Consider the following scenario. You have been steadily improving your eating habits, cutting calories strategically in a realistic way and adding more fruits and vegetables. Maybe you have been adding a treat here and there, but you are still able to eat fewer calories than you need to maintain your weight. In other words, you have been losing fat weight. Then, in the middle of all this progress, you go out for a long night of socializing with friends. The food that you would normally choose just is not as appealing to you as the fun stuff (you know, the cheesy, gooey, salty, sweet, fried mixture of goodies in abundance in front of you). An indulgent evening follows, with calories well above the number you need to maintain, let alone lose, fat stores. We all face temptations, and sometimes we give in. It is part of being human. But it does not have to be the end of a healthy eating plan that works.
In fact, I believe scenarios like this can provide valuable insight. It is not enough to say, “Well, I just won’t do that anymore.” I have not heard of this approach working for anyone I have counseled. A far better approach is to take a look at how this one event fits into the context of your overall eating lifestyle. What is important is to look at what your habits are and what things happen infrequently (in other words, the exceptions). A habit is defined as a “usual way of acting; custom, practice.” In contrast, an exception is “an unusual instance; a case that does not follow the general rule.” The exceptions will have an insignificant effect on your weight. Your weight will reflect your habits.
What are your habits? Be honest. Are you a person who cuts calories dramatically and uncomfortably for a week or two and then swings to the opposite extreme out of sheer hunger and deprivation? This is a pattern I frequently see. It is often the reason weight is regained, because hunger often leads to out-of-control feelings around food. So the habit can be a roller coaster pattern of eating that leads to an overall higher calorie intake than is needed to lose weight and keep it off.
Sometimes I meet with someone who is confused about what constitutes an exception. They tell me, for instance, that they sometimes go out for a triple scoop hot fudge sundae, “but not very often.” I ask, “How often?” The answer: “Oh, once every 2 weeks . . . at most.” Then they add that they sometimes have pizza (How much? “Maybe 4-5 slices” they say.) with garlic bread. I ask again, “How often?” “Oh . . . about every 2 weeks.” This continues until we list about 14 exceptions, one for each day of a 14 day cycle! While each specific food may be an exception by itself, when they are all added up, we can see a pattern (habit) of high calorie eating that will sabotage a weight loss effort.
It is worth spending a few minutes to think about what your habits are. I believe results are better when there is a more comprehensive long-term view of progress, as opposed to being short-sighted and judgmental about daily food choices. It will allow you to be realistic in your expectations and to think of change in terms of creating new habits, not as a struggle for perfection. Which leads to another tip that I will add: It’s not what you do; it’s what you do NEXT. I will elaborate in an upcoming post, so keep checking the site!