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March 8, 2016

The Calorie-Matching Trap: “But wait, what are you eating?”

Being that a third of my business is about nutrition and another third is about online business (the last third is fitness), something struck me very recently: your old thoughts about food is what keep you obsessed with it.

Our old, obsessive thoughts about food is junk food’s best marketing strategy.

Forget big corporations, forget Pharma, forget Monsanto, forget General Mills, forget anyone outside of your own brain—you want to quit constantly stressing about food? Change how you think about it.

Here’s an example:

A few months ago, I was with my mom and we were out shopping. She’s huge on bargains and threatens to disown me whenever I pay full price for anything, often bragging about her coupons, sales and membership discounts get her something at at tenth of the original price.

It’s truly awe inspiring to witness.

But I couldn’t help but start to tease her when she started talking about “BOGO”—you know, Buy One, Get One (Free). She loves BOGO. But here’s the thing about BOGO: because it’s such effective marketing, we’ll often spend money we weren’t planning on spending just to get the deal.

“So…” I asked my mom after she came home with some Dove Chocolate bars that I have never seen her eat before, “you got those because they were BOGO?”

“Yep, I couldn’t not! It’s a great deal. And I actually feel like I saved money!”

Lol. We had a huge laugh about it because even as she’s saying, she kind of knows it doesn’t make much rational sense, but here we are, all buying things that don’t really serve our goals simply because of an incredibly powerful marketing tactic.

I am not throwing my mom under the bus (love you, Mom!) because we all do this kind of thing. There’s a reason why discounts and gimmicks and fast fixes are so popular. They use tactics like urgency and exclusivity and scarcity to prompt us to buy. And not only buy, but BUY RIGHT NOW, and also, BUY SOMETHING YOU WEREN’T EVER PLANNING ON BUYING OTHERWISE!

Some examples:

  • All-You-Can-Eat buffets: “Gotta get my money’s worth!”
  • A restaurant advertises their Award Winning Dessert: “Well, we HAVE to try that!”
  • Someone brings a cake to work: “It’s free!”
  • A large popcorn is only 25 cents more: “What a deal!”
  • An all-inclusive vacation: “Might as well! It’s vacation!”
  • It’s Friday night: “Man, that was a hard week, I deserve a reward for getting through it.”
  • There’s food left on your plate: “Can’t let it go to waste!”
  • Monday morning means foods will be off-limits: “Better just finish everything off today!” (the Sunday Night Roundup)

All of these thought patterns have become ingrained in how we interact with food on a daily basis.

And though these constructs are normal and common, they aren’t serving us or our goals. Eating more food that we really want to, and eating things that we don’t really want, but perceive as treats, rewards, deals or free just for the sake of it, is keeping us struggling.

I’ve written on Situational Eating and Food FOMO before. These are examples of exclusivity and scarcity, respectively. The exact same tools that marketers use to entice us to buy products, we are voluntarily falling prey to in our own minds!

Today, I want to explore a new concept and propose some ways to work around it.

Calorie Matching

Calorie matching is watching to see what others eat/order and then using it as permission to match their food choices, as if if we both have it, then we stay on an even playing field and the calories/choice doesn’t have as much impact.

This has everything to do with two things: status and the Comparison Trap.

This normally happens when a group of people are out together. There’s a sense of who-is-going-to-surrender-first? It’s so common, and it kind of just goes unsaid that we will all eat at the same level of grossness (or healthiness).

But recently, I was out with a friend and she just copped to it, and I loved it. She said, “I was just waiting to see what you guys were going to order to I wasn’t the only one ordering junk.” This is so true, right?

The key here is status. If we all stay on the same status level (either all being healthy or all saying screw-it), then we are safe. The choices cancel themselves out. No one person is perceived as better than anyone else.

FullSizeRender 73“Wait, should we both get ice cream??”

Which bring me to the next trap: comparison.

Ugh. Really? Are we still seeing people as “better” or “worse” than someone else based on how they choose to eat? Sometimes we are, and the key for overcoming this constant posturing for relative better-than-ness is ownership and confidence.

Luckily, I learned this fairly early on, when I was prepping for competition and would be around my family and friends who were eating pizza and burgers. I didn’t think I was better than them for eating healthy, I was jealous and hating life, ha!

But it was a practice in making decisions without consideration to what others were doing.

I never got angry at my husband for eating what he wanted around me, I never made how I ate anyone else’s business. And luckily, that independent thought has carried over into my normal, #moderation365 eating now. I am fine having a glass of wine if no one else is drinking (do it all the time!). I am fine eating a piece of bread or ordering a side of onion rings without needing anyone else to condone it.

This comes down to self-assuredness and also giving up any shame around your eating.

A lot of people won’t eat something unhealthy in public because they’re worried about judgment. I get that, but at the same time, we can never control how we are perceived, whether good or bad.

All we can do is show up, in our integrity, do what we want, and let the chips fall.

Good lord, aren’t we too far along to worry about how other people perceive our food choices? No thanks! The key is making decisions independent of consideration and then enduring whatever discomfort or judgment or comments occur as a result.

The more you practice acting and then letting the consequences be whatever they are going to be, the easier it gets. But you need to give yourself the opportunity to endure all that. #SelfTrust

(But honestly, if you are hanging around with people who would judge you for your eating, they need to get a life and you need to surround yourself with new people!)

Back to considerations around food and owning your choices:

We can blame Cinnabun and McDicks and whatever other big corporation for making our food more palatable (and it is) or sticking marketing images in our faces every second (and they are), but the way I see it, that stuff isn’t going away any time soon.

So why not take a personal responsibility approach?

Why not start getting smarter and more aware? Why not practice mindfulness and start recognizing when these things are happening so that we can make a more informed choice, instead of some mindless default?

I don’t care if you choose to order fries or drink a whole bottle of wine or have some cake. I only care that you do it mindfully. When you own your food choices instead of feeling duped or before you knew it, the food was in your mouth (aka brain-shutdown mode), the outcomes are always more favorable.

Conscious decision-making puts us in our power.

When you stay a teensy bit more aware and just own what you put in your mouth—healthy or unhealthy—you’re less likely to feel guilty, remorseful and disgusted with yourself after. These are negative motivators we know don’t work for long-term success.

Own your choices and own the results. There’s no judgment about any of it. Take the emotion out of it. Get clinical and then get busy ;)

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