Yesterday I wrote a post about distinguishing desirable habits from interventions, that is, from temporary deprivations. Habits are like puppies: if you like them and can live with them, you adopt them for the long haul. "Compensatory deprivations" are like spare furniture you get out only when necessary. They can be useful temporary fixes, but they are not something you want to live with permanently.
I think a lot of people slip up by resolving to deprive themselves permanently or indefinitely of something they really enjoy that is ordinarily harmless, or at least it is harmless in moderation. It would be better to identify habits that are really desirable, and try to set yourself up to fall into them, so to speak.
As for me, my biggest problem right now is that I have slipped into an indulge-gain-deprive-lose cycle, and I really need to get out of it and into a more balanced pattern. That calls for a look at habits I would like to re-establish for the new year: permanent changes that I really want to have.
So I made a long list of potential behaviors, and then I carefully considered each one. If I found it appealing, I put it on my list of "habits to try." If I didn't, I put it on the list of "compensatory deprivations" -- and I don't intend to touch those except on rare occasions, such as the morning after a day full of bad food, or as a needed kick start.
The habits list is surprisingly short. Remember that yours are not the same as mine...
I. Well-established habits I want to be sure to keep.
- One egg is enough eggs for breakfast. I wrote about this and other "mantras" here.
- Keep the gym bag packed at all times. It has been a little trickier to juggle the schedule lately such that I get to the pool or treadmill, and so it is even more important now that I remain always ready to take the opportunity when it comes.
- The right-size plate is 8-1/2 inches, which means the inner rim of a larger one. Switching to "luncheon plates" has been the easiest way I've tried to fight mealtime gluttony -- it has totally been worth the cost of replacing our family dinnerware. Full-size dinner plates are do-able, though, because they often have an "inner" plate that is 9 inches or so; I just pretend the decorative rim is not there.
- A "normal" plate has four quarters: two vegetables, one protein, one starch. I don't mean to say that I always divide my meals up like this; I don't, for example, dissect a portion of lasagna. It's more of a mental habit for eyeballing the relative proportions of the main dish and the side dishes. I do follow it pretty frequently at lunch.
II. New habits I am excited about, to begin trying immediately.
- "Half a sandwich is enough sandwich for me." This is potentially a new mantra to add to the ones at the link I mentioned above. I won't go into it now, but I actually have a lot to say about how I came to this one and why I am excited (I know, weird word to use) about trying it. I will write a whole post about half sandwiches coming up soon.
- A "normal" portion of sweets or dessert, for me, is a two-thumbs-sized slice or 1/3 cup. I would like to have sweets every day if I want them, and that only works if I keep the portions small, which is fine with me. I would rather have a little ice cream every day than a giant bowl on the weekends. This habit is not exactly new, as I also used it when I was losing weight in 2008, but I think I would like to make it permanent in order to eat ice cream more frequently (I have been cyclically denying myself dessert, and I am tired of it).
- If I have alcohol with dinner or before dinner, it should be only a little: half a beer, or a quarter glass of wine. I can have more after I have finished eating and the plate is removed. I don't want to give up wine or beer with dinner, but I have to face reality: alcohol makes me eat more. Keeping the amount small until the food is gone may just be the habit I need to establish to let me enjoy both in moderation.
III. Habits to try later on.
- Refuse to eat quickly. Everybody knows the conventional wisdom, that eating slowly and being sure to savor your food is good for portion control. I have never really mastered it -- I am usually the first one done with any meal. This is a direct challenge to gluttony, so it's a habit I really want to try -- but I am saving it for later because I expect it will be rather difficult to establish.
- Skip bedtime snack as normal practice. I had this habit before, but have fallen out of it. It needs a trial period; it might not be right for me at this time.
- Notice my hunger level at the start of the meal, and adjust my plate accordingly. Up till now, I have tried to load plates consistently, each dinner about the same size, because for so many years my hunger signals were not reliable. I think they are more reliable now, and the way to test that is to carefully try serving myself larger helpings if I am hungry and smaller ones if I am not.
- Strictly practice "no seconds" to see if it becomes a comfortable habit. I more or less eschew seconds at meals, but it is not really a habit; I feel a little deprived by it. I want to give it a good continuous try for a while to see if it can become something I can get used to.
- Reinforce the "no seconds" habit by serving dishes in the kitchen. This is something that might or might not work; because we have small children who cannot serve themselves, I will have to go back to the kitchen anyway, which could backfire. Maybe I will think of a way to set this one up so that it works in our family.
- Portion grains, soups, and breads to moderate carbohydrate intake. It isn't sustainable to measure them every time, but maybe I can use a handy comparison to keep myself relatively honest, the way I use "two thumbs" to set the size of sweet desserts -- perhaps stay below a fist-size volume of bread and grains or a two-fist volume of soup.