Tag Archives: diet

How a Health Coach Harnessed Her Rebel Tendency to Lose 40 Pounds and Boost Her Energy.

I love hearing how people put the Four Tendencies framework to work — whether by using knowledge of their Tendency to improve their own lives, or to work more effectively with other people.

Recently, I got an email from Nagina Abdullah, health coach and founder of MasalaBody.com. She listens to the “Happier” podcast, and she told me about how she was able to eat more healthfully, lose weight, and boost her energy by harnessing the strengths of her Rebel Tendency.

This story was particularly interesting to me, because — as Rebels themselves often point out — the strategies that work for other Tendencies often don’t work for Rebels.

So I was fascinated to hear her story, and she wrote an account of it to share — which is below, with my comments in brackets.

Nagina writes:

When I was a kid, I got sent to the principal’s office on a weekly basis. While my teachers would ask the students to be quiet and obedient, I would end up in laughing fits and get sent to the principals’ office to get disciplined.

I struggled with following expectations for my whole life. As a child, I resisted my teachers’ rules. As I got older, I resisted being healthier.

See, I love food. I love sweets, fried food, food trucks, BBQs – everything that isn’t good for my waistline. I ALSO resist following the rules of having to be strict to get healthy.

My tendencies finally made sense when I took Gretchen’s Four Tendencies Quiz. I wanted to see if I was an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or Rebel.

I wasn’t surprised when I scored as a “Rebel.” Rebels resist outer and inner expectations.

After decades of being addicted to sugar and feeling unable to control my cravings, I embraced my Rebel tendencies. As result, I lost 40 pounds, skyrocketed my energy and started wearing the clothes I had dreamed of wearing.

The “Healthy Rules” I Did Not Want to Follow

After having two kids and working 60+ hour weeks, I felt exhausted and overweight, more than ever before. I needed to get healthier to feel better and have more energy for my kids.

I didn’t want to deprive myself of food I loved and I didn’t have time to spend hours in the gym.

Here are the rules to getting healthier I would regularly hear:

  • “You have to count calories, points, crumbs, licks, and drops”
  • “You must exercise 3+ days a week”
  • “No eating cupcakes, donuts, and everything else you love”

 

Even though I wanted to get healthier, I resisted restrictive rules like these.

This led to a lot of internal frustration, yo-yo dieting, announcing “It isn’t worth it!” and “Why is this so hard for ME?” [Rebels often get frustrated when they try to use the same techniques that work for other Tendencies.]

Even if I wanted to be healthier, I couldn’t even follow my OWN rules.  [Rebels resist outer and inner expectations.]

Would I ever change my habits to get healthier when I kept rebelling against the rules?

I finally got my dream body when (only when) I broke the rules.

Here’s how I broke the rules to lose 40 pounds and keep it off for now over six years.

Above All I Wanted to Be a “Rebel Mom”

Being a mom is the greatest gift, but I feared I would be overweight, exhausted and put myself last in the name of my kids, which is the stereotype of a mom I held.

That’s when I decided to be a REBEL MOM and break through the stereotype.

Here’s my vision of being the mom I wanted to be:

  • Feel confident in a bathing suit so I could swim and play in the sand with my kids
  • Run 5k’s with my kids and set healthy examples for them
  • Feel sexy around my husband
  • Go rollerblading, biking, ice skating, roller skating, skiing, snowboarding and more with my family and feel strong and agile as I am doing it

 

Having a goal of a “Rebel Mom” inspired me to be healthier.  [Rebels want to express their identity; they want to live in accordance with their authentic self; they can do anything they choose to do, in order to be the kind of person they choose to be.]

3 Rules I Broke to Get My Dream Body

I started by eating healthy, because I found that it is the most impactful thing to do. But I needed to make eating healthy enjoyable and realistic for my life and family, and that’s when I realized there were three rules I had to break. [Rebels do well to focus on enjoyment. They also often enjoy breaking rules or achieving aims in unconventional ways.]

