Almost every Mom that I work with, who have young kiddos, struggles to get their kids to make healthier choices. Too often when given the choice between apple slices and french fries, kids will make the decision to get the french fries.
And who can blame them? French fries are tasty.
Sometimes, we adults do this same thing. We have salad on the menu. We even have all the ingredients. And yet, we choose to get take out for dinner instead.
What is that? And what’s it about?
Past, Present, and Future
There are 3 people who live inside of me (so to speak):
Past Elizabeth – that’s me from 1 minute ago all the way back to when I was born. All of Past Elizabeth’s decisions, choices, impulsivity and planning have gotten me here, to where I am right this second.
Future Elizabeth – that’s future me. She has to deal with all of the consequences of the decisions I make right this second. Sometimes I think about Future Elizabeth when I make decisions. Sometimes, I don’t.
Present Elizabeth – this is me right in this second. There are two parts of the brain that rule Present Elizabeth: the rational brain (the one that tries not to screw over Future Elizabeth) and the reptilian brain (the one that does what she wants regardless of the consequences).
I do what I want right now, because who really cares about Future Elizabeth? She’s strong. She’s got more willpower than Present Elizabeth and Past Elizabeth combined.
So, when we’re faced with salad or take-out, we get what we want, when we want it. Screw Future Elizabeth. She’ll choose to eat salad tomorrow night. She’ll only eat 1000 calories tomorrow to make up for this take out. She can hack it. She won’t have cravings. She’s impervious to cravings.
But when tomorrow comes, Future Elizabeth is no where to be found. It’s only Present Elizabeth & she’s kinda pissed at Past Elizabeth for setting her up like that.
So, What do you do about it?
In his book, Slim by Design, the author Brian Wansink suggests that in order to get your kids to make better choices, tap into their heroes and role models.
Before you step into McDonalds, ask your son, ‘What would Batman eat?’ Or, you could ask your daughter, ‘What would Simone Biles eat?’
What it does, is it gets your kid to think about her role model, and what her role model needs to do in order to get her brain and body ready for her superpower activity.
Why it works
When we have role models or mentors, we don’t want to think about that role model doing anything but good and honest things. We look up to that person. And so, it’s easy to believe that she would only do those things that are good for her. She would always make the right choice. I mean, she’s Simone!
So, when asked what Michael Phelps would choose if given the choice between french fries and apple slices, it’s pretty easy to imagine that Michael Phelps wouldn’t even think to put french fries in his body. Its apples all the way!
And because your son wants to be like Michael Phelps, he’s going to want to eat like Michael Phelps too. And if Michael Phelps eats apple slices, your son is more likely to eat them too.
Why it won’t work for you
It might work for you. You could ask yourself, ‘What Would Elizabeth Eat?’ (If you wanted to eat like I do) But chances are, you’d say to yourself something like, “Elizabeth would probably have one organic lettuce leaf dipped in extra-virgin olive oil, and lightly sprinkled with Himalayan sea-salt and some wild Alaskan salmon. And although that’s great for Elizabeth, I just need more than that. I think I’ll eat a burger for dinner instead.”
So, now you just talked yourself out of eating the healthier option because maybe your impression of what Elizabeth might eat is so unattainable & unrealistic.
What might work instead
Okay – so let me tell you a story about how I really eat.
Almost every night after dinner, I crave something sweet. So, this is a pretty strong craving, and it has definitely developed into a habit.
It’s a habit that I’ve tried to break a number of times, but each time, just can’t get past the introductory phase, and change the habit, or ultimately, get rid of it.
When we think about habits, we typically categorize then into good habits – or habits that we intend to cultivate – and bad habits – things that are somehow causing harm or being destructive in some way.
Over the years, this habit has taken different forms, from eating a few squares of dark chocolate to eating pudding or some other sweet concoction, until about a year ago, I settled on a Quest protein bar.
This habit of mine, eating after my last meal, isn’t necessarily a bad habit; it’s not destructive. It’s not harming me and quite frankly doesn’t impact anyone near me. But I don’t like it. I don’t like it because I feel powerless against it. I don’t feel like I am at choice with it. And for that reason alone, I’d like to change it.
I feel like I’ve tried so many different techniques:
Deferred gratification – I’ve waited 10 minutes from the time I have the craving to see if I still want it. At that point, I can. And did.
Smaller portions – cut the bar in half, to create pause. It doesn’t prevent you from going back for more, but you at least have to think about it, versus thinking about stopping at eating only half of your portion.
Surfing the Urge – In this technique, you sit with your body and brain, and feel the anxiety, or whatever else comes up, with the craving, and know that you’re going to be okay. You’re going to get through this.
A new technique
Over the past 15 years or so I’ve been thinking more about Future Elizabeth.
When I look into the future, who do I want to grow into? What character do I want to develop? What’s important to me at the age of 60? How do I dress? How do I act? What do I do during the day, and what are my relationships like? Things like that.
And over the past 15 years, I’ve been working more towards being like this vision that I have of Future Elizabeth. One thing that I can tell you, is that Future Elizabeth doesn’t give a sh*t about what other people think about her body. And so, she doesn’t think about her weight much other than being able to fit in her clothes.
Just recently, I’ve applied the idea of Future Elizabeth to my evening sweet tooth.
Future Elizabeth doesn’t have an evening sweet tooth. And feels very free from it. Future Elizabeth can take or leave desserts.
Okay – so this isn’t me today. But I’m getting there.
But here’s the thing: When I crave something sweet after dinner these days, I think about Future Elizabeth & how she couldn’t care less. It gives me the resolve to resist the urge to give in to my craving because I want to be like Future Elizabeth. She’s my role model. I have an idea of how she eats (And it’s not unrealistic – unlike the idea that we have of someone who we have no concept of how they eat. Just an assumption. BTW – I probably don’t eat more like you than you think I do.)
If you want to create your own Future, I occasionally send emails about how to live your best & healthiest future version of yourself. Want to get in on that love? Submit your details here & you’ll be all set.
If you’re interested in losing a few inches, and developing some better eating habits and attitudes toward food, you’ll want to sign up.