Decision Fatigue Defence League: The 3 Frontiers
Lots of us don’t actually have a problem with healthy food – it tastes good, it makes us feel great and it’s pretty kind on our waistlines. The problem comes with making healthy choices; that is, to choose something healthy instead of something processed & full of sugar.
1. Deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual, after a long session of decision making. It is now understood as one of the causes of irrational trade-offs in decision making. (The effects of which are discussed here and here). It’s real and it can seriously affect our progress.
Picture the scene:
- At breakfast, you choose the spinach omelette & green tea over the sugary cereals & latte; feelin’ pretty proud and positive.
- You get to work and it’s Meryl’s birthday, she’s brought in a box of Red Velvet cupcakes and when offered one you say, “Happy birthday Meryl! I’m rather full up from my breakfast of champions so I’ll pass on the cupcake, but thank you for the offer.” Holding your head up high, despite the mocking comments from coworkers who have not been able to resist said cupcakes.
- It’s lunch time and you’re approached by a few of your colleagues saying they’re going to head to that new burger joint near the office and that you need to go with them to experience it for yourself. Earlier’s mocking has pushed you to the decision that you’ll go, but you’ll get a salad and maybe try one of their burgers – if they’ll let you!
- After sitting through a lunch with 5 other people shoving juicy burgers and chips down their gullets and even opting for an espresso instead of one of the many indulgent dessert options available, you head back to the office feeling resentful, lethargic and depressed, instead of how you thought you’d feel: proud and satisfied.
- When you finally get home you’re super hungry. You look in the fridge, freezer & cupboards and are faced with yet another choice: roast veg & seasoned chicken breast with quinoa (preparation & cooking time equaling roughly an hour), or a frozen pizza that can be cooked in 12 minutes. By this point, after all the decisions you have made today it’s hard not to pick the pizza – you’ve earned it, right?
- After mindlessly eating the pizza in front of an episode of Orange is the New Black, you don’t even realise that you’re full up, so you go and grab a pot of ice cream/packet of biscuits/family size bar of chocolate/insert weakness of choice, because you’ve had pizza now, so you might as well go all out… right?
… Not quite.
So, you ask, what can you do to stop relying on a method of healthy living which is solely dependant on your ability to make good choices all the time?
Well, I’m glad you’ve asked.
In my opinion there are 3 main elements of reducing or even eliminating decision fatigue as a contender for the role of ‘goal-ruiner’.
- Planning & preperation. Once a week, sit down for 10 minutes and plan your meals for the next 5-7 days – actually write them down. Once you have done this, go to the shop and buy anything that you don’t have, but need for said planned meals. Finally, anything that can be cooked in advance, do it now! All of these steps combined could take you as little as 2 hours (if you live close to a shop). Alternatively, you could do what I do and allocate certain days to certain tasks so that it takes up an even smaller portion of your day. One more aspect of planning is treats! Healthy eating doesn’t have to be miserable and if you’re a dessert person or have a sweet tooth, planning healthy alternatives in advance can literally be the difference between making progress or not – trust me here, I speak from experience.
- Removing temptation. Decision fatigue is like a vampire – it can only come into your house if you invite it. If your cupboards have unhealthy options then you’re basically inviting decision fatigue into your house and into your life. So give away that multipack of Oreos you have hidden away from yourself (does this really even work?), stop doing your food shopping when you’re hungry & if you live with anyone else (including kids and partners), ask them politely to keep their junk food in a place that you won’t see & to try not to shove doughnuts in their face when they’re sitting next to/opposite you. This brings me to another aspect of temptation: being social. Hanging out with friends is fun and important for our mental health, but sometimes it can put us face to face with difficult choices. Now I’m not about to tell you to stop hanging out with your friends, but learning how to avoid caving under social pressures is vital for progress, which takes us to the 3rd element of the fight against decision fatigue…
- Being the boss. This is all about being able to communicate effectively and assertively about your preferences and goals – a super important ability when health and/or fitness is a concern. Let’s be real, haterz gon’ hate. But for reals, your friends shouldn’t fall under the ‘haterz’ category. They may however have low self-esteem, relating to personal insecurities that they cope with by unintentionally (or intentionally) shaming/making fun of/belittling the efforts of those who are achieving what they cannot. Read: they are jealous of your commitment, determination & success. Either that, or they simply don’t understand how important it is to you. The former is that person’s issue and shouldn’t be taken personally, but if it really bothers you, try talking to them calmly about how it affects you. You can use a similar technique for the latter, which can easily be solved by an honest conversation. Nothing too serious, just a friendly, “Hey, I get that you think my choices are over the top, but I have found them to be really helpful in keeping me on track towards my goals. They also make me feel awesome both mentally and physically.” That should be enough for them to take the initiative and stop making fun of your positive behaviour, without you having to actually ask. If not, then do yourself a favour and realise that this person does not deserve to be able to mentally/emotionally influence you – their loss, you da boss!
Below is a sample weekly meal plan & some prep guidelines (ones that I am currently using):
E.g. meal plan
Breakfast: Sugar-free muesli with coconut milk, a banana & protein shake. (Dorset brand does a great muesli with no added sugar – it’s just sweetened with little bits of dates, which gets even sweeter when eaten with coconut milk!)
Lunch: Salad/salad that’s not a salad (same ingredients just not all mixed together) of baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, red onions, butternut squash, red pointed peppers, broccoli, chicken breast & feta. (I roast the squash & 2 days’ worth of the chicken with chilli infused rapeseed oil, paprika & garlic powder on my prep day – the rest doesn’t take me that long to cook.)
Dinner: Chicken/beef curry (cooked in bulk on my prep day and frozen in portion sizes) & wholegrain rice (I really like the 2 minute microwave bags because they give me about 2 portions and also cooking rice is long AF.)
Some of my fave dessert/sweet snack alternatives: A square of dark chocolate, a pear, apple slices dipped in almond butter, grapes, a Nakd bar, a Bear fruit snack, decaf coffee with agave nectar, protein shake (Icon Nutrition do AMAZING flavours and use super good quality ingredients), Deliciously Ella’s chia chocolate cookies (or pretty much anything else from her website), refined sugar free popcorn, Lick frozen yogurt (refined sugar free), Coconut Collective Snowconut froyo, my super indulgent healthy chocolate protein mousse & my non-cheesecake cheesecake (watch this space for the recipe which is coming very soon!)
E.g. prep plan
Saturday: plan meals for the next 7 days.
Sunday: go to the shop and buy required items.
Sunday (if I have time), or Monday: cook the bits that take a long time/taste pretty much the same cooked in advance.
In case you were wondering about the ‘salad that’s not a salad’, here’s a photo of what I mean, from my lunch the other week – I’m sorry I just don’t know the correct culinary name for this dish!
I couldn’t post anything about meal prep without linking to this brilliant, 2-part article (2nd part here) on meal prep, by Staci at Nerd Fitness (one of my fave blogs ever), which makes meal prepping the main focus of the article.
That’s all for today, check back next week where I’m going to go over 3 easy steps to help you on your way to sustainable healthy eating. Thanks for reading 🙂 x
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