I broke the news to my family on a recent Sunday morning. “I need everyone to pay attention for a minute,” I started. “I have something serious I want to discuss.”
My husband lifted his head from the newspaper with that look of fear that comes over a man when you say – We have to talk. My son froze into a statue with his head tilted and his coffee cup in midair.
Taking a deep breath, and secretly enjoying the paralyzing control I had over them for that brief moment, I went on. “I’m going on a diet and I need your help.”
“Phew! Is that all,” my son said.
“What do you want us to do?” my husband asked.
“For starters, if you see me eating cookies or candy, I want you to stop me; take it out of my hands, do whatever it takes.”
“Oh no you don’t!” my son said. “We’ve tried that before and you just get mad at us. I’m not doing that anymore. I have a better idea.” Then he gathered up the jar of chocolate covered pretzels and the leftover Christmas candy and ran upstairs. “I’ll hide these up here somewhere so you can’t find them.”
“Great!” I said. But I knew I could find them if I really wanted to. I have a knack for finding things – especially chocolate things.
I remember the time I was on a diet, many years ago, and I asked my husband to remove temptation from me.
“Hide your Hershey bar where you know I’ll never find it,” I told him. “How am I supposed to stay on a diet, watching you eat candy in front of me?” My husband’s self-control is downright infuriating. It can take him over two weeks to finish a jumbo 16-piece Hershey bar, because he only eats one segment a night.
The night I asked him to hide his candy bar, there were 13 pieces left. I made a mental note of that when I found the candy the next day. I also took to memory its exact placement on the top shelf in the TV room. I was only going to have one or two pieces and then return the candy with the wrapper folded over and resting exactly how he had placed it the night before, so he would never guess that the candy had been tampered with.
I ate two little segments, covered the bar and placed it back on the shelf. Then I had two more pieces, and when I had finally devoured the entire candy bar, I had to think quickly. The kids were getting off the bus in a few minutes. There was just enough time to run out to the store and buy a new jumbo Hershey bar. I ate the same three segments off the bar in the exact pattern he had eaten them, folded it up exactly the way it had been folded and returned it to the top shelf.
Voila! Fait Accompli!
Last week, when my son brought the candy upstairs, and out of my sight,he put a small challenge in my way. But, honestly, twelve steps are hardly a deterrent when a chocolate craving strikes. The candy may have been out of sight, but it was not out of mind.
I was determined, however, not to give in to my chocolate cravings. Being older and more mature, and having gone through many diets in my lifetime thus far, I have more self-control now. I’ve picked up some skills about how to handle cravings with positive reinforcement techniques like mental imagery, self-talk, and deep breathing.
I was doing fine until the other day, when I was alone in the apartment, and something beckoned me upstairs to search through the bedrooms. It wasn’t a chocolate craving. It was the sound of claws scratching and running across on the tiled floor in the bathroom.
The squirrels! Oh My God! I thought. The squirrels are upstairs!
For weeks we had been listening to them scratching behind the walls in the attic. And from the sound of it now, I was sure they had broken through and landed on the bathroom floor. Soon they would be tearing up the bedrooms and then make their way downstairs.
Instead of running away from the sound, I headed up the stairs to see what was going on. It was already getting dark, and I couldn’t see much, but the sound got louder as I approached the bathroom. I screamed when I pushed the door open. My mind’s eye saw a bunch of squirrels scurrying around, but, in reality, they weren’t there. I stamped my feet and shouted Ha!…Ha!…, as I opened the closet, then noisily burst into the other bedrooms but, again, nothing.
I turned on all the lights upstairs and looked under all the beds, just to be sure, and that’s when I saw the candy jars – on the floor, out in the open, at the foot of my son’s bed.
I sat on his bed, trying to calm down from my squirrel hysteria, as my eyes roamed over the colorful Lindt candy wrappers. You don’t really want those, my rational mind said. I mused about my heroism as I turned over the jar full of chocolate covered pretzels, counting them, one by one, guessing how many I could take without a noticeable difference. Take a deep breath…in…out.. in…out. Don’t open that jar! my mind shouted. I had looked fear in the face and bravely searched for the enemy, in the dark, without a weapon, not even a broom, to fend off the squirrels – if they had been there.
If they had been there…oh, what a frightening thought! Didn’t I deserve a little chocolate for my heroism? Do you want to fit into a bathing suit in five months? I asked myself, and another voice answered back, Five months is a long way off! Go ahead, just take one. I started with one chocolate covered pretzel…and then I had another…
Had me worried for awhile. You and those squirrels. Just eat the candy and forget about those squirrels.
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I think I’d take the problem with the squirrels before the chocolate! The squirrels are a temporary problem. But the chocolate problem you take with you wherever you go. There are no easy answers to either issue.