"When you are out, is it better to eat unhealthy or nothing at all?"
Loaded question, right?
A client, S, floated this one past me in an email after we had met for our initial consult, before we had a chance to dive into her specific plan. She's a very eager client and was looking to get started on her new way of eating even before I had developed her nutrition plan for her.
I responded: "When you're out you can easily make a healthy choice - once you know what 'healthy' actually is for you. And I'm going to give you a whole list of rules for that so it will be really easy to figure out no matter where you go (except Tim Horton's - I have yet to find something I approve of on that entire menu! *grin*)."
I met with her a couple of days later to deliver her plan and she clarified the question. She had been out at a birthday party or an event of some sort, and all there was available to eat was cakes and sweets. She found herself very hungry at the party and, given that she is a person with very good willpower, she was struggling to know whether to "answer hunger" - which is a concept I talk about often with my clients - or if she should stay away from a bad choice. Answering hunger in this case meant consuming wheat, sugar and unhealthy/inflammatory fats, a selection of ingredients I rather obviously steer people away from. (I don't care about the calories in the cake; it's the component ingredients and how they affect the metabolic processes of the body that I'm more concerned with.)
I admit: I was stymied.
"Um. Hmmmm. There was NOTHING else there to eat?"
"And you were really REALLY hungry?"
"Were there any beverages? Coffee, tea? Wine, even?"
In the end I decided that, for my purposes, answering hunger was more important than avoiding cake. In that particularly restricted situation, and given her main health concern, I'd encourage her to have some cake just to satisfy hunger - because managing hunger is the key to sustainable and effortless weight loss. Note to clients: I AM NOT GIVING A THUMBS UP TO CAKE AS A NUTRITIOUS CHOICE. It falls squarely on the "Treat" side of the balance sheet. But managing hunger/answering hunger is one of the cornerstones of the eat.simple method, and I believe it's a very, very important concept to embrace, the sooner the better.
The problem with answering hunger with a sugary/grainy thing like cake is that it's going to simply give you a blood sugar spike and then a big ol' blood sugar crash; the result of which will be ravenous hunger again, very soon (it also has implications for those who are sugar/carb addicted and are trying to detox from that particular beast). My thought was that maybe by the time you experience that crash and that next round of hunger, you'll be safely back at home or anywhere (except Tim Horton's!) where you can make a healthier, more satiating choice. The other thoughts that circled my mind: - Maybe she could have ignored her ravenous hunger for a few hours at the party, but all that does is create a very tumultuous relationship with deprivation and appetite, and I'm not down with any recommendation that relies on extreme feats of willpower. - She should have left the party and quickly grabbed something healthy to answer hunger. But asking people to leave a party is just not my style. This is your life. Birthday parties happen. Have fun. Eat cake. It's fine.
In the end, she chose to skip the cake, and left the party early so she could eat well instead. Which is an amazingly disciplined choice. My answer to the question - "Eat the cake!" - was in line with my beliefs around willpower and discipline; concepts I'm clearly not super fond of.
All this being said... I'm not 100% confident about this answer! Thankfully, this sounds like a pretty rare case: CAKE OR NOTHING. I guess I wish there had been a third option.
What would you have done?