Rule 1: “You need to eat healthy every day to lose weight.”

How I break Rule 1:

I have one “Cheat Day” a week where I eat everything I want, so I always get a “break” from the rules and have something to look forward to. A Cheat Day is KEY to losing weight if you hate following those strict diet rules. [As an Upholder and an Abstainer and a very low-carb eater, this would not work for me — but it works for Nagina.]

Rule 2: “You have to eat boring food in tiny portions so you feel like you are starving to lose even 5 pounds.”

How I break Rule 2:

Instead of making my food flavorful with heavy sauces and creams, I use spices and herbs that pack in the flavor and have natural health benefits (like anti-inflammation and reduced water retention). I feel like I’m “cheating” and indulging even though I’m actually eating healthy.

I love to add a pinch of cinnamon (lowers your blood sugar) in my morning coffee because it tastes so delicious. [Again, the focus on pleasure and choice.]

Rule 3: “You are “supposed” to eat healthy.”

How I break Rule 3:

Remember the last time you were at an airport? Temptations at every turn, with most people indulging in them? It’s HARDER to eat healthy than not!

As a result of eating healthy, I feel in control of myself, and feel like I’m rebelling against the “norms” of society. [Rebels often benefit from reminding themselves, “I’m not going to be trapped by a sugar addiction. These big companies can’t control me with their fancy marketing campaigns and crinkly packages. I’m strong, they can’t make me eat their junk.” Rebels also often love a challenge: “Most people can’t resist the goodies in an airport, mall, or store, but for me, it’s not a problem.”]

 What you can do to get healthier:

If you resist outer and/or inner expectations (Rebels resist both, and Questioners and Obligers resist one or the other), and/or you have found it challenging to get healthier, try to BREAK some of the traditional rules by using one of the methods that worked for me:

  1. What’s a stereotype you would break by getting healthier? Embrace that and make it your goal.
  2. Include one cheat day a week and eat whatever you want on those days, while staying healthy on the other days. [Very effective for some people! Not effective for others! Know yourself.]
  3. Add herbs and spices to your foods to make it taste indulgent without the extra calories.
  4. Resist the unhealthy temptations around you and feel in control of yourself.

To help you, I have a special gift for Gretchen Rubin readers. I would like to send you my three spiced late-night snacks to banish your sugar cravings forever AND a bonus recipe e-book, “7 Spicy Recipes to Help You Lose Your First 7 Pounds.” You can get these here.


What I love about Nagina’s account is how carefully she examined what works for her, what she wants, and figured out her own way to get there.

By embracing her Rebel Tendency, she was able to get the benefit of its enormous strengths. By contrast, when Rebels think they “should” be able to use techniques like to-do lists, scheduling, monitoring, or accountability, they often get very frustrated with themselves.

There’s no one “right” way, no one “best” way — only what works for you.

A Fitness Trainer Explains How She Uses the Four Tendencies to Help Her Clients to Succeed.

My book The Four Tendencies is coming out in September, and I’m very excited to have my full theory of this personality framework out into the world.

Of course, I’ve been writing and talking about it (perhaps obsessively?) ever since Better Than Before came out.

I love to see how other people apply the Four Tendencies in different contexts, so I was thrilled to read this post “Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies…and Fitness!” by Rachel Trotta  on her blog, where she writes about managing nutrition, exercise, and general health. She’s a personal trainer in New York City whose main focus is helping women reach an optimal weight, build strength, and develop a healthier relationship with food.

Given her area of expertise, I was fascinated and thrilled to see that the Four Tendencies works well for her clients. I have my theories about how to use the Four Tendencies, but the true test is how the theory works when it’s actually put into practice by other people.

(Don’t know anything about the Four Tendencies? Read a quick overview and take the quiz here, to find out if you’re an Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, or Rebel.)

I found her post so interesting that I asked her permission to re-post the whole thing:

Rachel writes:

Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies… and Fitness!

