It’s Girl Scout cookie time again. For many dieters, this time of year is filled with tension over how to deal with this next challenge in a long, stressful battle with weight. It is similar to what I hear around Halloween, holiday season, Easter, etc. There is always some new dread around the corner, another opportunity to complain about lack of will power, another reason to feel like a failure.
After years of marking time based on each challenge that will cause an undoing of progress, it can become an expected rhythm that becomes a deep-rooted habit . . a habit of feeling like a failure. The time between the expected failures can become nothing more than time waiting to fail. The problem with habits is that they are comfortable from the standpoint that they are familiar. That makes them very hard to change without awareness of the basic flaw. It is my hope that I can help add a little awareness. There are many of you out there – I know, because I hear your stories.
The common part of the story is this: an erratic, unpredictable, roller coaster lifestyle. How much confidence can that create? Not much. There is so much uncertainty about what will happen, no feeling of empowerment to “make it happen.” Eating highs and lows, and often activity highs and lows too, are signs that it’s time to take a serious look at the mindset. Without a real look at it, too often it appears that the highs are the problem. It seems obvious on the surface that if the highs weren’t there, the calorie intake would be lower and weight loss would happen. This simplistic attitude just helps keep the unproductive rhythm in place! Why? Because the highs are caused by the lows. How many times through this cycle does it take to get it – that this approach doesn’t work, and will never work for most people? It is not uncommon for this rhythm to keep going for DECADES!
The lows (low calorie, low taste, low satisfaction) normally cause a kickback – cravings, hunger, dissatisfaction. The highs are often a symptom of neediness in general, neediness for fuel, pleasure, stress relief, something to do, . . . . By modifying the lows, a real change is possible. An actual breaking of the cycle is possible. What are your lows? Low fuel intake is the most obvious. The solution is FOOD. EAT! Low pleasure is a little more complex. It can mean that tastier food needs to be added more regularly, and predictably, or it may mean that an exploration of non-food pleasure is the key. Emotional lows are even more complex, and a more complex look at the problem is required.
I think that our dieting culture has created a huge barrier to solving this problem. The general message is “Don’t eat enough to be satisfied. And, for God’s sake, don’t ever get pleasure from your food!” The feeling many people are left with is one of distrust in their ability to be in the same room with food that tastes really GOOD. I am not saying that you should surround yourself with tasty, unhealthy food and just “see what happens.” I think it is a good idea to set yourself up for success by keeping food around that supports healthy choices, but I also think it is wise to cultivate a more moderate approach. Ideally, once attitudes become more moderate, it will be “safer” to keep some treats in the house.
So . . . where do the Girl Scout cookies fit into this discussion? I want to give a clear-cut, numbers-based example of why the mid-ground (and consistency) will beat the up-and-down “see what happens” method every time. One “sleeve” of Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies (640 calories) and a pint of ice cream (about 600 calories) might feel like a binge, will probably cause a stomach ache and a good dose of guilt. The common reaction is to brush it away and forget it, to “start fresh.” It is not likely that the calorie intake would even be noted – “I don’t want to know.” Most likely an old resolution is reaffirmed: “I will not eat ANY more cookies.” (A new pledge has been made to go back to a pleasure low.) Let’s say that this happens twice a week. That is a total of 2480 calories, but we start fresh – a temptingly cleansing feeling.
What if we took HALF of those calories and actually acknowledged them, planned them? In other words, we didn’t just let them happen; we mindfully CHOSE them? Well, let’s look at the numbers. Half of those calories would be 1240. If we chose to have 4 thin mints every day of the week (1120 calories) AND a half cup of ice cream on one of those days (100-150 calories) we would end the week with a savings of about 1240 calories. By just doing that, we could lose a pound of body fat in 3 weeks! More consistent, more predictable, and probably more pleasurable.
So why do many people not take advantage of this opportunity to lose the extra pounds? There are many possible reasons, but I think at least part of it is that chronic dieters feel they are not supposed to be eating cookies or ice cream. The mere idea of consciously making a choice to eat a few cookies seems so wrong to them! The only way they are able to eat foods like that is with an attitude of denial. So . . . it just happens, and it can be so much more calorie-laden than when it is planned. A “window of opportunity” opens up: “I had better eat lots of this . . . as long as I have already started. Then I will never do that again.” Not a good plan for success!
A simple change of attitude to one of responsible and aware choices can make a big difference. I am not implying that this is simple or quick. It will take time, patience, forgiveness – all moderate qualities. The emotional side of cravings further complicates the picture for many of us. Still, I believe that emotional triggers to overeat can diminish with a more moderate approach. I have seen it happen. It is stressful and depressing to be hungry and/or craving “forbidden” foods! Leveling out the highs and lows is a good start. The gains in confidence and peace of mind will build with each week of more predictable results.