A great deal of my reading, both professionally and personally is in the area of ethics. Ethics is often described as “The study of ‘How should I live?’” It delves into issues of honesty, propriety, temptation, etc. It is fun when this interest sheds light on my own struggles with weight and food temptation. Don’t be surprised, because if it is unhealthy and harmful to eat to excess, then isn’t doing so unethical? If I should eat in moderation, then eating immoderately is to behave unethically.
One book I’ve been reading is Dan Ariely’s “The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty: Why we lie to everyone—especially ourselves.” It’s a fascinating look at honesty and the things that trip up our efforts to live as we believe we should. In a chapter I read this morning, Dan discusses Cognitive Depletion and its effect on temptation. It can be quite enlightening for those of us struggling with dietary temptations.
Just as a muscle can be worn out through use, our will power can be worn out through activity. We live stressful, tempting lives. All through our day we face temptations and make decisions. We exercise our will to overcome these temptations. Funny thing is we do this with all sorts of activities, not just our diet. We face decisions at work. Often there is a temptation to cut corners and we have to will ourselves to resist. We might face decisions on the road home and have to resist the temptation to react to other drivers. With each use of our will power ‘muscle’ it becomes depleted and by the end of the day we may find ourselves without the strength to overcome the next temptation. Often this “bridge too far” temptation is dietary. We know we shouldn’t have it. We know we will do better without it. We know we are healthier without it. However, we quickly find ourselves giving in to temptation and eating what we should not.
How can we overcome this? There are a couple ways. If you can manage your day to have the most stressful events in the morning or right after breaks when you are refreshed, this might help. But let’s be honest, if stress could so easily be managed we wouldn’t really be stressed, now would we? A better way is to be aware of what is going on. Be aware that after stressful times temptations take on new dimensions and what was once easy to overcome becomes harder. Prepare for this beforehand. For example, you can empty the tempting foods out of your house. Remove the sweets, the chocolates and the ice cream. Don’t keep them around to tempt. Perhaps you should remove the Pizza place’s magnet from your refrigerator door so you don’t get tempted to just dial up a large with everything—including double guilt. Keep a selection of healthy options quickly available so the choice is made beforehand. If you find it difficult to pass by a certain restaurant then on stressful days you may need to drive home a different way.
One of the best defenses is being able to recognize a problem coming on. Highly stressful days with lots of choices can deplete your ability to make good decisions. Be prepared. The good thing, also like a muscle, as you overcome temptations and get used to eating healthy it can become easier to make those good choices over time. However, it is unlikely you will ever be beyond the siren call of certain foods and free of any and every temptation. So make a plan and keep an eye out on those really stressful days.