Self control and willpower are fickle friends. They are sometimes there for you when you need them, because they think you’re cute and awesome and funny (obvi) and they want you to be happy by making good healthy choices. But sometimes, they ditch you. Maybe you were kind of bitchy and you exhausted them (leave me alone, you mean nothing to me, I want this cookie and I’ll do anything for it!!) and they just can’t deal with you right now, and so you’ve landed yourself in a time out and have to sit out the next few rounds, Champ. Or you just didn’t need them for awhile because you were busy, so now they made some other plans (how inconsiderate), and you can’t get a hold of them (so rude), and you have only yourself to rely on (sigh).
For me, they’re my BFFs every morning. I start out strong with a healthy breakfast nearly every single day like one of my smoothies or pancakes or French toast. I can usually power through for about 4 hours until lunch. My buddies are there with me, helping me to choose healthy choices and plan out my nutrition. But then something happens around 3pm and they’re gone. Like, they totally ditched me (idk why omg!) because I guess I was busy and forgot about them so they set off to greener pastures for awhile. And then all of a sudden I have new best friends who want to hang out with me. And their names are Oats and Honey.
My office stocks Nature Valley Oats and Honey bars by the case. 96 packs per case. 2 per pack. Multiple cases. We. have. so. many. granola. bars. I bet if we opened them all and lined them all up they would circle around the globe. For at least, like, part of it. And there’s strength in numbers, and they want so badly to be my friends, but not like my loveable yet fickle friends; they’re more like Mean Girls. Tempting, taunting, teasing. “Come eat me! I’m right in the cabinet! Only a few feet away! Just take one bite. You can save the rest for later!” (yeah, right).
I’ve always loved granola bars. I remember my original choice, Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip Bars, which I loved growing up. So sweet and chewy and delicious. I have found other healthy granola bar options over the past couple of years. Last year I fell in love with Nature’s Path Chococonut, a chocolate chip coconut bar, and spared no chance to tell other people to eat them. “They’re amazing! You’ve got to try them! The perfect snack!!” But I ate them so often I lost all desire for them when they started kind of tasting like cereal, and then I knew my brain was playing tricks on me and I had to move on from that mess.
Then I started experimenting with my own clean versions, like my Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars. When it comes to granola bars, the possibilities are endless: they can be a great breakfast or snack; they can be chewy, crunchy, sweet, salty, protein-packed, filling, or actually not all that healthy at all. Nature Valley bars are relatively healthy, though processed and they contain some less than desirable ingredients; I try to eat clean whenever possible, so I’d prefer to avoid these. However, the most unhealthy part about them is the strange power they have over me. Calling my name from the cabinet. While I’m on a conference call or making spreadsheets. “Hey guys, leave me alone, I’m being super important right now!!” I tell them in my weird inner granola bar dialogue. And I just wish my wonderful but tough-love friends, self control and willpower, would show up again and have my back and tell Oats and Honey to F*** OFF.
The funny thing is, I only started eating these Nature Valley bars when I started working at my current job. I was never really interested in them when I saw other people eating them because they looked so hard and crunchy, not like my original chewy granola bar love. And then I tried them, and was enamored by the crunch. I have realized now that I feel much more satisfied when I eat food with a good crunch. I even bought some for my house, so I could have a little snack when I was at home. Only, something funny happened. I didn’t want them when I was at home. I would choose literally any other snack over those bars when I’m at home. Hummus, veggies, pita chips, cheese, yogurt, fruit, chocolate, you name it. I’ve had a box in there for months. They’re my last choice snack at home. But at work, they might as well be crack.
It’s funny how the situation can change everything. When I go on vacation with my family, the inn we usually stay at has a 4:30pm snack hour every day with treats like cheese, pepperoni, chips and salsa, popcorn, and cookies. It’s mostly junk food with some decent choices; however, it’s all pretty commonplace food that you could buy at any market. But it’s part of a ritual, and it’s our special vacation happy hour with our amazing family on the adorable porch overlooking the beautiful ocean with the sun shining at the end of a perfect beach day, so the cheese tastes richer and the chips are crunchier and the salsa is zestier and the cookies are sweeter.
Perhaps it’s also because it’s complimentary. As in, it feels free, even though you’re kind of already paying for it. How good would the basket of bread taste at a restaurant if they rang it up on the bill? It may still be yummy, but would it feel worth it if you were shelling out 2 bucks a slice? I don’t think I would enjoy it as much. The bread basket is usually complimentary, and it also tastes good because you’re with a friend or loved one, and you have a delicious beverage, and look at you being all fancy out at a restaurant girl! and there’s a nice server, and the promise of a delicious meal coming up, and that bread just gets the ball rolling. That bread is something special. Because it’s part of something special. But if you’re home, on a random day, with nothing special going on in your life and no one cool around, and you have to slice it yourself, is bread all that amazing? Or is it just, like, bread?
I’ve learned that if I separate the situation from the snack, I make better choices. Do I want this because I want this? Or do I want this because it exists, because it’s here right now, because it’s easy, because it’s free, because I feel fancy having a job that has little work perks, because it’s an escape from my emails and PowerPoint? Do I want this because it is what my body craves for nourishment, or because it’s part of some heartwarming ritual? Am I really in the mood for a granola bar? Or bread? Or am I just in the mood for what it’s part of, or what it will take me away from for a few moments?
If you take nothing else from this (other than the fact that I love carbs and can write entire novels about granola bars), just try to remember to ask yourself why you want to eat something when you shouldn’t technically, or wouldn’t technically, be interested in it. If you can spend a few seconds asking, “am I really hungry? Do I really want this specific food? Why do I want this snack?” it may send out a beacon to your true friends, self-control and willpower, and they’ll come to your rescue. They may sometimes be fickle, but if you practice hard and treat them right, they’ll always have your back in a way that no granola bar ever will.