The Big Problem with Food Guidelines
When it comes to food, traditional advice leans towards setting guidelines rather than strict rules. For example, if you’ve got a problem with chocolate, most people think it would be better to say “I avoid chocolate most of the time” (a guideline) vs. “Except for Saturdays, I will never eat chocolate again” (a rule). They believe this protects you against beating yourself up when and if you break the guideline.
But in my experience, there’s a better way, and using food guidelines instead of crystal clear rules is a serious mistake for people who struggle with overeating, binge eating, stress eating, and/or yo-yo dieting. Why?
Assume for this discussion we ALL have two opposing sets of thoughts and feelings about whatever trouble food we’re trying to regulate.
There’s the entity inside us (our “higher self”) which has goals and dreams, which wants us to be thin and healthy, which makes our best laid plans, and genuinely intends to avoid the problem food most of the time. But there’s also our “fat thinking alter ego” which constantly does battle with our higher self. An “Inner Pig(tm)” if you’ll permit the metaphor…
The problem is, guidelines are WAY too easy for our Inner Pigs to break through.
For example, if you say “I avoid chocolate most of the time” and the Pig has a strong craving for it, how will you know whether TODAY is one of the days you must avoid it or not? When your Inner Pig wants chocolate, all it will need to do is say: “You DO avoid chocolate most of the time, so let’s have some TODAY!” What does “most” in “most of the time” mean anyway? 90% of the time? 62% of the time? 51% of the time?
Take this reasoning to its natural conclusion and you’ll see “I avoid chocolate most of the time” really means “I’ll try to avoid chocolate until I feel like eating it.” Now, this might work for some skinny models or for people who don’t really love chocolate… but for people with a serious chocolate problem it’s NO help at all. In fact, it makes things worse by drawing attention to chocolate without providing a solid protection limit.
Food guidelines favor the Pig!
On the other hand, “Except for Saturdays I will never eat chocolate again” is an unassailable food rule. Either it’s Saturday or it isn’t. 10 neutral observers following you around for a month would ALL agree on whether you kept to this 100% clear food rule. The inclusion of the word “never” means “under any circumstances whatsoever” and excludes ALL possible exceptions your Pig may try to squeeze in. And the word “again” means “between now and the day I die”…so the Pig can’t say “Oh, well, you didn’t really mean you were going to do that forever, did you?”
Food rules favor our higher selves!
But over-eaters tend to favor guidelines instead because they believe it’s impossible to vow to do anything forever, and fear the excessive guilt and self-castigation when and if they make a mistake. But berating and scolding yourself for a mistake is NOT the appropriate attitude when you make a mistake. If you screw up, you’re supposed to take a hard look at what went wrong and figure out how to better next time, NOT repeatedly smack yourself in the head with a spatula! In fact, the self-punishment which occurs for many over-eaters after a serious food mistake is really a function of their Inner Pig trying to convince them they are too weak to hold to this rule… the Pig is trying to get them to do it again!
Perfectionism is the wrong mindset when looking back on your mistakes, but the right (and only) mindset to take when looking forward towards your goals. For example, if you were going to climb a mountain, you should visualize yourself victoriously enjoying the view on top. Put all doubt and distraction from the possibility of failure out of your mind entirely so you can concentrate your energy on accomplishing your goal. That’s what winner’s do!
If it really weren’t possible to vow to do something forever, what justification could we possibly ever have for marriage? I’ve yet to hear the following vow at a wedding: “I promise to love and be faithful…until an inevitable moment of weakness. I promise I’ll do the best I can, but nobody’s perfect and there sure are a lot of attractive people out there. I’m 80% sure I can be faithful forever, but anyone who promises you 100% is an unrealistic liar. A ‘pretty good’ promise is the best anyone can ever hope for, because you can’t possibly know who you’re going to sleep with next year, or in ten years. Just being honest. You want me to be honest, right?” – The Vow Your Pig Would Make at Its Wedding!
A vow is a plan to remember… but your Pig wants you to plan to forget.
Cage the Pig and let it suffer!
The benefit of declaring yourself 100% confident and 100% committed when you vow to follow a food RULE has another very strong benefit which most people don’t realize…
It allows us to clearly separate the Pig’s thoughts from our own. If you’re willing to draw a crystal clear line in the sand about a particular trigger food or behavior, then any thought, feeling, or impulse which suggests you might ever cross it again can be immediately dismissed as nothing more than your Pig Squealing for its junk. A 100% clear and confident commitment is a thinking tool which makes it possible to hear the Pig Squeal (that seductive inner dialogue which suggests you’re going to break your plan)… so you can pause and choose wisely!