One Simple Trick to Building Diet Discipline and Changing Your Life

One Simple Trick to Building Diet Discipline and Changing Your Life
A super easy exercise to give you the strength to "say no" to your cravings.

There’s an old adage when it comes to grocery shopping and dieting: If you don’t want to eat it, don’t buy it. It’s a simple way of restricting what you eat, but there’s a big problem with it. Just like spraying Febreeze in the kitchen instead of taking out the trash, this method of diet restriction is only masking the problem. You’re achieving an end result without actually altering the behavior that is the root of the problem. It won’t take long before that end result is unsustainable.

The actual problem with almost any negative behavior in our lives is our uncanny ability to trick ourselves when our attempts to restrict that behavior fly in the face of our in-the-moment desires. It’s easy to not eat junk food you didn’t buy because if you don’t have it, you can’t eat it. But what happens when in the course of your life you ARE presented with the opportunity to splurge on junk food?

All of a sudden your cravings have the salesman skills of Zig Ziglar and you convince yourself that it’s ok:

“Oh, I’m out with friends so it’s alright. The giant side of french fries comes with the meal so I can eat them.”

“I’m having a long day so it’s ok to have a 1,000 calorie coffee drink to just get me through it.”

“I’m tired from a long week and don’t feel like cooking, I’ll just order a pizza, which is fine because I haven’t had any since last week.”

So what happens when you’re presented with the easily attainable junk food? You eat it. Because you haven’t developed any discipline that gives you the strength to say no to the salesman.

You’ve decided that you want to “eat healthier” or “eat McDonalds less” or “stop drinking so much soda” but the problem is those are not goals. And people who are not ready to fully make a commitment to the change love to make blurry goals like these because these are the easiest to defeat when they decide they don’t want to listen to them.

If you’re trying to drink soda less, how do you know if you’re on track when you start craving one? A real goal is hard, specific and non-negotiable. There is no wiggle room in your moments of craving, it either is or it isn’t. “I will only drink soda 3 times per week.” That is a goal. And the reason people who don’t really want to make progress are scared of that is because once you’ve had your 3, there is no room for one more. There’s no sales trick to make it ok. When the opportunity to order that 4th soda comes, you either have the strength to say no or you don’t.

If you’re unhappy with your diet you have to learn to recondition yourself. You have to train yourself that just because you SEE something you’d like to eat, doesn’t mean you HAVE to eat it.

How do you do this?

Discipline is a muscle; you can’t just expect to be able to stick with a restrictive goal because you’ve set your mind to it. Our raptor brains are programmed to say yes to cravings, no matter what our more logical thoughts try to say.

You would never think you could run 10 miles if you’ve never run a mile, and you can’t expect to be able to say no to a constant barrage of junk food opportunities in your life if you haven’t first trained yourself to be able to say no once.

To do this, you intentionally buy your favorite craving food with the goal of never opening it. You learn to constantly see this irresistible treat and develop a voice in your head that can say no to it.

For me that’s Mega Stuf Oreos. There’s nothing like a fresh Oreo, and just like the examples above, I would trick myself into thinking that if I bought a package I would eat them at a reasonable, drawn out pace. But what actually happens when you buy a package of Oreos? You open it to eat one and end up eating 4. And by the end of the week you’ve eaten an entire pack of Oreos by yourself. That’s 2,000 calories in JUST Oreos.

The Cookies You'll Never Eat

Figure out what craving challenges you the most. If it’s Coke, buy just one can. If it’s ice cream, pick up a carton. The goal here is simple: If you open the packaging, you’ve failed. This takes the wishy-washiness out of diet restriction. Every time you’re touring your kitchen for something to satisfy your craving there is only one decision to make: Am I strong enough to say no or will I fail the exercise by opening the package?

The incredible thing is how exponential this is. It only took me about a week and a half of learning to say no to the Oreos before an inspiring thing happened. I now found I had the strength to start saying no to other junk food in my daily life. Just because I’m hungry and pass a McDonalds doesn’t mean I HAVE to go through the drive-thru. Just because I always order soda with dinner, doesn’t mean I can’t order unsweetened iced tea or water. Just as you begin raising the weight on bench press as you get stronger, my personal discipline to say no to cravings started getting stronger.

And perhaps the craziest thing of all: I got so good at saying no, the salesman in my mind started working for his competitor. Instead of hearing a voice explaining why it’s ok to splurge, a new voice emerged, one reminding me how easy it is to say no, and how excited I feel when I can give a craving the finger. One of encouragement saying, “It’s ok if you eat this, but what if you didn’t?”

So my challenge to you is this: Are you ready to commit to learning to say no? Are you ready to lose weight and eat healthier? Are you ready to become emotionally stronger than you’ve ever been? If yes, go out and buy your junk food and learn that you have the power to change your life. Here’s to a new you, and a lot of unopened Oreo packages.

Andrew Snavely

Andrew founded Primer in 2008 and brings 15+ years of men's style expertise. Known for his practical, relatable approach to style and self-development, he has been a recognized speaker at conferences and has styled work for top brands. Off-duty, he loves photography & editing, and enjoys road trips with his dog, Leela. Raised in rural Pennsylvania, educated in DC, and living in LA for nearly 20 years, Andrew's diverse experiences shape the relatable and real-world advice that has helped millions through Primer. On Instagram: @andrewsnavely and @primermagazine.