Break the Obesess/Binge Cycle for Good: The Case for Planned Indulgences
I love cake.
No, I don’t just love cake–I FREAKING love cake.
AND I live in Germany, currently, where bakeries are as prevalent as churches in the ‘Bible Belt’ of the United States (I’ve lived there, too).
Yes, THAT many bakeries.
If you’ve never had German cake, you are missing out, and, NO, “German Chocolate Cake” is not German. Black Forest Cake…kind of. Barely. But I digress.
Cake is definitely my nutritional ‘achilles heel,’ and I used to struggle each time we went into the bakery (conveniently attached to the exit of both of our two supermarkets), which was at least three times a week–for fresh bread and Brezeln for the kids.
I’d stand there, in front of the bakery case, all but wringing my hands in a ‘do I or don’t I?’ and ‘how much have I eaten today–can I afford it?’ and ‘what are my goals–will it knock me off course?’ desperate inner struggle.
WAY too much mental anguish and mental energy was involved in a simple ‘get some bread’ scenario.
It was exhausting to always have this fight with myself, and I started to dread going to the store for anything. When my kids began to add to the unpleasantness of the situation by begging for goodies every single visit, I knew something had to change.
“I’m a former elementary teacher, and I understand behavior modification,” I thought. “I’ll find a way to construct boundaries, create realistic expectations and extinguish this unwanted behavior!”
Little did I know I was creating the same positive structure for myself, not just for my children. (It’s funny the things we will do so easily in order to help others that we won’t often readily do for ourselves!)
Out of this need to reduce my children’s begging and establish routine and reasonable expectations was born: TREAT FRIDAY.
Fridays became the hallowed day of the week. The kids were allowed to choose ONE treat from the bakery case–ANY treat they wanted, but only on Fridays. The rest of the week was for scoping out what was in the case, planning what one would have on Friday.
I decided I’d join them in their Friday indulgences; I’d worked hard all week, what was one piece of cake? Same rules applied to me as did to them–ANYTHING I wanted in the bakery, I could have, but only on Friday afternoon.
A gorgeous thing happened as a result of adopting this approach.
Actually, a couple of gorgeous things happened. One, the kids stopped harassing me in the bakery throughout the week on our normal grocery shopping visits.
Instead, they were happily doing ‘recon’ on the bakery cases in town, plotting their Friday conquest. (Did I mention they were 6 and 3 when we started this? You can imagine how much easier this made shopping in general. WAY less stressful.)
But the even more gorgeous result was that my hand-wringing/’do I or don’t I’ mental struggles vanished.
I knew when I could expect my treat, that it was allowed–even encouraged, that I could enjoy it with no remorse or guilt. ENJOY it. I gave myself permission to enjoy it because I would only choose what I really wanted and it would be enough, rather that taking whatever was available, shoveling it down in my car or kitchen, then feeling ashamed afterwards (leftover birthday cake or bake sale creations had been such terrible sources of temptation/binge/shame in the past). I ate slowly, sitting at a table, using a fork, really tasting and enjoying each bite.
No hiding, no sneaking, no rushing, no stress. Just enjoyment.
The verdict on treat Friday: Win-Win.
Treat Friday became such a successful strategy for my family, that it made me wonder why it was such a success for us.
I decided to examine the concept, the psychology of the situation more closely, because, heck, if it was working for me AND my kids, it might just help many of the clients I had who experience(d) issues with sugary treats and even binge eating.
The phenomena at work: Forbidden Fruit and the Slot Machine
Quick–don’t think of pink elephants. Don’t! Not at all, not even for a second–do not think of PINK ELEPHANTS.
I bet all you can see in your mind are pink elephants right now.
This is psychology of the forbidden fruit, in a very simplistic example, that by making something forbidden we make give it value and focus. Our minds want to have freedom, we cringe at restrictions being put on us, and so even arbitrary ones, like the pink elephant, become a struggle and a drain on our mental energy. This is also why ‘diets’, in the restrictive sense, are only temporary and don’t work for long.
“Ever notice that the more you say you can’t have it, the more you want it? That’s called deprivation focus, and we get intense cravings of it, not just because it’s tasty, but because we are creating desire for it in our mind by dwelling on it.”
And this is why the cake at the bakery was such an issue for me and my kids.
