I’m sure everyone has heard the “out of sight, out of mind” concept applied to healthy eating before. The principle operating at the core of this idea is incredibly powerful. If you’re not taking advantage of this principle in any way you can, then it is more than likely working against you. Research has proven that we have limited resources of self-control available for use on a daily basis and the more often we exert self-control, the weaker it becomes. It fatigues, just like a muscle would after repeated use.
Every time we see a good tasting, calorie dense food, we are driven to eat that food. This is our biology. We have to use mental effort and dip into our reserves of self-control to resist eating that food. Sadly, you hear people say all of the time, if you want to lose weight, then just stop overeating. If you’re reading this blog, then you realize it’s really not that simple. Due to our biological drive to eat calorie dense foods (how our ancestors survived in the past) and their vast 24-hour abundance in our modern society, it probably feels like an uphill battle to lose weight and eat healthy consistently. We need to structure our personal environment in a way that we’re not constantly presented with these temptations that drain our self-control.
This is where out of sight, out of mind comes in. When we are not presented with these powerful food cues (good tasting, calorie dense foods), our self-control is not being taxed, and we are less likely to overeat or give into temptation. The food is literally out of our mind and out of the equation. In order to be successful in losing (and maintaining) weight, we need to do everything in our power to limit our exposure to food cues. With the way our modern society is set-up, this is a pretty daunting task, but the benefits from doing so are immense.
(1) Get this food out of your house (and don’t let it creep back in).
The first place we can apply this principle is inside our homes. If you are trying to lose weight, under no circumstances, should high-calorie, tempting foods be in your home. This applies to any food that will tax your self-control when you are limiting your intake. These could be healthy foods as well as unhealthy foods. For example, some people have difficulty limiting their intake of nuts, which are healthy, yet calorie dense. If this is case, nuts should not be allowed into your home. In order to really minimize the taxation of your self-control, as little food as possible should be kept in your home. This could mean picking up the ingredients for dinner on your way home from work. At the very least your kitchen (and anywhere else you keep food) should be completely devoid of any temptations and stocked with healthy ingredients.
(2) Get rid of food that other people bring to your home.
If temptations make their way into your house by means other than yourself, give them away as soon as possible. If it’s not possible to give away, then throw it away. Some of you may cringe at the thought of throwing away food, but if it’s a food that’s going to tempt you to overeat, it’s better off in the garbage than in your body. This is an example of the sunk cost fallacy at work, which is easy to fall for. A sunk cost is any past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered. This applies often when we’re eating out and compelled to finish our plate because we can’t bring the food home and don’t want it to go to waste since we paid for it. But nobody else will eat that food if we don’t finish it. It will not make it to a food pantry or be given to those less fortunate. It’s just thrown out. If the food is excess energy/calories for you, then don’t eat it. It’s a sunk cost, and you are only hurting yourself by eating it.
(3) Have a conversation with the people you live with (depending on their openness to change, this may need to be step 1).
Some of you may be thinking, but what about my husband/wife, kids, people who come to visit? I hear this come up all of the time. But those people are better off without that food, just as you are. Even if your children have super fast metabolisms now, consuming fatty, sugary foods is hurting them as much as it is hurting you. The only difference is that you can actually see the damage by the weight you gain. Do your kids a huge favor and teach them now about good nutrition and moderate consumption, so that they’re not faced with the same struggle you’re going through years down the road.
Your home environment is one of the only environments on this planet that you have complete control over. Don’t squander that advantage. Instead make sure your home is optimized in such a way that your self-control is rarely, if ever, taxed.
(4) Think about other personal environments you have some control over.
Do you keep food in your car, your desk drawers or your purse? These areas need to cleaned out as well. The only reason snacks should be kept in these areas is if they prevent you from hitting up a vending machine, or grabbing fast food on the go. If deciding to keep snacks with you, make sure they’re preportioned. This will limit the amount of self-control you need to use when snacking.
Everything you can do to limit your exposure to food cues is beneficial. This could also mean questioning the route to work that you take. If you have the option of taking back roads to work with less chances of passing by places to stop for food, this should be taken advantage of. If you’ve developed a habit of stopping at Starbucks or Burger King on your way to/from work, then just seeing these fast food chains (or their logos) is a powerful cue and will be sure to tax your self-control.
Moral of the story: you have a limited amount of self-control to be used throughout the day, so use it wisely.