family at dinner table with woman laughing

Does your office have a donut fairy?  You know, the person who randomly sprinkles the break room with two dozen donuts, a box of munchkins and leaves without a trace. It seems like every office has one, and every single time the donut fairy shows up a familiar scene plays out. 

Cue the office break room chatter… 

Person A: “Ohhh this Boston Cream one looks awesome. I’ll have that one”

Person B: “I only want to try a piece”

Person C: “I can’t eat a donut, I’m on a diet.  I’ll just have the munchkins”

Person A selects the donut they want, takes it back to their desk and eats it.  End result: enjoyment, the awareness they ate a donut and 300 calories. 

Person B proceeds to take out the community kitchen knife and cut multiple donuts in half, maybe even into quarters (I’m looking at you, Susan). They end up eating 3 halves of different donuts, which doesn’t take much beyond middle school math skills to realize is 1.5 donuts.  End result: no acknowledgment that they had more than a donut (only having pieces), crumbs everywhere and 525 calories.

Person C just has munchkins, one of each flavor. End result: A feeling of compromise and restriction because they can’t have a donut, but an accumulation of 420 calories worth of donut holes. 

Sound familiar? Maybe it’s a scenario you’ve personally been involved in. Or maybe it’s a scene you see play out in your break room on a weekly basis. It’s a familiar situation for all of us to some degree or another and happens to paint a perfect picture of how our words and attitudes towards dieting can play into our eating habits.

Wait. Our words!?

Yep! Believe it or not, the words we use play a major role in our daily thoughts. They color the narratives of our lives that we write and they influence our decisions and attitudes. So why don’t we talk about some of those words? For this piece, we’re going to focus on four select words because they’re the most commonly used in our experience.

Just & Only.  

The words ‘just’ and ‘only’ can put our minds into a restrictive mindset.  Just softens the request or downplays the object. ‘Only’ implies a restrictive tone and sounds apologetic at times.  I’ll ‘just’ have a salad. I ‘only’ lost 5lbs.  

I only lost 5lbs?  That 5lbs is roughly equivalent to a deficit of 17,500 calories (based off the estimate of 3,500 calories per pound of body fat — which is an example we’re using for this scenario, but not a recommendation we’re providing for you to set your own deficit). Five pounds might only seem like a small amount if you are comparing yourself to others. If you don’t think 5lbs is that big of a deal, then how about instead of losing 5lbs over the session, you had gained 5lbs.  Whoa, hold your horses there! That measly 5lbs you lost sounds much different if you flipped it the other way.

Or another strategy that can be fun sometimes is thinking about what percentage of your bodyweight that 5lbs represents. The less we weigh, the harder it is for each pound to come off. Sometimes 5lbs might not seem like a lot, but when we think of it in terms of percentages it can flip the entire script.

 Can’t & Not Allowed.  

A surefire way to feel deprived is telling yourself you can’t have something.  Its human nature. If I put a box in the middle of the room and said you couldn’t look inside; you’d get curious. What’s in the box?! You might find yourself looking over at the box and daydreaming.  Same with the donuts. I can’t have donuts on my diet.  You might not even like donuts, but those delicious circles of dough are going to be staring at you every time you walk into the break room.

The funny thing is that we all know this is how things work when we say the word ‘can’t’. Yet that doesn’t stop us from using that word and playing cruel tricks on ourselves.  

How can Stronger U help you to diet without deprivation? 

The keystone of our program is that the simple act of accurate, honest tracking of food is the best way to be aware of the actual amounts of foods you are consuming. 

Humans are terrible at recalling what we have eaten. We forget and underestimate.  Take the donut fairy example above. Person B who pieced together little samples of donuts ended up eating the equivalent of 1.5 donuts. At the end of the day if you asked them to recall everything they had eaten; they would not have even realized they ate 525 calories of donuts.  Tracking is unbiased and fosters what we need most; awareness.

But tracking and the unbiased way it helps us stay on top of the choices we make often isn’t enough. The further along we get in our journey, the more we start to recognize that we need to find other tools that help us feel more in control. 

That’s where my favorite phrase comes into play.

Not now.  

Let’s add another co-worker into the example. Person D is tracking their food intake when the donut fairy strikes. They already have their day planned but the power of tracking gives them options, awareness, and accountability.  They could enter the donut and see if it’s worth it to them and adjust their day accordingly. Or they could use some ‘not now’ strategies.

Instead of saying ‘not allowed’, Person D says ‘not now’. They take the donut to-go.  It’s a stall tactic. It removes them from the office break room culture (yes, adult peer pressure) and can decide later if they truly want to eat it or not. Person D sits back at their desk and sees a framed picture from vacation last year. They realize the unplanned donut doesn’t align with their current goals. When willpower/motivation is high is the time to act. They regift the donut to someone else, bring it home to their significant other, or toss it. That’s right. TOSS IT!

In saying ‘not now’ you are still saying no, but in a much more pressure-free way. With just a simple adjustment of the words you use you’re not setting up an internal battle between yourself and your cravings. Instead, you’re taking the power back from the restrictive mindset that can make dieting feel so darn hard sometimes.

But maybe most importantly for those of us who are fortunate enough to have friends and co-workers that like to treat us with food as gifts, the phrase ‘not now’ helps you create a space where you can politely decline something offered to you from a friend or co-worker.

You are in control and aware of your choices.  Take that donut fairy.

 Break in-case-of-emergency:

Changing the words you use still not doing the trick? Here are some tips to help when cravings show up: during a time of food craving; scroll through your food tracker and review the food you have eaten already and/or how much is left.  “Oh yeah, I forgot I had that that cheese stick and grapes for a snack, I shouldn’t be hungry right now”.  Food photo collages are a valuable tool as well. Take a picture of every meal, snack, and beverage before you consume and then compile in a photo collage app. That’s a lot of food!) 

Don’t think the power of words matter? Tell someone they are just a stay-at-home Mom.

One final note:

This article focused on the mental aspect of dieting without deprivation.  This is NOT to ignore the physical/physiological aspects of being in a cut (calorie deficit – meaning you are consuming fewer calories/energy than your body is burning/expending).  There may be times during a cut where there is physical hunger, but we’ve got you covered. Here are some other Stronger U articles that address how to handle the physical hunger of being in a cut: keep hunger at bay, high volume foods, choosing your priorities, etc.


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