The ‘slot machine,’ intermittent rewards phenomenon was also at play–not knowing when the cake ‘pay out’ was going to happen, so we were struggling with the question of ‘will we get it this time’ every single time we went grocery shopping. Will I hit ‘WILD’ on this pull?!?
Those two phenomena together can be a potent formula for some massive bingeing.
Why ‘Planned Indulgences’ Works:
1. It takes the ‘forbidden fruit’ feeling out of the scenario. You are much less likely to focus and fixate on something when it is no longer forbidden. When you give yourself permission to have something, it removes a huge load of stress from the situation.
When it’s a reasonable amount–a piece of cake, not a whole cake–it removes a huge load of guilt or remorse from the situation.
2. It creates a timeframe for when you get to have your treat. When we go on a diet, or restrict our food intake in some manner, we often wonder when we’ll be able to have that coveted goodie again. Weeks? Months? Will I cave/crack at that next birthday party? Business lunch? Social event?
Planning when you get to have it eliminates that shaky feeling of wondering when you’ll get it again, and stressing about certain social scenarios.
You know when to expect your treat, you’re in charge of designating the time/date/location, and that is comforting. Known, self-determined events usually are 🙂
3. YOU determine your treat. YOU determine when you’ll have it. YOU determine the location. It’s chosen, intentional, and preplanned. No one is imposing their will on you, your fate is self-determined. That is a powerful thing.
I choose Fridays because it’s like a mini-celebration of another work and school week completed, and because my willpower is lower on Friday afternoon. I choose cake because that’s my favorite goodie. I set out to enjoy a reasonable portion of something I like, when I want it, and I do so with some of my favorite people. We usually have some pretty decent conversations then, too 🙂
It’s pleasant, satisfying, relaxed and it’s ENOUGH.
4. It’s a treat, not a cheat, and not a binge. A Planned Indulgence is a predetermined, portion-specific treat. It’s a piece of cake vs. a whole cake, for example. It’s not a whole day of indulging, it’s one event.
I look at it as getting the ‘minimum effective dose’ of a treat source–enough to satisfy you, not so much that you feel guilty, sick or unwell after eating it.
5. It’s flexible. If I see a birthday party coming up that week, I’ll probably shift my planned indulgence to that day rather than the usual Friday. Or for that week, I’ll simply have two planned indulgences.
The key is in the preplanning: I set an intention, and I stick to that intention. Some weeks I don’t even feel like having a treat on Friday, so I’ll push it to Saturday, or–gasp!–skip it altogether for the week.
The timing is flexible but intentional.
How can you make Planned Indulgences work for you?
1. Identify your favorite treats. We all have our favorites.
2. Identify where this treat can or will be found. Restaurant, store, bakery….
3. Identify what a reasonable portion of this treat really is. Remember, we want a normal-sized portion of the treat food–this is a treat, not a binge or a ‘cheat.’ Think: minimum effective dose.
4. Determine when you want to enjoy this treat. Determine who you’d like to enjoy this with. We’re social creatures, and we enjoy shared experiences. My cake is a whole lot tastier when I’m sharing the occasion with my kids or friends.
5. Be realistic about your schedule needs, and work with them.
When an office party or birthday party or some other social and food-oriented function comes up, adjust accordingly. Try to set your intention before arriving at the event.
Most of us know what to expect from a certain event or venue, in terms of what foods will be available, and setting the intention beforehand takes the stress of on-the-spot decisions out of the equation.
For example, I know for darn sure I’m eating a slice of birthday cake at any grown-up birthday party I attend. And my friends can BAKE!
I also know if I’m going to an office party-type event, I’m likely to skip the store-bought stuff and will save my indulgence for something I will REALLY enjoy.
No random nibbling, because I’ve set my intention ahead of time. Hence, the ‘planned’ in planned indulgences!
So like I’ve said, I love cake. I’m a personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and health coach who loves cake.
The way in which I’ve made keeping cake, something I enjoy, a harmonious part of my lifestyle is through implementing the Planned Indulgence approach.
It’s all about being intentional about your life, enjoying your life, and staying away from unhealthy thought patterns (deprive-binge) by creating positive mindsets and helpful practices.
If you’ve been struggling with obsessive thoughts regarding certain foods, you might want to give planned indulgences a try–it could take a load off your mind, and your waistline, for life.