The whole concept of lifestyle modification with diet and exercise is a practice in planning ahead. The earlier you decide to deal with excessive weight, heart disease, diabetes and other expressions of the metabolic syndrome I discussed in last week’s Healthy Eating Tip, the better chance you have of success and the more symptom-free years you can add to your life. Waiting too long means you lose the opportunity to use lifestyle modification to avoid the ramifications of the metabolic syndrome suite of diseases and have to move into just managing symptoms with drugs and surgical procedures. I see this all the time dealing with patients here at Smith County Memorial Hospital. One person I became friends with passed away recently due to metabolic syndrome-related diseases. In the past two years, this person took off more than 100 pounds by changing how they ate. We were able to talk a week before this person passed away and they expressed regret that they hadn’t made a decision earlier in life to change their lifestyle. What this person did in the last 2-3 years of their life showed great courage and altered how they passed.

Planning ahead doesn’t stop when you decide to act. Planning ahead permeates every aspect of lifestyle modification.

Anybody that has ever tried to change the way they eat or live knows that lifestyle modification is about much more than knowing what to eat and how to exercise. It’s even more than just being willing to change and having the skills and knowledge you need to succeed. You have to be able to withstand emotional and social pressure as well. Both what you eat and how much you eat are often triggered by an emotional or social event. Who hasn’t gone through a relationship malfunction and then tossed back a few pints of Ben and Jerry’s? Triggers don’t have to be negative. A holiday, birthday or any successful event that you feel warrants a celebration can also be a trigger.

You need to be ready for any eventuality or you will eventually fail!

Taking time to stop and think about possible triggers is one of your lifestyle modification responsibilities. Not dealing with what you feel may be a trigger is irresponsible and may lead to a severe setback or complete failure. I’ve mentioned before that there are many similarities between addiction treatment and lifestyle modification. Becoming addiction-free for an extended time is never “just luck.” People who are successful with addiction recovery use some of the same skills that you will need to employ to be successful with lifestyle modification.

One way I deal with the unanticipated emotional stress that triggers a binge is simply not to fight the urge to binge; fighting the urge to binge is hard for me. It’s a battle I am not going to win, so I don’t fight it. I prefer to fight battles I can win easily! Rather than fight the binge, I just change what I am binging on. Select something that is only a slight deviation from your chosen lifestyle modification dietary protocol but still satisfies your need to indulge. I have mentioned many times that I think Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream should be a food group. In my pre-lifestyle modification life, you could always find three or four pints in my freezer no matter where in the world I was! When I can’t avoid the urge to indulge in Cherry Garcia, I have bags of frozen dark cherries and very low-fat cherry yogurt. I have already decided that I will not indulge in a couple of pints of Cherry Garcia ice cream, but I will have a huge bowl of frozen cherries and a container of low-fat yogurt. That total indulgence only gives me about 200 extra calories with 2.5 grams of fat (.5 saturated). I don’t usually eat dairy products, but that is a small price to pay for avoiding the 1010 calories, 59 grams of fat (38 saturated) and 285 mg of cholesterol that is in every pint of Cherry Garcia; and I can eat two of those easily! The important thing is that I can enter into a guilt-free indulgence and jump back on the wagon without compromising my lifestyle modification process!

Everywhere I move, I make sure that frozen dark cherries and low-fat yogurt are available before I find myself needing an indulgence. Gene’s has a very nice frozen dark cherry and a few different fat-free and low-fat yogurts to choose from. I checked that out the first few days I was here in Smith Center, so I was prepared for the first crisis moment well before it happened.

I call this a “fallback position.” This is a concept the military also uses. There is always a safe and well-defended position to which a force can make a safe retreat. A responsible commander determines a fallback position and maps out how to get there beforehand, no matter how confident they are in the success of their initial battle plan! Thinking like a battlefield commander isn’t a bad way to approach a lifestyle modification!

Dark, sweet cherries and non-fat cherry yogurt are my sweet fallback position, but I also have a savory fallback position ready. Before, you have heard me say that I was raised in arguably the best town for pizza in the United States, New Haven, Conn. The rivalry between Pepe’s and Sally’s is legendary and well written about. Pizza has always been a large part of my diet. I have run kitchens that served high-volume pizza many times and opened a restaurant for an investor in Reno that featured a wood-fired oven. There’s nothing like taking home a pie you made yourself at the end of a long day! Sadly, if there is one thing you should eliminate from your diet if you are trying to eat healthier, it is pizza. Everywhere I move to, I determine what kind of healthier pizza I can make. Here in Smith Center, I use a flatbread with 1 gram of fat for an entire crust and very finely shredded mozzarella cheese. I “sweat” onions and peppers in the liquid that comes from a can of mushroom stems and pieces and add black olives. This pizza fills me up and allows me to give in to a savory indulgence. It is enough to make me happy and gives me under 240 calories, fewer than 10 grams of fat (3.5 saturated), 15 mg cholesterol, give or take and about 300 mg of sodium compared to three slices of vegetarian pizza from Pizza Hut with 600 calories, over 30 grams of fat (15 saturated), 60 mg of cholesterol and over 2,300 mg of sodium. If I binge at Pizza Hut, I will eat an entire pizza by myself–trust me–and that would give me three times the calories, fat, cholesterol and sodium that is in three pieces!

I take planning for the fallback position idea even one step further. I break it down into stages.

When hit with the urge to binge on pizza, I will buy what I need to make it and put it in the fridge. The next stage is to sweat the onions and peppers and make the toppings. You can stop right there. No law says that if you have the ingredients and have even prepped the toppings that you have to proceed and make the pizza. Sometimes just buying what I need to make that healthier pizza is enough. Sometimes making the toppings is enough and sometimes I make the pizza and eat it. If you can do it, the act of saying “no” and throwing away the crusts and cheese is extremely powerful and not all that expensive.

Don’t allow any emotional stress in your life to catch you off-guard. Be ready for the unexpected! As I am writing right now, the ingredients for making a pizza are right in my refrigerator. I don’t know what I will do with them, but I know what I am not going to do! Eating a real pizza and knocking my lifestyle modification off track is not an option! Even if I indulge in the healthier pizza, what I will face on the scale in the morning might be a guilt-free 8-ounce weight gain, if that much.

A trigger doesn’t have to be an emotional crisis of some kind. These days just watching the news can be an anxiety trigger! Plan how you will deal with inevitable emotional, social and anxiety triggers ahead of time if you are serious about lifestyle modification. Don’t forget that happy events like holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations can also be triggers. It’s okay not to be serious about lifestyle modification, but be honest with yourself and prepare like a battlefield commander if you are serious!

I am working on a platform to present video clips of things like making that healthier pizza. Look for that sometime within the next year or sooner! Make it a good week!