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The Ultimate Diet Challenge: We Love Food and We Love to Eat

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I’ve written a lot about nutrition, exercise, behavior modification – all factors in losing weight. But the bottom line issue for most dieters is simple: “We Love Food!”

Food is better and more tantalizing than ever before. I grew up in a plain old meat and potatoes household (boring, tasteless food). If we occasionally had Chinese take out, it was chow mein or if it was Italian, it was spaghetti with canned sauce and a meatball. Pizza was cheese only with none of today’s unique toppings.

In the last few decades, food has gone from mundane to amazing.

And food presentation! Omigosh. When I was growing up, food was slopped onto a plate with a quadrant for each food group. These days at a restaurant or at home, the meal service is an art form in itself.

I admire people who can go out to a restaurant and pass on a high calorie food, well – let’s say that focaccia bread. That takes will power. You succeed in beating that temptation and next comes an epicurean delight meal, loaded with calories and so delicious. If you’re in a good place diet wise, perhaps you can resist those high calorie foods and be satisfied with a broiled chicken breast. But it sure isn’t easy.

I believe dieting is tougher than ever in this 21st century because the taste, look and feel of food is just so rich and enticing. And, of course, we all need food to survive. So it’s a losing (sorry, not in the sense of weight losing) combination. We gotta eat, it looks wonderful – and WE WANT IT.

How does one diet in this time of good and plenty? And how does one diet when one loves (absolutely loves) to eat?

You’re waiting for the be all and end all answer, aren’t you? You want to read the ultimate secret to diet success.

Sorry – here’s all I know about this. The desire to be thin and healthy and to live a longer and fuller life has to be stronger than the desire to eat that phenomenal plate of food that is in front of you. There’s no other way to do it.

For me, it’s “Goodbye focaccia bread with oil; I will miss you.” I could tell you that someday you can have those foods back, but, personally I don’t believe that’s true. I have yo-yo dieted for decades because I have walked away from bad foods – and walked right back to them when I neared my goal weight. Returning to your old eating habits may work for you, but are you sure that’s not one of your ultimate slippery slopes?

You need to make your own choice: What is more important to you – your food or your health and appearance? Until you make that choice, the focaccia will always be there.

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Dieting with Lollipops and Bubble Gum

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When I was a child, my mother always criticized those who chewed gum: “Like cows chewing their cuds,” she would say. I grew up taking a dim view of “gum people,” especially those crass bubble blowers and gum smackers. Gross!

Sigh – if my mother could see me now. These days, I chew gum with the best of them.

I’ll back up and explain why a woman of my venerable years would take up gum chewing: It’s a way for me to deal with food grazing. Simply stated: It’s a lot more difficult to scarf up a broken cookie if you have to take gum out of your mouth.

I realized the value of gum several years ago when I was preparing food for an event and was about to slip into “Two for the guests and one for me” thinking. How often have you cut up a tray of brownies and theorized that the brownie crumbs have no calories? Something as simple as preparing a fruit tray runs the risk of more fruit being eaten during prep than ending up on the serving plate (and, yes, those dozen or so grapes that fall from the vine into the bottom on the colander do have calories).

Maybe, just maybe, a piece of gum in your mouth is one less “bite of this and bite of that” being eaten.

Onward to my beloved lollipops. Were I but a poet I would do an ode to this wonderful candy confection, which (if you chose the right ones) can be low calorie. Absolute ambrosia.

It may be hard to believe that I’ve lost 110 pounds as I sing the praises of a lollipop. I will caveat immediately that lollipops (or any candy) are NOT a diet food that I recommend one eats by the bag full all day. In fact, one pop a day – at the most two – is the absolute limit.  And BTW – we’re talking children’s little lollipops – not all day suckers!

Like the aforementioned chewing gum, a lollipop puts something tasty in your mouth that conceivably prevents you from putting something bad in your mouth. It’s that simple. A lollipop is a nice treat and unless you overdo it (a high calorie gourmet pop or multiple pops in a row), they aren’t that bad.

I will also add a little known bonus to lollipops. If you’re driving a distance and getting tired on the road, the candy can help keep you awake (it does for me anyway – a little sugar charge and flavor burst).

