Many of us eat our feelings.

Many of us eat our feelings. We’re bored, so we eat. We’re anxious, so we eat. We don’t know what to do next, so we might as well eat. We feel bad about ourselves, so we eat. We feel good about ourselves, so we eat. The boss yelled at us, so we eat. Somebody put hot, fresh chocolate chip cookies in front of us, so we eat, even if we’re full. We’re watching a movie, so we eat junk, and that’s after dinner. We’re having a meeting, so that means we’re eating pizza or donuts. Eating is the ‘Y’ that follows the ‘X’ activity. If we’re doing ‘X’, that means we’re eating Y.

Christmas cookies don’t stick around for long.

Food plans are all well and good until you step into the ring with the Thanksgiving meal and it punches you in the gut. And then, your face.

Thanksgiving means traditional holiday foodstuffs, including turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, candied yams, rolls, and, if you’re really lucky, tiramisu. Since there’s so much food available, you may as well throw in the tiramisu. We have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving because while we love all the food and its vast quantities, we don’t like how it makes us feel afterward. Many of us wear the loosest-fitting pants to Thanksgiving (or we bring the sweatpants along to change into after eating). We go from loving the day to fat and sassy rapidly. It is so easy for the holidays to derail our diet plan. Food plans are all well and good until you step into the ring with the Thanksgiving meal and it punches you in the gut. And then, your face. Turns out, Tom Turkey has a mean jab / right hook combo. This fight leaves many Thanksgiving Day diners vanquished on the couch, unable to get up under their own power.

Willpower is wildly insufficient to defeat the Oreos.

Oreos defeat willpower — every time.

Worse for many of us, food is social. In fact, nearly everything having to do with food is social: food prep, food service, the kitchen as a gathering space, the outdoor patio and grill as a gathering space, going out to eat with friends and loved ones, celebrations, meetings, etc. We don’t even really need a reason to gather and eat food together. It is simply an implicit, shared social value. I don’t blame food for any of this. There’s nothing inherently wrong with celebrations and social gatherings being food-centric. The problem is when they’re bad-food-centric. It is when we gather around two Double-Deckeroni Pizzas and the three bags of Lay’s potato chips and the seven bags of Double-Thickness Oreos when trouble brews for us. It is all wonderful going down and then, self-loathing soon kicks in. Willpower around these guilty pleasures is wildly insufficient, especially at dinner.

The donuts and pizza are everywhere.

A food choice that almost no one will tell you you have is to not eat. Penn Jillette makes this recommendation in his book, Presto! Jocko also makes this recommendation in his book, Discipline equals Freedom. Just because food is there and plentiful doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Just because they’re serving cake and cookies doesn’t mean you’re forced to eat them to be seen as a good guest. Just because everyone else is eating the pizza and the donuts doesn’t mean you have to, too. Just because the only food choice in the small town is McDonalds doesn’t mean you have to eat there. Hard as it is to admit to yourself, you don’t have to eat anything. No one else is forcing you to eat. Your primal brain is forcing you to eat, but it is still your primal brain. It can also be conquered in time with new habits driven by active food choices. Like any new habit formation, this is hard at first. Exercise and new, healthy food choices seem to be two of the hardest new habits to form and to make stick. Since they are the hardest to form (and to make stick), they also give you the greatest ROI on your personal and professional discipline and freedom.

Everybody loves the food; everybody hates the food journal.

Patrick is astonished by what he reads in his food journal.

When people are ready to hop onto the healthy food wagon and they seek the help of a trainer, the first thing the trainer does is hand them a food journal for the person to jot down exactly what it is they eat each day. This does at least two positive things for the person seeking to build new habits: 1) it builds awareness by showing them in their own writing what they eat each day and the food quantities they’re eating; 2) it begins the transformation process for making healthier food choices going forward instead of the easy, default (fast) food choices they’ve been making. People are often astonished by what they read. Everybody loves the food; everybody hates the food journal. The feelings the food journal evokes within us are visceral: self-loathing; self-flagellation; how-could-I-eat-that-much-cake-and-cookies-in-one-sitting!? The food journal is a wonderful tool of awareness that helps to build new habits.

Healthy food choices have nothing to do with credentials or education.

It is important to note that healthy food choices have nothing to do with credentials or education. A friend is a PhD in food and exercise science and he admits to, “eating like crap.” His physical saving grace? He runs daily. Where he lacks discipline in one domain (food), he has it 100% in a another (exercise). While he would agree that it is best to main discipline in the food and exercise domains, many of us use the excuse, “I do this (work-out, exercise, run) so that I can do this (eat like crap / eat whatever I want and not feel guilty about it).” This may be a pseudo-cop-out, but it works for many, especially the runners.