The Four Tendencies

Do you make fitness resolutions over and over, only to see your efforts fizzle out? 

Do you buy tons of tupperware for meal prep, but never cook the meals? 

Do you struggle with weight loss setbacks like vacations or special occasions? 

Do you feel motivated, but your behavior doesn’t match your intentions? 

As a personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist, I often have to ask myself the same questions about my clients – why do some people thrive and see amazing results, while others stall out and have difficulty getting ahead?

Several months ago, I read Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, and immediately some of my questions were answered. She describes the “Four Tendencies” as being the way that people respond to inner and outer expectations. As she says on her website, “Your response to expectations may sound slightly obscure, but it turns out to be very, very important.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Her “Four Tendencies” are:

  • Upholder – meets BOTH inner and outer expectations
  • Obliger – meets outer expectations but RESISTS inner expectations
  • Rebel – resists BOTH inner and outer expectations
  • Questioner – meets inner expectations but RESISTS outer expectations

You can take the quiz (and see a helpful visual graphic) to figure out your tendency HERE, on Gretchen Rubin’s website!

Why did this book change my perspective so much, and why do I recommend it to my clients now? 

Understanding how you are motivated will give you the key to unlock your personal fitness journey, because different things work for different people. We’re all motivated in unique ways. Using the “Four Tendencies” as a framework in my professional work has helped me to treat clients as individuals driven by varying internal and external forces, as well as to develop more empathy for people who struggle to make positive changes.

Now, I understand much better why some clients struggle to see progress, and I know better how to provide the specific structure that they need to succeed.

The Importance of Adherence

The reason that knowing your Tendency is so crucial is that adherence is the primary driver of results, especially when it comes to health and fitness practices.

The same practical biology applies to all people in developing athletic goals. Weight loss, for example, boils down to a calories-in-calories-out endeavor, regardless of your personality or metabolism. Running your first half-marathon requires a structured training plan that is pretty much the same for everyone, most of the time. Lowering your blood sugar levels only happens by improving your diet, regardless of whether you are Paleo or vegan.

The magic, however, of any diet or exercise plan is sticking with it. Otherwise, no matter how excellent or sensible the plan is, you won’t see results. Going low-carb or “slow-carb,” for example, only works if you actually implement the diet over a very long period of time.

Adherence is the biggest obstacle to fitness goals for most people, including my clients. Understanding your personality and your “Tendency” – whether you are an “Upholder,” “Obliger,” “Rebel,” or “Questioner” – can help you choose wellness strategies that fit your motivational framework and improve your chances of adherence. Remember, adherence equals results. If you are a “Rebel” and you pick a mode of fitness that would better fit an “Obliger,” you are setting yourself up for failure, because you will have difficulty adhering!

I’m going to go through each “Tendency” individually, and discuss my interpretation of the fitness implications of each personality type. I will include weaknesses, strengths, and suggested strategies for tweaking your routines to increase the likelihood of success! If you haven’t taken Gretchen Rubin’s quiz, take it now!

Upholder

For my few “Upholder” clients, literally any plan or structure works. These clients often quickly wean off of in-person training to become remote clients, because all they need (after a few months of improving form) is the instructions via e-mail. Once their workout is in a Google Sheet and they can track their own progress with periodic check-ins from me, they’re good to go! The intrinsic motivation is so powerful and their response to outer expectations is so strong, that they can accomplish amazing feats apparently all on their own, with just a little guidance.

One of my clients recovered from a broken foot and ran a fast half marathon in four months with only a few in-person meetings – the rest of her sessions were completed on her own, using a Google Sheet as structure for the training plan. Since then, she has run three more half marathons with no in-person meetings at all. She is now training for the New York City Marathon. She is a classic “Upholder,” and meets both inner and outer expectations easily. When she participated in one of my nutrition coaching groups, she – unsurprisingly – had very good results and lost some extra weight with no problem.

