Think About Something Else

The holiday season has officially kicked off, and that means we’re not only bombarded with marketing messages about special holiday foods, but those tempting treats start showing up in real life: in classrooms, around the work breakroom, on endcaps at the grocery store. This post from my archive describes some of the tricks I use to stay committed to my nutrition habits without making myself miserable.

distractionToday was a potluck at work, and I had to coach myself through the experience to avoid the (delicious) poison in the corporate overlords’ kitchen. It seems like a good time to share some of the tricks I use to ensure that I don’t overeat good-for-me foods and that I don’t give in to foods I know will taste good but a) won’t make me any healthier and b) won’t help me reach my goals.

I should mention that my first line of defense is to just not have any delicious poison in the house. My refrigerator and cabinets contain only Whole30-compliant ingredients. That means if I go absolutely bat-shit crazy and eat my way through the kitchen like a locust, it will merely be an overeating situation, rather than a poisoning.


Challenge #1.

The situation:
I’m tempted. There’s a bowl of Halloween candy on the receptionist’s desk. Homemade cupcakes (with sprinkles!) in the break room. The ubiquitous basket of tortilla chips and salsa at just about every restaurant in Austin.

The reaction:
I try to be present, take a deep breath, and think about what I really want.

Right now, what I really want is two-fold: (1) to live and work in Prague and (2) to see what happens to my body on the right dose of Synthroid, clean food, and solid workouts. Indulging in a few moments of pleasure for my tastebuds doesn’t get me any closer to either of those goals. And it actually moves me further away from #2.

A treat often seems like a good idea. I’m in Emotional State A (e.g., wanting to live in Prague or feeling anxious about a deadline), and I want to feel different. I want to change that emotional state. So I look for distraction or comfort or pleasure in various forms (in this case: cupcakes with sprinkles!). But the truth is, while the cupcake might provide a few moments of pleasure and distraction, it won’t change Emotional State A – and mindlessly gobbling a cupcake could potentially move me into a worse emotional state. (Note that this is radically different than a conscious decision to indulge in something awesome.)

So I try to be present, take a deep breath, and think about what I really want.

This is not easy.

I left the potluck early because the sugary treats that surrounded me were making my skin crawl. I had already eaten homemade chili and a few olives and green pepper strips – and I tried a few of the salads that were part of the buffet. I was not hungry, but the treats in my sight line were making me crave.

Faced with a craving? Be present, take a deep breath and think about what you really want. Will the treat change your emotional state? Will it move you closer to what you really want? If the answer is yes, eat with gusto. If the answer is no, remove yourself from proximity to the temptation and/or think about something else.

Which brings me to…

Challenge #2.

The situation:
I’m not hungry, but I want to eat.

The reaction:
This one comes up a lot, mostly because I like food. The solution to this is both simple and difficult: I think about something else.

Our dearly departed cat Sesame was a willful beast, and she often did things I didn’t want her to do: drinking out of the kitchen faucet, dipping her paws in my water glass, knocking the remote control off the nightstand. And at those times, I would glare at her and say, “Think about something else!”

I realized at some point that those words could be pretty useful for me, too.

When the urge to graze when I’m not hungry sneaks up on me, I think about or do something else. Make a cup of caffeine-free tea. Pick up my book and read a few pages. Send a text message to someone. Read (or re-read) a blog post that inspires or informs. Do burpees or pushups or stretch. Brush my teeth. Anything that stops the thought pattern and provides a distraction.

Again, this requires being present. But if I can do it, I can usually ride out the urge to eat when I’m not hungry.

Challenge #3.

The situation:
It’s time for a snack, and what I want is a big handful of nuts, but the healthier, better choice is vegetables, protein, and fat in a form other than nuts (because nuts are a good source of fat but coconut oil and olive oil and olives and avocado are better for my goals.)

The reaction:
This is a total gimme that allows me to feel virtuous without having to deny myself too much: I give myself a few nuts as a “treat.”

First, I eat a balanced, clean snack: some high-quality Italian sausage, a cucumber, 1/2 a green pepper, and a small handful of olives… and then, as a “treat,” I grab a few almonds – maybe 3 or 4 – and savor them. I make sure each one takes at least two bites to eat, and I concentrate on the flavor.

