Ask Darya: How can I resist temptation in the heat of the moment?

by | Feb 9, 2016

Ask Darya temptation sm

This week our Ask Darya question is from Kaite:

Brain question! How do you convince yourself in the moment to make the choice you *know* will make you feel better… but the bad idea seems like a good idea? I struggle with wanting cupcakes/cookies/chips when I’m overtired & stressed finishing writing work at night (there’s a store downstairs, so temptation’s close). There’s never been a time it makes me feel great- yet it in the moment it always seems like something worth trying for more energy. How do I stop myself from making a choice I already know the outcome of?

I love this question because it is something we ALL can relate to, and I tell my personal story about overcoming my grad school burrito habit. Watch the video to learn how to make the healthiest decision when you really, really want to eat something unhealthy.

Want me to answer your question? Submit it on the Ask Darya page.

Cheers,

Darya

Download the full transcript

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31 Responses to “Ask Darya: How can I resist temptation in the heat of the moment?”

  1. Julia says:

    Hey Darya!

    Thank you for this great piece of advice. In my case, I sometimes want to eat even without hunger, emotional eating they call it. When that happens and I end up not following the impulse, I don’t have any feeling to focus on like in the example you gave. It’s hard to focus on how great it feels to NOT eat something, or to NOT feel guilty. If you know what I mean. Any advice on what to focus on in this instance?

    Thank you!

    • Nicola says:

      I have this issue, too! I’m experimenting with replacing the eating with something else that I know will make me feel better, like a gentle yoga video. I feel amazing afterwards so I get that same feeling of reward, and it takes about as long as buying + eating crap food so I can often convince myself to do it.

      The one major problem I have with this method is that the biggest temptation, for me, is at work. My office has an unwritten rule that if you go on holiday, have a birthday, have a kid, whatever, you bring in sweets for the team. I’ll often hold out till mid-afternoon or so, but then my brain is tired, I’m feeling stressed, and I can’t exactly nip out for some yoga, so the chocolate brownies start looking really good. Still, if you find you’re most likely to eat for non-hunger-related reasons at home, then it might be worth trying out replacing it with something relaxing, whether that be taking a bath or reading a book.

      • Craig says:

        Nicola, is there something you could do for fun to shake it off and reset in the afternoon? Call a friend and chat and catch up. Play a game on your pc or phone. Get one of those desk top old fashioned games where you put a ball in a hole or something. Do as Darya suggests elsewhere. Celebrate making it later each day by going to the stairwell, jump up or dance. If it was me, I’d take some to the bathroom and flush it down. There’s where it’ll end up anyway without hanging around one’s waist. Yuk, but who knows.

  2. Laura says:

    Ooh, great question! Loved these videos, Darya:). Curious about step #2: I’ve gotten to the point that I *know* the burrito will make me crash & feel bad, and I *know* the eggs will likely solve my goal much better.

    But for some reason, I still feel such a pull to ‘try to solve my problem’ with the burrito: “Maybe this time the burrito will make me feel great….” Like that old adage about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing and expecting different results?!

    What is at work here, from a neuroscience perspective? Maybe it’s that I don’t totally trust yet that the eggs will work? Or that the burrito combines a possible solution PLUS pleasure (which overrides knowing the solution won’t work)? Maybe it’s a self-destructive impulse– I’m stressed & nervous whether I can succeed, so I choose the burrito because I know that will make me fail?

    • Darya Rose says:

      There are many things that can shift behavioral control from your rational/prefrontal brain to your more primitive habits/impulses. Stress, hunger, or any of your personal triggers. What you seek depends on your experience and is linked to habits, emotions and reward pathways. These systems are self-reinforcing so the more you do it the stronger the habit/impulse/craving. Willpower is required to break this system, but if you find a good alternative it shouldn’t be necessary forever. I propose testing your beliefs by doing it once and seeing if you really feel WORSE (not satisfied) by doing the healthier option. If you realize do indeed feel relief and without all the guilt/bloating/fog head that comes from choosing indulgent foods in stressful moments, you can begin to reformulate your beliefs and break the cycle.

  3. Ashley says:

    Great video response to a great question, thanks for posting.

    I find that I run these little ‘experiments’ in much longer intervals. So I will eat according to my home court habits for a few weeks with conscious indulgences sprinkled in, but then something will cause me to revert to old habits. I struggle mightily with the what-the-hell effect as a result of my history with calorie counting and Weight Watchers. So I find that I will go for a few days or a week of eating less than ideal foods. It’s never really a full out binge, it’s just that I forget that I don’t have brakes around certain foods (sweets, crackers, chips).

