Eat that doughnut now, suffer the consequences of a sugar crash later. Impulse decisions can mess with your long-term diet and exercise goals, so it’s important to think about your future self and be mindful.

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On Nutrition

We humans tend to be shortsighted creatures, often acting to satisfy our immediate wants rather than our longer-term wishes. That may have served us well back in the days when we had to be on alert for saber-tooth tigers, but not so much today if you fancy the idea of living long and living well.

Do you tend to act without thinking, or do you use advance planning and forethought to guide your decisions? Some people are more wired to be impulsive than others, predisposed to quickly react to internal stimuli (like hunger or emotion) or external stimuli (like food advertisements, being in a food-related social setting, or simply seeing food) regardless of the consequences. When you frequently have impulsive reactions to food, this can work against what you really want for your health and well-being. Here are three tips to start making more thoughtful food decisions:

1. Practice mindful awareness. In other words, if you are making an impulsive decision, be aware, in the moment, of what you are doing. Clearly and objectively seeing behavior patterns that aren’t serving you well is a necessary step in the path to change.

2. Avoid self-judgment. It doesn’t feel good to be judged. Self-judgment can lead you to stick your head in the sand and ignore the reality of the behaviors you would like to change. Everyone has something they would like to change — show yourself some compassion.

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3. Shift your focus. For example, weigh the immediate desire to finish the French fries with how you want to feel after the meal (intermediate desire) and what you want for your health (long-term desire).

I was explaining this concept to one of my tech patients recently, and he said to me, “Oh, future self.” Apparently, writing code for your “future self” is also a concept that web developers use, since writing convoluted code means their future self will have to struggle to read it. Considering what your future self would want you to do can also guide you to make in-the-moment choices that benefit long-term health:


Impulse: Hit the snooze button instead of going for a walk. Think about how the walk will make you feel more energized and ready to tackle your day, and how regular, consistent physical activity will help you stay strong and vital with age.


Impulse: Dine out instead of cooking a healthy dinner. The more you eat out, the harder it is to eat healthfully, so consider the long-term effects of acting on this particular impulse frequently. Also, consider the financial impact.


Impulse: Grab a doughnut from the office break room (which you only spotted because you were refilling your water glass). Think of the benefit of avoiding a sugar crash, maybe choosing a more nutritious snack if you are actually hungry. Remember that there will be sweet treats in your future, if you choose. Why not save that indulgence for a time when you can plan for it and really sit and enjoy it?


One patient recently told me how well this works for her, much to her surprise. When she feels the impulse to keep eating delicious food even though she’s getting full, or skip cooking in favor of takeout, she thinks about how she wants to physically feel afterward. This guides her to make decisions that ultimately serve her health and well-being, without feeling deprived. Making choices for the long-term does not have to mean being miserable in the moment!