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Finding Your Baseline Guide

As a culture, we have a tendency to define a baseline as a do-this-not-that line in the sand that you then use your willpower to maintain. But we all know by now that willpower doesn’t work. So while it’s tempting to come in guns blazing telling yourself that your baseline will be to forgo carbs every single day, never have cake again, and become a kale person, that’s not the tactic we’re going to suggest you use here.

Instead, we’re going to recommend building your baseline by embracing your current reality and strengths with an acceptance-based approach. When it comes to changing difficult patterns, research shows us that acceptance is more effective than willpower for long-term weight health. This is because acceptance, as a strategy, works with reality. Acceptance is about meeting yourself where you’re at and harnessing what’s already working instead of wrestling with what you’re working toward. Sounds a lot like “mostly good,” right? An acceptance-grounded baseline is simply a baseline built on things that currently come easily for you. 

Why does this matter? Because when something is easy, you can feel confident about it—and when you feel confident, staying in control is simple, no matter what life throws your way. 

How to create your baseline

As you continue to embrace yourself as a sometimes-triumphant, sometimes-struggling human, start considering a strategy for the toolkit that will become your baseline. Ultimately, you want tools that frame your journey to weight health as an adventure. As you test and consider them, try to steer clear of a deprivation mentality (“I can’t have what I really want”) and instead adopt an exploration mentality (“I wonder what new feelings and experiences I will have when I take these actions”). This is important because deprivation requires willpower, while exploration just needs a willingness to try.

We’ll have you actually choose the tools for your baseline in the “Make it your goal” section, but for now, just take a few minutes to read through the framework you’ll use to do this.

Start by establishing a set of “always” rules. These should be constants that you know you can easily apply, no matter the circumstances. One great example that illustrates how simple they can be is to always have a full glass of water with anything you eat. Sticking to the portions in the Portion Primer is another no-brainer tool. In fact, an easy way to generate a solid list is to go through the habits you’ve learned in the program so far and select the ones you feel you’ve confidently mastered for your list.

Once you’ve come up with some core general habits, try to think of others that really complement who you are and your unique tendencies and challenges. If mindfulness works well for you, for example, you can try something like, “always pause for ten minutes before choosing to eat red foods.” This will be more of an ongoing, iterative process than the above—don’t pressure yourself to have a bunch out of the gate.

Now, take some time to go a bit deeper and define substitute actions for your most vulnerable states. We’ve listed some approach strategies for common circumstances below. Think of each as a category underneath which you’ll list relevant tools that extend beyond your “always.” If there are other categories that feel important to you, include those, too. 

  • When you’re out at a dinner or an event (a situation in which your control over the what and the when is very limited), your tool is to have an ahead-of-time plan for how much. The Portion Primer is obviously always your starting point. But beyond that, if one option is less healthy—say the protein or carb is a red food—know in advance what you’ll do. For example, it might be doubling up on vegetables and skipping the red food entirely (keeping a pack of nuts in your bag or pocket can provide a quick-hit protein snack if you like this option, but worry it’s unsatisfying). Or it could be to lean into “mostly good” and eat a small portion of the red food. The key is to have your strategy in place ahead of time. 
  • If you’re eating in a restaurant (and here’s a link to our Dining Out Guide, too), read the menu online in advance. Make your choice, and (here again) have a plan for portion control. You can even call the restaurant and ask questions (like, “how many ounces is the steak?”) that you might not be comfortable asking in person. Having the server preemptively box half of your meal to take home is a good way to keep portions in check without having to rely on in-the-moment willpower to put your fork down.
  • If you’re a celebration eater, and your slips are on festive foods, identify what Calibrate-friendly foods—for you—feel special and rewarding. For some additional guidance on this, check out the Holiday Resources section (located within the Food section of your Curriculum tab in your app). If you’re more of a comfort eater, have a plan for what your comfort foods will be in advance of needing them.
  • If you often find yourself in situations where there’s a lot of grazable food, create a framework for this. If the grazeable is in your day-to-day, ideally, you’d reconfigure your environment by getting the food out of sight, changing the types of foods, or altering your traffic patterns. Office pastries? Move them to a side table or be intentional about not entering the break room more than you need to—eating your lunch outside is more pleasant than fluorescent lighting anyway. But for those times when you will be face-to-face with lots of tempting options, have a plan. For example, rather than picking up one item at a time, have a plate and serve yourself everything you intend to eat in one go. Another simple idea is to keep a seltzer in your hand at all times. We eat for many reasons, and nothing soothes social anxiety quite like a handful of trail mix or a mini quiche from a catering tray—if your hands are full of a calorie-free drink and a straw to fiddle with, this urge will already be satisfied. 

After you’ve identified your “always” and “vulnerable state” tools, take a moment to determine what you’ll do if they’re challenged. Friends and loved ones (not to mention strangers) can be pushy when it comes to food, often without realizing that they’re making your life harder. Writing down in advance what you’ll say. For example, some version of “That looks delicious, but I’m not eating that food these days” is a simple but powerful safety lever you can invoke at any time.  

Eventually, your new habits will become ingrained, but in the beginning, go easy on yourself when you don’t get it perfect right away—working in the gray area of productive imperfection is the heart of this new skill.