This is way, WAY different than mindlessly snarfing a handful of almonds (or a big spoonful of Sunbutter), and it accommodates my desire for the taste of almonds. Also important to note: I do this once a day, at regularly-scheduled snack time. If I did it every time I wanted almonds, I would eat an entire pound of almonds, 3-4 at a time. For real.

Challenge #4.

The situation:
I’ve eaten a delicious, balanced, totally paleo, totally satisfying meal – but I want to eat more. I’m no longer hungry, I just. want. more.

The reaction:
This one comes up a lot, too. I can still pack away food like a lumberjack, and as crass as it sounds, I love big piles of food. I la-la-love sitting down in front of a plate that’s piled high! But you know what? It is possible to get fat eating clean food, too. (I know! Right?! Seems like a total rip off!) Therefore, while I’m eating clean, I’m also trying to eat the right volume of food for my stature (which I will refer to as ‘petite’ even though it’s more like ‘short and squat.’).

So what do I do when I just want to eat more of a good thing? I think about something else… and I wait 20 minutes.

If, at the end of 20 minutes, I’m truly hungry, then I grant myself permission to eat a little more protein and veggies. The total number of times I’ve taken advantage of this permission? Zero.

After a balanced, clean meal, I’m not hungry. The desire for more because it tastes good and true hunger are entirely different beasts. If I’m present, and I wait, and I’m honest with myself, there’s no reason to eat more.

This is often a sobering moment. Sad, even. But there’s always another opportunity to eat approximately three hours in the future. (Hooray!)

What do you do when you’re struggling to fight temptation?


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  • Jamie says:

    Thanks for this! It’s most helpful to know that I’m not the only one who wants to constantly eat all the things. Great coping ideas.

  • Tanya Hobson says:

    I struggle with these same challenges!! Thank you for giving us some great suggestions and reminding us that we are all human and have the same struggles. As an addition to Challenge #2, I find that getting outside and taking a walk helps tremendously. I find that boredom triggers fake hunger and staying busy, or like you said, thinking about something else, really helps. Thanks again, Mel; I love your site!

  • Gaby says:

    Thanks for this post, exactly what I’m needing at the moment.

  • Christine says:

    Thanks for writing about the struggles of fighting temptation. It’s hard to resist that second helping when your taste buds are excited from the flavors from the taste of real food. I can relate to eating like a lumber jack, there’s nothing more satisfying than sitting down to a great plate of delicious real food, perfectly seasoned providing a wonderful balance of flavors that tingle every taste bud. Oh, I have to blame the taste buds. So when my taste buds are screaming, “I want more” I take a pause then, I pop a few fennel seeds and chew them until they are completely dissolved. It really helps the temptation to over eat. Thanks again for sharing, I love the new website and your obvious and common sense approach to food and life.

  • Michelle Gaeta Tipton says:

    For the past 100 days before my sons wedding i really really really was determined to keep on Whole30 and avoid all those no no foods – but i also have that type of workplace ( a school) where there are all sorts of temptations so i literally wrote the number of days before the wedding on my hand each day! Big and Bold! if i even THOUGHT about reaching for that delish greek dessert one of our moms made i saw the number “99” and immediately was reminded why i was not going to reach for it, and besides i had a lunch box filled with wonderful and filling Paleo food for my own lunch and snack. This has become quite the joke at school but it has worked. I’ve lost about 15 pounds feel great and it’s staying off.
    the number of days as of today 11/5/15 is 8 and the wedding is in Austin, Texas on 11/14/15! thank you Melissa love all your posts and this one is a huge help.

    • Congratulations on this exciting time! Fifteen pounds gone AND an upcoming wedding?! That’s good stuff to celebrate! And thank you for sharing your brilliant ‘stay on track’ idea. I love it! It’s really nice to have an anchor like that—a piece of jewelry, a self note, a string tied around your wrist, whatever—to remind you of your commitment. So fun that you used your anchor as a countdown. Wishing you and your family a wonderful time on 11/14!

  • Catherine says:

    Are the seeds roasted first?

  • Claudine says:

    Hi Melissa
    Loved reading that post – I think your advice on taking a breath/moment to remember what your goals are is real and fabulous. Our need for instant gratification in life and tastebuds, can all too often sabotage our more important goals.
    PS – Well Fed was my first Paleo cookbook and both 1 & 2 are dog eared for all the use they get 3 years on, and your chocolate chilli remains a favourite in our house all the way in Australia!