How to beat your mindless eating habit

We all face this choice repeatedly: Indulging with convenience or delaying gratification.

I am often surprised how my ego can assume that choosing to delay gratification — or simply denying oneself any pleasure at all — is the effortless answer to conquering mindless eating habits.

When my position is grounded in a data-point-of-one, when I believe healthy eating is a linear concept, when I’m writing or coaching from the head and not the heart, I so quickly turn into that guy nobody wants to listen to. Assumptive. Unrealistic. Distant.

And so I write to you today with an honest attempt to help you beat your mindless eating habits. I’m not going to vomit a list of dos and donts. Instead, I’m only offering a strategy that you can add to your nutrition toolbox.

This is the strategy: The Homemade Sweet Potato Fries Method.

It was born out of the fact that I enjoy sweet potato fries. However, I know that ordering them from a restaurant or even a drive through spot isn’t the best option for me. But the convenience was what kept me coming back. In a matter of minutes, I could have a bag of fresh, hot sweet potato fries in my lap and get on with my day.

I know I’m not the only one who is choked by the pressure of convenience. Since we are living faster, the appeal of convenience has only risen.

Saying no to sweet potato fries was not in the cards for me, and so I had to figure out a way to manage convenience and delay gratification. Therefore, when I want sweet potato fries, I make them at home. This means I have to buy the sweet potatoes, wash the sweet potatoes, peel the sweet potatoes, cut the sweet potatoes, seasons the sweet potatoes and bake the sweet potatoes.

In my work as an Ultra Wellness consultant, I’ve witnessed huge resistance toward eating healthy. Interestingly, it’s not because they don’t want to eat well to support good health, it’s because they don’t want to give up their favorite foods. Moreover, the thought of all work (taking the time to eat well) and no reward (saying no to comfort foods) is a framework for failure out of the gate. At some point, willpower will crumble.

This is why The Homemade Sweet Potato Fries method works well. You’re not saying no to your favorite foods; you’re simply saying not yet. Folded into this practice is a handsome list of benefits that assist in beating mindless eating habits without making your life feel like you’re perpetually in diet boot camp.


Benefits of The Homemade Sweet Potato Fries Method

1. Minimize the “what-the-hell-effect”

The “what-the-hell-effect” can be revealed for any goal-setting or willpower task, but it’s most commonly found when people are trying to improve their eating habits. An example:

You’ve been so good for several weeks but not it’s you against the ice cream that your mom brought over for dinner. It’s your favorite — chocolate chip cookie dough. You resist until you can’t, and you finally give in and tell yourself, “I’ll just have a few bites.”

Suddenly, you’re at the bottom of the pint. What happened?

The “what-the-hell” effect kicked in. Essentially, there’s an inner dialogue that played in your head that said, “I’ve screwed up already, so what does it matter if I have a few bites or eat the whole pint.”

The Homemade Sweet Potato Fries method minimizes this problem because it dramatically increases the inconvenience to over-indulge in any food. And yes, the method applies to foods beyond sweet potato fries. Whatever your “food” is, it’s likely you can make a homemade version.


2. Better management of willpower

In his book, Talent is Overrated, Geoff Calvin reveals that we have about three to five hours of concentrated work in us each day. This limitation is due to willpower.

When we are trying to change our eating habits, and we spend too much mental energy on saying “no,” we reduce our willpower tank unnecessarily. This is not only uncomfortable, but it can dip into the quality and quantity of our work. Here’s why:

Whenever we load ourselves with a cognitive self-control task (like saying no to ice cream all day), we tend to exhibit less self-control on subsequent tasks — like a muscle that’s been taken to failure, then asking it to do more work. This is analogous to a brain that’s been saying “no” to something for a long time and then asking it to think creativity and solve complex problems.

Our brains are a sub-optimal level when we enter a project, task or deadline post resistance of any temptation. By using The Homemade Sweet Potato Fries method, we are saying “not yet” rather than “no,” which preserves willpower and keeps our brains happy.


3. Practicing delayed gratification

The Stanford marshmallow experiment was a study on delayed gratification in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The test took a group of children who were offered the choice between one small reward immediately, or two small rewards if they waited 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room.

The children who opted to delay their reward and waited to receive the second marshmallow ended up having higher test scores, lower levels of drug use, lower obesity rates, better resilience, and superior social skills later on in life.

This study transcends marshmallows — it reveals how adults need to practice delaying reward too. Crumbling into immediate satisfaction is not a one-time thing.

It’s a habit that can leave a wake of destruction.

Overwhelming debt and fracturing infidelity are two examples.

When we don’t practice delaying our wants, we end up journeying a land of a thousand temptations under the illusion that we can indulge at any time with no consequence.

The Homemade Sweet Potato Fries method is one tool where we can render the impulse of instant gratification less powerful. Think of it as a push-up for your delayed gratification muscle.


Execution strategies for The Homemade Sweet Potato Fries Method

So, now that you know how the method works and all of the benefits that come along with practicing the strategy, here are a few ways to execute:


1. Start with one meal only

For obvious reasons, using this strategy for every meal is not realistic. However, picking one meal out of the week to indulge in a comfort food using The Homemade Sweet Potato Method Fries is certainly doable. This is a bite-sized strategic habit that you can look forward to during the week. For me, Saturday nights or Sunday mornings are when I use the method the most. Take a look at your week and see when it’s most appropriate for you to schedule a time to indulge in your favorite food.

Don’t stop there, though.

Once you identify when you’ll use the method, you also have to create time to buy the ingredients and allocate time to prepare the meal or treat. This cannot be overlooked. If you fail to pencil in time to buy ingredients and block off time to cook, execution will not happen; convenience (and instant gratification) will win again.


2. Indulge lavishly

This is the fun part. Research has shown that the greatest happiness levels were reported in vacationers in the anticipation period. Meaning, part of the value of taking a vacation is in the weeks leading up to it.

Like so, planning to use The Homemade Sweet Potato Fries method can yield a similar posture. Looking forward to enjoying your favorite comfort food or treat can increase your happiness and adherence to the practice.

Therefore, I believe it’s important to indulge lavishly. Use the best ingredients. Don’t hold back on quality.


3. Ask for support

Doing this alone can present a set of challenges simply because convenience has so many people by the neck. Therefore, recruit a team member to do it with you. By doing so, you’ll both have a crusade to fight for. It won’t feel like you’re the lone wolf.

Plus, research suggests that if obesity and poor health are contagious, — so are health and happiness. By teaming up with a partner to employ The Homemade Sweet Potato Fries method, you’re leveraging the power of social support.

For more on this consider this video clip from Dr. Nicholas Christakis. He voices a compelling case that our health and happiness are largely influenced by our friends:



Hi, I’m Brian McFadden.

Every week I write a few articles on health, fitness, wellness and lifestyle strategies that I share with my mailing list. No gimmicks and no spam — just me sharing my best stuff so you can you live a healthier, happier and simpler life. 

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End notes:
“Delay of Gratification in Children. — PubMed — NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information,
Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy but Does. Penguin P, 2013,
McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. Avery, 2012.
“The Spread of Obesity in a Large Social Network over 32 Years. — PubMed — NCBI.” National Center for Biotechnology Information,
“Stanford Marshmallow Experiment — Wikipedia.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, Accessed 20 Oct. 2016.