Think about the perfect french fry. To you, it might be thin and crispy with a hint of salt. Or maybe it's a thick-cut fry with a soft center. We all have a unique idea of the perfect french fry or the perfect chocolate chip cookie or the perfect plate of pasta.
But how often do you come across imposters of your favorite version of your favorite treat? The versions that leave you thinking, that was okay but not nearly as good as when I get them from that other place.
Here's the problem - we are conditioned to know and like high-salt, high-fat, and high-sugar foods (see article on hyper-palatable foods). We have fond memories of these foods and we label them as a "treat" or a "guilty pleasure" and try to eat them in moderation - usually unsuccessfully.
So instead of trying (and failing) to say no - try saying yes! But only to the absolute best version of your favorite food.
How To Implement the French Fry Principle
Let's say you're ordering take-out and you get a sandwich. You can get a side of french fries or a side salad. Ask yourself, does this restaurant serve unequivocally the best french fries in the world, or are they soggy and lackluster - especially when they're not fresh?
Being purposeful about our indulgent food choices can help us feel less guilty about eating and ultimately make better eating choices.
If we are able to turn down this piece of apple pie because next week grandma is making her homemade apple pie we are choosing the treat on purpose and not out of convenience or immediate satisfaction.
Think about the last time you ate something you consider to be unhealthy. After you finished eating, did you think about how much you enjoyed it?
I recently spoke to a friend who had baked a decadent birthday cake for her sister. She told me that she had eaten 2 and a half slices, to which I replied, "was the tenth bite as good as the first?"
"Yes. Every bite was absolutely delicious" she replied.
"Well, in that case, I don't think you have anything to feel bad about. It's the French fry principle."
This is a great example of when it's worth it to go above and beyond - a special treat that gives you satisfaction from beginning to end.
But what about the foods we eat and then wish we hadn't because it wasn't "worth it"? Many store-bought cookies, crackers, and baked items are designed to keep us eating but not always enjoying.
Next Time You Face a French Fry
Controlling our eating behaviors starts with making cognizant choices instead of letting cravings, cues, and convenience get the best of us. Raise your awareness around indulgent snacks and meals to replace instinct with thoughtfulness.
Below are a few questions you can ask yourself the next time you are face-to-face with a hard-to-resist food item:
Is this [food item] prepared just the way I like it?
Would I rather have [food item] from a different restaurant or make it at home?
How will I feel while I'm eating [food item]?
How will I feel after eating [food item]?
Will I have another opportunity to eat a better version of [food item] at a later time?
Consider walking through the answers to these questions next time you feel tempted by food. You might be surprised at the results of your analysis. Going through this process may also help you to eat your treats slowly and more mindfully knowing that you want to enjoy every bite.
See for yourself how this perspective can change your eating habits instantly. Give yourself the power to say no to foods that just aren't worth it and savor the foods that are.