I’m not telling everyone to go out and buy gum and lollipops (sugarless preferred). This is simply an observation that, for me, those two treats have made a difference. They’ve allowed me to have something tasty in my mouth – as well as something to chew on – that prevented me from sampling the chips and dip.

As far as my mother is concerned, she would be pleased to know that I am quite ladylike when I chew gum and do not smack and pop it. (Although, just between us, I have been known to blow some awesome bubbles – when alone).

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Dieting: It Never Gets Any Easier

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Achieving your diet goal doesn’t mean you can relax.  Sorry.  Personally, I have found maintaining my weight to be just as difficult as losing it. I am as food conscious now – and exercising as much – as I ever did at the height of my weight loss.

Why?  Because I have been that “she-gained-it-all-back” statistic before.  I lost a lot of weight back in the 1990s and gained it all back within five years – plus 50 pounds more.

There are all those food temptations out there. As a good dieter, you may have gone months (years) without a double cheeseburger, a gooey dessert or a favorite pasta dish. Then one day there is a new ice cream flavor that you want to taste. Or you decide to have one drink with friends, which leads to the bowl of peanuts. Or you are hungry and can’t make it by the candy counter at the grocery store.

The ultimate culprit

The biggest challenge to keeping weight off is that evil little inner voice that is constantly telling us to give up the diet battle “Just this once.”

I’ve reached a goal weight that works for me and I’ve maintained for four years. However, I am still the 260-pounds-overweight person inside. There is not a day that goes by that I am not thinking about my next meal. Given a choice, I would still opt for any high calorie carbohydrate over a celery stick.

Confession time: recently I went to a gathering and brought a trifle (a dessert with cake, pudding, candy bits and whipped topping). I had no problem making it (no sampling) and eating it at the party was not an issue. But at the end of the event, my serving dish had one portion of trifle left. On the drive home, I thought about that trifle. I had two choices: immediately put the dish in the sink with running water or eat the left over dessert before I washed the dish. I ate the dessert.

How bad was the transgression? In the scheme of calorie cheating, it was not that bad. Perhaps 300 or 400 unneeded calories. EXCEPT, what was bad was the head game that ensued. Dieters know the mantra: “Well, I blew the diet today so I might as well keep eating and start again tomorrow.” How many times have you had a food backslide and used that as an excuse to throw in the diet towel for the day – and thereafter?

Obviously a committed dieter can make a bad food choice and recover. However, those nasty 83% failure statistics are not based on a one-time slip up. The dieters who regain all their weight are the ones who finish off the trifle, give up for the day – and then cave the following days.

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Are We Trying Too Hard to Lose Weight?

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Anyone who knows me, knows I am a little militaristic about dieting (ya think?!). Well, I’ve had a “Ta Da” moment. A dear friend has started a new diet. Like so many of us, her life has been a series of new diets – some successful for a while, but most ending in sadness and frustrations.

She told me she’s using a different approach this time: “Not to try so hard.”

Now that may sound counterproductive to being a committed dieter, but let me explain. My friend is a business woman with a high stress job, a family with teenagers (eek), way too many commitments, and not enough time in her day for self care. The list goes on and on and I’m sure many of you would say “That sounds like me.”

Most of us go into a diet program with a carrot dangling in front of us (literally, in some cases): We want a diet that will allow us to lose 2 to 4 pounds a week if not more (but get real!) and we want to achieve our goal in record time.

My friend is being more realistic. She says: “If I lose a pound a week, I will be down 52 pounds a year. That works for me. I can be happy with that.”

For many of us – there is only one way to approach dieting: many pounds as quickly as possible. I believe my friend’s more serene approach of not obsessing is going to work for her. She’s been on the diet a month now and is down 8 pounds. I know that goes against the scenario I just described of a pound a week, but she had Chinese food the night before weigh in and lost five pounds the first week (gotta love the kick start of a sodium/fluid weight loss). Now – she’s losing a pound a week and she feels good – really good.

This laid back approach doesn’t mean she’s eating with abandon. But it does mean she’s not beating herself up when life’s circumstance put the wrong food on her plate. It also means that she immediately recommits when she’s had a bad day. No throwing in the diet towel because of one slip up (as we more rigid dieters tend to do).

Neither the rigid nor the relaxed diet plans will work without a core commitment. Remember, saying you’re on any kind of diet and gaining three pounds in a week fools no one. Acknowledging your diet shortcomings – even figuring them into your diet plan – could well be one road to success.

Diet rigidity is what has worked for me – and it’s what I preach in my writings. However, I now realize that for others – a mistake here or there is okay as long as one embraces that weight loss will be slower, but it will happen.

Dieting is a head game. I’ve always felt that any good (meaning healthy) diet works. It’s your strength in dealing with your diet that is the difference between ultimate success – or another new diet every Monday morning.

I wish my friend well – may she lose her 52 pounds in a year. Remember, whether it takes six months, a year or 10 years, losing that excess weight and being healthy is what it’s all about.

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Binging on Ice Cream – Just a Little

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When my head is in a good place diet-wise, I can stick to my diet pretty well all day. It’s not easy, but I can refuse the bacon with breakfast and the French fries with lunch. A reasonable and appropriate diet dinner? Not a problem.

Then comes the evening “settling in.” It’s the end of a long and busy day; a time to relax on the sofa in front of the television or with a good book.

Minutes – literally minutes – after the dinner dishes are put away, my mind begins the dreaded “Snack Foraging” mentality. “What can I find to nibble on?” “I’ve been good all day, what little diet-appropriate treat can I have now?” “I’ve saved calories, now to eat something I really want.” An evening snack is not a bad thing – most diets even allow it.

So what works for your final food intake of the day?

For me, the old standby “Have a piece of fruit” simply does not cut it. The last thing I want after dieting all day is a lousy orange (tasty as they may be). Well, in complete honesty, I do have an orange (or two or three) in the evening, but that’s often becomes the first course of the evening binge. After the orange, I launch Foraging Part B, which can take me to the inner depths of the refrigerator and cabinets.

When a binge begins, any food (even a box of slow cooking pudding or frozen cookies) can become the Holy Grail of night time eating. And let’s face it, how many of us on the binge eating slippery slope have needed to “run an errand” to the local convenience store and happened upon the freezer with ice cream?

Now I suspect you’re hoping that I’m about to impart pearls of wisdom on how to avoid binge eating. Sorry, even though I’m down 120 pounds, I do not have the answer for you. My struggle is as difficult as yours. But, I won’t leave you hanging on this. Here are some things that I do to fight the evening binges.

My house is fairly clean of pudding and frozen cookies. And I’m too lazy to go to a store at night and seek out a an ice cream sale. If you live alone, controlling food on the shelves is easier. With a snacking family, it’s harder to clean out your home except to not buy that which you love to eat.

I hate to say this because I’ve always thought it was a cop out, but having a cup of tea (or other beverage – no, not wine!) really does help.

I do nibble at night. I’m into air pop popcorn (sorry no butter or salt, just plain) and I eat a lot of it.

I like diet ice cream bars. Not the watery ones, but the ones that are like ice cream. They are about 90 to 100 calories. I’ve even been known to dip them in a little low calorie whipped topping (just enough to make it feel like a treat)

If I make it through the evening without overeating (say I’ve come in late from a meeting), I’m not above having a bowl of low calorie cereal (under 120 calories). I measure it (no – do not eat by the handful out of the box).

And finally – I do not allow self-guilt. If you have had a sterling diet day and you have left room for a few “fun” calories at night, that’s okay. If you get into those frozen cookies and eat a couple of them, don’t throw in the towel and then finish the entire package. A few cookies won’t destroy a good diet day. Feeling like a loser and eating all the cookies might.

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Diet and Self-Esteem: Has Your Weight Negatively Changed Your Life?

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This is one of the most painful messages I will write about dieting – the impact of weight on self-esteem. As we age and look back at our life choices, overweight adults may wonder where they would be in their lives – what different roads they might have taken – if they had more self-confidence about themselves and their appearance.

I’m writing about self-esteem from the perspective of someone who carried a 100 to 150 extra pounds most of her life so my story is different from those who berate themselves for being 10 or 20 pounds over weight. Except – not really. It’s all about how you feel about yourself and sometimes being even a few pounds overweight can undermine self-confidence, especially if there are people in your life who put you down. That’s why this is such a challenging subject – self-esteem is not only based on how we look, but how we allow others to treat us and how we treat ourselves.

