Mental Health Monday: The Twelve-Minute Impulse, Decisions and Apples

food-temptation-craving-sweetsEvidently there are two (French) secrets to getting and staying slim: “the decision and apples.”
That’s what Tish Jett’s internist told her. Jett is the author of Forever Chic: Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance. I’m devouring this book in preparation for our trip to Paris in a few weeks, but also because I’ve always admired French women-the way they dress, their natural-looking complexions, their slim and youthful bodies.

Six months after starting my weight-loss program, I hit a wall—emotionally and physically. I had lost 17 pounds, but I keep gaining back 2 pounds, then losing them again, then gaining them back. I feel stuck. I’m tired of counting calories and I’ve had a few emotional struggles that sent me on binges. Not the really big, bad binges I used to indulge in, but off the track and up the scales, for sure.

So this morning as I continued reading in Jett’s book, I found some strength to carry on. Part of Jett’s research for the book included interviews with friends. (She lived in France for ten years.) All of them slim. None of them ever diet. But their whole approach to food is based on a mindset I’m trying to adopt. Like her friend, Alexander Fourcade, an internist and mother of three daughters between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six, who has never been on a diet:

Diets are passé…. They are too mentally time-consuming. I don’t even think about eating anymore. I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. My body tells me. I’m attuned to how I feel when I eat well, or less well. When I make exceptions for wine, champagne, or a dessert, it’s a conscious decision and I enjoy every second.

I was right there with her for a while, but lately some of those exceptions haven’t been completely “conscious decisions,” and I end up depressed.

So what’s a “woman of a certain age” to do when dieting isn’t working? Again, Jett’s internist says:

There are two secrets: “the decision” and “apples.”

He keeps several apples in his car for those times when he’s hungry or just having a craving. And Jett’s friend Francoise never leaves home without hard-boiled eggs  when she isn’t sure healthy food will be available to her. Another friend, Anne Francoise, always keeps a bag of almonds in her handbag. Apples. Boiled eggs. Almonds. Not Reece’s pieces or potato chips or Cokes.

I remember going on a road trip with a friend who successfully lost 30 pounds and kept it off. She kept small containers of tuna in her car—the pop-top kind—so she could pop one open for a quick protein snack. She carried bottled water, and instead of stopping at gas stations (unless she actually needed gas) she stopped at state park type rest stops, which were less likely to have lots of tempting fried foods and sweets.

These ideas sounds good, except that they seem to only apply to people who actually get hungry. In her book Jett says that people eat for two reasons: hunger and pleasure. I rarely eat because I’m hungry. In fact, I love the way I feel when my body gets physically hungry, and I often do my best mindful eating in that state. It’s when I’m bored or anxious that I look to food to replace those unpleasant feelings with pleasant ones.

Another physician Jett interviewed talked about another important issue for those of us who struggle with food cravings:

An impulse lasts for twelve minutes…. She suggested that we can overcome an impulse by immediately doing something for twelve minutes, like polishing our nails, for example, or making a phone call. Mindfulness helps us identify the menace and keeps us in the moment; then we decide.

Of course I’ve been trying to practice mindfulness for some time now, but this twelve-minute impulse thing is intriguing. I often get cravings when I’m out shopping. I want to hit up a drive-thru for something really “bad” like ice cream or French fries and Coke. Or going through the checkout line at the grocery—after purchasing all healthy foods—I’ll pick up a package of mini Reece’s. Other times cravings hit when I’m alone at home and struggling about something emotionally. I try not to keep potato chips and other “trigger carbs” in the pantry for this reason.

There’s lots of other specific, helpful information in the book, but these are the gems I wanted to share today.  Forever Chic also has lots of information about skin care, hair care, and wardrobe choices, all of which I’m enjoying and some of which I’m applying. I was already on track with good hair care (and spending a fair amount of money on good hair cuts and color) but my skin care regiment needed revamping. Thanks to Jett’s wisdom, I’m making some changes that I hope will result in healthier skin.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from the chapter on healthy eating:

With few exceptions, my friends and the women I met while writing this book told me they are gourmands at heart. Translation: they love to eat and might fleetingly consider larger portions of their favorite foods if they didn’t love some of their favorite clothes even more.

Most of those women can still wear clothes they purchased ten or twenty years ago, because of impulse control and good choices. And so I continue the journey with renewed enthusiasm… less than a month before we leave for Paris!

Please share!