Friday, June 19, 2015

Willpower And Compassion


When I was a kid, I used to go to the mall with my friends. We went to the jewelry store to look at earrings on those velvet backed rotating stands, If you hung around there long enough, you could watch girls get their ears pierced.

One of our favorite things to do was go to Spencer Gifts. Once we had our fill at smelling each of the scented candles and perusing the Holly Hobbie stuff, we'd go into the adult aisle. We could kill a lot of time there reading the dirty joke books, looking at the bachelor party games and flipping through the sexy calendars.

One of the biggest differences between the mall then and the mall now is that there was no Food Court. There was no Cinnabon. There was no Starbucks. There was no smoothie place, Kettle Corn vendor or Orient Express. There were no fixins.

If our mothers gave us money and it was time for lunch, we might go to the pizza place. We would never eat dinner there. We were expected home for dinner. You didn't eat dinner at the mall.

There was a Fannie Farmer. Fannie Farmer was fancy. You didn't just go in and randomly buy candy. This was the kind of place where mothers would go and buy Easter Basket Stuff. If someone were in love with you, then you might get some chocolates from Fannie Farmer. There was a mystique about it that is hard to explain.

It was a big deal when Baskin Robbins opened. When Baskin Robbins opened, that was the official kick off of eating as entertainment at the mall.

 Before that, you could very easily go to the mall, try out some perfumes at the makeup counter, or look at A Very Young Dancer or Sisters for the millionth time at Waldens. You could spend several mindless hours there and not eat a thing.

I could go to the mall today and not eat anything. My kids could go and not eat anything. But here's the thing. It would take a whole lot more willpower to go and not eat anything now.

It's not just the mall. Everywhere you go, there is food.

I read these two fantastic books called Willpower and The Power of Habit. It's important to think of willpower as a resource. Before reading the books, I thought of willpower as something you either have or you don't.

This was not a helpful way to think about willpower.

Willpower can be cultivated.  At the same time, you expend an enormous amount of energy practicing it. This is important to understand.

Willpower can be discussed in a variety of contexts. It's a fascinating subject when it comes to any kind of habit change. Today I am primarily discussing it in reference to weight loss and weight management.

Here is what has helped me when I was losing weight and every day while maintaining.

In a nutshell, I learned from reading the two books I mentioned earlier, willpower is not a bottomless resource. Yes, it is renewable. But the more times you exert willpower during a particular day, the harder it becomes. We can develop a kind of willpower fatigue.

Every time you eat a bowl of cereal, an apple or a donut that is a food choice. It helps to remind myself of this.

What helps even more is that when I order an unsweetened iced tea at Starbucks but pass up their lemon pound cake that is also a food choice. When I ignore the hotdog vendor outside of the museum, that is a food choice. So is passing on the second serving of pancakes, walking right by the ice cream truck, and not getting a candy bar while waiting in the checkout line.

These may not seem like the same choices we make when we eat three meals a day plus snacks. At those times we know we are choosing. But when we see a vending machine and don’t stop, that is just as much of a food choice.

Complicating this fact is that I once read in a Weight Watchers article that we live in an Obescentric Society. We encounter more food choices, more food temptations and more food variety in a given day than any other time in history.

We are all responsible for our own food choices. But we need to have compassion too. Beating ourselves up for not resisting the French fries or the donut holes is showing no compassion for ourselves. Before we can make any positive changes we have to know what we are up against.

So one day I set out to illustrate this very thing. This post today is mostly not about healthy tips. Its primarily about awareness.

This was a typical day. I spent some time working at home, and then set out for two meetings, one in midtown Manhattan, and one in lower Manhattan. This involved taking subways, and walking around the streets.

On the way to the meetings, I went to my neighborhood pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions.

I gave myself an assignment. I’d photograph and write about my food choices for an entire day.

The first part of my day, I was at home. I had a healthy, points-plus-friendly breakfast, lunch and snacks. There was plenty of fruit in the house.

I did have to resist my kids’ Oreos, ice cream and Pirate’s Booty. But since I am not in the habit of having dessert foods in the middle of the day, it wasn’t difficult. It was easy for me to simply avoid the large Rubbermaid container we call The Carb Box.

Once I left the house, I started photographing all of the food choices I made – meaning food that was offered, advertised or encountered and that I chose not to eat.

Here are just some of the highlights. This reflects my NYC lifestyle. For you, it could be the 100+ food choices you made at the mall. Family gatherings have always had staggering amounts of temptations for almost everyone. Throw in a trip to the movies, Christmas, the conference room at work, your toddler’s snack bag, the halo-effect dessert aisle at Whole Foods, free samples at the grocery store, artisanal this and that, and The Food Network.

We are going to need some strategies our mothers and grandmothers didn’t have to employ. But there is no place for berating ourselves. Just look at the food choices below. I didn’t eat any of this stuff, even though a lot of it – okay all of it – looked delicious.

What food choices did you make today? What did you resist? What made you cave?

A small sampling of the foods offered on a typical NYC street. Out of everything I walked by, the Kettle Corn was the most tempting.

My favorite pharmacy is also a Luncheonette. If I indulged every time I went, my doctor might need to include a prescription for Type 2 Diabetes Treatment in my regimen.

A refreshing iced tea from my favorite independent coffee shop left me exposed to this heavenly looking cake.

Yes. This man was walking around midtown with a sign advertising foods offered at a nearby eatery.

A frothy cocktail might have been nice on a hot afternoon, but would not have been appropriate for my upcoming meetings.

Willpower And Compassion is the second in a series I am writing about maintaining a healthy weight. Disclaimers was my first post on the subject.

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