Tag Archives: food

“Discardia,” or How One Moderator Manages to Indulge Moderately.

Over the weekend, I read Delia Ephron’s very amusing and thought-provoking book of essays, Sister Mother Husband Dog: (Etc.).

In her essay “Bakeries,” she describes visiting her favorite bakeries and eating her favorite pastries — granola cookies, pizza bread, pain au chocolat, chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, pistachio donuts — all around New York City.

As I was reading, I was thinking, “Zoikes, how can she be eating all these pastries all the time, without bad health effects?”

Then Ephron explains:

I am lucky to live in carb paradise and I am lucky to be afflicted with a syndrome (disorder?) that my husband calls Discardia — the tendency to throw things away after a few bites unless I fall in love or am really hungry. Thank God for Discardia, or I would be someone who had to be removed from my house with a crane.

When I read this, I thought, “She’s a classic Moderator!”

I’ve concluded that when dealing with temptation, people are either “Moderators” or “Abstainers.” (Take this quiz to find out what you are.)

Moderators do better when they indulge in moderation, and they get panicky if they’re told they can “never” have or do something. They find that a little indulgence satisfies them, and they often lose interest after a few bites. Thus — Discardia!

Abstainers, by contrast, find it tough to start something once they’ve started, but they aren’t troubled by things that are off-limits. They do better when they don’t have that first bite. I’m 100% Abstainer, and life became so much easier for me when I realized that. As my sister the sage, also an Abstainer, explained, “French fries are my Kryptonite. I gave them up, and now I’m free from French fries.”

A Moderator friend told me, “I keep a bar of fine chocolate in my desk, and every day I have one square.” I said, “I could never do that, that chocolate bar would haunt me until it was gone.” (I’ve since learned that many, many Moderators keep a bar of chocolate squirreled away somewhere.)

There’s no right way or wrong way, only what works for a particular individual. While giving up something (like pastries) might sound hard, for me, it’s far easier than it would be to eat just three bites of a pistachio donut.

Delia Ephron’s “Discardia” is a great example of Moderator behavior — and a great example of how one person’s behavior may or may not suit someone else.

In my book Better Than Before, about how we can change our habits, I have a chapter on the Strategy of Abstaining. (To pre-order, click here–buy early and often.) Abstaining works very well for some people, and not at all for others. Abstaining wouldn’t work for Delia Ephron; Discardia wouldn’t work for me.

Because moderation is so often held up as an ideal, and because it sounds so pleasant and less rigid, many people assume they’re Moderators. From what I’ve observed, many people are actually Abstainers. Could you eat three bites of a chocolate cookie with walnuts? I couldn’t. But I can walk right past that bakery. If you’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to act like a Moderator, give the Abstainer approach a chance. I know it sounds harder, but really, for Abstainers, it’s easier.

Moderators, do you have a habit like Discardia? Abstainers, does this sound like something you would do?

In addition to the Abstainer/Moderator issue, some people will be very uneasy at the thought of deliberate food waste.

Important: Do Not Overfeed.

Last weekend, we had a lot of excitement. My nine-year-old daughter got a betta fish, which she named Esther.

When we were talking to the clerk about how to care for the fish, she told us, “Be sure not to overfeed your fish. Just two pellets.”

When we read the little instruction book that came with the bowl, it said, “Do not overfeed your fish.”

On the bottle of fish food, it said, “DO NOT OVERFEED.”

So it seems clear to me that people have a real tendency to overfeed their fish.

Which got me thinking — why is it so fun to feed animals, birds, people? Even when it’s not such a good idea.

People feed pigeons, bears, and zoo animals, even though it’s not good for the animals or the environment. I know the feeling. Growing up in Kansas City, my sister and I loved to feed the ducks in Loose Park.

There’s just something deeply satisfying about it.

I wonder if that’s why so many people seem to have the drive to urge other people to eat, too.

In writing Better Than Before, my book about habit change (which you can order here: buy early, buy often!), the issue of eating habits came up over and over.

In talking about their attempts to have healthier eating habits, people often told me that an important person in their life made this aim more difficult.

“My grandmother gets insulted if I don’t take seconds or thirds.”

“My friend said, ‘But I baked it especially for you!’ even though she knew I was trying to give up sweets.”

“I told my wife that I can’t have chips in the house, but she says we have to have those foods, for the kids.”

“Everyone at the table was ordering dessert, and they wouldn’t let it go until I ordered some, too.”

I think there’s a lot of things that might be going on in these situations. People judge what they eat according to what others eat, so they want others to eat more — so they can eat more, guilt free! People feel uneasy when others change an important habit. People don’t want to feel inconvenienced by someone else’s habit change.

But partly, too, I think it’s just satisfying to feed someone or something.

And this aspect of human nature is worth taking into consideration when we’re changing our habits, and when we’re thinking about how other people are affecting our habits.

The Strategy of Other People is a key strategy for habit change.

What do you think? Do you find it satisfying to feed someone or something? Even when you know it may not be a good idea?

