Skimming the Surface, Making Decisions


Last week I talked about how I completely fell off the wagon in regard to my diet, and since I hate to just complain and leave it at that, I’m going to provide some solutions to the problem. This is both for myself as well as anyone else who finds themselves at a crossroads in the decisions-making process. Please leave your much-appreciated comments and ideas at the end of this post!

Discovering Patterns

We’re all human, and we all have patterns. We’re all subject to little traps that we lay for ourselves, and the sooner we become familiar with those traps, the easier time we’ll have avoiding them. Last week, I mentioned that I’d found one of my self-imposed pitfalls:

I convince myself that since I haven’t had any health problems in a while, my dietary issues have magically gone away and I can eat whatever I want. I absolutely know this isn’t true, but if your resolve has been weakened and you want something bad enough, it’s funny how you can superficially convince yourself that it’s true. Now that I’ve realized this pattern, I have something to work with in the future to avoid another health-related Chernobyl.

This was huge for me. I often think to myself, “I haven’t had a croissant in ages, so how will I know if I can eat them again if I don’t try?” This little delusion causes me a whole lot of heartache. I know that pastry is bad for me, but I feel myself into thinking that *poof* it might be ok all of a sudden.

Before you can counter them, you need to acknowledge your patterns. Look them in the eye, wave hello, and then stick a little post-it on them so that the next time they stop in for a pastry break, you’ll be more aware of their toxic effects. This is a lot like dealing with mean, soul-sucking people – if interacting with them is unavoidable, it helps to acknowledge their problems and then not let them affect you.

Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses (and the Difference Between Them)

I’m really bad about being confronted with something I want but shouldn’t have. If you plunked a cookie down in front of me, I would probably eat it. I might not even know I was eating it until I was done. If there’s a bowl of candy on the table, I’ll scarf down a handful without thinking twice (this is one of the main reasons I spend less time at my grandma’s house!). If it’s in my face, it’s almost like there’s another person inside of pulling the strings. Being mentally prepared for temptation is something I really need to work on.

Thankfully, one thing I’m good at is avoidance. I easily drive by bakeries, fast food joints, and other places that could knock down my resolve, without any inkling to stop. If there’s a cake in one room of the house, I’ll be in another. While I used to count this ability to avoid trouble as a strength, I’ve recently realized that in reality, it’s kept me from dealing with the problem at hand: being able to say no to immediate temptation, which is something I’ll have to deal with everyday.

To add to that, I’m one of those people whose food allergy symptoms don’t pop up at a moment’s notice; rather, it’s an accumulative effect over the span of a few weeks. I used to think this was a blessing, because if I accidentally ate something that was bad for me, I wouldn’t be stricken for days with debilitating symptoms like others I know. Turns out, this became a convenient excuse for making what I thought were tiny bad decisions. Truthfully, there was no “tiny” about those decisions at all.

Now instead of outright avoidance, I try to mindfully accept situations where I can practice being stronger. Some might think this is setting myself up for failure, but in the end, am I stronger if I can avoid something, or stronger because I can look it in the face and say no? Like anything else, it’s an ongoing process of learning to be present and understanding where I need to beef up my defenses.

Fact: You’re Human! Get Used It.

The human brain is funny and amazingly elastic. It stops at nothing to get what it wants, convincing you the whole time that “This is awesome! You want this!” Sometimes, the exact opposite is true.

When you want to change something about yourself, you have to really take a hard look at your behaviors and motivations to realize why you do what you do. Are your actions coming from a place of pain? Are you feeling fear? Anxiety? Boredom? Confused? Unsure? As living, breathing beings, our brains come up with all sorts of coping mechanisms to avoid unpleasantries, often at the expense of creating other, potentially worse situations. Anyone who’s ever yelled at their spouse about something minor because they couldn’t confront a bigger issue knows what I mean. Whether those mechanisms are healthy or not is for you to decide. But first, you need to cut yourself a little slack.

If you eat when you’re depressed, acknowledge that. Pat that behavior on the head and tell it, “I see you there, and I know you’re having a hard time. That’s ok, I understand, but we need to adjust X or things are going to get worse.” This might seem hokey, but it’s amazing how just verbally acknowledging your traps and articulating your needs helps to conquer bad habits in the future.

Most of all, be gentle with yourself. You’re human and that’s not going to change, so get used to the idea of being fallible. You WILL make mistakes. You WILL trip and fall. You WILL drop the ball. And you know what? That’s completely normal. It’s also human to be forgiving, so extend that compassion to yourself. You’ll find that your recovery from mistakes happens that much faster when you’re not beating the crap out of yourself for every little slip-up.

Avoid the “Well Meaning” Enablers

Enablers are not well-meaning, no matter how sweet and doe-eyed they appear at first glance. Whether it’s your coworker or your grandma, anyone offering you something they know is unhealthy for you does not have your best interests at heart. While it’s important to know the difference between “optional” restrictions and those that carry a heavier penalty, if you’ve got a hard goal in front of you, it’s not their place to say that you shouldn’t be restricting yourself.

Fact: if someone really, truly cares about you, they will cultivate your physical and emotional health by supporting healthy decision-making.

Take, for example, my grandma. For my birthday last year, she made me a German chocolate cake. A big, beautiful, gloriously gooey German chocolate cake. And, it was full of white flour.

Did I eat it? Yes. Did I feel guilty afterwards? Of course. I also realized that my grandma, bless her soul, simply didn’t prioritize my health-needs, despite the fact that we’ve talked about them countless times. She just doesn’t get it, probably because she doesn’t have the perspective to acknowledge a different way of eating. That’s fine, I guess, but it’s bad for me. So when I go to my grandma’s house for my birthday, I bring my own cake.

