How to train yourself to stop snacking

In my experience, addiction is rooted in Pavlovian behavior. I’ll explain…

I noticed it when I quit smoking (Yes, Yes, I was also a smoker). The first challenge was getting rid of the nicotine addiction. That was hell, but it only took two weeks. A much bigger challenge was getting rid of my smoking habits. Even when I didn’t need a cigarette for the nicotine,  I still felt an almost overwhelming urge to light up in the following cases:

1. When I was excited

2. When I was sad

3. When I was stressed out (which happened a lot since I was the CEO of a struggling startup at the time)

4. When I drank coffee

5. After sex

And that’s just a partial list.

A few times, the need to smoke was so strong, I slipped. And bear in mind that at that point I couldn’t even stand the smell or taste of cigarettes.

And still… I smoked. Despite knowing that it would be disgusting . Despite knowing I would need to go through nicotine-withdrawal hell all over again. And despite the fact that my lovely, gentle wife  would kill me dead if she found out.

And still, the conditioning was so strong, it took me more than a year to get from under it.

Why this happens

Well… it’s pretty simple. The nicotine in the cigarettes and the sugar in the snacks stimulate our brain’s pleasure center.

So when we repeatedly compensate ourselves with pleasure (chocolate) while feeling an emotion (sad) and every time we reward ourselves (cigarette) after performing a specific action (drink coffee), we are training ourselves to associate that action or feeling with the snack or with the cigarette.

This association is created at the primal level of our brain (our lizard brain). That’s why it’s so hard to fight it. That’s why these urges ‘appear’ out of the blue.

What to do to stop snacking

1. Stop being ashamed – you are not weak. You are just very well trained to snack.

2. Make a list of snacking triggers – Be honest. Make a complete list of all the feelings/situations that send you on a snack hunt.

3. Choose an alternative reward – Find a behavior that gives you pleasure and that’s healthy. It’s also a good idea to chose something you can do anywhere and doesn’t take long to do, Like talking to a friend or listening to a song on your iPod or doing one yoga exercise.

4. Start small – Pick one trigger that causes you to snack from the list above and decide to replace its reward/compensation with the healthy alternative.

5. Repeat for 30-60 days – This is the amount of time it usually takes to re-train your brain.

6. Continue to the next trigger – Once you’ve re-trained yourself for a specific trigger, you can move on to the next one. The second one will be a lot easier, because you’ve already succeeded once.

I’ve used this technique to quit smoking and stop snacking. The only problem was I substituted the smokes and the snacks for reading comics and watching TV. So now I have to quit those.

Well… nobody’s perfect (yet)

I need your help…

I want to compile a comprehensive list of healthy alternative habits. I would love it if you could think of something that you (a) love to do and (b) you can easily do anywhere and (c) don’t require a great deal of preparation.

And then either leave them as a comment on my facebook page or here on the blog.


photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc

Diet Tip #4: Lose The Shame

When  trying to lose weight, eating out is a challenge.

Restaurants are pretty simple because  you can select the dishes and ask to have them prepared in a certain way.

Eating with family/friends is also easy. You can call ahead and ask if they could prepare a big salad (hold the oil please) or a big bowl of steamed vegetables. You can also bring your own food.

But you won’t, because you’re ashamed.

I’ve gained many pounds because of that shame. I’ve stayed fat because of that shame.

Admitting to myself that I wanted to be thinner, that I wanted to go on a diet, that I wasn’t happy with the way I was – that was tough.

But admitting that to others – that was unthinkable.

I couldn’t possibly negotiate the terms of dinner (dishes and composition) with my host or with the waiter. That would be admitting weakness in front of the people that I value the most.

But I was WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

Truly changing yourself is the ultimate show of power. Deciding on a course of action that would require sacrifice, persistence and change and following up on it, is something very few people do.

So lose the shame. Tell that waiter that you want the tuna salad with the olive oil on the side because you want to add it yourself.

Bring a couple of tomatoes and a cucumber to your aunt’s dinner and make yourself a salad right there.

Some people might give you a funny look. But your real friends will admire you.

I promise.

In following posts I’ll lay out the exact tactics of eating out, but for now, remember…

You have nothing to be ashamed of.

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P.S.

If you like this post and would like to read more, please like my facebook page. I’d be honored to send you updates.

Diet Tip #3 (Best Tip Ever): The Desert

You stare into the boiling diet desert. As far as the eye can see there is nothing but sand, scorching winds and vultures.

On the other side of this desert, there is a better you. A thinner, lighter version of you. A version of you that can buy and wear anything. A version of you that doesn’t get tired all the time. A happier you.

But you dare not step into the desert. The journey is terrifying. You could not possibly endure the months of suffering (and almost certain death).

And just as you are about to lose hope, your eyes pick up an irregularity in the desert terrain. Specks of gold and brown mark a path across the desert.

