Food Decisions In-the-Moment Are a Recipe for Disaster
People often request my help in developing strategies to use in the moment for dealing with struggles around food. This includes temptations, emotional eating, triggers, negative events, etc. In my experience, the biggest challenge associated with this is usually a failure to plan.
Failure to plan
You are going to eat at some point today and every day, probably multiple meals and snacks. But so many of us are completely caught off guard when mealtimes roll around with no thoughts around what we will do for food! This is shockingly common.
When we don’t plan, we are subject to making decisions in the moment. But in the moment is where we can be highly vulnerable! In the moment you may be influenced by triggers in your physical environment for food, your mental and emotional state, the people you are around, etc. And, if you add high and low blood sugars to the mix, this becomes a real struggle, often causing you to emotionally eat or treat with a less-than-healthy or wise choice.
How food can affect our decisions
In their book, Brain Wash, Perlutter & Perlmutter explain how the types of foods we eat, particularly inflammatory refined carbohydrates (i.e. lots of packaged and processed foods), impact our decision-making ability and impulsivity and introduce “a clear and present danger to our ability to access and make use of higher-order thinking”.1 They go on to describe findings from a 2013 study, which “revealed that the mere sight of high-calorie, pro-inflammatory foods can promote overeating by stimulating brain reward pathways and appetite.”1
This just shows how certain foods and environments play a role and highlights the value of planning ahead as a power tool.
Planning ahead for food decisions with type 2 diabetes
When you plan ahead, at the very least just to have good choices around, you are more likely to make good choices. And, it reduces your chances of falling prey to temptations. Planning ahead includes planning meals, snacks, and even treats for when your blood sugar is low.
Having a go-to for treating lows is especially important because this can quickly turn into an urgent and ravenous hunt for anything available, or a reason to go for something you really want but know you shouldn't be having. Planning ahead also involves anticipating expected and unexpected events (i.e. having a contingency plan).
One important thing to note is that you have one of the greatest strengths of all: you know yourself and your own unique struggles, patterns, and factors (internal and external) that may potentially challenge your efforts. Use that to plan ahead.
It is also important to remember that in the moment strategies are not developed in the moment! That’s why working with a professional can be helpful, especially if you struggle with impulsive food decisions and things like binge eating or emotional eating.
Other helpful strategies
Slow down eating. Try using your opposite hand to eat with, use chopsticks, use toddler utensils, set down your utensil in between bites, set a timer.
Get outside more often.Nature exposure is linked to reduced impulsivity in decision-making.2 If you are not already getting any walking or outdoor time in, go for a quick walk on any breaks you have. At the very least, attempt to have some reminders of nature around you. Position yourself near windows with a view when possible. Keep plants or flowers visible on tables or in work areas. Even pictures of nature have shown benefits.1
Adjust your environment. Visual cues to eat are seriously powerful. Make sure to keep unhealthy foods away from view, think 'out of sight, out of mind.' Try keeping a fruit bowl on the counter. Have quick and ready-to-go snacks available that you can easily see when you open the refrigerator or pantry.
Gain support. Ask your family members, friends, and coworkers to be supportive. That may mean avoiding tempting you or supporting you with good options or even helping with accountability for your goals.
What aspect of diabetes management do you struggle with most?