With the game on the line and a lead in hand, a football team can afford to give up a few first downs and even make a minor mistake. What it can't afford is one, big disastrous play. That's why teams employ a "prevent defense." What "prevent" sacrifices in optimization, it makes up for with prevention.

The same concept can apply to your nutrition and fitness routine. Assuming you have a solid game plan that you're executing successfully (which has put you "in the lead"), the small mistakes aren't enough to defeat you. It's that one disastrous binge that can steal the game, undermining the health progress you've worked so hard for.


The binge itself is only the beginning of the problem. The snowball effect is both physiological and emotional. You end up missing your workout the next day and craving more sugar. Emotionally, you feel shame and may end up with a "what the hell attitude" that spirals into an extended binge. As many of us know all too well, unfortunately, we can undo one solid month in just a few unsavory days.

That's not to say that there isn't a time and place to indulge. In fact, any plan that feels too confining is not sustainable.

Food can be a source of pleasure. Let's get out of the mindset that we are fighting a war with our bodies. Whether it's Friday Happy Hour, a Saturday dinner party, or a Sunday barbecue to watch sports, you can maintain your health plan and still maximize enjoyment.

To enhance the pleasure of food, you must set yourself up to avoid the most common pitfalls. These three simple strategies for food-related events can go a long way toward this end:

Show up hydrated.
Show up relaxed.
Show up full (at least full of nutrients).

The strategy is to "prevent" over-indulgence through preparation.

Proper preparation requires knowing yourself and being honest with yourself. Just like in football, when you're in danger of giving away a hard-earned victory by a momentary lapse, it helps to think "Bend but don't break."

Since thirst, stress, and nutrient deficiencies are often false indicators of hunger, it's smart to take the three measures above. It may be as simple as drinking a nutrient-rich smoothie and a glass of water on your way to watch Monday Night Football at the bar.

My friend Roberto, a college football player who has worked hard to get back to his playing weight, calls this "prevent defense." If he's famished before an event, he'll stop at a convenience store for a cup of coffee (decaf in the evenings) and a protein bar. He also keeps salted nuts and beef jerky in his backpack and glove compartment. His proactive approach allows him to avoid losing control when he arrives at an event.


Granted, convenience-store protein bars, salted nuts, and beef jerky don't share much in common with broiled broccoli and steamed spinach. We understand, however, that "prevent" sacrifices optimization for prevention. For Roberto, snacks save him from overindulging and avoiding the disastrous play. His success lies in his ability to act before he gets hungry.

The key to avoiding wellness missteps is to decide in advance what you're going to do.

Most of our poor choices occur when we're in a weakened state. That's why this strategy goes beyond special occasions. If you show up for any meal super hungry, you have less power to ward off the pitfalls that are waiting for you. Chips and salsa and bread and butter are few people's favorite foods. But when you're starving and they're just sitting there, it's nearly impossible to say no to these mostly empty calories. When the server finally does come by and asks if you want one of those sugary cocktails or a basket of French fries while you're looking over the menu, you will be in a much better position to decline if you, again:

Show up hydrated.
Show up relaxed.
Show up full (at least full of nutrients).

Like a smart defensive coordinator, you must be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. You must also have the vision to see disaster looming and alter your game plan. Along the way, you may have to go "prevent." Sacrificing the optimal strategy for the one that avoids a disastrous play (binge) may be the best choice to stay in the game -- and win when it counts.

-- Greg Dinkin is a Decisions Coach and the author of four books including The Poker MBA. His forthcoming book "The 5 Skinny Switches" details how he lost 100 pounds. Watch his TEDxTalk and learn more at