21 micro habits that make weight loss stick #19: Avoid unplanned eating.

If we are realistic about wanting to create a lifestyle approach to weight management, and about ending our binge eating, our overeating, and our emotional eating, than we are going to need to be able to make calm, in-control food choices in all kinds of anomalous situations.

Food Psychology Coach Laura Lloyd talks you through some of the common situations that throw people off the diet track, and how to prepare for them.

Life – real life – contains all these scenarios.

For better or worse, it just does.

Diets will ask you to stick to the one set of rules regardless.

Usually, these kind of changes in routine will have you abandon your self-care behaviours and just go into survival mode.

And your survival brain, the amygdala, will demand that your basic needs get met first – FEED ME!

It will also put you into a physiological stress response, called a sympathetic nervous system response, where your ability to burn fat, create muscle, and digest & assimilate food is on hold intil you’re out of perceived danger.


Different health days: 
  • Injuries that interrupt your mobility
  • Recovering from illness and surgery
  • Having your period
  • Having insomnia
  • Moods, anxiety, depression, manic-depression
Different work (& study) scenarios & the rhythm of the working week
  • Intense periods of work eg rehearsing for a show; shooting a film
  • Exams, dissertations, deadlines
  • Weekends: Friday nights, Saturdays, Sundays
  • Shift work and night work
  • Working from home when you’re used to going to the office or school
Changes to the family routine
  • Switching from school holidays to term time
  • Having toddlers who don’t sleep consistently
  • Parenting while your partner is away
  • Having a baby, breastfeeding
  • Staying in other people’s houses
  • Camping
  • Going on holiday
  • Flying and airports
Times of life
  • Changes in the weather and season
  • Puberty
  • Midlife
  • Menopause
  • Retirement
Emotional turmoil
  • Losing someone
  • Breakups and relationship conflicts
Social events
  • Visiting your parents & family occasions
  • Date night; eating as part of your relationship intimacy
  • Going out drinking; hangovers
  • Going to dinner at other people’s houses
  • Birthdays, weddings, celebrations
  • People bringing unexpected food gifts
  • Going to restaurants and cafes
  • Christmas, New year, Valentine’s, Lent, Mother’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving.
Big changes in life circumstance
  • Moving house
  • Marriage
  • Moving in with someone
  • Losing or inheriting money
  • Redundancy; Change of job or career
  • Caring for someone

You need skills to handle all of these eating situations and keep going with your food psychology journey.

  • Keep taking care of yourself. Keep feeling your feelings. Keep planning your food every 24 hours.
  • Keep making a game plan for the obstacles in each day.
  • Keep exploring the stories you’re telling yourself about the situation:

“This is awful”

“I’m such a bad worker/mother/daughter etc”

“I can’t cope”, “I’m so tired”

“They should/shouldn’t do XYZ”

Pilots have a protocol for hitting bad weather.

Here’s a pilot talking about how they handle snow, wind and fog.

“In aviation, we all strive to make sure that every situation and eventuality is accounted for – we don’t like surprises. There is, however, one issue over which we have no control; the weather. Pilots will be well trained in assessing whether it is safe to land in poor conditions; if not, they might choose to divert to another airport.”

I don’t have a fear of flying, but I certainly found it reassuring to read this.

Imagine how reassured you’d be, that you can keep losing weight and maintain your weight loss, or keep a hold of your positive eating habits and not spiral down into comfort eating and binge eating, if you had a game plan for the variables in your life.

Thinking through if… then scenarios is proven to be an effective habit change tool.

We need to be adaptable, which is why having a protocol for your top 5 scenarios is smart.

Think it through:

This is especially crucial if it’s a situation that’s seasonal, or that may last several days, eg Christmas (Holiday), or going on a holiday (vacation).

In this situation, what do I want my results to be?

