Considering the Priority of Food in Your Life

I felt it was a personal breakthrough several years ago when I realized that a key to managing my weight was considering the priority of food in my life. I’d been hearing forever about how I should define my “relationship” with food, learn to “savor” food and eat “mindfully.” Any discussion of weight loss was always about what you can and can’t eat. It struck me that all this emphasis on food was likely to have a counterproductive effect. I struggled with thoughts of food filling my head as it was. I wanted to be LESS concerned with food in my life. I did not want to devote more time and effort and brain capacity to how I felt about it, what it meant to me, what my relationship to it was, or what it symbolized in my life. I wanted it to just be food.

Getting Things Done by David Allen is a popular book about productivity that has attracted a significant following. The GTD method focuses on identifying and managing priorities so that you can get the “to-dos” of your life under control and free up time for what you’d rather be doing. In my own book, I discuss that when we struggle with weight, food can seem to take up way too many resources in our lives and we need to re-assign its priority. David Allen’s Five Steps for getting things done through prioritizing can be modified a bit to get the reins around the status of food in your life. Here’s my interpretation of this popular method for time management:

Step One: Capture. Gather up all the information you can. David Allen describes this step as collecting everything that has your attention. At this step, you’ll look at how food has your attention. For establishing the status of food in your life, use the Eating Behavior Survey. This is not intended to be a “food log” as we usually think of those things but rather as a means of getting a detailed picture of the role food plays in your everyday life. You’re looking for your patterns and the volume of time and resources you are extending to food on a daily basis.


Step Two: Clarify. Look at the patterns and determine what actions could be applied. Is there something you’re doing every day that you could be doing differently or stop doing? Are you going to the grocery store frequently and devoting large amounts of time to food planning, shopping, organizing, preparing, cleaning, etc? Are you spending more money on food than you thought you did? Process what is taking up your attention and determine what could or should be changed.

Step Three: Organize. Write down what you will do to address what you noted in Step Two. Generally, I advise substituting habits with a similar structure for what you’ve been doing so that you’re more likely to be able to adopt a new habit that works for you. I also advise acknowledging what obstacles, barriers, or excuses you know you face and figuring out how to short-circuit them.

Step Four: Reflect. David Allen advises staying on top of how you’re doing. I advise that you look carefully at what’s working and what’s not. Keep doing what’s working and quickly act to change what’s not. If you’re not getting a benefit from a change, you won’t stick with it.

Step Five: Engage. This final step is described as “Simply Do.” Move forward with the approach you’ve put in place. I advise making careful note of what you’re experiencing and use that to decide what to keep doing. It’s sometimes even more effective to identify what to stop doing.

Over the past year, I’ve heard from many people who’ve told me about the changes they’ve made in their lives after reading my book. The two most often mentioned changes were making the time to cook more and making a habit of regular exercise. Some folks started a specific regimen; others brought more physical activity into their everyday, like doing errands on foot, walking home from work (even just part of the way), or playing outside with their kids.When they found changes that worked, they became the new regular routine and, as the months went by, folks realized their weight was down and they were feeling better overall.

We all want to bring positive change into our lives but we’ve got to take a realistic approach. Just being motivated or focusing on desired outcomes doesn’t really get the work done. And more than anything, you deserve to experience a positive benefit from what you do or there’s really no point. It won’t last, no matter how well something might have worked out for someone else.

Nothing works unless it works for you.