by Rachel Hott, PhD
Several clients and students have told me that they had difficulty making healthy food choices. They claim that they make healthy food choices when they are home and in their routine, but when they leave that routine then everything falls apart. I know this from my own experiences as well. For several years I have been more of a conscious healthy eater, however when I go to a restaurant or travel, I often let go of my discipline and then feel badly afterwards.
I decided to model this ability to make healthy food choices not just as a daily event, but the ability to make healthy food choices when a person is out of their routine. I selected Paul Conner, owner and developer of Emotive Analytics; a consumer research company to be my exemplar for this ability. In the past Paul has hired me for a special type of interviewing called, “relaxed interviewing.” When we have been working together, the setting is out of town, with not many food choices and I observed that Paul will remain disciplined and inevitably make choices that are aligned with his food goals.
Since he is located in St. Louis, Missouri and I am in New York City, we conducted a phone interview. Paul has always been a healthy, naturally thin person. However, as he has gotten into his 50’s he wanted to keep his weight down in order to prevent illness, feel good and to look good. These three motivators are important in every decision he makes about what he will or will not eat.
When we were out of town I observed Paul asking for special foods at the work site. I asked him about this, and he said, “I ask because I want to stay as fit as possible. I figure I can ask for special food, and give it a shot.” If he can’t be accommodated then he assesses what food is available and knows that the safe fallback is salad or fruit. He sees this as not terribly difficult, and if he is hungry he says, “ I suck it up that I might be hungry.”
Sometimes he says he may nibble on something, just to appease the taste buds. However most of the time he will assess what food is laid out and usually selects the fruit. He is also comfortable asking the servers whether there is whole grain and salad alternatives. He believes that if he asks politely his communication is perceived as simply asking information, as opposed to being a “jerk.” He doesn’t want to make a scene when he asks for food options, he just wants to eat correctly. He said, “I just want to get the good food in me.”
Sometimes he is aware that his hunger is not always physiological, but instead a craving or desire. When this occurs Paul has an internal voice that coaches him by saying, “ Yeah, you’re hungry, but this is the way it is, so take some grapes or something small, let’s do this sensibly and regulate yourself.” This coaching voice takes care of him and is connected to his pride in successfully being disciplined. In addition to his pride he also values the challenge, and making healthy food choices home or away can be seen as a challenge.
Part of the challenge is showing others that he is strong. He likes being able to have others see what he can do. He likes the attention that he gets and he believes that when he feels better, looks better and takes a stand on his actions that others will be impressed which makes him feel unique. When he makes these healthy food choices he is not falling into the norm and this independence and free will excites him. Even when he goes to a family event he will bring food that he can eat, which makes him also feel in control.
He is not only motivated by the challenge to look good to others, but the challenge to look good to himself. When he looks at himself and he sees anything resembling a “spare tire,” he perceives it as an evil presence and becomes very active about getting over that hump.
His healthy food choices are not just an intuitive process. He has been advised by a nutritional counselor and had done extensive reading about the best foods and diets. At this time he has challenged himself to follow a vegan diet when he can. A vegan diet means eating only plant based foods and excluding dairy from his diet.
After he is eating he knows he is done and stops eating based on his own instinctual feelings about fullness. He has also trained himself about portions, and will look at the amount he is eating and knows how much he should be eating. He said that, “if I eat more, I go against my discipline, and if I go against my discipline I feel as though I failed.” He moves away from failure and towards discipline.
Paul sees himself as a healthy informed strong person who likes challenges. Eating healthy and making healthy food choices supports his identity. When he stays true to his identity he feels enjoyment, which helps him continue on this path.
Modeling Summary: Making Healthy Food Choices
- Challenge yourself to make a healthy eating plan for yourself.
- Be clear that you want to prevent your own illnesses, feel good and look good. *
- Be active by asking for what you want in your food selection.
- Feel the true physiological sensations of hunger and satiation and incorporate an encouraging internal voice to maintain your goals.
- Enjoy what you are eating, and make sure that others know what you are doing so that you continue to feel special and unique.
- Keep yourself informed with reading and research.
*This is an example of a moving away and toward strategy. He moves away from illness and moves towards feeling and looking good. Both are motivators for him.