There are a few mantras I find myself muttering from time to time, mantras that remind me to stay on track. I'm not sure whether tossing them out to the Internet would be helpful to anybody else, though. I didn't find them in a book or even sit down and compose them; they bubbled up out of my
subconscious, and some other part of me -- my conscious? -- repeated them. Over and over and over again.
Here we go.
(1) "I don't do that anymore."
This is what I say to myself when I am driving home, alone, and it occurs to me that I could go through a drive through and get a cheeseburger or something, and I could eat it, in the car, and nobody would know but me. I also find myself repeating it to myself when I wander past a vending machine and pause, regarding the bags of Chee-tos and pretzels. Basically, any time that I have a little bit of free time available and it occurs to me that one thing I could do with that free time is buy some food and eat it: I hear myself say, "Remember? I don't do that anymore."
I'm sort of amazed at the power of this statement. I pronounce it neutrally. There's no judgment or shame directed at my former self; it's just a true statement. And yet it is a remarkable statement, because it is self-fulfilling. The simple act of repeating it and intending it to be true helps make it more true, every time I say it. I can't remember a first time, but you know -- it could have been true the first time I said it, even if my last binge had been only that morning. It can become true at any moment, for anyone. Think about it.
And I can feel its power growing: The more I repeat it, the deeper a groove it wears in my subconscious, the more distance I put between myself and the old me.
(2) "I've already had my treat; I don't get another one."
I use this most days, I think. It's a sort of bookmark: reminding me that moderation means stopping, that treats are rare by definition. I can have a square of chocolate after lunch if I want, sure. But if I find myself reaching for a second or third, I often find my hand pausing as this sentence comes to mind. I've already had my treat; I don't get another one.
Too, It helps dispel that awful temptation that says, "You've already had a bunch; what's one more?" Because with one stroke, I've declared it all one thing -- all of the "bunch" I've already eaten -- whether it's two cookies or a whole bag or some of all the different kinds of leftovers I had in the fridge -- all that added up to one thing, "my treat," what I've already had. And the next bite, however small, woulde be "another." What I don't get . You see, the line can be drawn anywhere.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that I've already had an "extra" even if it wasn't very treat-like. My kids had soup and saltines for lunch; you know my weakness for saltines. I polished off the crackers left in the sleeve after the kids had had their fill, while I was waiting for my own lunch to heat up. After I finished lunch, when I wandered into the kitchen thinking about a square of chocolate, I
remembered the handful of crackers, and said to myself: I've already had my treat; I don't get another. I turned around and headed out again.
I think it's important to note, again, that there isn't an element of judgment or shame here. I'm not punishing myself for the sin of eating crackers. I'm just trying to practice reality-based eating:
I already chose a treat and now I live with -- live on -- the treat I had.
(3) "A piece of cheese is like a truffle."
Now this little food-specific gem, I know where it came from -- Hannah suggested it to me. I liked it so much that I adopted it, and I repeat it to myself almost every time I have a snack or a meal in which the protein source is mostly cheese. Which is almost daily, in fact.
Cheese, of course, is more nutritious than chocolate truffles, but it's about as dense, rich and satisfying -- more satisfying, really, since there's much more protein and hardly any sugar. Those calories aren't empty.
The reason I repeat it, though, is that I spent many years eating enormous amounts of cheese at one sitting, for a snack, on crackers with mustard. It was one of my favorite snacks. And yet I probably didn't even really taste it. Should have just eaten the mustard off the spoon, I guess.
I repeat this mantra to keep myself honest and to remind myself that it isn't okay either to eat cheese without enjoying it or to binge on huge amounts of cheese. Since I eat it often, the effort adds up.
A "serving" of cheese is, of course, one to two ounces. That's where the truffle comes in. The imaginary truffle is about the same size as the cheese I ought to be eating. And the image of a single chocolate truffle is a reminder to slow down; to let the cheese come to room temperature for full flavor; to take tiny bites; to enjoy it. And to leave it off of dishes where its contribution won't be noticed: a cheesesteak is worthy to me, a hamburger really isn't. What with the mustard and all.
(4) "One egg is enough eggs for breakfast."
As a former consumer of countless three-egg omelettes, I can attest that this mantra is necessary. Does it sound more like a rule than a mantra? But I adhere to it almost obsessively, and I really do repeat it to myself. I am positive that I don't need to be eating two or more eggs at breakfast, ever. If I ever catch myself starting to cook two eggs for myself in the morning, I'll know I'm in danger of returning to my old habits. Not. Going. To. Happen.
I repeat the one-egg mantra to myself whenever I make eggs for breakfast, whenever I order eggs in a restaurant. Yeah, I know, I could still overeat even if I stick to only one egg. I could get the Sunny Side Up Special with four links of sausage, Belgian waffle drowning in syrup, ketchup-laced hash browns, and one egg. And yet... I am never really tempted to order such a thing, unless I am dividing the breakfast up between me and two of my children. What I *am* tempted to do is eat the second half of that Eggs Benedict. This mantra keeps me from doing it. One egg is enough eggs for breakfast.
(5) "A twelve-hour fast feels better than a seven-hour fast."
What I tell myself when I'm deciding whether to have a snack before bed. It's true for me, too -- I really do feel better in the morning if I have fasted since dinner. Sometimes I wake up ravenously hungry, and then the most mundane of breakfasts is fantastically delicious; buttered toast, heaven on earth. Other times I wake up only feeling light and quick and sunny.
I don't feel bad per se, if I've had a bedtime snack, but it just isn't as good a feeling as having fasted since dinner. Heavier and slower. It reminds me a little bit of a hangover -- there's no headache or dizziness, but instead there's a sense of something unpleasant sort of lingering in the system.
I don't always avoid bedtime snack. My husband and kids always have one, and sometimes I join them. But I always pause and repeat this to myself, to remember that it's a choice with a consequence.
That's not all, thanks to another important word in that mantra. In part because of it, I have come to think of the period between dinner and the next day's breakfast not just as a time when I don't usually have food, but as a literal daily fast -- a positive decision I have made to give my body something it needs, i.e., a rest from eating and some of the work of digestion. There's a reason we call it "breakfast" in English, after all.
These five mantras are specific to me and might not help anyone else. Do you have any truths or mottoes you regularly remind yourself of to keep yourself on track?