Take a second and think about how many decisions you make per day:
- What will I wear today?
- What time should I schedule that meeting?
- What do I eat for breakfast?
- Is there time to start a load of laundry before work?
- Which bill should we pay first?
- What should I make for dinner?
Some decisions are pretty simple while others take a bit more thinking and planning. All decisions, regardless of simplicity, take some mental energy. The more decisions we make, the more mentally exhausted we become. This is called Decision Fatigue.
We make decisions about our food all the time, regardless of whether we’re grocery shopping, ordering from a takeout menu, or peering into the fridge. These decisions, along with all of the other decisions we need to make on a daily basis, can add up. Before we know it, we don’t have the energy to think about what to do for dinner and start reaching for a takeout menu.
Decision fatigue is different from feeling physically tired. For one thing, it’s subtle and you may not even realize you have it. To conserve energy, your brain will want to think of ways to make shortcuts so that decisions are as easy to make as possible. This can be why it can be more tempting to tear open a sugary granola bar than to wash and cut up some fruit for an afternoon snack.
While we can’t avoid making certain decisions, we can make that process a little easier so that we can maintain the mental energy needed to reach our goals. Here are a few ways to do that:
Get yourself ready the night before
Setting yourself up for success the night before isn’t anything new, but getting ready the night before automatically decreases the number of decisions you need to make right off the bat. Picture it: Your outfit is laid out, your overnight oats are soaking in the fridge, and your packed lunch is right next to it, ready to go.
With a healthy, delicious breakfast and lunch to look forward to, two out of three meals get a lot simpler. After being filled up with those tasty choices, suddenly, the chips in the pantry or the snacks in the vending machine may not feel as appetizing.
Plan for your most impulsive self
Remember earlier how we said that when the brain gets tired, its first response is to take shortcuts? One classic sign of decision fatigue is impulsivity. Let’s take a look at an example:
You’re just finishing your weekly grocery shopping and you get in line for the register to pay. Flashes of bright color from a variety of candies and chip bags catch your eye, and you find yourself thinking: It’s been so long since I’ve had one of those! Wonder if they still taste the same… While treats are great, it’s also good to recognize when impulsive thoughts are making decisions for you that aren’t in line with your goals and overall values.
If grocery shopping is on your list of errands for the day, or if you know you’re doing any other activity that requires a lot of decision-making (clothes shopping, event planning, etc.), then plan for what your impulsive self might do. Eat something filling beforehand so that you’re full, and be aware of when those impulsive thoughts are getting you to do something you weren’t planning.
Make your food choices as simple as possible
This is where food prep can come in handy. Having a plan for the week as to what you’re going to eat and knowing what ingredients you have can be pivotal in helping you make fewer decisions.
And meal prep can mean something different depending on what you prefer. Some people prefer to prep whole meals and have them ready to go. This works especially well with meals like veggie lasagna or black bean chili with mushrooms since they tend to taste better the next day.
If you prefer to eat meals fresh, however, there’s a prep method for that too! Having an assortment of ingredients that you can mix and match in different meals is an easy, delicious way to fit in some nutrition. For instance, let’s say that it’s the start of the week and you decide to make vegetable curry, harvest salad, and salmon with veggies. For each of these meals, you could chop up cauliflower and sweet potatoes, and you’re halfway to getting your meal done.
Of all the decisions you make, your food choices can be some of the most important in maintaining your nutrition and helping you stick to your goals. Let’s find ways to make these decisions as easy as possible and save the mental energy for something more taxing. Like taxes!