Imagine walking into a restaurant with a large buffet, or approaching a table at a church supper laden with starchy and sugary foods. Now imagine that you don’t really care about the pasta, the potatoes au gratin, or the cakes. You glance briefly at these foods, then zero in on protein and vegetables. Believe it or not, you can cultivate this state of mind, and once you do, having success on your low carb diet becomes much, much, easier. Here are four strategies to get you to this state of mind:
1. Stay Away Until Your Body Adjusts
One of the best things about the low carb diet is that after awhile (usually 1-2 weeks) people find they just don’t have the hankering for carbs that they once did. I remember very well when I was on my first low carb diet about 17 years ago. About a month after I’d started the diet, someone brought an Oreo birthday cake to choir practice. I was astonished that I had absolutely no reaction at all! I stared and stared at this cake in amazement, waiting for some sign that I wanted a piece, or even a bite. I couldn’t really believe that I didn’t want any, but it was true! This is part of the magic of low carb eating, and, especially, of finding the right amount of carboydrate for you.
The more dangerous time is before you get to this point. Your urge to eat carbs may be even stronger than before, so it’s a good idea to give yourself at least a two-week window where you stay totally out of temptation’s way.
After you reach this point, you still have some work to do. There will still be voices in your head saying things like, “Oh, but it’s Janice’s birthday, and she would be hurt if I didn’t have a piece of cake.” Managing those voices will be much easier, but the voices won’t stop yakking for quite awhile, so be prepared.
2. Make the Decision Beforehand
It has been said that one of the purposes of adopting a set of ethical standards in our lives is that it is a way of making a decision before you are in a tempting situation, which makes it easier to live according to your values. For example, if you have determined that you don’t take office supplies from work for your personal use, you won’t find it tempting when you have to fetch some paperclips from the supply closet. You just aren’t the type of person who takes stuff – it’s built into your self-definition. Your mind just doesn’t go there.
The same mental setup can be used to make decisions regarding food. If you know that your body doesn’t react well to carbs, cultivate an identity as a person who doesn’t eat starchy and sugary foods. I like to compare it to someone with a serious wheat allergy. Such a person isn’t tempted to order toast with breakfast. They just don’t do it — it doesn’t cross their mind. Get it into your head that your body is similar – it just doesn’t handle carbohydrates well, and that is that.
On the other hand, you will sometimes choose to deviate. Here again, the trick is to plan it ahead of time, including the amount. If you are waking up in the night with dreams of french fries, plan that at a certain time you will have a reasonable portion of fries, if that makes it easier (for some it actually makes it harder, so pay attention to your reactions). When I visit my family in Vermont each summer, I know sometime during that vacation I will consume a) a piece of corn on the cob, dripping with butter, and b) a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. (Interestingly, this year I found that the ice cream was too sweet, and I enjoyed it more when mixed with peanut butter.)
3. Cultivate a Negative Attitude Towards Starchy and Sugary Foods
My husband says “There are little islands in the supermarket where there is food that won’t poison me.” He goes to those islands and avoids everything else. I think of processed foods (most foods in packages) as “not real food” – like styrofoam or cardboard. So much in the supermarket is just a background of refined starch with a foreground of artificial flavorings – not really all that appealing. Find ways to think of starchy and sugary foods in a negative light.
4. The Real Secret to Dealing with Temptation
You may have noticed something about these strategies: they aren’t really about resisting temptation. They are about rigging your brain and your life so that you aren’t tempted in the first place. See Willpower And The ‘Slacker’ Brain. This is because once you enter into the realm of temptation, you make it much, much harder on yourself. You give your brain extra work to do, and emotionally-charged work at that. Consider this psychology experiment: Subjects were told to memorize a number. Half were given a seven-digit number, and half a two-digit number. They were to go down the hall to another room and report the number. Along the way, there was a table with food, and they were given a choice between fruit and cake. The people who were remembering a 7-digit number were almost twice as likely to choose the cake! It doesn’t take very much to tie up our brains and make it more difficult for us to make good decisions. So do everything you can to make those decisions before your brain gets caught up in whatever is going on at the moment.
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- How to Get Through the First Week of a Low-Carb Diet