Above All, Support Yourself

You’re the only one you’ve got. Sure, you have family, friends, and potentially an entire external support system, but in the end, you’re the only one who will always, without fail, be there for you. Learn to love yourself, and the tough decision become a little easier to make. The more practice you get at supporting your mind, body and heart, the more you’ll notice that life isn’t so bad. Even when confronted by tough decisions, know that you’ll be there for yourself, no matter what you choose.

Now go give yourself a big hug and sing Kumbaya. ;)

Comments

  1. Frugal Kiwi says:

    Your pattern sounds very familiar. VERY. Sometimes I’ll get a bash in the gut when I eat something stupid, but usually not. It is SO easy to fool yourself into thinking that NOW you can eat whatever you want and not have any consequences. Because you’ve been good for so long, you DESERVE a treat. But for some of us, things just don’t work that way.

    Hang in there and beware of evil Germany Choc cakes.

  2. Chelsey says:

    Everything you described above is me…Totally me to a T! I am glad to know there is someone out there on the same path, falling into the same potholes as I have :).

    My only thought is to strive for what you know is good and right no matter how many times you fall down(it can be embarrassing to be down there again). Nobody was made perfect! It’s an all purpose motto for me, not just staying gluten free.

  3. MarthaAndMe says:

    These are great tips. You’ve thought long and hard about this and everything you’ve said is on the money. I’m like you – it’s a lot harder not to eat something when it is right in front of me. Ugh.

  4. Edmund Mokhtarian says:

    I’m going to echo everyone else and say good job. It’s so easy to fall off the diet and never to get back on. It just comes down to perseverance.

    Another thing I’d add to is that you need to develop good habits. I personally don’t have any issues with gluten or any other substances, but I too have to keep to a diet to stay in shape. The time factor actually helps me, because I get more and more used to resisting all the foods that I used to eat.

  5. MyKidsEatSquid says:

    I have a family member with a grocery list of food allergies, but she doesn’t like to ‘inconvenience’ others so she doesn’t always share it. Then, she has nothing to eat at family gatherings. But, once I understood what she could and couldn’t eat, as a someone who likes to try and experiment with new recipes, it was a fun challenge to cook for her. And many of the recipes have become staples around our house–even though so far my kids don’t have any food allergies. I try to be a positive enabler for her and it’s been a great–and tasty–experience for both of us.

    I would cut your grandma a little slack–even though you’ve probably told her countless times what you can’t eat, she probably just doesn’t quite ‘get’ it. Good for you for bringing your own.

  6. Alisa Bowman says:

    All so true. Great advice!

  7. Melanie Haiken says:

    Love the “pat it on the head” advice. I’m trying to learn to do this — be straight with myself (no more denial!) but also kind rather than self-flagellating. Great advice!

  8. This is so honest and straightforward. And face it, all of us make mistakes but hopefully learn from them. I find it a real challenge to stay away from temptations and beat myself up when I fail. Now, I’m trying something new: to tell myself that I can have one or two (at most) days a week where I allow myself a “forbidden” food. Usually that saves me from slipping up the rest of the time.

  9. Alexandra says:

    We have a regular B&B guest whose daughter has a peanut allergy. The mom has taught me to always read ingredients. Since my husband is allergic to animals, and I have witnessed him coughing blood when in the presence of an unknown rabbit, I would never subject him to life with a pet. My guest has the same reflex, to protect her daughter from what might happen were she to consume a peanut or something made in the same facility where peanuts are processed. An allergy to gluten sounds more surreptitious, because you are able to convince yourself one cookie will not matter. To avoid further crises, perhaps you need to pretend the food that offends carries a greater risk, like those peanuts?

  10. sarah henry says:

    Reading this I thought: “Steph would make a great therapist.” Or maybe, even more on point, a nutrition counselor for people with dietary challenges, which is probably all of us, to one degree or another, since our relationships to food are so complex.

    Have you ever thought about adding that skill to your repertoire?

    As for your grandma’s German chocolate cake. Um, that just seems cruel, if she does indeed know your dietary restrictions. Am I missing something here? At best passive aggressive. Why would someone you love give you something to eat that will make you sick?

  11. The Writer's [Inner] Journey says:

    I like how you say, “support yourself.” It’s something we often forget to do, but it’s where change starts (and new patterns made).

  12. Ruth Pennebaker says:

    I’m really impressed with the thoughtfulness and knowledge of yourself that you’ve put into this, Stephanie. We all want to start over and remake ourselves and change our lives, from time to time when we’ve messed up. But you’re looking at your problems in a more fundamental way that can realistically help you change your behavior. Very smart and insightful.

  13. Jennifer Margulis says:

    Fact: if someone really, truly cares about you, they will cultivate your physical and emotional health by supporting healthy decision-making.

    This is so true. My 6-year-old son knows that I am adversely affected by sugar and always ALWAYS tells me not to eat it. “It won’t make you feel good, Mommy. I don’t want you to be sick.”

  14. I especially like that part about if it’s in front of me I’ll eat it and not even realize it until later. Boy have you got my number. I feel like I should remind myself that I’m an alcoholic with certain foods and must be constantly on guard especially with the “one little bite won’t hurt you” crowd. Sometimes I just want people to be inside my body for one hour. I suppose it’s human nature to only understand what they’ve experienced themselves but then I wonder about compassion for others.
    This was a very open, honest, well thought out post and I’m so glad you shared it because I’ve been right there with you more times than I can count always beating myself up for being so weak. Thanks for reminding me that I’m also human. You should get the girl scout badge for good deed of the century.

  15. When I am tempted to eat something I know I shouldn’t, I ask myself how I will feel after eating it, and whether the guilt and bloating afterwards will be worth it. Of course this doesnt always work for me… (darn you, Hershey’s Candy Cane Kisses!) but it definitely helps me most if the time.

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