Day 78–100 Days 100 Ways To A Healthy Relationship With Food
Creating and maintaining a healthy relationship with food is a perpetual exercise in applying common sense. You find yourself learning the simplest lessons in powerful ways. Forget them, or ignore them, and you’re in trouble. Follow them, and you’ll be OK.
Today’s super-simple common sense lesson about food (and in turn, life) is this:
Anticipating and waiting for a “treat” makes that “treat” 10 times more enjoyable than if you just had it whenever you wanted it (especially if it helps you take a step toward a bigger goal)
Remember when you were a kid and you wished it could be your birthday or Christmas every day? Or day-dreaming about how amazing it would be if your parents bought you every toy you ever wanted?
You couldn’t see any way how that wouldn’t be a good idea.
For me, that bubble burst when I watched the film ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’ and came across the character of Veruca Salt. Every kid’s dream was her life. Anything she asked for, she got. And her life was…
And she was…
Well, guess what? If you eat and drink whatever you want whenever you want you may well feel miserable and horrible yourself. And you are likely to end up overweight.
What we are talking about here is delaying gratification — saying no to the instant win, in pursuit of a bigger win down the track.
For me it boils down to this:
- Biscuits and beer right now? As much as I like?
- No biscuits, only 2 beers each on Friday and Saturday… and, eventually, hopefully, a healthy relationship with food and a healthy weight at some point in the future
This is why delaying gratification is so hard. Even by just writing that sentence, I’m fantasising about stuffing my face with biscuits now, putting some beers in the fridge, then, later on this evening, sitting on the sofa, putting some sport on the TV and drinking four or five beers back-to-back. That would be… amazing.
And the other option? The one where I stay controlled within limits and I have no guarantee of the bigger win ever coming to fruition. That feels hard.
For most of my life, I’ve taken option 1. For the past 78 days, I’ve taken option 2. What’s made the difference?
I read this article by ‘Atomic Habits’ author James Clear all about delayed gratification. Some Stanford research had indicated that being able to delay gratification could be a skill which is key to success in many areas of life in the long-term. At the end of he article he lists his 4 tips for improving your ability to do it:
“1. Start incredibly small. Make your new habit “so easy you can’t say no.” (Hat tip to Leo Babauta.)
2. Improve one thing, by one percent. Do it again tomorrow.
3. Use the “Seinfeld Strategy” to maintain consistency*
4. Find a way to get started in less than 2 minutes.” — James Clear, ‘40 Years of Stanford Research Found That People With This One Quality Are More Likely to Succeed’ jamesclear.com
*=The “Seinfeld Strategy” is all about maintaining an unbroken chain of actions, he used it to help him write every day.
I realise that I have, without realising, been following James’s 4 tips (either pretty closely, or in spirit) during this 100 Days 100 Ways project:
- My approach to biscuits and beer is “small”. I have cut out biscuits, but replaced them with oatcakes with peanut butter and Nutella, which is only a bit better, but better nonetheless, and can only have two each afternoon. I haven’t cut out beer and I’ve very deliberately tried to pitch my consumption at a level where I don’t feel I’m missing out, but it’s a lot less than I used to drink
- I haven’t improved by one percent every day. But by adding my weekday mini calisthenic strength workout in the last month of the project, I have added an extra dimension building on what has gone before
- The whole 100 days element of the project is, in effect, a version of the “Seinfeld Strategy”
- Getting started in 2 mins — again I haven’t done exactly this, but the spirit is there. I started this 100 day project within a day or two of thinking of it, even though I had no idea on how it would work or how to start a publication on Medium. I just started and figured the rest out as I went along
James Clear’s theory is that in order to improve your skills of delaying gratification you need to prove to yourself that it works — that not taking the instant win does indeed lead to greater wins further down the line. So all those 4 tips are designed to deliver progress that you can see or feel as you go. Building the 1 per-cents, making your goals so small you can’t not deliver.
Here’s the thing. Those two beers I have on a Friday and Saturday, they taste way better than the 4 or 5 beers I’d have tonight (if I chose the instant win). It makes no sense:
They are literally the same beers.
But, there’s magic in pairing something you genuinely enjoy with the feeling of being “on track”. It’s like a double win.
The mistake I’d make in the past was going too extreme. I’d say to myself “Right, Andy, no booze until you’ve lost x amount of weight”. Of course there’d be a birthday or a work do where I felt I “had to drink” and the whole thing would be out of the window.
Lockdown has also been very useful here. There are no birthday parties or work-do’s to go to. It makes it so much easier to be in control. Depending on the pace of restrictions being lifted where you are reading this, perhaps you could use the rest of lockdown to sharpen your skills at delaying gratification? From my experience, it’s well worth trying.
On track. I am so grateful to my partner for supporting me in my efforts. They have seen me try and fail so many times with food and weight. They’ve put up with me eating or not eating in odd ways, drinking or not drinking in odd ways, but they always support me. It’s brilliant to have someone in your corner.
75/78/100 (Number of days goals met/ number of days into project/ 100)
Be responsible about food and weight management. Research a healthy weight, and healthy methods of weight management for you physically and mentally. Remember, you are not defined by what you weigh. I am not a nutritionist.