  • Do I want to continue to lose weight, to maintain weight, to gain weight, to overeat or not?
  • Which parts of this experience feel special to me? Which are sacred? Which do I want to experience fully? Which am I willing to shift my thinking about?
  • What food might be available?
  • Of that, what sensible compromises will I make my choices to meet my basic needs, my emotional needs, and my greater goals?
  • What changes in meal timing might there be?
  • What preparations could I make in case I get hungry? What mental preparation will I make to stay tuned in to true hunger, and deal with that hunger calmly?
  • What emotional stressors might there be?
  • What can I tell myself when these arise? What do I WANT to feel in this situation? What thoughts will get me there?
  • Can I do anything to account for my basic needs?
  • Adequate sleep, water, food, fresh air.
  • Who could I reach out to for community?
  • In my group coaching programme, we have monthly accountability partners. We also have a Facebook group. Finding someone who can support you with your self-care is key.
  • What are the other obstacles in this situation?
  • How would my best self handle those?
  • Who else will be there and what may they think and do?
  • Can I be ready to ‘do me’ and what words or phrases might I need to be ready to say, eg to say ‘No’ to food pushers or weight loss detractors.

Next, make a food protocol.

A protocol is a generic food plan that’s ‘what I always do’.


For instance, my restaurant protocol might be:

  • I have either dessert or a starter or fries, not two of these.
  • If there’s a shared starter, I take one thing and put it on my plate. When it’s done, I put my cutlery over it. I focus on the conversation and tell myself “This is just for the taste, the main meal is coming.”
  • I check the menu in advance if I can.
  • If I can, I eat in a restaurant I already know, where I know the menu. But I don’t make others change plans. 
  • I ask for any modifications to the dish I want – dressing on the side, no butter on a burger bun, etc. In practice most restaurants are happy to accommodate.
  • I get my thinking straight about cost, waste, and getting my money’s worth.
  • I reinforce my agreement with myself to only eat when I’m hungry.
  • I order a meal with plenty of protein and veggies.
  • I order a meal I truly want, not the dish that looks cheapest or healthiest.
  • I eat slowly and am grateful for the people I’m with.
  • I go to the bathroom halfway through the meal to create a little break of up to 10 minutes. I come back and eat more if needed.
  • When I have finished, I put my cutlery and my napkin onto my remaining food and plate, so that it is clearly signalled. I don’t pick at the remains. When I’m done, I’m done.
  • I plan my drinks, I choose how many and what before the event.
  • I may decide to have a ‘wild card’ and have up to 3 tastes or bites of something unexpected – something unusual someone else orders, someone else’s fries, etc.
  • If I take food home, eg packaged up leftovers, I eat them in a planned way and not until the next day.
  • My kitchen is closed when I get home. I don’t go in there if I can avoid it.
  • I journal my thoughts about others, my fears and social anxieties, my worries about what other people think and say, and what I want to think and say about me.
  • If the occasion was successful, I journal about all that was wonderful, and what I did that contributed to its success.

A snippet from my story:

Last year, we went on a summer camping holiday for 2 weeks.

Here are some of the challenges of that situation I wanted to anticipate:

  1. As a mum, I get to share being in charge of the family’s food and what our supplies are, and what we’ll eat each day.
  2. I don’t want to get controlling about the food for everyone, but I want to feel relaxed and like my choices each day. I also want to provide healthy food for my kids so that camping and being on holiday isn’t an excuse for junk food.
  3. In past years, camping has usually involved lots of fireside drinks – beers at sunset, brandy or whiskey by the fire. I haven’t had a drink since a couple of years ago though.
  4. It’s also our summer holiday, so I want to have a sense of freedom and enjoyment.
  5. My husband loves to barbecue – cooking adventurous outdoor food such as fresh local fish is one of his favourite ‘I’m on holiday’ activities. I like this, but it can be tempting to cook enough for 4 people. I love to make big foraged salads to go with it.
  6. Sometimes camping in Britain brings really rough weather, and then we light the woodturner in our bell tent, and get cosy. I find I really crave comfort food in those scenarios.

