By Brandon Roberts, PhD

The Cookie Conundrum

We all have those days; the days when we walk past the office lounge and see a box of cookies sitting out.

“Just one won’t hurt,” we tell ourselves.

However, deep down we know that one really means three.

Those three cookies could lead your clients to completely alter the rest of their day. It could have them fall off their nutrition plan, or even skip their workout. Our love of sweets and salt is deep rooted. It’s often one of the hardest to resist. That leads us to this question:

  • How do we stop our clients from these temptations? Do we just tell them, “You can’t have cookies!” or do we find an alternate method?

Most diets tell us what not to eat. Yet, as trainers we know to focus on the positive – so why would we focus on the negative when talking about food?

We want to help our clients build sustainable habits, not scare them from eating a certain food group.

We want to build a healthy relationship with food just as we want to form a healthy relationship with exercise.

If we teach our clients how to be patient, we can let them have that cookie. If we tell them to take one, wrap it in a napkin, and walk back to their office before they cram it into their mouth – maybe we can we can help them to not eat three or even any at all.

Sometimes, the act of hesitation can be enough to fend off a craving.

Depriving foods is an uphill battle because we’re fighting against ourselves AND our environment (Polivy, Coleman, & Herman, 2005). If we can take ourselves out of an environment physically that’s half the battle. If we can’t leave the room, we should try to pause and reflect before eating so we can mentally process what’s happening. Most cravings are fleeting.

When we’re talking to our clients about dietary choices we want to teach them how to create separation between when they see food and when they start to eat it. Ideally, in time, you can get them to pause and reflect to decide if they really want it or if it’s just a fleeting desire.

Not every cookie is a bad one. In fact, if part of the goal is to have a healthy lifestyle then why not fit something into your diet rather than out of it. For example, let’s say you allot yourself a treat every day. If you’re eating adequately and this doesn’t create a caloric surplus, then there’s really no harm. It may just mean you have a lighter dinner instead.

These two tips: 1) reflecting before eating and 2) working your favorite food into your overall plan can be incorporated into daily habits, but I saved my favorite tip for last.

Friends & Food

Life is always better with good food and great company, but what if company means eating more food? It appears that’s the case, according to one study by De Castro published in 1994. We tend to match the speed at which others eat and consume more if there are additional people with us. So, be aware when eating, ordering, and enjoying time with your friends that you may be more inclined to order dessert, another drink, or an appetizer just because they are with you.

Restaurants pack all types of fat and calories into your food – your goal is to enjoy the food but be conscious of what’s hiding in it.

Chefs don’t care about your nutritional goals. They just want to make the food taste good.

What are some things we can do when eating out?

  1. Choose dishes without dressing/gravy on them. There are tons of calories in gravy/dressing. If you still want to enjoy it - order it on the side and modestly dip your fork in it while eating.

  2. Choose lean grilled meats like turkey or chicken. That burger may have 50+ grams of fat, add in the fries and you’re could easily be looking at over 1200 calories.

  3. Replace your side item with a vegetable. Be careful, some places cook veggies in oil or butter.

  4. Box-up half before you start. This way you won’t be tempted to be in the “clean plate club.”

Keep in mind that you can still fit restaurants into your overall nutritional plan. It may mean that you choose somewhere that you know you can order a health-conscious dish. Ultimately, keep in mind that it’s more about the total number of calories you’re consuming versus one specific meal or “bad” food.

Hopefully these tips can help your clients make some small changes for big results. Please comment with any tips that you want to share!


Polivy, J., Coleman, J., & Herman, C. P. (2005, October 31). The effect of deprivation on food cravings and eating behavior in restrained and unrestrained eaters. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38(4), 301-309. doi:10.1002/eat.20195

De Castro, J. M. (1994, September). Family and friends produce greater social facilitation of food intake than other companions. Physiology & Behavior, 56(3), 445-455. doi:10.1016/0031-9384(94)90286-0

Brandon RobertsBrandon Roberts is a strength & physique coach, scientist, and fitness writer. He works with The Strength Guys to help athletes perform better using an evidence-based approach. He contributes to numerous fitness websites while also publishing in peer-reviewed academic journals.