The strength of the “Upholder” is independence and self-efficacy. “Upholders” are also very good at sticking to a plan exactly as written and following instructions perfectly, which is also a recipe for good results. While “Upholders” are not exempt from the normal problems of motivation (they still benefit from group support and cues like leaving their gym clothes out for the morning), they respond excellently to a sense of internal drive as well, and can seem to have very good willpower.

The weakness of the “Upholder” can be a perfectionistic attitude and overly-high expectations. If you are an “Upholder,” I recommend that your first tactic be developing “unconditional positive regard” for yourself. Then, focus more on actions than on outcomes. Keep doing the work, without getting caught up in the future or the past. Finally, take advantage of your ability to handle a lot of information, and make sure you have a structured workout plan! There are plenty that you can download online, and I also recommend getting a friend or trainer to work out with you, just for that outward nudge of external expectations.

Obliger

I read Better than Before during one of my first nutrition coaching groups, and I was so intrigued by the idea of the “Four Tendencies” that I immediately e-mailed several of my clients to get their thoughts on their own “Tendency.”

I sent one of my clients the visual representation of the “Four Tendencies,” and she immediately e-mailed me back a two-sentence e-mail: “Obliger! 100%.” This fit my impression of her, because she had had great difficulty in losing weight in her 30’s, and nothing had ever worked for her… until she joined my nutrition coaching group. The constant e-mails, the Facebook group where support could be shared, and the one-on-one nutritional coaching finally represented the external expectations that she truly needed to adhere to a plan, and she lost weight.

Even though she wanted to lose weight, and was motivated to get healthier, she simply could not do it on her own. This is a key component of “Obligers,” in my opinion – they want it. Desperately. It is not an issue of motivation – it is a question of meeting expectations. And until someone else provides the expectations and support, the “Obliger” will not stick to a plan or make progress independently, because they do not respond to their own internal motivation. 

“Obligers” need workout buddies, personal trainers, nutrition coaches, and other external motivators. They need someone holding them accountable in real-time. Their strength is that once they have the slight pressure of an external source of expectation, most “Obligers” do a marvelous job of adhering to a program. They are loyal, flexible, consistent, supportive of others, and often learn to genuinely love practicing sound exercise and nutrition principles (even though they may not be able to do it on their own consistently).

The weakness of the “Obliger” is vacations, business trips, and family pressure – in other words, any time the external pressure to exercise or eat well is removed (or replaced by a less positive influence). My “Obliger” clients often experience setbacks on holidays or trips, because they lack an internal compass of self-powered adherence. This is especially pronounced in situations where there may be negative social pressure to overeat or be sedentary – they are almost helpless to resist the influence of others, and need continued support (check-ins, e-mails, Skype sessions, etc.) while on trips or on holidays.

If you are an “Obliger,” I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a personal trainer, joining a fitness or weight loss challenge at your gym, or participating in a nutrition support group like Weight Watchers or one of my nutrition coaching groups. Any support at all will help you access the love for exercise and eating well that you truly have deep inside!

Rebel

Ah, the Rebel. This is often the hardest type of client to identify, as far as I’m concerned. Why? When you hear the word “Rebel,” you picture someone really, really tough, with rough edges and an attitude. However, “Rebels” – in the sense of the “Four Tendencies” – aren’t usually wearing leather jackets or nose rings.

Instead, “Rebels” often present as “Obligers” – they are discouraged, have “tried everything,” never sees results, and need help.  However, the difference between “Rebels” and “Obligers” rises quickly to the surface, because an “Obliger” will follow an exercise or nutrition plan pretty accurately if you support, while a “Rebel” will inexplicably – and frequently – fall off the wagon, even if you support them.

This is because “Rebels” resist both inner and outer expectations. They not only lack internal motivation – they also do not respond to your coaching, and check-ins may actually irritate them. My experience as a personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist is also that “Rebels” rarely have access to that important, inherent love of healthy habits that “Obligers” can eventually stir up through consistency and habit.

