Now that you’re eating healthy, don’t you miss [insert unhealthy indulgence]? This a question we get constantly, and I am sure many of you have as well as you try to live your healthy lifestyle. This question has caused us to examine how memories play a major role in our thought process, especially towards food.
Memories invoke strong emotions for many of us. We all hold on to snapshots of our past that range from random bits of our childhood to things that happened just a few days ago. Often times these memories center around good times that were had with friends and family, whether it be at a gathering or just a random summer night.
One thing that is often present in memories, even if just in the background, is food. Memories of a family member’s famous pasta dish or cookies are often part of one’s overall memories. Even something as simple as grabbing a slice of beach pizza and hanging out with friends is something I remember vividly from my past.
We want to tell you that we get it. We know that these strong memories exist and how they can tempt us to find ways to relive them. We have struggled with this ourselves, and as we have been on our healthy lifestyle journey, we have not completely cut some of our favorite things out. Instead, we have tried to be proactive and creative to address these positive memories, but in a way that is consistent with our healthy lifestyle. Here are a few ways we have done that:
1. Try a healthier version of the same food.
This one has really worked for us over the years and can be quite fun. It is also how we started writing the Fairburn it Off Nutrition Plan in the first place! For example, at Thanksgiving this past year, we made the healthier Thanksgiving dessert and side dish options from the Full-Length Nutrition Plan (including pies!). Another thing Elyse and I both enjoy once in a while is a nice slice of pizza and a beer (we even had some last night). One of the pizza places in town makes a healthy vegan pizza, which satisfies our pizza craving without the loads of cheese. And if you do not have this option, remember that your nutrition plan does! We don’t use this as an excuse to have pizza and beer every night, but it is nice to know that when we really want it, we can get some just as tasty, but not as unhealthy.
Helpful tip: You can ask pizza places to keep heavy sauces and cheeses off of a pizza, and opt for marinara sauce only with veggie toppings.
2. Create new memories.
Another thing we like to do is have healthy food be at the center of some of our new memories. For example, one of our favorite things about going on vacation is trying out some of the local, healthy eats. When we look back on our trips to Hawaii, one of the things we always crave is the insanely fresh fruit that they have and acai bowl stands. Now we have a memory going forward that is associated with healthy food! For around town, we have made it a bit of a fun game to find healthier eats, and we have a couple of spots we hit up constantly – so much so that we are friends with the owners, which helps to create even better memories.
3. Is the memory really about food?
Ask yourself, is the positive memory you are having really about the food, or about something else? Around Thanksgiving, we got asked by many people how we would enjoy Thanksgiving without eating turkey (it was our first Thanksgiving eating plant-based). We fully understand how turkey is associated with Thanksgiving, but to us our positive memories of past Thanksgivings really center around who is at the table with us – family and friends. Thanksgiving food is of course delicious, but we knew we would have just as good a time without the turkey – and we did! So check in with yourself when you associate food with a memory and remember all the other things that go along with it. Chances are that a lot of the other things are really what made you happy in the moment (i.e. you were a kid and it was time spent with your mom or dad, and so on).
4. Take control of your emotions. (This is most important!)
We recognize that it is virtually impossible to go through life always fully in control. However making a conscious effort to stay in control of your emotions can be so worth it and leave you feeling positive and energized. In fact, having this kind of mindset will make you more open to trying healthier versions of a food or creating new healthy memories as we described above.
An easy example that many people confront regularly is when your favorite sweets are left out at a party or in your office, but you know you are already full from the healthy food you had earlier. What I try to do in these situations is stay busy – go to the other side of the room and strike up a conversation, or if at work, try to submerse yourself back into your work to move your mind to a different place. Being prepared to take control and having that overall mindset can make you easily forget what popped into your mind in the prior moment. In the long run, doing this will get much easier and allow you to feel that you are in charge of your own health.
We want to reiterate again that we are not perfect, and we do not expect you to be either. Live your life, don’t beat yourself up, but ultimately remember it is up to you to take charge of your reactions to the strong emotions that come up in your daily life. Be truly honest with yourself about how many times you say “but I’ve got to have my [insert favorite pizza place, ice cream place, burger joint, cookies, etc.]” and instead take some control and be proactive. Bringing yourself back to the ultimate goal of living a truly healthy lifestyle will allow you to confront those emotions and build a healthier lifestyle around them. After a while, you will feel in charge, and be craving some delicious papaya from your last vacation!