04/11/2017 11:47 EDT | Updated 04/11/2017 11:47 EDT

You Are Not Your Cravings Or Your Unhealthy Thoughts

We all have cravings. We all want to skip workouts.

We all do the "should I or shouldn't I?" internal health debate.

You know what I am talking about: the internal push-pull that happens right before we decide to make -- or not make -- a less-than-ideal health choice. It is that moment when we tell ourselves "I shouldn't..." and then too often find a loophole that allows us to follow through on the less-than-ideal choice -- the "I will be good tomorrow so I can indulge today" loophole, or the "I worked out so I deserve..." loophole, or the "I will train tomorrow so I can be lazy today" loophole.

unhealthy cravings

I am not arguing that to be successful you need to eradicate unhelpful thoughts, cravings, and urges altogether. That goal is unrealistic and simply sets you up for failure. Having desires makes you human. I love training and I still sometimes want to skip it.

Instead, learn how to manage cravings and urges.

Embrace that you are NOT your unhealthy thought!

Just because you have an unhealthy thought -- we all do -- doesn't mean you have to act on it. How? Adopt my NOT protocol of impulse control.

The NOT protocol

N stands for note and no. When having a craving, make yourself first note the unhealthy urge (noting it inherently means you become mindful of your behaviour). Then say "NO, I will not do X. I am not my unhealthy thought. The craving or urge is not what I do, who I am, or who I want my future self to be."

O stands for understanding the why and being open to change. Work to understand what is driving the craving -- are you sad, bored, tired? Then work to change that why. The trick to changing the why is that you have to be open to modifying your life rhythms, priorities, and mindset. For example, if you are eating for an energy boost because a lack of sleep has left you exhausted, you have to be open to modifying your priorities so you can sleep. You have to be open to actually changing, not just talking about changing. Ask yourself, "Where has my current thinking got me thus far?" If you are not happy with the answer, then ACT to solve. Take small steps if needed, but take steps. Don't just "wish" for better health. Make a plan. Health is an active process!

T stands for time. Make yourself hit the "pause button" on your craving. Distract yourself. Break free of your destructive thought. Play a game, go for a walk, get involved in a fun conversation, or put together a puzzle. Anything that disconnects you from the thought.

Passivity is your enemy -- activity is your friend.

Here are two examples of how my NOT protocol plays out in my personal internal dialogue.

When I want to skip a workout I say, "Kathleen, just because you have an unhealthy thought doesn't mean you have to act on it. Your thoughts are not your destiny. You are NOT your unhealthy thought. Kathleen, you have to do something for 10 minutes. If you want to stop after 10 minutes, you can." (I always feel better after 10 minutes. Action creates motivation.)

When I want to have an unhealthy treat I say, "Kathleen, you are craving this because you are X (tired/sad/mad/bored/etc). You are stronger than this urge. Distract yourself from this desire. Do something -- anything -- for 30 minutes. If after 30 minutes you decide you are hungry (vs tired or sad) you can have a small portion of something healthy." I give myself a time delay between desire and follow through. The trick is to make sure the time delay is not passive. Passivity is your enemy -- activity is your friend.

Three final thoughts

First, I am not arguing you should never miss a workout and that you can only eat vegetables. If you want a treat, go for it -- life is short. Just use my "love it rule" and mindfully consume a small portion of something you love. Don't eat something just because it is there. Pick a treat you will really enjoy and savour it.

Second, learn how to manage your cravings, but also "set yourself up for success." When possible, don't put yourself into situations where you need to use the NOT protocol. For example, don't keep crap in the house. That way you can't overindulge when depressed. Keep a healthy snack in your purse so you don't "need" an unhealthy snack when you get "hangry" out doing errands.

Last, embody the knowledge that you are human. You have emotions -- you are not a robot -- and thus will fall off your health horse from time to time. Instead of letting this reality frustrate you, frame your fall as feedback. Use the feedback to propel you forward; get up stronger and wiser. Learn -- through falling -- how to make choices that your future self will be proud of. Live life as if you love yourself; work out and eat well because you love your body not because you hate it. Love yourself enough to demand more of yourself. Don't let yourself off of the hook; when you fall, get up, learn, and grow. Work to find solutions, not excuses. Flip your mindset. Buy into the fact that health is made, not found.

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