What I have learned over time is that “Rebels” thrive on novelty, unconventionality, extremes, and anti-orthodoxy. “Rebels” who don’t love exercise do love powerlifting (or long-distance running, or hot yoga, or kettlebell training). “Rebels” who hate dieting love – and can stick to – raw veganism (or the Paleo method, or the ketogenic diet, or intermittent fasting). They love the ideas that run counter to traditional health and fitness wisdom, and they thrive on practices that set them apart from others. One of my classic “Rebel” clients was a whole-foods-only, vegan, ketogenic diet adherent. I did not impose this diet on her, and I cannot imagine that it was easy to maintain, but she thrived on the unconventionality and creativity of this lifestyle.

The potential challenge of “Rebels” is (1) finding something that works before you get so discouraged that you completely give up, and (2) not spinning your wheels with absurd or counterproductive – but trendy – diet protocols. If you work with a “Rebel” client, I want to share the main concept that I have learned: you, the coach, need to let go of your pre-conceived notions about “what works” and help the “Rebel” stick with what works for them. They may, ironically, resist your coaching, and it’s your responsibility to help steer and guide them into a plan that they can adhere to long-term, and the only time you should curb their tendencies to anti-orthodoxy is when their diet or exercise plan is truly harmful.

If you are a “Rebel,” all I can say is this: find something you love and that makes you feel good, and don’t let other people pressure you. Be your unique, creative, and unorthodox self in the world of fitness and health, and you will be an inspiration to other “Rebels” around you!

Questioner

Questioners” respond well to inner expectations but tend to resist outer expectations – that means that a diet or exercise plan needs to (1) make sense to them, (2) be fundamentally in alignment with their principles and intuition, and (3) be sufficiently flexible that they can control it and modify it themselves.

A “Questioner” may present like an “Upholder,” because of how independent they can be, but the main difference that I have experienced with both clients and myself (I am definitely a “Questioner”) is that “Upholders” are fantastic at following instructions down to the tiniest detail, while “Questioners” are extremely consistent overall while taking liberties with small adjustments and tweaks. They are confident in their personal goals, ask a lot of questions if they work with a trainer, but are not motivated to work on things that are not central to their goals. This can be frustrating for personal trainers.

My “Questioner” clients, for example, can have a bumpy road to weight loss goals, because they don’t follow instructions about nutrition if they do not perceive nutrition to be an important component of weight loss. However, once they have “locked on” to the importance of moderating their eating, they experience fantastic success.

One of my clients was very motivated by running in particular (and was training for her first half marathon), and did not need check-ins or external help in completing running assignments on her own outside of sessions. She also was excellent at making slight changes in her lifestyle to prioritize and accommodate running. However, she resisted moderating her diet for quite some time. She did not (would not, in fact) consistently track food, and did not realize the importance of diet until she had difficulty zipping up her jeans a month or two into our program together. At that point, it “clicked” that long-distance running alone would not help her manage her weight. Although she did not ever transition to tracking her food or following specific nutritional plans, she did become more aware of a few key eating principles and transformed her diet in a way that made sense to her.

If you are a “Questioner,” this is my word of caution: don’t get too caught up in finding the “right” plan for you. Pick something, stick with it, and make the modifications you need, but remember that adherence is key!

Universal Truths

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by figuring out your “Tendency,” keep it simple and remember that the following maxims apply to most people:

  • Consistency is better than intensity
  • Almost anything works if you stick with it

Self-understanding can simply help you along the path.

Rachel’s insights are terrific. I love learning about how different people interpret and apply the Four Tendencies, so if you have examples from your own experience (as a professor, doctor, sweetheart, sibling, employee, etc.), let me know!

“I Wish My 18-Year-Old Self Had Realized That Incrementalism Is ‘OK.’”

Interview: Robb Wolf.

