Even the most committed health devotees have them: a kryptonite food. Your kryptonite food is that one delectable food, savory or sweet, that is decidedly indulgent, definitively unhealthy and seems to be wired directly into your brain’s “eat more” neurons. It’s that food to which you are so vulnerable, you find yourself completely helpless to resist – so you don’t. One bite, and it’s a wrap. It’s the food that you feel has the most potential to totally derail your “eat right” efforts.
I know multiple people who say pizza ranks as their kryptonite food – the prospect of eating a single slice is almost laughable to them, no matter how hard they try. In my world, one truffle-oil drizzled french fry begets about 3 or 4 dozen more.
About 15 years ago, I lost about 60 pounds – and have kept it off. I can recite a laundry list of food-related lifestyle changes and fitness habits I credit for being able to stay on track, but mindset management ranks among them. Here are a few tricks, tools and insights for how you can keep your own kryptonite food from derailing your efforts to eat healthfully:
1. Indulge and enjoy, on occasion. One night of indulgence every once in awhile will neither kill you nor will it totally destroy your health and fitness goals. In fact, studies show that indulging intentionally in your food kryptonite once a month has the power to help you stave off the cravings that tempt you to make it an everyday occasion.
But here’s the rub: indulging in your food kryptonite will not help you manage your cravings if you do from a place of guilt, shame and self-deprecation. Instead, plan to indulge and commit to savoring every bite. You’ll be less likely to lose control when you do eat your kryptonite food and you won’t walk away from your indulgence feeling depleted and deprived.
2. Rethink it. Don’t imbue your food kryptonite with so much power. Instead, stay conscious about it. On the days you indulge, read the ingredients list, the nutrition panel and track your kryptonite in your food diary before you eat it. Knowing what you’re eating will help you make the decision to take every bite as long as it’s actually worth it – and will empower you to stop eating when you think the trade off no longer sorts out in a way you’re okay with.
Also, learn and know what you like about your kryptonite food, so you can really enjoy that characteristic and get it out of your system. For example, I like the crust of all those artisanal breads, but their high glycemic index is not so great for my blood sugar levels. So I slice it thin to get more crust with fewer calories than a big thick slice. I also add olive oil and fresh vegetables to my occasional bready treats so that I get full faster, with no blood sugar spikes.
3. Come up with a go-to alternative. To curb the everyday cravings, explore other foods that that may capture the essence of your kryptonite food. If you love salty, snacky fries, see if a handful of kalamata olives or homemade sweet potato fries does the trick. If you love the crunch and the hand-to-mouth back and forth of eating chips, try a beautiful bunch of vegetables and vegetable chips with an assortment of yummy, yogurt dips.
4. Hydrate and satiate. It’s common to feel like snacking when you’re actually thirsty. It’s also common to eat much more of a kryptonite food when you’re actually hungry. Try this Anti-Kryptonite Action Plan
- Every time the craving hits, drink two glasses of water first and wait 10 minutes.
- If you still have the hankering, have a healthy snack of almonds, fruit, olives or vegetable chip and wait another 15 minutes.
- Then track one serving of your kryptonite food in your food diary to see how the numbers add up.
- If the craving persists, eat and enjoy a single serving, savoring every morsel to the absolute fullest.
5. Hook your craving to a healthy habit. If you’ve been indulging in your craving every day and are trying to break the habit, try hooking the craving to a new, healthy behavior. If you’re trying to make your nightly bowl of ice cream a once-a-week occasion, when you’d normally reach for the ice cream, take the kids or the dog out for a 15 minute walk instead. And if you track the walk in your exercise diary you’ll get credit for both breaking your undesirable habit and building the new one!
6. Stay well-rested and well-fed. Well-rested people have vastly more significant stores of willpower and self-control than people who are exhausted. Same goes for being well-fed: your brain needs nutritious food regularly in order to help you be the executive of your life and exercise optimal self-control. If you’re trying to work on making big changes to your food or fitness habits, make sure you’re getting a great night’s sleep and are getting sufficient calories and nutrients (our Nutrition 101 series is a great place to start learning good nutrition basics). It’ll help you have the self-control you’ll need to level up your eating patterns.
7. Take baby steps toward your vision of a healthy lifestyle. Don’t try to overhaul every single thing about your lifestyle in one fell swoop. Researchers have found a phenomenon called ego depletion, which simply means that your brain has a set amount of mental resources you can use toward your behavior change goals at any given time. Neuropsychologists now believe that you can use these resources up if you try to make too many life changes at once.
If you’re trying to go on a financial budget, start working out for the first time, stop eating out and stop eating your kryptonite food–all this week–you’re not setting yourself up for success. Instead, pick one healthy habit to try to work on for a few weeks. Once it’s become a part of your daily life, move onto the next goal.
8. Understand the circumstances that lead to uncontrollable cravings. Think back to the times you most often find yourself eating your kryptonite foods in an out-of-control scenario. What are the common circumstances? Does it usually tend to be at night when you’re home alone, or are you the most vulnerable at parties or social gatherings? Is it always after you’ve had an alcoholic drink or two, or after you’ve had a stressful day at work?
Once you become aware of the situations and scenarios that tend to exacerbate your vulnerability to your kryptonite food, you can solve for them in advance. Don’t keep your kryptonite food at home – make it harder to get to it. Make sure you eat and feel full before you show up to the party. Or decide to use the pizza party this weekend as your “splurge” day: track a full week of healthy meals and workouts in your diary, track a few slices of pizza before you go, and then indulge and enjoy.
9. Harness the power of social contagion. Social contagion theorists have proven that people with healthy friends tend to live healthier lives. You can harness the power of this truth to limit your vulnerability to your kryptonite food. Make friends who are healthy or trying to get that way, offline and in the MyFitnessPal community. If everyone else at the table is ordering a salad and fruit for dessert, you’ll be less likely to order the cheeseburger with an ice cream sundae chaser. Even if you do decide to splurge, maybe you can split dessert four ways, instead of each having your own personal kryptonite food show-down.
Also, commit to tracking even your indulgences, and make sure that you’ve shared your food diary with some friends on MyFitnessPal. People who connect with other MyFitnessPal users lose 3X as much weight as other users, and members who share their food diary with friends lose twice as much weight as others.
P.S. Want to read more? Here are a couple of books that open up the science of changing habits and building your self-control “muscles”: