Thursday, September 4, 2008

Too Many Options

I have a quote sitting on a sticky-note on my desk (actually I have about 17 of them, but they are all meaningful!) that says, "Too many options limit your commitments; too many commitments limit your options". To me this means that taking on too many activities, duties, or obligations results in having to say no to other opportunities that come along. It makes me think twice about taking on something new. I want to be sure to have the time and energy to expend on a future endeavor that I may find enjoyable or worthwhile. Too many commitments limit your obligations.

The other side of the quote is that too many options limit your commitments. When there are too many things available it makes our heads spin and we just don't know what to choose. Here are some instances of this: Which phone plan should I choose? Unlimited minutes? Unlimited texting? Family Plan? Two year contract?
What brand of jeans should I buy? Low rise? Button Fly? Flare Leg? Faded?
What flavor of coffee should I order--with or without foam? caffeine? fat? hot or cold?
How would you like to mail this? 1 day, 2 day, priority, first class? Do you want delivery confirmation? Insurance? Certified? Registered?
It's everywhere, every day. And it's enough to make you throw your hands up in the air and walk away shaking your head, thinking, "just forget it--it's making me dizzy to think about".

Supermarkets are a perfect example of too many options. If you shop in a typical grocery store there are hundreds of varieties of salad dressings, dozens of choices of coffees, even more different types of milk! These choices are a constant source of overwhelm, and make grocery shopping stressful for many people. If this is true for you, and makes eating healthy difficult as well, consider limiting your own choices.

My friend Katie is on a 'quick weight loss' commercial diet plan. She was telling me about it the other day, and how limited her choices are. She gets a special bar for breakfast, 4 ounces of chicken or fish for lunch and dinner, and a specified number of fruits and vegetables, milk, and whole grains during the day. She isn't allowed 'dark soda' or low fat dressing (salad dressing has to be a certain brand and it has to be fat free). "Why," she asks me, "can't I have low calorie dressing or diet cola?" I don't have an answer for her. I don't know why a colored beverage would affect her weight loss. I don't think having two tablespoons of low fat dressing will stop her from shedding the pounds. But I know she's dropping weight fast on this plan to the tune of about three pounds a week.

I have a friend who is a diet counselor at Jenny Craig. She tells me, "We tell people what to eat, and when to eat it". It takes their options away and they don't have to fret over all the decisions that precede each meal and snack.

Is Katie's weight loss a result of special combinations of food? By avoiding dark soda? By the magic breakfast bars? No. More than likely Katie is able to adhere to this diet because she doesn't have to make choices. She does have options, like what flavor breakfast bar to eat, and how to cook her chicken at dinner time. Same with the customers at Jenny Craig. The reason it works is they don't come home after work and walk in the door thinking, "what will I make for dinner? The number of possibilities are too much to bear--the easiest thing will be to pull out a take-out menu and order either Chinese or Italian--that's two choices and I can deal with that!"

Limiting your own options helps by taking away choices that can cause overwhelm. What can you plan in your daily diet that will help you make the best decision at each meal? Many studies show that people who eat the same breakfast and/or lunch each day find it easy to maintain their weight once they achieve their goal. Can you decide on a standard breakfast? For example, cereal and skim milk and fruit each morning? You can still have a variety of cereals to choose from so you don't get bored (raisin bran, grape nuts or oatmeal) and switch off fruits (banana or raisins or canteloupe) but you aren't faced with a mass of options each morning that leads you to decide, "donut--that's less work".

If joining a commercial weight loss program is what helps you, well, it's the end result that's most important. If you can do it yourself, that's great too. Think about some ways you can limit your options to two or three from each food group for every meal. It doesn't have to be a strict diet (like "I'll just eat tuna every day for 5 weeks"), but it can be a sensible plan that you can enjoy eating and find simple to follow ("I'll have a 300 calorie frozen meal for lunch every day with a piece of fresh fruit and a salad").
Limit your options to a few smart ones and see how this helps you, in your diet, and in your life!

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