Here are some of the strategies I tried:

  • My kids expect to have a treat every day, so I stocked up on loads of biscuits (cookies) as they don’t melt in warm weather. Of course, some days we had ice creams too.
  • I decided two ice creams a week was about right for me on a summer holiday. The kids had more than that of course, but I felt no deprivation!
  • I decided to have tea and 3 biscuits after dinner while others were having beers. Putting the kettle on the embers became a nice ritual. The biscuit supply was quite challenging and I sometimes went over what I’d planned. If I did, I journaled about it.
  • I spread out my yoga mat and did gentle fireside yoga while others were drinking. They are our friends so that was fine for me to do that.
  • I did 5 mins yoga every morning and evening. Sometimes more. Taking my yoga mat was one of the best things I did – saluting the sunrise and the stars.
  • I sat, made my coffee, ate my traditional and planned 2 squares of dark chocolate each morning, and made my plan for the day, and evaluated the day before. This was lovely time spent outdoors in my porch. I also served the kids breakfast from there while my husband had a lie-in. I did my planning in a small notebook.
  • I found a local farm vegetable stall and we got amazing fresh carrots, Discovery apples, green beans, courgettes, tomatoes and beets. Barbecued beet slices are awesome!
  • I kept to my usual breakfast, which is porridge. There were blackberries – it was lovely having fresh blackberries in the porridge each morning.
  • I bought a set of takeaway plastic boxes, and often made a salad or quinoa salad for our lunch. I also bought supplies with that in mind – pouches of rice and grains, tins of tuna. I almost never ate a bready, sandwich lunch. I sometimes had pitta breads.
  • I communicated with Chris about what we were going to cook each night. It’s a really important conversation!
  • I planned to take my running gear and go for my daily run. In practice, it only worked out a few days. Camping involves a lot of ‘doing jobs’ and I couldn’t always leave the camp and kids alone.
  • When it was bad weather, we made omelettes on the woodturner stove. Love an omelette.

Overall, I maintained my weight on my holiday. I was really proud of how I showed up.

In contrast to other years, I didn’t stress about my eating, or experience much regret.

In the past, I might have thought that I wouldn’t want to be un-spontaneous. But actually, I found making plans and having plans MORE relaxing, because it gave me security, so it kept my anxiety low.

Laura Lloyd

Food Psychology Coach, The School of Food Psychology

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Yes please!

Just a little side note from me:

Self-judgment is never even slightly helpful, people, if you want to lose weight.

It will stop you in your tracks. Self-judgment creates inaction.

I mean, we think it’s failure that’ll stymie success. That’s not true.

As Brooke Castillo says, failure is not the opposite of success. Inaction is the opposite of success.

Essentially, feeling like a human car crash because you have a lot of thoughts that aren’t helping you, and a lot of habitual behaviours bothering you, just makes it painful to look at what you’re doing, and analyse it.

Which is why we put off leaning in and looking at what we’re really doing when we’re messing up.

But when we do look at it with curiosity, it’s SUCH a relief!

It’s your ability to go into ‘data analysis’ and 'I'm learning new skills' mode that takes the drama out of your weight loss journey:

Scale gone up? Just data – which habit or skill do I need to learn next?

Mum make a snide remark about how you’re ‘getting too thin’? Just data – how can you let other people’s opinions wash off you like water off a duck’s back?

Notice that you ‘can’t’ sit down to work without a road snack to get from the kitchen to your desk? Just data – what am I thinking and feeling about my work?

Go all-out on chocolate one day, and body feels sick and jittery afterwards? Just data – what was I thinking and feeling that day? Does this information from my body change how I think about ‘how much I love’ chocolate?

Self-doubt creates overwhelm. Overwhelm stops you starting. And, once again – that inaction is the opposite of success – not failure.

Failure is very informative. Failure means you’re trying things. It increases your probability of hitting on a solution.

Laura Lloyd

Food Psychology Coach, The School of Food Psychology

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