6 Wimpy Willpower Healthy Eating Tricks

by | Aug 29, 2016

Do you ever wonder why some people make eating healthy foods appear easy? Maybe they have this super powered willpower stash? Or they take some pill to dull their unhealthy food senses?

In reality, none of those are true. People that eat healthy foods as part of their staple diet are not relying on willpower.

  For all of us, willpower gives out at some point.  

Just like dollars in your bank account, your willpower is in limited supply.  When real life takes over the willpower plummets to zero quickly – laundry piling up, kids calling to be picked up early, nothing is planned for dinner, and you are supposed to be at the school board meeting that night to pitch a new idea for after prom event.  They key is to not use up all your willpower at the start of the day and instead use these tricks to conserve your willpower so it is ready when you really need it – when eating out with friends that evening, or you just realize you forgot to eat lunch and now it is two in the afternoon and a plate of brownies is staring down at you.

I have little willpower. Instead, I have several tricks I have learned that I stick by to make healthy choices easy to do in my life and these can work for you.

1. Be Prepared to Redirect Mindless Eating
2. Never Skip Breakfast
3. Downsize Your Tableware
4. Eat Your Favorite Foods
5. Set Yourself Up for Success
6. Cultivate a Food Gratitude Attitude

Read through these and pick the easiest one to take action on.  Go at it slow.  You are in this for the long haul – this is an investment in you, your health.


1. Be Prepared to Redirect Mindless Eating

No matter how busy my day is, there are moments where I find myself in the kitchen scanning the counters and reaching for the refrigerator doors.

This is fine so long I am hungry. But there are times when I am in the kitchen and hunger is not the reason I am there.

The most common reason I find myself scouring for food is BOREDOM. Since I work from home, if I am churning out a lot of work at my Mindless Eating at Frigdesk, I often forget to plan in mental breaks and will at some point get up and walk down the hall when my mind is in overload and I can easily end up in the kitchen.

Another common reason I find myself near food and not hungry are EMOTIONS – sadness, loneliness, anger, and even happiness are all triggers for eating when not hungry. The best way to combat boredom and emotions with wimpy willpower is to be prepared. Have at least two relaxing activities ready to go at all times to do instead of eating that you enjoy. If you work at an office, or out of your car, then you need at least one activity in those locations.

For me, my activities are leafing through magazines (Oprah, More, and Fast Company are my favorite) to give my mind a thinking break. I also have gratitude journals sitting around I grab and start journaling. Sometimes I write down what I am grateful for, sometimes it is just writing about the successes I had lately.

I have prepared for you a list of possible activities to do instead of non-hunger eating. Highlight or circle the activities that look like strong maybes for you. Then narrow it down to at least two you can have on hand at the locations where BOREDOM or EATING FOR EMOTIONS strikes regularly.

Here are 5, the full list of relaxing 30 non-food activities are in this blog post’s bonuses. Click on the graphic below to download them. 

  • Read a book (physical or audio book)
  • Walk around the block (take the dog with you)
  • Call a friend
  • Play solitaire with cards or on your phone (any game on your phone)
  • Put on a good dancing song and dance (my go-to song is Happy Dance)


2. Never Skip Breakfast

When I say never, I mean never.  I eat close to 1/3 of my calories and at least 2 to 3 ounces of protein equivalents in my breakfast.  This way I feel satisfied and food is not on my mind.  I am full for hours and can punch out important work things and not be tempted by mid morning hunger pangs.

The optimal amount of protein is at least your palm size minus your thumb. So fold over your thumb to see how much protein you should have (or equivalents) at minimum. The maximum is your palm size. Compare your palm to someone else. It probably is a little different. Our protein needs for each meal are a little different based on our size.  The palm is a guide to use.

Many people have trouble with the protein part for breakfast.  Here are some ideas to help you get your pantry stocked. These are all 1-ounce equivalents.

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ounce cheese (1 sandwich slice)
  • 1 cup milk (8oz any kind – almond, soy, cow)
  • 1 cup yogurt (8oz)
  • ½ cup high protein or Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup cottage cheese
  • ¼ cup tofu (silken tofu is great in a smoothie)
  • ¼ cup nuts or high protein granola
  • 1 ounce lean turkey, roast beef or ham (1 sandwich slice)
  • 1 tablespoon nut butter spread (peanut butter, almond butter)
  • 2 tablespoons whey protein powder (no added flavorings)
  • ½ cup cooked beans (bean based chili too)
  • 1 ounce fish, lean beef, or lean pork


3. Downsize Your Tableware

This is a psychological trick and it works. The optical illusion of your plate looking like it is fuller works. A smaller plate makes a serving of food appear bigger. Give it a try for yourself.

Look below at the two circles with smaller circles inside and which one do you think is smaller? Most people think the inside circles are different in size, the one on the right people believe is larger. This is false, the circles in the center are identical in size.

