I used to eat footlong Subways like they were going out of fashion. It wasn’t at all unusual for lunchtime to involve an entire 12” meatball marinara sub with cheese and calorie-packed chipotle sauce.
However, in recent years, I had weaned myself off footlongs and onto mere six-inch subs. Over time, the new habit of eating smaller subs firmly established itself, and I no longer craved footlongs. in fact, the mere thought of eating a footlong sub was often overwhelming, as I knew that my stomach couldn’t easily manage that volume of calories for lunch. (This is great example of how habits can change your underlying motivations, but I digress.)
For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me and for the first time in a long time, my well-established six-inch sub habit was challenged a few days ago. I was queuing up in Subway at lunchtime when I was struck by an overwhelming urge to order a footlong.
In my experience, such ‘regressions’ can come about as a result of stress, tiredness, and/or negative emotions. They strike when you’re mentally weak (in fact, it has been argued that willpower is a finite resource). In other words, if your mood is in some way compromised, you are more likely to regress to old, unhealthy eating habits. (Simply being aware of this is a huge weapon in your arsenal against overeating, by the way.)
It was a key moment (at least, in the context of my lunch that day). Would I succumb to my powerful craving?
The ‘logic’ of my thinking was seemingly clear: wouldn’t I be missing out if I only ordered a six-inch? Wouldn’t I get to the end of my smaller sub and be left wanting more? Rationalism had gone out of the window; I was being driven by simple gluttony alone. If you’re anything like me, that’ll be a familiar scenario.
However, a couple of minutes later, I walked out of Subway with a six-inch sub in hand. Not only did I feel good about the decision I’d made, I also felt entirely satisfied after eating it. It was a true win/win outcome.
So, what happened in those two minutes?
All it took to quash my craving was a simple switch in mindset. Instead of focusing on the negatives of the ‘right’ decision (i.e. to order a six-inch sub), I focused on the positives. Instead of focusing on my fear of missing out on a footlong, I thought about how positive I would feel if I chose the six-inch – how I wouldn’t feel bloated or overfull afterwards. I also told myself that if I was still hungry after the six-inch sub, I could always choose to eat something else later. What did I have to lose?
When it came to me placing my order, I asked for the six-inch and didn’t think twice about it. Furthermore, I felt full before I even finished the six-inch, and didn’t feel hungry for the rest of the afternoon. This is no surprise in retrospect. A six-inch sub is plenty to keep me going due to the established eating habits I have in place, but it’s remarkable how quickly that thinking went out of the window when I was focusing on the negative aspects of ordering a six-inch sub.
There’s a clear moral to this story: when situations like the above strike, instead of focusing on the negative (“I’m going to regret not getting the larger sub…I’ll still be hungry once I’m done eating…”), focus on the positive (“Getting the six-inch will cost less…I’ll feel proud for having avoided temptation…I won’t feel uncomfortably overfull afterwards”), and allow yourself an ‘out’ (“I’ll eat again later if I’m still hungry”). This simple switch in perspective can make a huge difference to your eating habits.
If you’re someone who often craves more (like me), you’ll be able to put this approach into effect multiple times per day. Simply make note of your negative thoughts, then invite yourself to focus on the positive aspects of the healthier decision.
Best of all, the feedback loop is instant – as soon as you make what you know to be the best decision, you’ll be flooded with a feeling of positivity, having known that you made the right choice.
Adopt a positive mindset when it comes to your food selection dilemmas starting today. You’ve got nothing to lose, and much to gain!