Thursday, November 05, 2009

Good Mental Health Guideline 1: Make Choices Consciously

I was inspired by the Good Health Guidelines series to offer my own "Good Mental Health Guidelines" as a little spinoff series. The first one is all about choice.

Some programs "work" by offering very few choices: They offer set, prepackaged meals or severely restrict food groups or declare certain things off limits. Those plans may have appeal for people who feel overwhelmed by their food choices or who have serious problems limiting their intake once they start eating a certain food.

On the other hand are programs like Weight Watchers, which offer more flexibility. You notice that the Good Health Guidelines are called "guidelines" and not "rules" or "laws." On this program, your points allowance is like a bank account, and you are given the freedom to spend them however you'd like, though following the Good Health Guidelines and Filling Foods lists are offered as a roadmap to making healthy choices. You can still lose weight by eating low-points junk food, but Weight Watchers does not recommend this (and neither do I). Some of the guidelines are very loose, like "choose whole grains whenever possible." It's always possible to choose whole grains. It may not be easy or practical, but it's possible. I think that these guidelines are kept purposely general, in the hopes that people following the plan have some idea of what is appropriate and have some measure of good judgment about what is healthy. I think the fact that there is this level of trust is reassuring. Weight Watchers has faith in us! We are smart and can figure some of these things out for ourselves.

A friend told me recently that Weight Watchers didn't "allow" her to eat white bread, and I think she had the whole grains guideline in mind when she said that. I don't think that it was the intention of this or any other guideline to make food choices off-limits. Even sugar and alcohol are allowed, Weight Watchers just suggests that you "limit" them. They don't even give a guideline of the limits they have in mind. Even if you get serious about following all of the GHGs like I did last week, there are still some "play" points left in your budget for favorite foods that might not fit within those guidelines. Cashew butter and mini Kit Kats are not listed in the GHGs, and I was still able to have both and fit within the guidelines. I didn't have a whole bag of mini Kit Kats last week, I had two.

I would have a very hard time sticking to a plan that didn't allow me to have my most favorite foods. I have learned what sacrifices are okay with me and which ones I am not willing to make. For example, I don't care how "possible" it is, I still don't choose whole-wheat pasta very often. I grew up loving regular spaghetti, and I'd rather limit my portions of the real thing instead and have it less often. I definitely will never accept spaghetti squash as a substitute. I'd rather make my sacrifices in other places. I am totally fine, however, substituting water or iced tea for the sodas I used to have at restaurants. Before the Halloween candy, I can't tell you the last time I bought a candy bar. I almost never have fast food, and I don't miss it. But I won't give up my real peanut butter, no matter how good some people think PB2 is.

The most important choice to make consciously is the choice to lose weight itself. No one is forcing me to do this. I chose to do Weight Watchers because I think it works for me. I try to keep that in mind when I'm feeling resentful at small portions or the high point value of some of my favorite foods. This is a game I am choosing to play, and I choose whether to follow the rules, bend or break them, or whether to stop playing. Just remembering that it was a choice makes it easier somehow.



  2. Thanks for posting that!


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07