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  • Writer's pictureRyan Allen

Actively removing temptation

The holiday season is upon us, and we all know what that means. Around this time of year, our pancreases and insulin responses are put to the test through a coordinated, mass ingestion of carbohydrates. This feasting can often dangerously carry on for a while during this time of year, but there are several ways to minimize the metabolic damage of these sorts of indulgences.

For me, the most important strategy is to anticipate hazards, and (when possible) prevent access to temptation altogether. This means controlling the “food environment” that we put ourselves in. In the last few years, I have been told by numerous people that they admire my “discipline” in sticking to my fasting, diet, routine, etc.. The reality, though, is not that I have some remarkable willpower that allows me to avoid junk food. Actually, it’s exactly the opposite: I have virtually no restraint. I’m fairly certain I could eat a whole pizza if it was put in front of me.

The key word there is if it was in front of me. I’ve allowed myself to succeed a good deal with avoiding temptation over the last couple of years purely by not putting myself in those types of situations. This concept can show up in a variety of contexts. For example, every Saturday morning I meal-plan everything I will eat through the whole next week, and I only buy ingredients for those meals. I do not get any additional food or snacks to have around the house, because those will only provide extra temptation that I don’t need. If I ever get snacks, I make sure they’re ones that can’t possibly do any serious damage: broccoli or cucumbers and hummus, mixed nuts, etc.

At the store, I do not even walk down the middle aisles of the store where all the packaged, processed, refined carbohydrate foods live (chips, cookies, candy, etc.). Whenever I do go through these sections of the store, I can virtually guarantee I will stop and buy something I’ll later regret. In my experience, pure willpower is a weak strategy in the long term, so keeping these things outside of my food environment tends to be the best call. Instead, I surround myself with things on the perimeter of the store: fresh produce, lean protein, heart-healthy foods rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), etc. Even if I go into the store hungry and decide to buy everything in sight, there’s only so much damage I can do in this sort of environment.

Today in America, the vast majority of people will be sharing a huge meal with excessive quantities of every fall dish imaginable. While a certain degree of “cheating” on this day is expected for anyone, it doesn’t have to get out of hand if we don’t want it to. During the meal, one option is to control the “food environment” of your plate by loading up bigger on things that are the least dangerous, like turkey, vegetables, hors d’oeuvres such as nuts, deviled eggs, or olives, etc. After the meal, try not to take leftovers. You’ll probably be super full at the time and not feeling the strong urge to take more. Instead, everyone else will most likely be convincing you to bring half the feast home with you. Respectfully decline, and send any leftovers home with others to avoid a dangerous food environment in your fridge for the next week.

Lastly, this “out of sight, out of mind” concept can apply to much more than just food. In one case, there are people who keep their phone in another room for chunks of time to prevent distractions when they need to get work done. A different example might be comments that anger you on social media, which can often be avoided simply by not following or seeking out the sources of these comments, turning off notifications, etc. We can’t always have total control over our environments, but anticipation can go a long way towards keeping harmful stimuli out of the picture.

So of course, have a great holiday, express your gratitude to those you care about, and do what you can to keep your food environment as safe as possible this festive season.


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