Dots the same in plates

I don’t use regular dinner plates. I use smaller, salad plates for dishing out portions to eat for everyone in my household, even if I have guests over I use them too. It might not seem like a big deal, but it is. Going from a 12- inch dinner plate to 10-inch dinner plate can change how much you eat by a lot (22% in one study – multiply that over time and it adds up to a lot).

And don’t stop there. Go through your spoons and forks. Get out any larger soup spoons from your spoons’ drawer. I put those in with my serving spoons. For eating your meal, use a teaspoon-sized spoon (no this is not the baby size but small eating spoon).

For dessert, have some coffee or espresso spoons to savor your dessert with. The smaller utensil really does slow you down. For forks, a salad fork is smaller than a dinner fork.

No, this is not about eating less so you loose weight, instead, it is about slowing down your eating so you pay attention to your hunger and fullness. For healthy eating you want to eat when hungry and until you are full, but not overfull. Overeating is definitely not healthy and is a sure way to feel sluggish during your day.


4. Eat Your Favorite Foods

Regular healthy eating is not about strict rules or limitations. Intentionally indulging in foods you love is fine and actually encouraged. Deprivation always backfires. Go ahead and plan in eating your favorite foods here and there.

My five top favorite foods are a candy bar malt from Whitey’s (a local ice cream shop), a milk chocolate filled truffle, buttery mushroom risotto, a glass of Malbec wine from Argentina, and homemade bruschetta on a toasted baguette.

As you can guess, I eat bruschetta much more often than I do a Butterfinger® malt. I also make sure I am hungry and take time to enjoy eating my favorite foods whenever I indulge. There is no hard fast rule on how often and how much to you should eat your favorite foods.

If you are feeling cheated or have a numb emptiness that needs to be filled with an indulgence, I encourage you to go ahead and eat whatever is on your mind. Here are some tips to keep eating favorite foods in check:

  • you must be hungry when you eat your favorite food
  • you must stop when you are comfortably full (this is the hardest one, but eat half first and walk away and then ask if you are still hungry before taking another bite)
  • make sure you tell yourself you are not cheating, this one food or dish will not send your eating off the deep end
  • be compassionate with yourself, this is not an exercise in willpower, it is healthy to eat unhealthy foods every once in a while, we are emotional, irrational creatures and there is no denying it
  • sit down, clear away distractions and enjoy your favorite food!! (see tips under food gratitude attitude)

I can’t tell you to eat your favorite foods once a week or twice a week or three times a month.  There is no hard and fast rule on how often to eat favorite foods.   People that are practicing eating healthy are able to strike a balance between eating their unhealthy favorite foods often enough to not feel deprived but not so often that they start to change their diet from healthy to unhealthy.

  Eat your favorite foods so you don’t feel deprived.  
Savor every bite.

I eat my Butterfinger® malt only a couple times a year. That may sound like going a long time between malts, but I don’t feel deprived. I enjoy the malt, all 20 oz of it over a day or two since I want to be hungry when I enjoy it, but I don’t dwell on the fact that it is has been a while since I had my last one. There will always be another to look forward to in a year or so.

My risotto, I enjoy a couple times a year. My milk truffle is even more often, but not weekly. This does not mean I don’t have empty calorie food throughout the week, I do. But I make food count and savor it and don’t make it a daily thing. I also make sure I am hungry and stop when I am full. Most the time that means not finishing a full serving. I put it away right then or offer up what is left to others.

Now if you are thinking about indulging in food that you have told yourself is off limits regularly, there is something deeper going on. I recommend in this case journaling about your thoughts and reflecting on whether you need to get some additional help in this area.

The point is when you eat your favorite foods it should be an intentional decision and it should be treated like a gift you are giving yourself to enjoy. No guilt, no regrets.


5. Set Yourself Up for Success

If you were able to study people that effortlessly eat healthy foods as a staple in their overall diet you would pick up on their routines. Their routines are what set them up for success and take away the need for willpower.

Think about your morning routine – what do you do at least 5 or 6 mornings without fail? Are you giving yourself time to eat a serious breakfast with protein, a high fiber source and some good fat? Where in your morning routine could you insert the steps for first making your breakfast and secondly sitting down to enjoy your breakfast?

I have all my ingredients on hand for breakfast, and after my shower I head over to the kitchen to microwave my oatmeal with blueberries, flax seed and walnuts.  After I am dressed and my makeup is on, I finish preparing my oatmeal and sit down to enjoy it. There are times where I get half of my oatmeal finished and then have to take a child to school or an activity. I come back and am sure to finish it though first chance I get.

What about lunch? Does the cafeteria at work have foods that make healthy choices easy? If not, do you have a refrigerator at your work station you could use to store a lunch you make in the morning? I know this may sound like a lot of work now, but once you get into routines that support healthy eating you take away the decision making and instead healthy eating becomes habit and is easy, no willpower required, it just happens.

