet (again) for 2 weeks now and you have been thinking about cake all day – chocolate cake!
The first thing you wanted since breakfast was chocolate cake. But you forbid yourself to have it because you are on a diet and want to lose weight. You tell yourself:
“I must not eat chocolate cake!”
One hour later you think of chocolate cake again. And you tell yourself again:
“No chocolate cake!”
You eat your healthy lunch but all you want is chocolate cake for dessert. Delicious smooth creamy chocolate cake. But you know you shouldn’t so you try to brush it off again. When your co-worker Karen announces that it’s her birthday and that she brought a chocolate cake. Damn it, Karen! You throw daggers at her with your eyes. Stupid Karen!
“I MUST NOT EAT CHOCOLATE CAKE”
On the way home, you pass a cake-shop and see a moist brown chocolate cake with beautiful chocolate ribbons on top. It looks so good and your mouth begins to water. But you still try to keep it together:
“I have been so strong all day! I won’t buy a chocolate cake”
When you finally arrive at the supermarket to buy your dinner, you see the chocolate cake in the bakery department. And it’s on sale! This is the last straw:
“Fu*k it! I’m going to buy chocolate cake!”
And so you do. You take a bite and are hit with instant regret! It’s dry and tastes fabricated… How nice would it have been if you would buy the one from the cake-shop? Even stupid Karen’s chocolate cake would have probably been better than this… But more importantly, you regret that you broke with your diet. It’s the point where you lose faith in yourself and could almost tear up because you have the feeling that you will never be the weight you want to be.
It’s not your fault. The deck is stacked against you if you use self-control to prevent yourself from doing something. You have been thinking about chocolate cake all day. Every single time you prevent yourself from giving in chips away your armor until you are vulnerable and defenseless by end of the day.
Self-control is depletable. It’s a lot easier to work towards something positive than restraining yourself from something. Regardless if you are trying to cut out one particular food like cake, or a whole food group like carbohydrates or fat in general. By restricting yourself, you create cravings.
Instead of focusing on not eating certain foods or food groups (fat, carbs, etc.), you should FOCUS ON EATING MORE healthy and nutritious dense food. Try to incorporate 5 portions of vegetables and fruit into your diet every single day. A portion is a handful. Think of:
- An apple
- A banana
- A kiwi fruit
- A fistful of cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 of a cucumber
- 1/2 of an eggplant
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 carrot
- 1/4 of a broccoli
- A small sweet potato
- A handful of spinach
- … you see where this is going
If it fills your hand, it’s a portion! By focusing on eating more vegetables and fruit each day, you are getting more vitamins and minerals into your system. On the one hand, this means your metabolism runs more efficiently, on the other hand, it means that a majority of your food is going to be vegetables and fruit.
Eating 5 portions of vegetables and fruit a day can be quite challenging at first. You probably need to think of ways to sneak them in. You will become a more creative cook because it will probably make you try new recipes and produce.
The positive side effect is that you will have less opportunity to eat junk food, processed food, and cake. Simply because you are not able to eat a lot of them. Most of your meals are going to be filled with healthier options. Compared to junk and processed foods, unprocessed vegetables are almost negligible in terms of calories, while offering a lot more nutritional value. You get fewer calories into your body. This will help you to get to a healthier weight, without having to make an effort to ignore unhealthier options – and that makes your life so much easier.
You are basically exchanging bad habits with good ones – and that takes almost no mental energy. You are nudging yourself towards a healthier lifestyle. If you are focusing on eating a bunch of vegetables and fruit every day, you will eat healthier, more nutritious and shed pounds without having to worry about it. It is a much more healthy, happy and sustainable approach to a healthy weight and your relationship with food.
Who cares that you eat cake or pizza every once in a while – life is about balance!
If you FOCUS ON EATING MORE fruit and vegetables, it will allow you to LOSE WEIGHT ON AUTO-PILOT.
Another tool to help you which works with the same principle:
The University of Exeter has created a food trainer app that helps you to break with your unhealthy habits, by replacing them with good ones. The app is called FoodT and you can get it here for both iPhone and Android. It’s completely free. Even if the app doesn’t look like much, it has been scientifically proven to help people make healthier food choices. I have been using this app for a while and can recommend it.
PS: I started writing these nutrition and psychology articles based on the knowledge that I have gathered throughout the years, without quoting actual sources. In my personal experience people most often do not read these sources in the first place, and authors made a habit out of cherrypicking just sources that support their storyline. If you are more interested in the sources of the information, I can, of course, send you the right way, just let me know in the comments below.