    Eventually, I’ll start to realize that the bloating, lethargy and (unfortunately) self-loathing are likely tied to getting out of my home court habits, and I’ll reign it in. Still takes me a few days yet to feel back to optimal and for the scale to return to normal. I wish I could shorten these episodes or eliminate them altogether, but I suppose this is a lifelong learning process. I will try to be more conscious about reminding myself the true benefits of sticking with my home court habits.

    • Isabelle says:

      @ashley so well put! This is exactly what I struggled with but the way you articulated it really frames the battle between good and bad habits like using meditation to increase the spaces between thoughts. Lightbulb moment for me – thanks!

  4. Great advice and beautifully explained! That is such a pivotal moment! Being aware of the benefits of choosing healthier options and having that as a goal makes a lot of sense.

    Thanks!

    Alina
    [link removed]

  5. SuzyQ says:

    One thing that stands out to me about Darya’s advice is that we shouldn’t necessarily expect the healthy decision to feel good in the moment.

    I try to imagine that my brain is accustomed to following a certain mental pathway. It isn’t easy to train it to choose a new, less familiar pathway. So how can it be done?

    It helps me to realize that I shouldn’t expect the new and healthier pathway to feel good in the moment. It isn’t supposed to feel good. In fact, I should expect to feel a bit uncomfortable, particularly at first. That’s normal, and acknowledging when I’m feeling uncomfortable is key to controlling how I react to that discomfort. (That’s why I believe mindfulness is such a critical skill to develop).

    I really like Darya’s advice about striving to make choices based on how you want to feel after making your choice. It can be hard to consistently resist urges, but it gets easier. The initial resistance will be strong, but it lessens over time. As you become more empowered, the healthier choice becomes more natural and appealing.

    When the urges lose their influence and you find your ability to operate from a position of self-command more satisfying than indulging in whatever is tempting you (at least on most days), you have largely won the battle.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Exactly. Habits are so powerful precisely because NOT doing them is so uncomfortable, regardless of what the habit is. I love this part of what you said, “…you find your ability to operate from a position of self-command more satisfying than indulging in whatever is tempting you (at least on most days), you have largely won the battle.”

      The difference between doing what is uncomfortable because you want to, from a place of self-care, versus doing it because of guilt or shame or some other external motivation is the critical one.

  6. Julia says:

    Thank you everyone for your thoughtful input. I think that I had forgotten the idea of doing this out of self care, the dieting mindset is hard to shake off, even after over 2 years of being a foodist! 🙂

  7. Craig says:

    Darya, have you ever looked into fasting? Coupled with journaling, I am seeing great success with it. I originally got the idea from the New Testament but I adapted it. I still get my daily calories, but I don’t “break the fast” in the morning until either I am about to do something strenuous like working out or I start getting pretty hungry. I journal about it when I get tempted whether fasting or not. There is a definite spiritual component realized. It’s not what I always envisioned by the Biblical phrase prayer and fasting but something’s working here. I’ve been journaling towards writing a meditations for dieters book for awhile and I found that if I don’t journal when tempted, I usually give in. Fasting seems to be a sine qua non. That’s Latin for without which not. Julian of Norwich believed that sin [I would say temptation – in my case to overeating or gluttony] was necessary “because it brings someone to self-knowledge, which leads to acceptance of the role of God in their life.” (wikipedia) Julian’s and the lectio divina concept of contemplation sounds very similar to your info on mindfulness. Heavy, man.

    • Darya Rose says:

      🙂

      I know people who have had weight loss success through intermittent fasting, but I’d use extreme caution with that tactic as it can lead to bingeing. Of course, whatever works for you works for you.

      • Craig says:

        I agree. I think I saw somewhere that studies show that fasters gain weight. I’d never heard of IF before. Seems like they define it differently than what i have in mind but thanks I’ll watch it.

  8. Cindy Wasmundt says:

    SO TRUE! This works when applied!

  9. Lisa says:

    Perfect timing….heading out for dinner and not wanting to ruin my workout from today and want to make a better selection for dinner. I totally eat because of emotions good or bad!! Trying to learn to make better choices!! Thanks. Saving this video as my coach!!

  10. Linda says:

    What do I do about evening eating? I do great all day, healthy breakfast, snack, healthy lunch, small snack, great dinner with lots of veggies on my plate. I work out four times a week, I walk three days a week. But when evening comes around, regardless of how good I’ve done all day, I blow it. I eat cookies, ice cream, popcorn, bread and butter, now that’s a real weakness of mine. Sometimes I eat a whole stick of butter in one evening. And of course I beat myself up in the morning, telling myself it won’t happen again. But it does. I don’t even think about it. I shut down my brain so the little voice in my head won’t tell me I’m making wrong decisions. Can you offer any advice for me?