My self-esteem journey

Briefly, as a preteen, I was overweight and needed to shop at a special Chubby Girl section of the local department store. Because of the weight (and a mother who hounded me about being TOO FAT!) by middle school my only friend was another chubby girl with whom I shared after school candy bars. Embarrassed by my size, I was quiet and shy in the classroom. My goal was to avoid attention at all costs. Thus began a pattern of low self-worth for the next 60+ years.

Fast forward to college (still the quiet girl), then a job as a writer (a solo career) and marriage (I found a husband who abused me about my weight), children (two lovely daughters), a nasty divorce (I found comfort by eating), and going to work in corporate America. During those times, I yo-yoed from an acceptable body shape to 300 pounds (yes, prior to my most recent loss from 250 pounds, I once weighed 300 pounds back in the 1980s).

Feeling second class because of my weight issues, I never exuded confidence when it came to swimming with the sharks of the corporate world. What I had to offer my employer was a pleasant demeanor, a usable skill set and a willingness to do the work. I was good ole “Miss Reliable.” And that was fine with me. I wouldn’t dare speak up on my behalf to seek advancement because I felt unworthy. Many employers look at their overweight employees and all too often discount them from advancement. Not only because of the weight, but because the person acts unworthy due to their low self esteem.

Your self-esteem journey

Only you know how weight issues have impacted your self-confidence and ability to feel good about yourself. So often, our inner turmoils are so well masked, no one understands how we limit ourselves. The impact of excess pounds on our life choices is private. And weight changes who we are and who we could be.

Perhaps weight is a non issue for you. I know many heavy adults who are totally comfortable with who they are and how they look. As we all should be. If your weight doesn’t bother you and you have self-confidence and are thriving both personally and professionally, well done! However, if your weight diminishes you as a person, I understand.

About self-esteem 

There are two perspectives: How others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves.

A friend once wrote to me: “When I am feeling good about me, on my diet and doing it, people see a glow and say so. When I am doing badly, my demeanor changes and I fold in on myself. If ever there was evidence of the inner and outer reality being intertwined, it is in the weight realm.”

The answer?

I wish I could tell you. I have lived through a life of hating myself for my weight and a life of not taking chances. Today – here and now -I feel good about myself. But that’s because – after more than six decades of struggling – I’ve finally lost my excess weight. With that weight loss has come a lot more self-esteem (getting older has helped too). Sadly, if the weight came back on (eek!), I would probably revert to that chubby child eating candy bars and feeling worthless.

All I can say is don’t give up – stay the course – know you can do it. It’s never too late to overcome those weight demons that have held you back. Don’t allow that 10, 20, 50, 100 extra pounds diminish who you are and what you have to give to this world.

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The Greatest Challenges of Dieting – and How to Face Them

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Sigh – where to begin when it comes to the major challenges of successfully dieting.

Obviously the two primary challenges of dieting are that we need to eat to survive – and we get hungry. Like it or not, food is critical to our existence. To compound these challenges, there is a magnificent array of food options these days; the choices are endless and enticing – and not always good for us.

Consider this: We live in a time in which we are all more knowledgeable about what we eat. We know what’s good for us and what’s bad. Food providers are offering more low calorie options. There are nutritional labels on what we buy. And we dare to tell restaurants: “No sauce and I want a take-home box.” Frankly, the ability to make wise dieting choices is easier now than ever.

Stress levels are soaring and comfort food is … well … such a comfort. There may be a few people in this world who react to stress by “not being able to eat a thing.” But most of us find a pint of ice cream or a bag of chips a great comfort after a bad day. Consider this: Yes – it’s okay to occasionally indulge in an evening of comfort when times are tough. But do not let that night’s indulgence carry into the next day. It’s okay to start a new diet every morning. Better a renewed effort than allowing the previous night’s binge eating to become your new life style.

Well meaning friends sabotage us. Indeed they do. Whether it’s from nurturing – or an inner desire to see us fail (yes, that happens!), family and friends making us feel guilty can destroy a diet.

Consider this: Say, “NO!” It’s that simple. If you hurt your mother’s feeling by not eating her homemade dessert, so be it. If she knows you are trying to shed pounds and makes that dessert anyway, then she’s in the wrong, not you. If you’re the only person at dinner who doesn’t order dessert and they all reproach you, stand strong – and shame on them. Remind them you need their support. Here’s the deal: if they care about you, they should support you – not undermine. And they aren’t the ones who have to face your bathroom scale the next morning.