10 Pieces of Unsolicited Advice, From Me, About Fostering Healthier Eating Habits at Work

Every Wednesday is List Day, or Quiz Day, or Tip Day.

This Wednesday: My 10 pieces of unsolicited advice for how to foster healthier eating habits in the workplace

In law school, we took “issue-spotter” exams, which were actually kind of fun (as law-school exams go). An issue-spotter exam presents a long tale of legal woes, and students must spot every issue that arises—the law-school version of a child’s “find the hidden pictures” puzzle.

A while back, I was speaking at a big company, and as I was shown around the corporate campus, I did a mental issue-spotter.

What steps would make it easier for employees to eat more healthfully without even thinking about it? I amused myself by writing an imaginary ten-point memo.

1. At the reception desk, put all the candy in an opaque container with a lid, with a small sign that says “Candy.”

2. Don’t provide “health bars” or “energy bars” that are really candy bars in disguise. (Just because the label says it’s “healthy” doesn’t mean it is healthy.)

3. Put doors on the office kitchens. The slightest big of inconvenience shapes our habits; plus, if we don’t see food cues, we’re less likely to eat.

4. Set up a partition to divide each kitchen in two. Dedicate the section closer to the door to healthy selections; put less-healthy food in the back section, further from the door, so people would have to make a special effort to get there. Ideally, they’d have to pass another partition or cross an actual red line painted on the floor—and they wouldn’t be able to see those tempting foods unless they were in that area.

5. On the posters that promote healthy foods, stop conflating “fruits” and “vegetables.”

6. Don’t put candies and nuts in bins that pour out their contents in a stream. Instead, provide containers that dispense one small serving at a time. Or better, serve those items in small, pre-packaged bags. That helps people monitor how much they’re eating.

7. Hang mirrors near food stations.

8. Offer fewer varieties of unhealthy foods.

9. Provide a tracking system to allow people to note their daily snack intake (voluntary).

10. Don’t provide trays in the cafeteria. Many colleges have eliminated cafeteria trays; when students can’t easily load up on food and must make multiple trips, they take less. One study found that going trayless cut food waste by as much as 25-30 %, and I bet people eat less, too.

If you could offer some unsolicited advice about your workplace — about how to make it healther — what would you say?

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“The More You’re Served, the More You’ll Eat. And You Won’t Even Think About It.””

Habits interview: Lisa Young.

I met nutrition expert Lisa Young years ago, sometime after I read her fascinating book The Portion Teller: Smartsize Your Way to Permanent Weight Loss. I can’t remember how I finally ended up meeting her in person, but now I get to run into her occasionally, because we go to the same gym. (Very appropriate, given our mutual preoccupations.)

Much of her work is about habits related to portion size, so I was very curious to hear what she had to say.

For my book on habit-formation, Before and After, I’ve identified 21 strategies we can use to shape our habits. One of the most powerful of the strategies is the Strategy of Monitoring. As Lisa points out, portion control is a key to understanding how we’re actually eating — and to changing how we’re eating, if we want to. (If you want to know when Before and After goes on sale, sign up here.)

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research on an aspect of habits – portion control. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded? What aspects of these habits would be most helpful for people to understand?

Lisa: The more you are served, the more you will eat. And you will not even think about it or realize it. We can rattle off what we eat but we pay no attention to how much.

Therefore, try to prepare yourself in advance–for example, try to avoid buying jumbo bag of chips, cereal, or other edible foods (jumbo toilet paper is ok). You will eat more without realizing it. If you do, for some reason buy huge bags, (usually because they are cheaper and we love a good bargain), pre-portion foods in advance or keep handy “props” around: portion out pretzels or chips in ziploc baggies, keep a handy measuring cup around to measure your cereal.

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

Doing yoga or getting in a swim. And, of course seeing Gretchen at the gym. :)

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

I think that as an 18 year old, we think we have to cut out entire foods or food groups to be healthy. I now know that I can eat all foods.

The trick is to eat healthy at least 80% of the time. We do not have to be perfect 100% of the time. [I think this works for Moderators, but not for Abstainers. Lisa is definitely a Moderator!]

Which habits are most important to you? (for heath, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)

Getting in my exercise routine and doing something I enjoy (swimming or yoga, for me), listening to calming music when home, including some protein and fiber in the morning–ie: a Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and not starting my day with pure carbs ( ie, a bagel or muffin), connecting with a close friend or family member.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

I grew up in a house where my family–mom and grandmother–did not know of portion control. Perhaps because I have spent my life researching portions, it has become an ingrained habit. I can eat all foods, I just pay attention and know when to stop and can recognize when a portion is too big.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties)

No–because I have developed healthy food and exercise habits, being healthy has become second nature.

It is natural to overeat occasionally at a party, but I do not let it bother me if I do, as instead of feeling guilty the next day, I go back right to eating healthy. I think the key is to prepare yourself for slight changes in your routine when you travel or go to a party.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?