  11. Craig says:

    Hello, Linda. Your situation sounds much like my own. I am a professional coach with a health and wellness niche. Coaches do not criticize or advise. Clients set the agenda. Professional coaching standards call for powerful questions and active listening as part of a process to move from the client’s desired outcome, through discovery by reflective dialogue, and culminating in designing clear, attainable, relevant and time-limited actionable steps. My clients get excited about their progress.

    CCNI, http://www.christiancoaches.com, has a database of coaches that you might be interested in checking out. They adhere to CCNI’s ethical standards, and because they do not advise, they do not push their belief. Their faith frames their questions. If you would like to discuss this approach, friend or message me at craig.lesher.9. “Never lose infinite hope.” MLK,Jr.

  12. Craig says:

    I had a pretty cool insight while fasting last evening. Now, in this case, I would normally call it not snacking between meals, but in a sense that is a fast of sorts. I was very tired and I had had a healthy dinner and I stayed inside due to the cold weather. I determined not to do anything if that’s what it takes to avoid food. Then my thoughts expanded. I believe that’s because I denied myself relief from a basic urge like overeating, aka too much of a good thing. Then I realized other less powerful habits of mine that reward basic instincts such as off color jokes. What if I broke a habit like that? A habit which is not all that controlling or difficult to stop. Might that energize my higher ways and thoughts to continue to assert themselves. In a sense, squelch the noise and bring up the signal.

  13. Craig says:

    Liking this from wiki on IF:

    A 2014 review described that studies done in animal models have shown fasting improves indicators of health such as blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and inflammation, likely through adaptive cellular responses to better handle stress. These findings suggest intermittent fasting has the potential to improve health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, however this has not been reproduced in long term human studies. The review also concluded that intermittent fasting has not been studies in children, the elderly, or the underweight, and could be harmful in this population. They also suggest that those choosing to fast for periods of time greater than 24 hours should be monitored by a physician, as changes to the gastrointestinal system or circadian rhythm can occur. The review also concluded that fasting is unlikely to have much effect on conditions other than obesity, such as aging or other chronic condition, unless combined with moderate calorie restriction and plant based diet such as the Mediterranean diet.

    My approach is a different, looser one from how they define IF.

  14. Craig says:

    http://authoritynutrition.com/is-skipping-breakfast-bad/

    Interesting. They say mox nix. Paraphrasing Darya their bottom line comes down to what works for me. As for me IF Seems to increase my energy level to delay eating until I’m actually hungry. I’m excited about experimenting and pushing the limits of conventional wisdom. “If you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying to win.” Nice to find a little “unfair” advantage over the elephant/strong man. “How can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house” and take back what is mine.

  15. Heather says:

    Hi Darya,

    Fantastic video! I am going to try this technique, the idea of “just one time” making a better choice seems much more manageable. I have a perfectionist mindset and get overwhelmed at the thought of having to make better choices every day for the rest of my life! P.S. I love your earrings! Can you tell me who makes them?

  16. Erica Amy says:

    Just finished listening to your husband’s podcast with Tim Ferris – so happy they pointed me to your blog…so fun here. I love this kind of info and can so relate! Countless times (Why?) I have been tempted to get a piece of cake/brioche/sweet with my kind friends after a workout (hey, it was supposed to be just a coffee!) And now, they are looking at me saying – “Wow, Erica, you are so good, how can you refuse the sweet? And we just worked out – why not indulge?” Man, peer pressure even with food – it never ends. I will tell you what I won’t tell them. (See I’ve got this beautiful pomegranate waiting for me at home and I don’t need to feel so gross afterwards if I were to eat the chocolate cake with tons of frosting. After eating all that refined sugar, I would feel sick! And, gee, the coffee/tea is really enough of a treat for me!) However, I don’t want to make them feel bad for their personal choice. It’s like I have to think of myself first because I don’t want to sacrifice my caloric daily intake or just feel crappy for the rest of the day. But I don’t want a pat on the back either for “being good” – what to do?

  17. ericaAmy says:

    I often think about the healthy version of that burrito that would even satisfy me further because I would be responsible for creating the vision of what I was craving, plus it would make me feel better too. A go-to salad for me when I need a Mexican fix in a pinch: 5 greens (arugula, lettuce, red cabbage, cilantro, kale – or any you have on hand), chopped spring onions, halved tomatoes, corn and a quick can of rinsed pinto beans topped with a salsa dressing with cumin. You could even add a tablespoon of guac and yogurt – would be super delish and satisfying!

  18. Andreya A. says:

    Anytime I crave for something bad for me (sugar-loaded treats, mostly!) and I’m drowning in thoughts of “I can’t have it, I can’t have it, I can’t have it,” I take a mental step back and realize that I actually CAN have the treat. It’s just that I choose not to have it for health reasons. Somehow, reframing my perspective from “I can’t” to “I won’t” magically releases me from the hold of the temptation so that I can consciously make better decisions (eat a fruit or drink a huge glass of water instead).

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