You dust off your binoculars and bring it to your eyes…


photo credit: gin soak via photopin cc

You see a view so wonderful, so intoxicating, that you can’t reconcile it with the brutal reality of the desert.

But it is true… a week’s worth of travel from here, in the middle of the desert, there is a haven, filled with chocolate, coffee and powdered sugar. And there’s a second one another week down the road, and a third and a forth and so on, as far as the horizon and beyond.

Those are the ‘weekly indulgence’ havens and they will make your months (or years) of diet possible and even pleasurable.

Here is how you do it

1. Find your indulgence – Think of your favorite food. It could be anything.

2. Eat one portion of it every week – Each week eat one dish of this food. It could be a piece of cake, a plate of spaghetti or dozen sushi roles.

3. Enjoy it to the Max – Make an effort to make an outing out of it. Go to your favorite coffee shop or restaurant and take the time to really enjoy your indulgence.

4. Share it with NO ONE – You will not share your weekly indulgence with anyone. Not your wife or your husband. Not even your kids. This is what keeps you sane. Never ever share it (I use my fork to hit the hands of those that try to rob me of my weekly piece of chocolate bliss – it’s mine and no one will take it from me!).

5. Don’t skip meals – Not before and not after your weekly indulgence. If you stick to your diet during the week and exercise moderately, this one dish will not prevent you from losing weight. On the other hand… being hungry will.

The (BIG) benefits of the weekly indulgence

1.  It keeps you sane – There’s a reason we need to diet – we love to eat yummy fattening foods. Totally denying yourself of your favorite foods will cause you to lose your freaking mind. But when you know you have the weekly indulgence you can stay reasonably sane.

2. It prevents you from snacking throughout the week – You do deserve a sugary pick me up once in a while, but when you know you will indulge royally in the near future, you can avoid snacking here and there (the #1 reason for not losing weight).

To conclude… this is my favorite diet habit, and I imagine you’ll like it too.

To a thinner, happier you,

Yoav

Diet Tip #2: The 15 Minute Rule

15 minutes ago I was CRAZY HUNGRY.

I just finished my small afternoon meal (1/4 bowl of cornflakes and yogurt – 130 calories) and it was no way near enough.

And then the inner dialog started…

Lizard Brain: “I’m not feeling that good, maybe I should put the diet on hold. Eat well and get stronger.

Yoav: “Well… you know you’ve just eaten a good meal, and you’ve got another one coming in 3 hours. Maybe you’re just thirsty?”

Lizard Brain:  “Maybe … let’s check”

(Gulp, Gulp, Gulp)

Lizard Brain: “Nope, still HUNGRY, let’s eat…”

Yoav: “Wait. Hang on, let’s wait 15 minutes, and see if we’re still hungry. You know… the 15 minute rule”

Lizard Brain: “(Growl)… OK, but in 15 minutes it’s PIZZA TIME”

15 minutes have passed and I am very full and content. Yoav and the lizard brain are one again.

You see… when we eat, our body produces hormones that trigger the feeling of fullness in the brain (specifically in the hypothalamus). This feeling of fullness occurs 10 to 20 minutes after we’ve started eating. Some studies have shown that in obese people the feeling of fullness takes longer to appear, but the good news are that after 20 minutes, everybody feels full.

So the bottom line is… if you feel hungry after your meal, you don’t have to suffer until your next meal (or eat more than you’re allowed). Just wait 15 minutes and presto … You’re full.

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Diet, Coffee and Diet Coke

Diet Coke isn’t healthy for you and neither is coffee. Caffeine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. And the artificial sweeteners are not that healthy either.

But you know what… screw it.

A cup of coffee helps relieve the feeling of hunger and can get you through to your next meal without snacking (and so can a diet Coke).

I don’t suggest that you take up drinking coffee if you haven’t done so before the diet. But if you were caffeinating, then by all means – harness this unhealthy habit to lose weight.

In fact, I strongly suggest that you do not try to make two big life changes at the same time. It takes focus and discipline to adopt diet habits and if you spread yourself too thin, you’ll fail both challenges.

Here’s a couple of caffeinating guidelines:

1.  Don’t increase your daily amount of caffeine drinks.

2. Use artificial sweeteners and not sugar with your coffee (you don’t need the extra calories). If you can’t stand the taste of artificial sweeteners and must use sugar, then reduce the amount of sugar to half a spoon per drink.

3. If you drink your coffee with milk, make sure you use mostly water and only a drop of milk to color the coffee.

4. Use low-fat milk.

4. When you order coffee, make sure that they make it as described above (mostly water and a touch of milk) and let them know you’ll be adding your own sweeteners.

Note: All the above is true if you don’t have doctor’s orders to the contrary. We’ll discuss doctors orders in another post, since they are important but sometimes destructive to your diet.

So… keep caffeinating my friend. And soon you’ll be a thinner, sexier caffeine drinker.

