“I want to eat healthier but sometimes it’s so hard to get into a healthy rhythm when I’m so used to grabbing a cookie
It does to me.
Trying to make healthy food choices since becoming a mom has been… interesting. To say the least.
One sleep deprived night with a sick munchkin and all I want to eat is all the carbs. Cookies for breakfast? Sounds great! Even though I know that won’t help my energy/mood and will actually make me feel worse in the long run.
So what do I do to help myself make healthier choices (while still enjoying some sweets and treats here and there because this isn’t about depriving yourself of donuts all the time)?
The truth is, we’re busy (famished) moms who don’t have time to sit and enjoy a perfectly balanced meal or snack whenever we want.
So how can you make the healthiest choices possible, as much as possible?
Specifically during those times when you’re at the grocery store and the family sized salt and vinegar chip bag is whispering “take me home!”
Or those times you’ve just put munchkin to bed and Netflix and the Costco sized bag of Chipits is on the menu.
Or those times you’re so stressed out because you’re still up at 1:42am trying to finish that super important project that needs to be done before 8am tomorrow that you just can’t help but eat your emotions.
That’s when you need more than Pam’s advice to “Just keep some cut up veggies in your fridge to snack on and avoid bringing junk food into your house so you’re not tempted”.
Thanks Pam. Tried that. It’s not working.
That’s when you need the wonderful world of the psychology of food on your side.
You probably know by now that I have an Honours degree in psychology and it’s something I love teaching because there are so many powerful – literally life changing – strategies that you can adopt to make your life healthier and more joyous.
And one of those strategies is knowing about triggers – and how to handle them.
What’s a trigger, you ask?
Well have you ever been walking through the mall and suddenly you’re engulfed in the sweet, sultry aroma of cinnamon bun delight?
Cinnabon must pay a premium to infiltrate those air vents because I swear you can be a mile away and all of a sudden your nostrils are assaulted by the scrumptiously tempting smell.
Then before you know it all you can think about is how that cinnamon bun will taste. The gooey insides. The sweet frosting. It’s enough to make you want to drop your bags and run to get one. Now.
This is what a trigger feels like.
It’s a knee-jerk response to a smell, environment, emotion, time of day, person, activity…
You put the baby to bed and that triggers an automatic response to hit the pantry.
It’s 2:30pm so you reach for the bag of candy.
Your mom is driving you nuts by bringing up that thing – again!! – and it’s stressing you out so you reach for the wine.
You always eat something after the 2am nursing session and lately it’s been a cookie (okay 3) so you reach for that instead of the cut up veggies that Pam suggested you keep in your fridge.
You get triggered and – without thinking – you reach for something to satiate that feeling in your gut that this is what’s supposed to happen.
A happened so you’ll eat B.
This means that you end up eating mindlessly.
It’s an automatic response.
It’s become a habit – just like brushing your teeth every morning is a habit (hopefully) – so it’s not easy to break.
And the only way you can begin to break the spell that those salty treats have over you is to make it conscious.
You need to snap yourself out of it and recognize what’s happening if you want to make a different choice.
Now this isn’t about always making the healthiest choice. Or being perfect.
It’s about consciously choosing how you want to eat – as much as possible.
Yes. There probably will still be some times when you feel compelled to eat your emotions – and you do. (Been there!)
Take a breath. Remember that you’re human. And start fresh again at the next meal.
So, with that being said, how exactly can you stop this whole habitually mindless eating cycle?
There are 3 steps to conquering your triggers and making choices that feel good for you:
- Figure out what your triggers are.
- Realize when they’re happening.
- Make a decision – one that you feel in control of – about what you’re going to do next.
Step 1: Figure out what your triggers are
The best and simplest way to do this is to keep a journal (an actual paper copy or a note taking app on your phone both work) and whenever you eat something unhealthy write down what happened right before you got that craving.
After a week or two you might start to notice that around 2:30pm most days you eat chocolate.
Or after putting your kiddo to bed you reach for the cookies.
Or when you drive down that road you get a craving for fries.
Or you see your husbands ex-girlfriend on Facebook and the Merlot is suddenly at your lips.
What triggers you?
This is the most important step because in order to tackle your cravings we need to know why they’re happening in the first place.
I know this sounds tedious but it’ll only take a minute or two each day to jot this stuff down and it’ll be the best opportunity we have to get you to where you want to go.
Step 2: Recognize it for what it is
So now that you have a better idea of what triggers you – the boom-boom of Netflix = chocolate covered pretzels – you’ll have an easier time acknowledging what’s happening.
And that’s all that step #2 is – recognizing a trigger for what it really is.
Maybe you don’t even want that snack. You just usually eat it when that thing happens so you’re reaching for it out of habit. Remind yourself that this is what’s happening.
In other words: A = B.
Where A is the trigger and B is the sugar-filled treat (that you’re not even sure you want).
It’s become an automatic part of your life and if you want it to change you need to acknowledge it and interrupt it so it looks more like:
A = recognizing what’s happening = making a choice of what to do next.
Which brings us to our last step.
Step 3: Decide what you want to do next
When you get triggered – 2:34pm rolls around and you notice some leftover cupcakes on the table – instead of just reaching for one because, you know, it’s 2:34pm and that means sugar-rush time, ask yourself 3 simple questions:
1. Before you eat it, “Do I even want this?”
2. While you’re eating it, “Is this actually yummy enough that I want to keep eating?”
3. When you’re done, “Did I feel like I was in control of the craving or was the craving in control of me?”
If you wanna get an A+ on this assignment and really get the best results possible, you can keep the journaling going and jot down a simple sentence or two in your triggers diary about your answers to these questions whenever you eat something you consider unhealthy. For example:
“I started eating without thinking, but then I realized it wasn’t that good so I set it down and didn’t eat the rest. I felt pretty in control.”
“Devoured it. Tasted chemically and kinda gross but ate it anyways. Felt guilty. Not in control. At. All.”
“Ate it all. Loved it. In control.”
The point isn’t to stop you from ever eating a cupcake ever again.
The point is to stop the trigger from creating the automatic response so you get to make a conscious – in control – choice about what you want to do next.
You interrupt the process. So instead of going straight from:
Trigger > Hand Reaching for the Sour Patch Kids.
You change it so it looks more like:
Trigger > Pause & Think About Your Next Step > Do What Feels Right For You In That Moment
I get that this takes work and right now – especially if you’re in the middle of newborn craziness – it may not be the best time to explore your triggers and conquer them. Totally fair.
Remember – you don’t have to focus on eating healthy to lose weight if you don’t want to. Especially not in the first year (or at all). It’s your choice.
But I’m assuming you’ve made it this far because you want to make some healthier decisions – for whatever reason (energy, skin issues, weight loss…).
You want to drop the mindless eating for more mindful eating.
You want to eat the veggies over the chips.
And this is something that can help you if you take it seriously.
So run with it and I’m positive it’ll be an incredibly helpful tool in your #HealthyMom toolkit.
While you’re running with it though, please remember that you’re not a bad person for eating a cupcake.
Just try to ensure that you have more control over the cupcake than the cupcake has over you.
P.S. Found this helpful? If you did, please share it with your friends and spread the word on social media using the buttons above or below. Thank you!