I often write about how I eat a low-carb, high-fat diet. As I describe in Better Than Before, I experienced the “Strategy of the Lightning Bolt” after reading Gary Taubes’s book Why We Get Fat, which convinced me of the health benefits of avoiding carbohydrates — I changed practically everything about the way I ate, overnight, after reading that book. (If you’d like to listen to the podcast interview with Gary Taubes, about his new book The Case Against Sugar, it’s here.)

Because of my interest in eating low carb, I got to know Robb Wolf. Robb comes at the issues of diet, eating, and nutrition from the Paleo perspective. It’s a different philosophy of eating, but in the end, we eat mostly the same way, so it’s interesting for me to hear about it.

Robb has a popular podcast, The Paleo Solution, and he has new book that just hit the shelves called Wired to Eat: Turn Off the Cravings, Rewire Your Appetite for Weight Loss, and Determine the Foods that Work for You.

Wired to Eat emphasizes that it’s important to figure out how to eat in the way that works for you. It also discusses the importance of things like sleep and movement in trying to eat more healthfully.

As I’ve written and spoken to people about their happiness and habits, the issue of “wanting to eat healthier” comes up again and again as a habit that people struggle with; they’d know they’d be happier and healthier if they ate healthier, but they find it tough. (Sound familiar?)

So I was curious to hear what Robb had to say.

Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What’s the most significant thing you’ve concluded on the subject of habits?

Robb: This may seem a bit far afield to your readers but one of the best insights into habits and human behavior came to me when I started looking at this topic from the perspective of evolutionary biology. If we think about the environment that forged our genetics, we can get a sense of some important “hard wiring” that may seem to defy logic in the modern world. Let’s consider healthy eating as an example. It’s easy to vilify overeating, to make this tendency some kind of character flaw, but in our not so distant past it made good sense to eat anything one could find and then to REST. All organisms that move to eat follow a process called “Optimum Foraging Strategy” which is just a fancy way of looking at the energy accounting an organism must maintain to go on living. If a given critter (in this case let’s say us) consistently burns more energy than it finds in the environment…it dies. So, humans are literally wired to “eat more, move less.” This is a completely normal and even healthy state of affairs when living in an ancestral environment, but with modern culture and technology we can order a nearly infinite variety of foods to our door, and barely expend any energy at all. It is now incredibly easy to overeat and we experience a host of health problems as a consequence. This evolutionary biology perspective can help with habits in that if we are not starting a process from a perspective of guilt or shame (which is common when folks are contemplating diet and lifestyle changes) we stand a much better chance of making that process of change stick.

What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?

When I start feeling cranky and like life is working against me I have found that a few minutes of gratitude goes a long way towards making me feel better. I do this every night before bed and it is incredibly calming and also keeps me grounded in all the good things I have in my life.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

Something I wish my 18-year-old self had been aware of is that incrementalism is “ok.” For much of my life I tackled things with a perfectionist attitude and what this did is set me up for failure in anything that I was not inherently good at. If I struggled a bit at something I’d get self-conscious and default back to those things I’m good at. Not a great way to add new habits and skills to one’s life!

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

I’m pretty strongly a Questioner. I love seeking out information from folks that are better versed in a topic than I am but I tend to run their advice or teaching through the following filter: Does it make sense? When I implement the recommendations, does the process work? I rarely, if ever, dismiss something out of hand, but I will stress-test the concept and see if it holds up to scrutiny. I’m also always looking for ways to improve upon the original teaching or advice.

Podcast 105: Leave on High Note, Childlike Wonder vs. Adultlike Wonder–and What I Eat Every Day.

It’s time for the next installment of  Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: In response to our discussion in episode 102, listeners told us the different “missing puzzle pieces” they’d managed to find.

Try This at Home: Leave on a high note.

Happiness Hack: The Metropolitan Museum has introduced an extraordinary new resource: for artworks that are in the public domain, the Met makes them freely available for unrestricted use (including commercial use). Learn more and browse here!