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How to Lose Weight with Very Little Will Power

Will power is scarce. And almost everything we do drains it – the job, the kids, trying not to explode in a blinding flash of road rage and killing that idiot that doesn’t even signal before he cuts us off.

And to make things worse, losing weight requires an enormous amount of will power (if using will power is your only strategy). That’s why most diets fail after the first 2-3 Kilos (4-7 pounds). You just don’t have enough will power to sustain it.

The easy way lose weight it is to acquire diet habits.

Dieting through habits does require you to spend a little energy on acquiring each habit, but once you’ve acquired it, you don’t use will power when dieting. It’s on autopilot – like brushing your teeth in the morning.

Here’s a list of diet habits I ‘trained myself’ into:

  • Bringing my own food to meals at family/friends
  • Asking about the ingredients and making special requests at restaurants
  • Reading the labels at the supermarket
  • Eating 6 small meals/day
  • Indulging myself once a week
  • Exercising
  • Diet focused shopping
  • Feeding myself first
  • Planning the day ahead
  • The BIG salad
  • Spending money on eating well when necessary

This list might seem like a lot to do, but once you acquire those small habits, you won’t need to think about them at all. And as a result, you’ll steadily lose weight every week, without struggling and suffering.

We’ll discuss these habits in details in future posts.

photo credit: Lif… via photopin cc

P.S.

Just to make it perfectly clear … injecting heroine might be an effective way to lose weight but it will kill you.

Diet Tip #1 – Never Be Hungry

Most people think that being on a diet means you need to learn how to be hungry.

That’s a HUGE mistake. Hunger is the #1 enemy of a successful diet.

To successfully lose a lot of weight, your thinking, rational self needs to be in control over a long period of time (it could be months or even years in some cases). But when you let yourself become hungry, you relinquish control to your lizard brain.

I’m HUNGRY the lizard brain screams – and while your rational self may fight the overwhelming impulse to eat for a little while, it quickly loses control and you find yourself standing in front of the refrigerator doing the nasty with a baguette and a bucket of Humus.

The surest safest way to lose weight is to establish a meal schedule that’s low on calories, but keeps you content and full 95% of the time.

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Why your smallest products are your biggest marketing asset

I’ve always struggled with my weight. If I am not mindful – I eat. And since I am not always mindful I’ve had to learn how to diet.

One of my biggest diet tricks is the BIG salad. I make one every day. This means that I need to cut A LOT of vegetables. A task that made me fall in love with the Victorinox vegetable knife.

It’s not a fancy knife. It costs about 5$, but it cuts through cucumbers like a Lightsaber cuts through empire clones. I love getting it out of the drawer. I love how it feels in in my hand. I love how effortlessly it cuts the vegetables. I would easily pay $50 for it.

This $5 knife has sold me on the Victorinox brand. I now WANT to buy a Victorinox watch and would give any of their products a more-than-fair chance.

If you sell anything, you should be copying Victorinox – make excellent everyday products. They will create your brand, not through advertising, but through experience. And then when the customer decides to buy the big product. He’ll buy it from you – even if it’s a Lightsaber.

People Sensitive To-Do List

I keep forgetting things. It’s not old age, I’ve always been like that.

I want to use a To-do list software, but all the To-Do list tools miss a big feature – they aren’t people sensitive.

For example …  I need to talk to Eran about swimming classes for my son.

But usually when I am around Eran I am doing my best not to drown while performing his increasingly evil swimming exercises. I am not focused on crossing stuff off my to-do list.

But my iPhone could do that. My iPhone should know when I:

  • Meet people who are related to tasks on my to-do list
  • When I talk to them on the phone
  • When I write them an email
  • Or when I receive an email from them
  • When I send or receive an SMS message to these people

And then, my dear, beloved iPhone should let me know that I have tasks related to that person.

If my iPhone did that, I would become a To-do list machine … diligently writing down, executing and crossing off items from my list. And then I’ll be the grown up, responsible person I should be.

Then again… I’d probably not.

Admitting The Truth and Time to Recover

Failure is hard. No matter how experienced you are and how many times you’ve failed before, failure is still hard to cope with.

Last week I launched a website. Most people would have considered it a success. And it is a moderate success, but its current conversion rate and CTR are not enough to take us where we want to go.

And there isn’t a way to tweak it into a success (sometimes there are, but that’s not the case here).

So step one was admitting the truth. Admitting that it’s not good enough, that we need something better.

But step two is taking time to recover. Although I already have a pretty awesome idea about a new approach, I know that I can’t attack it right away. Right now my energy is the murky energy of failure. I need the murky energy to go away so I can attack the new approach with enthusiasm.

I’ll take a couple of days and come back with the warm golden energy of optimism and we’ll rock this boat.

One last thing… if you find a technique that enables you to bounce back from failure, then you are the KING. Each Failure makes you smarter and if you fail a lot and bounce back, you’ll be smarter than every one else and then you win.