We don’t have time to exercise – or “it’s boring.”

Consider this: Experts agree that even a little exercise is better than being a slug. Can’t go to the gym? Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk the distance of a parking lot, pace while talking on the phone, stand while folding laundry, walk fast, don’t stroll. Anything that gets you off your duff is better than sitting. And – honestly – couldn’t you find some time in the day (especially on a weekend) to truly move?

The ultimate diet challenge is that we kid ourselves. We can blame the need for food, stress, family/friends and lack of time, but ultimately, we are culpable for our bad choices and our diet failures.

Consider this:

Don’t kid yourself that …

… the calories burned in a 10 minute walk equates to eating one candy bar.

… skipping breakfast means you can have a pastry at 10 AM.

… cheese and crackers before dinner are a healthy choice

… “just a taste” is calorie free

… the slacks you need to pin shut at the waist because of bulging are not a problem

… one martini and a handful of bar peanuts won’t hurt

… refusing someone’s food offering will make you unpopular

… you’re healthy, even with the extra pounds (yeah, just wait)

… you know it all when it comes to dieting

The solution to facing diet challenges and losing weight? Be honest with yourself. And stand strong against all those excuses to backslide. You need to believe that you are capable of standing up to this challenge.

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Diet Failure: Is it Lack of Willpower – or Carbohydrates?

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I normally write my blogs from my experiences, but the issue of willpower versus carbohydrates lead me to some significant articles from both The New York Times and Bottom Line Health magazine (links to original articles at the end of this piece).

A dear friend of mine, who struggles with her weight, has long recognized that her diet demons are processed carbohydrates (white bread, regular pasta, potatoes, cookies, cake or some other processed snack food). For her, carbs are the slippery slope of her dieting efforts.

In emailing back and forth with her, I questioned the difference between a carb trigger and a simple lack of willpower. Why can’t we have “just one bite” of a cookie without destroying our diet effort for a day or a week or a lifetime?

She knows from years of diet struggles that the impact of carbs in our diets can override our willpower.

Research confirms that processed carbohydrates are our ultimate diet villains. You may possess strong willpower (good for you), but for many dieters, that slice of cake or bite of bagel is a death knell to sticking to a diet and ultimate success.

According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, processed carbohydrates that are known to cause abrupt spikes and falls in blood sugar appear to stimulate parts of the brain involved in hunger, craving and reward.

A Stanford University study notes that after decades of research but little success in fighting obesity, it has been disappointing that the message being communicated to the American public has been boiled down to ‘eat less and exercise more.’

An underlying assumption of the ‘eat less’ portion of that message has been ‘a calorie is a calorie.” But the new research sheds light on the strong plausibility that it isn’t just the amount of food we are eating, but also the type. A more helpful message than ‘eat less’ may be ‘eat less refined carbohydrates and more whole foods.’

Scientifically speaking, here’s how that chocolate brownie can sabotage your diet effort:

Simple carbohydrates are digested quickly because they’re so simple that our bodies have little left to do with them before converting the food to energy. Such foods are said to have a high glycemic index (GI) because they trigger a fast and pronounced increase in blood glucose levels. But soon after high-GI foods are eaten, blood glucose begins to plummet again…and by about four hours later, it winds up even lower than after a 12-hour fast. That’s the crash that people complain of—and it triggers big hunger.

In contrast, low-GI foods (most vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and minimally processed grains) cause more gradual and less extreme increases and decreases in blood glucose levels. That why they keep you feeling fuller longer and don’t trigger intense cravings.

Researchers suggested that the sharp decrease in blood sugar that occurs a few hours after high-GI foods are consumed not only stimulates greater hunger, but also makes the brain find the very idea of high-GI carbs more pleasurable and rewarding. Thus the cycle of overeating is propagated.

The findings suggest that, if people succeed in avoiding high-GI foods, they may be able to interrupt the self-perpetuating cycle of carb cravings. In other words, if you can muster the strength to stay away from simple carbs for a while, it will get easier for you keep off of them.

I believe this is true; the longer you stay away from high-GI foods, the easier it becomes to draw on willpower. I was on a cruise last week and – although I slipped up a bit with some high-GI food treats – I was still able to exercise my willpower. Having read the NY Times and Bottom Line Health articles, I would venture that having being off high GI carb binges for the past several years, I could enjoy the cruise food – in moderation – but still draw on willpower NOT to gain 10 pounds while away.