Happiness Stumbling Block: What appeals to you more: childlike wonder, or adultlike wonder?

Listener Questioner: Fiona asks, “Gretchen, what do you eat every day?’

I talk about the fact that I’m an “Abstainer” — are you an Abstainer or a Moderator?

As I write about in Better Than Before, I was inspired to quit sugar after reading Gary Taubes’s Why We Get Fat. If you’d like to read my interview with Gary Taubes about his new book, The Case Against Sugar, request it here.

Demerit: I hate the theme of unjust accusation in books, movies, plays, and TV shows — but I unjustly accused my family of ignoring the groceries.

Gold Star: Elizabeth went to two doctors’ appointments in one day.

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin - Podcast #105

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Want to Eat Healthier at the Thanksgiving Feast? Watch Out for These 10 Types of Loopholes.

As I was working on Better Than Before, I enjoyed writing every single chapter. In the book, I identify the 21 strategies we can use to make or break our habits, and each strategy is powerful and fascinating to study.

But I have to admit, I particularly enjoyed writing the chapter on the Strategy of Loophole-Spotting, because the loopholes are so ingenious and so funny. I loved spotting and collecting loopholes.

Now, why should we worry about loophole-spotting? Because when we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes, to justify breaking a good habit.

However, if we spot these  loopholes, we can  reject them.

Holidays are a time when many of us face challenges to the good habits we want to maintain — and because holidays tend to involve lots of food and drink, those habits need special attention at that time.

To help you recognize loopholes you might be invoking, here’s a list of some popular ones that are often heard around Thanksgiving:

1. False choice loophole

“I can’t do this, because I’m so busy doing that.” “I can’t go for my usual 20 minute walk, because I have to get ready for guests.”

2. Moral licensing loophole 

“I’ve been so good, it’s okay for me to do this.” “I’ve been eating so healthfully, it’s okay for me to eat anything I want today.” Or conversely…

3. Tomorrow loophole

“It’s okay to skip today, because I’m going to do this tomorrow.” “It’s okay for me to drink as much as I want today, because starting tomorrow, I’m not going to drink for six months.”

4. Lack of control loophole

“I can’t help myself.” “A considerate host wouldn’t have served something so tempting.”

5. Planning to fail loophole

“I’ll just stand here right next to the dessert table, because the other room is so crowded.”

6. “This doesn’t count” loophole

“It’s Thanksgiving!” “We’re out of town!”

7. Questionable assumption loophole

“These cookies are healthy. Look, they’re gluten-free.”

8. Concern for others loophole

“If I don’t drink wine with dinner, other people will feel uncomfortable.” “I have to eat seconds and thirds of everything, or my host will feel insulted.”

9. Fake self-actualization loophole

“You only live once!” “I have to do this now, or miss out forever.”

10. One-coin loophole

“What difference will one meal make, over the course of a lifetime?”

Of course, sometimes we do want to break a habit—say, as part of a celebration. A very effective safeguard for that situation is the planned exception, which protects us against impulsive decisions. We decide in advance how we want to behave.

We’re adults, we make the rules for ourselves, and we can mindfully choose to make an exception to a usual habit by planning that exception in advance. That’s different from saying, “Yay, this loophole means that I can break my habit, I’m off the hook.” We’re never off the hook. Everything counts.

One good question is to ask yourself, “How will I feel about this later? Will I think, ‘I’m really glad I had a piece of my grandmother’s famous pie. I only get that once a year, and I’d hate to miss it.’ Or will I think, ‘Shoot, I’d been on such a roll at cutting out sugar, and I blew it to eat a piece of my grandmother’s pie, which I don’t even like.’”

What are some of your favorite loopholes?

#1 is my personal favorite. Have you found any good ways to avoid invoking them?

Better Than Before includes many more examples of loopholes, and how to avoid using them. Gosh they’re funny. To learn more about Better Than Before, you can…