High noon at the pantry door

If you are one of those naturally fit individuals who can eat whatever you want and not affect your figure, fitness, or mood — I feel sorry for you. To suffer the dirty looks of your friends and family must be too much to bear, even as you wash down that double cheeseburger with a milkshake, chased by a fudge brownie.

At least that’s what I’d like to tell myself — and my wife, who is not that far from the above.

For the rest of us, we have to consider carefully what goes in us, and whether we’ll be paying off those calories with the right amount of exercise. And no, mixing quinoa in your brownies doesn’t count, any more than having a Diet Coke with that double burger and fries.

One way for me to assert some diet control (and to avoid the treadmill for a few minutes longer) is to do a pantry inventory. The idea really stems from a couple of guiding principles:

  • Don’t go on “a diet.” Eat what you like — but of course that means redefining what you like.
  • You know the saying, don’t go to bed angry? My corollary to that is, don’t go to the grocery store hungry. (Or angry, for that matter. Takes up energy, which needs calories to replenish).

I can personally confirm that my “resistance threshold” is much lower when I go to our local market hungry. All of a sudden, every variety of junk food seems like a spectacularly good dietary choice. I once looked down into the cart and realized that at every stop I was supposed to make — for milk, eggs, vegetables, meat — I had picked up “companions” from those aisles as well: malted milkshake, ice cream, gourmet cheese (right next to the veggies, unfortunately), even fried chicken.

Obviously, those marketers know a thing or two about selling things by co-locating items we want with those we need. So we consumers should know a bit about buying things. The simplest part is to not shop hungry. It’s remarkable how unappetizing that fried chicken looked after I had a normal dinner.

The next part is to make sure the time between meals — the danger time — isn’t spent standing at the kitchen pantry, dipping into those chocolate-covered cashews, alternating with deep swigs of store-bought iced mocha (a total of 500 calories — a Big Mac has 550, in case you were wondering).

My advice? Check out the pantry just after you’ve had a nice filling meal. Look at the shelf you tend to reach into the most for your cravings, and start tossing out or recycling the junk food. Make a list of foods you would like to allow yourself for snacking. For some ideas, check out online resources from realsimple.com or try some old favorites: perhaps some regular or Greek yogurt with some fresh fruit or granola stirred in. Alas, not all Greek yogurt is the same: check out a handy calorie counter to compare just about every product out there.

So once you do a good pantry inventory and arrange the healthy snacks you think you should have, what happens when you get hungry and find your favorite sugary snack foods missing?

Well, here’s a third principle I’ve learned from my own behavior: My laziness is greater than my hunger. In other words, I’d rather eat what I’ve laid out for myself than head out to the store to pick up those snacks I miss. And after a few days of this, I naturally adjust to the absence of my original craving.

And when I need some extra help, I talk to our own Gabrielle Snyder-Marlowe, chef extraordinaire and sharer of healthy recipes.

So what is your craving or guilty pleasure that you need to confront? Meet it head on — high noon at the pantry — and whether it’s peanut-butter-dipped Oreos, fried Coke (yes, it’s a real thing) or bacon-wrapped bacon, you’ll be happier when it’s gone.