It is a truth universally acknowledged that bringing lunch to work is one of the best, smartest, most healthy choices a person can make.
Who among us hasn’t pledged to ‘do better’ and schlepped a Tupperware full of under-dressed lettuce across town, truly believing that come noon we’re going to eat that plastic box of leaves and enjoy it?
When I was a classroom teacher, I’d do this all the time. In a valiant attempt to save money and eat healthy, I’d trundle my salad from my apartment to my desk.
At noon, I’d open my desk drawer, see that salad, stand up and walk next door to Sun Foods and buy:
1. A bag of Cheetos (the crunchy kind, not the puffy kind)
2. A small can of Mr. Brown’s canned coffee
3. A ‘kempswich’ ice cream sandwich which is the best ice cream sandwich on the market don’t @ me
Now, if you’re keeping track, this ridiculous lunch neither made me healthier nor saved me money. In fact, it pretty emphatically did the exact opposite.
You know what I should have done? BROUGHT A LUNCH I ACTUALLY WANTED TO EAT.
The fancy, psychologist-sanctioned term for what happened here is ‘ego depletion’ – the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up.
I call it “the trap of the overly virtuous lunch.”
See, I was asking too much of myself – I was asking myself to eat something I didn’t particularly like (I don’t like salads) AND I was asking myself to skip going to lunch with my fun, lovely co-workers.
I added insult to injury – denying myself doubly, which then backfired and led to me spending $9 a day on junk food and canned coffee.
So how did I solve this problem? I started bringing lunches I actually wanted to eat: couscous with crunchy cucumbers and lots of feta. Pad thai. Vegetarian chili and a little bag of Fritos for dipping.
And you know what happened? I stopped spending $9 a day on ice cream sandwiches and canned coffee.
But overly virtuous lunches aren’t just lunches, they can show up anywhere in our lives.
- Going “no spend” for six months and then freaking out, falling off the wagon, and spending all the money you saved.
- Dragging yourself to the gym at 5 am, seven days a week, to do a workout you totally hate, only to injure yourself and never, ever go back.
- Giving up tv and social media completely, try to make yourself like knitting and puzzles when you really love Netflix, fail and then binge watch movies for four days.
What if you just found ways to get where you want to go in a way that’s actually enjoyable?
What if you stopped denying yourself everything, ever and gave yourself a release valve so you could stay the course in a sustainable, enjoyable way?
What if you admitted to yourself that you don’t actually like salads that much but you’d be very happy to eat pasta and roasted veggies for lunch?
It’s totally possible to get where you want to go without eating a single “overly virtuous lunch” – whatever shape that takes for you.