  Routines are the backbone of healthy eating with wimpy willpower.  

I want to mention one more key routine that I find people dedicated to healthy eating undertake. This is setting aside a time in their week to menu plan and pre-prep foods. This planning time is part of their routine, it doesn’t switch days or times. This planning time is routine and no decision is needed on when to do it, it just happens at the set day and time.

I plan my menus Saturday morning, then head off to the grocery store right after, and when I get back from my one or two store stops, I take the time to put things away and pre-prep them for the coming week. I have a menu planning worksheet for my meals that next week I use where my breakfasts are all pre-filled in. Then I leave open lunch and dinner for menu planning.

Menu planning is the FIRST step I recommend you consider starting if you are missing regular routines in your week that set yourself up for success. When can you set aside time to menu plan once every week? I would start with 30 minutes and after you have a system in place 15 minutes to menu plan.

I included a copy of my menu planning worksheet and a blank worksheet in this blog post’s bonuses you can use to create your own weekly menu.  Routines are a necessary tool for those of us with wimpy willpower.

6. Cultivate a Food Gratitude Attitude

This one is all about understanding and appreciating how amazing food is. Food goes through many steps before it appears on grocery store shelves or as part of a dish at a restaurant. I marvel at how complex, yet simple food is.

Nutritionally, food is made up of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and many other compounds we need to sustain life and fight off disease. There is still so much we don’t know about food – we only know a tiny bit of all there is to know about food and how it works in the body. The compounds in food are into the thousands and work together in concert much like a symphony of sounds works together to be much richer and majestic music than the individual parts.

And then there is the growing and cultivating of food. This is no small feat. It is easy to take this for granted. There is the soil preparation, planting, growing, harvesting, picking, transporting and storing and it may go off to a grocery store or a processing plant or be combined with other foods for a pre-prepared dish. I am sure I missed a few steps too.

Family enjoying meal togetherPeople that eat healthy food regularly have appreciation for the complexity of food. They take time to sit down and enjoy a meal, savor it. No, they don’t slow down and appreciate every meal, but they have this sense that the food before them is not to be taken lightly. They notice things here and there about the food looking for things to appreciate, even if they are eating on the go.

I recommend setting aside one meal a week to sit down and have gratitude for the food you are about to eat. This means taking in each bite and letting your senses and mind soak up the full experience. The best way to give this a go is a routine. Do you have a family dinner every Wednesday? Or Sunday lunch? This is a great conversation and experience builder – gratitude for the food – where it came from and the hands that prepared it to get it to the table.

People that have food gratitude have a relaxed and balanced relationship with food. They don’t think of food in black and white as good and bad and don’t become preoccupied with it. They appreciate what they have and don’t expend large amounts of energy in craving more or wishing for food.

They also surprisingly don’t eat if it doesn’t taste good to them. Now I am not talking about every bite being mouthwatering good, but if the food is off or lacking in zest they are able to put their fork down and focus on another aspect of the meal or think of other options for satisfying their hunger at that moment.

This is a balanced attitude of gratitude for food and the miracle and gifts it possesses.

I have put together some questions and tips to get you started appreciating food. You don’t have to go through all of these, they are a way to begin cultivating an attitude of gratitude for food we are blessed to have. Make sure before you sit down you have eliminated distractions. Pick a couple of the questions to test out and don’t be afraid to add in your own.

Here are 6 questions, I have 12 in a Food Attitude Gratitude Checklist for this blog post’s bonuses.

  • Hold the food in your mouth longer than normal and experience the texture. What is the texture like? Is it crispy? Crunchy? Soft? Thick? Melt in your mouth good? Rough?
  • What food ingredients can you pick up in the dish as you eat it? Can you do it with your eyes closed?
  • What temperature is the food? Warm? Hot? Cold? Too cold? Just right?
  • What colors are in the food? Do they compliment each other? Are there variations in the color?
  • What smells are wafting around when you take the food to your mouth and start to chew? Fishy? Vanilla? Stale? Citrus orange? Roasty?
  • What are the tastes or flavors on the tongue are? Sweet? Salty? Bitter? Metallic? Sour? Peppery kick?

Don’t stop here. These are meant to spur you on to other questions, create your own food appreciation checklist.

Be sure to download this blog post’s bonus that has:

  • 30 boredom and emotional eating activities
  • Weekly menu planning worksheet (blank and one with my breakfast and snacks)
  • Food gratitude attitude checklist

Take action on ONE trick.  Go slow and compassionately!

I am a mother of 4, active in my church and community, and passionate about making food food fun, high energy and fascinating. I have no extra time to be slaving away in the kitchen or going to special markets for unusual ingredients and I doubt you do either. I will never ask you to eat food you don’t love. Read more >>

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