Permission to Be Bad


My thoughts five years ago: Hmmm, I should run a marathon.  That will get me into shape. Reality: I didn't lose a single pound.  I ate more food during marathon training than I ever have in my life.

Every Saturday morning, I would meet my running group out by the canal for a long run.  Early in the season the training was bearable.  I could finish a 6-mile run in a little more than an hour.  Not so bad.  Then the runs started getting longer.  10 miles... 12 miles... 20 miles.  As the stark white canal path stretched in front of me, I thought often of one thing that motivated me to finish the run.

Breakfast.  A really big breakfast with an omelet, a bagel with cream cheese and some coffee.  Heck, I just ran 18-miles.  I need to replace those calories I just burned off.  And replace them, I did.

While I am not currently marathon training and I know that many people have no desire to even run a marathon, this principle of doing something a little naughty after committing a healthy act is actually very common.  It's even been named by psychologists as "the licensing effect."  The licensing effect can apply to anything from moral behavior to dieting.  Simply defined, it happens when people give themselves permission to be "bad" because they have engaged in a "good" behavior.  Stores actually use this tactic a lot.  For example, sales that guarantee to donate a certain percentage of that days purchases to a charity. Why do they do this?  Because customers are known to spend more if they they are committing a good act.

I like to think my twisted relationship with the scale has to do with the licensing effect.  Whenever I see that I lose weight, I unconsciously give myself permission to have that caramel frappuccino or eat that entire plate of french fries.  Have you had a problem with this?  I found that staying off the scale helped me diminish the licensing effect which made me successful in losing all of my baby weight in the past three months.

Do you sabotage yourself when pursuing your health goals?  Here are some tips that I have found effective:

Acknowledge what you are doing.
After a really hard workout, do you usually give yourself permission to have that large enchilada meal and margarita? (I'm talking from experience here)  If so, just notice that you are trading in the good work that you have done for a not-so-healthy indulgence.  That just might be enough for you to choose the tortilla soup and salad instead.  (Now, I'm hungry.)

Allow yourself one major indulgence a week
And I am talking MAJOR.  When I was doing Weight Watchers, I would attend meetings every Wednesday night where I weighed in for the week.  After that meeting, I drove straight to my favorite frozen yogurt shop and loaded up 6oz of cheesecake yogurt with brownies and caramel.  I didn't track it.  It was the only time I didn't track my food all week.  The rest of week I noted everything I ate and stayed within with my limit.  I lost 20 lbs and I always looked forward to Wednesday nights.

Find a healthy treat you love
I love avocado on toast with salt on top.  Something about it is so decadent and yet it is very nutritious.  Same thing with carrots or bell pepper strips with hummus.  Grapes are amazing inventions as well.  Find that thing you like and eat it regularly.  May I suggest some Banana Ice Cream?

Only do exercise you enjoy
Exercising is supposed to be enjoyable.  Strange concept, I know.  I like running.  My husband does not.  He thinks I torture myself every time I step out the door.  He likes going to the gym to lift weights.  I see that as monotonous.  While we will never be training partners, we each know how we like to workout and we do it.  Find something you like and start doing it.  Make sure that when you start, its at an intensity that you find enjoyable and doesn't seem like hard work all the time.  When I was marathon training, I was honestly not in good enough shape for 18-miles to be fun.  I saw it as hard work and therefore felt the need to reward myself. So take it slow and have fun with anything you choose to do.

What tips do you have?


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