I embrace them. I think it can give me a sense of calm and structure.

Any last thoughts?

When it comes to weight loss and portion sizes, just becoming more aware of HOW MUCH you are eating is half the battle. In particular, it is important to be mindful and pay attention to how much you are eating of foods that we tend to overeat–grains/starches, desserts. When it comes to fruits and veggies, however, you do not have to be so strict and it is ok to eat more. No one got fat eating too many carrots or bananas.

When asked, what kind of sandwich isn’t fattening, the answer is a half sandwich! Keep this in mind. It pertains to all foods…

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“She Told Me What I Needed to Hear and I Was Ready to Listen.”

Happiness interview: Tory Johnson.

I got to know Tory Johnson when I spoke at her conference for startups, Spark and Hustle. Tory has a crazy amount of energy, and in addition to running this series of conferences, she’s also an on-air contributor to Good Morning America, and a writer.

In this last role, she has just published a fascinating memoir, The Shift: How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life, about how she changed her eating habits, and lost more than seventy pounds, by making what she calls “The Shift.” The book was especially interesting to me because she writes at length about how the change in her habits and in her weight affected her happiness. For a long time, she’d felt out of control and trapped by her inability to control her weight. Losing weight wouldn’t boost everyone’s happiness, but it had an enormous consequence for Tory’s happiness.

One of my chief interest is the question: What allows people to change? Why is it that sometimes, people can’t seem to change, no matter how much they want to, and other times, they can change? (Hint: this is the subject of my next book!) For Tory, a single conversation with a colleague ignited “the shift” that allowed her to make a change that she’d wanted for a very long time.

Gretchen: In the last year, you’ve experienced what you call “The Shift.” What happened?

Tory: Eighteen months ago, Barbara Fedida, one of my bosses, told me my clothes didn’t do me justice and she wanted to send me to a stylist. Barbara is the highest-ranking woman executive at ABC News and I am an on-air contributor for Good Morning America. She never used the words “fat, diet or obesity” but her message was clear: I needed to lose weight. Let’s face it: on TV looks matter. I took her words to mean “lose weight or lose your job,” even though to this day she insists my role was never in jeopardy.

Barbara changed my life. I think she actually saved my life. She stopped me from continuing on an unhealthy path both mentally and physically and for that I will be forever grateful to her. That’s why I dedicated The Shift, my new book about how I lost 62 pounds in one year, to her. She told me what I needed to hear and I was ready to listen. In a nutshell, what I learned was that what I put in my head is much more powerful than what I put in my mouth. I changed my mind for a better life.  Now, with this book, I’m on a mission to share that message and more with others who have battled their weight for years and are finally ready to do something about it once and for all. If I can do it, anyone can.

What simple activities consistently make you happier?

Walking daily in Central Park, I notice something different every time. It might be a squirrel, a plant variety, details in the surrounding skyline or a cool sneaker color. I walk the same loop every time, but the scene is always refreshingly different and never fails to make me smile.  I return home energized and happy.

And as a girl who’s been fat forever, who was tortured by gym teachers, I never imagined that voluntarily going to the gym would make me happy. That was something I’d avoid at all costs and have for most of my life. Now it’s among my favorites activities of the week – a chance to think about nothing but pushing myself to be my very best.  I always leave happy.  Imagine that.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That it’s not a given, nor is it owed to me by the world. Happiness is a deliberate choice, one that only I can make for myself.  If I want to feel the joys of happiness, I must choose to be happy—and I do.

Is there anything you found yourself doing repeatedly that got in the way of your happiness?

Until I embarked on The Shift, I didn’t realize just how much being overweight distracted from my greater happiness. I was by no means unhappy on any given day, but once I began to lose weight and take control of my body, I began to reflect on many of the unhappy choices I felt forced to make because of my weight. Those choices range from my fashion limitations, which led me to wear a navy suit instead of white gown on my wedding day, to more serious issues like avoiding all doctors for more than a decade because I didn’t want to hear the inevitable lecture about my size. Losing weight freed me to focus on the stuff that makes me happy, from petty to serious, rather than settling for blah.  Now my happiness is increased from simple stuff like having an abundance of clothing choices to much more important things like hearing my doctor say everything looks great and I’m healthy.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that speaks to you?

“There is no cavalry. No one is coming. It’s up to me.”  The people I’m surrounded by give me great joy and happiness, but I always remind myself that I can’t rely on them or others to create my happiness. It’s up to me to find joy in them, to find joy in myself and to look for opportunities to turn the mirror on myself rather than blaming others.

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?

In the last 18 months I’ve experienced both: I’ve had valleys where I’m upset that I wasted so much time being fat, then tall peaks when I’m the most content girl on Earth for discovering a greater sense of happiness by focusing on truly striving for my best, which includes pursuing and living a healthy lifestyle.  Keeping those moments of unhappiness top of mind — not in a way that dominates my thoughts, but as simple reminders — prevents me from slipping back into bad habits and downers.

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