There are no easy solutions to the challenges of dieting. But acknowledging the long-range impact of carb triggers can make a huge difference

Excerpts from Bottom Line Health

Excerpts from New York Times


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Are You Being Judged By Your Appearance?

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The English idiom Don’t judge a book by its cover” is a phrase which means “you shouldn’t prejudge the worth or value of something, by its outward appearance alone”. Wikipedia

What’s that got to do with dieting?  Sadly – a lot – as any overweight person is painfully aware.  We are negatively judged for our weight, our clothing, and our demeanor.

The other day a friend and I decided to go on an impromptu shopping expedition to buy her some new clothes.  The impromptu part of the outing was that we were both dressed very casually (okay, we could have been working in the garden in our outfits).

We arrived (somewhat disheveled) at a boutique and we were completely ignored – even though we were the only customers in the store. No clerks approached us, no one offered to help; we were invisible. Later another woman came in – very well dressed – and two clerks rushed right over to her.

We were negatively judged based on our appearance.

My favorite scene from the movie Pretty Woman was when Julia Roberts (in her Vivian prostitute outfit) went into a boutique and was rejected by the snooty sales clerks.  She returned a day later in a stunning outfit and here was the dialogue:

Shop assistant: “Hello, can I help you?”
Vivian: “I was in here yesterday, you wouldn’t wait on me.”
Shop assistant: “Oh.”
Vivian: “You people work on commission, right?”
Shop assistant: “Yeah.”
Vivian: “Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.”

Obviously my friend and I did not present like Vivian in Pretty Woman, but … we were ignored because four sales clerks assumed we would not buy anything in their store based on our appearance and attire.

For overweight individuals, that judgment can be even harsher. There is a bias against those who struggle with weight and don’t fit the Hollywood/Madison Avenue norm.

I experienced it many times during my heaviest years (okay decades).  The more pounds I had on me, the more invisible I felt. Add to that the heavier I became, the more my self esteem dropped. I made myself an easy target for those who judged my book by my obese “cover.”

All of us (no matter what our sizes or shapes) owe it to “the public” to wear clothes that are clean, neat, no holes and not ill fitting. Don’t invite being ostracized because you present in a slovenly fashion.

Note to sales clerks who pass judgment based on appearances: “Big mistake. Big. Huge. I have to go shopping now.”





















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I Use Willpower to Combat My Lack of Willpower

Category : Uncategorized

The other day I attended an ice cream social. I armed myself with a bottle of seltzer water, which I drank while everyone else made themselves ice cream sundaes. A woman said, “You have such willpower!”

Not true – I have almost no willpower.

I know that sounds illogical, but here’s how it works:

I acknowledge the slippery slopes of my diet life. I LOVE ice cream in any form. Without a doubt – had I caved at that ice cream social, I would not only have eaten several dishes of ice cream. Then – once triggered – I would have volunteered to take home any leftover ice cream (and fudge sauce). And I would have consumed it all in one night (and then destroyed the evidence).

In that brief moment of temptation (“have some ice cream”), I had the willpower to say “no.”

I believe that we can sometimes have more willpower to not start, than the willpower to stop.

I hate saying “no thanks” to fattening foods, but … what is the alternative? I could go back to my 300 pounds of the 1990s. I could drop 120 of those 300 pounds and then soar back up to 260 pounds as I did in 2005. No, No, NO! One dish of ice cream, which will trigger an entire half-gallon of ice cream is NOT WORTH starting over on my lifetime of dieting.

Of course there are many people who can have a dish of ice cream and be totally satisfied. Those would be the same people who can eat one potato chip or just a sliver of fudge.

That’s definitely not me – my life has never been “having just a taste” and be satisfied. My reality is all or nothing – and then more.

The secret is knowing yourself. If you have spent a lifetime kidding yourself about your willpower, it’s time to be honest. If you want ice cream – by all means go for it. However, if history and your weight reveal that you lack the willpower to stop once started, consider the “NO” word.

It’s much easier to draw on your inner strength and say “no” to one dish of ice cream than it is to find the willpower to stop a binge in full throttle.