Part of why I write this blog, in addition to my passion for health and fitness, is the chance to get my creative juices flowing. Thus, I couldn’t resist the weak attempt at humor with the title. The intent was less to pay homage to the 80’s TV classic featuring Crocket and Tubbs, and more about get folks thinking about how they handle those particular foods, treats, etc., that one could qualify as what I like to call “dietary vices.” A good friend commented on one of my prior posts, saying that I am the type of guy who manages my vices via a “master plan”, and he was right. Strange, maybe. However, I find this allows me to stay healthy and enjoy life to the fullest.
We all have a weak spot for something in our diet that simply isn’t good for us. We know the usual suspects such as soda, chips, brownies, cheese cake, French fries, etc, that torment us to all ends for a taste, a sip, or a snack. I have friends who rave about crème brulee and fortunately for me, this particular confection doesn’t call out to me. However, we all have a certain number of “food vices”, and how we manage them is a key part in improving our health.
I will start by saying that my personal method of managing “food vices” may not work for some. I’ve always been a proponent of balance when it comes to nutrition and struggle with the idea of diets that dramatically change the shape of the classic nutrition pyramid. I will also note that I’m a fan of carbs in general, although I understand that they must be held in check, and I want the ones I do eat to have nutritional value. This is a long-winded way of saying, “here’s how I manage my food vices, and it may or may not work for you.”
I believe that for most people any attempt at a “cold turkey” or complete elimination of “food vices” from one’s diet will lead to a nutrition meltdown (e.g. The Mayor in the movie “Chocolat”, who is so disciplined and self-denying with his diet during Lent, that he finally breaks down and eats a window full of sweets when he simply can’t take it anymore). My approach is to do away with some really bad vices completely, manage the ones “that are manageable”, and give myself a “go to vice.” Here’s my approach:
1) Eliminate Certain Vices Completely: For me, there are certain foods that are simply too bad for my body and can easily lure me into gluttony via their tasty power, for me to “open the door” and eat any amount of them. This is the only aspect of my diet where the words “cold turkey” come into play. This will sound blasphemous to some, but for me these items include pizza, lasagna, almost anything deep fried, bacon, cheese (as a stand alone food item), and gravy. This does amount to fitness “tough love,” because these are truly a few of my favorite things. However, these foods are overly abundant, tend to be high calorie/high fat, and when I have eaten them in the past I have tended to almost always over eat.
2) Manage Some Vices to Much Lower Frequency: I typically don’t eat French fries, but like those items I completely eliminated, I do enjoy them. In an effort to give my inner child a bit of hope I made a couple of rules regarding my consumption of French Fries. First, I can only eat them at one of two restaurants in the US (where I live), and I can only go to those restaurants twice per month. This ensures that the French Fries I am eating are the best ones (why waste a vice on a second tier fry), and it ensures I am not over-consuming those fries either. There are a few other similar “vices”, where I do have a bit more self control and this type of operating mechanism for self management works well.
3) Always Leave Yourself One Vice: While most of my friends and colleagues will attest to the fact that they never see me order desert, partake in b-day cake, eat French Fries (unless they’re at one of the 2 restaurants where it is sanctioned), they will all note that for a healthy guy, it surprises them that I never seem to hold back from “chips and salsa.” Now I know that Chips ‘N Salsa is less common outside of the US, but here in the US it is not only prevalent in Mexican restaurants, but also represents a snacking, barbeque, pre-meal staple. The corn chips are deep fried and they typically accompany a salsa (sauce) made of tomato, onions, chile and spices, and in my opinion “the hotter the better.” I would never approve of dietary behavior that could equate to binging or over-doing-it, so you won’t find me eating two baskets of chips at a restaurant or polishing off a 1/2 a bag of chips at home, but I do let myself have chips n’ salsa whenever I want it. Eliminating this from my diet would score me a few points of “health equity”, but I feel that this one vice is worth the happiness and in the balance of everything else I eat, I think it’s alright. And the idea of giving myself license to have a “food vice” makes saying no to the other things a bit easier.
Lastly, as I try and manage my food vices this way, I don’t judge or nag others who take a different approach. I’d love to hear how you manage your food vices.
Small steps add up!