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!
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.