Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Little epiphanies from my vacation

I'm always a little amused with myself, as I continue to live my healthier life.

I'm on vacation this week with my family, on a ski week in Utah.  As I have written about many times, I like active vacations that hold the promise of both activity and relaxation.  I suppose it is a little odd and obsessive that I need activity when I take a week off, lest I suddenly gain 53 pounds in seven days.  In truth, I could easily take the entire week off of exercise, and my world would continue to spin on its axis.  However, it's not only obsession that makes me appreciate an active vacation as I truly do love to run around for a whole host of reasons beyond the size of my midsection.  Among other things, I do believe that ski vacations are among the best ways to get truly quality time with my family.  There is nothing like being stuck on a ski lift to make a 14 year old daughter talk to her dorky dad.

But what about the food on vacation?

Our first day here, we went to a nice restaurant in Park City for lunch that had a pretty spectacular and fairly indulgent menu.  My first reaction was to pull on my body armor and get prepared to make the proper Calvinist self-denial choice.  My eyes quickly went to the "cold seafood sampler" consisting of very sea creatures untouched by heavy sauces, served with a cocktail sauce on the side.  Safe choice!  Meanwhile my family was debating between cheese burgers, quesadillas, and other seemingly less responsible routes.

At this moment, I had a sudden bolt of recognition:  I was being a complete downer. I'm at goal weight.  I've been good all January/February.  Really, was a cheeseburger going to be the end of me?  I remembered my advice to myself:  when you are going to splurge, make it matter.  This restaurant was a place where I could definitely get a lot of bang for my splurging buck.  I "boldly" changed my mind and ordered the cheeseburger.

I am a pretty cheeseburger.  You can love me.
Just don't love all of me.  
Let me be clear.  This particular cheeseburger was a sight to behold.  It was made with high grade beef, a Gucci bun and a side of thick cut fries coated in parmesan cheese.  I had chosen well, and I was glad that I was able to let go and act like a normal person on vacation.

Then something else interesting happened.  My normal course would have been to inhale the meal in about 73 seconds, and then spend the next four hours feeling like crud with a case of bad indigestion (not to mention holding myself in disregard).  Instead, I reminded myself that swallowing the burger whole would make me feel pretty nasty afterwards.  So I took my time, and I stopped eating at about the 60% complete mark (of both burger and fries).  I actually managed to not clean my plate.  On vacation no less.  This is no mean feat for yours truly.  

Afterwards, I felt great.  I got a great, indulgent meal that tasted unbelievably good.  I was also rewarded with not feeling physically ill afterwards.  Finally, I had ZERO remorse.

This little experiment is giving me a new idea on how to manage my clean plate club habit, which I would really like to shed.  There was a super interesting article in the NY Times magazine this week "How companies learn your secrets" , talking about how retailers use information to learn how to get their shoppers to change habits.  What caught my eye in this article, however, was a section on habit change.  It argued that one key to establishing a new habit is to create a new reward the follows a new routine so that your brain will be pleased when you follow a new habit pattern.

So here is my thinking on a new No-Clean-Plate-Club habit profile:

  1. Cue:  knowing that when I sit at a restaurant, I will be given a plate with too much food
  2. Routine:  go through a mental process where I try to imagine what it will feel like to over-eat and/or eat too quickly
  3. Reward:  thinking about how I will feel when I don't over-indulge
This is a little over-simplified, and I think I need to put some more meat on the bones (so to speak).  However, this little vacation lunch was a nice reminder that I can still live in the world, and not have to choose between crazed food binge and monk-like chastity.  With practice, I can continue to learn a middle way...




  1. So much of winning is about the Mental Game. I've actually tried to combat quick eating by using chopsticks (not working out with your burger). My goal is to always feel good and I think up front what will make that happen. My primary goal is also great health, which helps a lot. Also, my tastes have changed greatly, which makes a healthy choice also the delicious one.

  2. I love that you amuse yourself. Too cute. I think you handled vacation with aplomb. How's that!

  3. "the proper Calvinist self-denial choice" - that cracked me up! so true, though. Even though I've been on maintenance a while, now, I have such a hard time with trusting my appetite. It's like my "you're full-o-meter" is broken. But cutting an entree in half & making a fuss of having the waitperson take it away & doggie-bag it before eating a bite always seemed unnecessarily Debbie Downer. I tend to go the Calvinist-seafood route when eating out, but try and remind myself my Tracker will love me afterward, plus I am getting better these days about slowing down & trying to enjoy every fishy bite.

  4. Very Cool! I like the idea of actually enjoying your food and not feeling guilty with every yummy bite!

  5. I chuckled as I read your posting since I saw so much of myself on vacation in your words. Actually I don't have a problem with indulging while on vacation but do have a problem with stopping at one indulgence. Your tip for handling it is one I'm going to try. Thanks.

  6. Another way to do this is to share your meal with someone else. Most restaurants will even put a shared meal on two plates.

  7. Great post! I think it's a slippery slope for people with food issues...BUT that being said, when I go on vacation I am also really active. I bike, I hike, I workout like normal, so if I do indulge a little more on vacation I don't see a difference on the scale. Life is about moderation and balance. I don't deny myself things I want, I might just eat a smaller portion of it.