Aspects of well-being, part 6

Really, this post relates to all habits. I want to zero in a bit on those that surround the act of nourishing our bodies, because this is often where I see the most dysfunction.

There are two things that you’ll need before addressing eating habits. These may seem simplistic or trite, but experience has shown me that without these two things, no attempt at changing a habit – particularly one as firmly established as an eating habit – will be successful.

First – you have to want to change the habit.

See, I told you it might sound simplistic, let me explain. Many people come to this topic because someone else told them they should make this or that change. Maybe a doctor told you something like “your knee wouldn’t hurt so much if you lost some weight” (yes, that one is from personal experience). Or your significant other made a disparaging comment about the way you grazed through the last potluck you attended. These type of comments are generally made with good intentions, however they just don’t help, do they?

If anything, I have found these comments lead us down the road the other direction, toward reinforcing the behavior rather than helping change it.

If you come to behavior change from a place like this, where your impetus is an unhelpful suggestion or disparaging comment – you’re not going to have any luck. This will sound strange, but I would suggest you NOT try to make any such changes at this point. The effect of trying and not succeeding can be more destructive than not trying the change in the first place. Wait a bit. Give the comment time to fade into the past.

Then, when YOU are ready, come back to the habit. Let’s take that second example, grazing your way through a potluck. Before the event, get yourself ready by SELF imposing some limits. Take a smaller plate, for example. The psychological effect of seeing a plate piled high makes you feel fuller when you finish that plate – even if it was a smaller, side size plate. If there are no small plates, try putting your cup on your plate to take up some space.

Another idea for this situation is to take a walk down the whole potluck table without a plate. Just scope out the choices so you know what to expect and aren’t taken by surprise when you find your favorite dish all the way at the end and pile an extra serving on top of your already full plate.

By setting the expectation going into the tempting situation, you can set yourself up for success – rather than falling into old habits and feeling bad about it for the rest of the weekend.

Second – Give it time.

This one elicits a lot of strong opinion. I mean, what does “time” mean in this context? A week? A month? 6 months? If you want a new habit to stick, you have to give it time to become part of your routine. Especially if you’re trying to replace an old habit with a new one, the part of your brain that craves routine needs time to replace one piece of that routine with the new one.

Some experts will say it takes 30 days for a new daily habit to stick. Others will tell you it’s 18 days. I’ve also seen 23 days (come on, 23? Where’d they get that one?) I’m not going to wade into this particular quagmire, if you want some resources I’m more than happy to share the reading I’ve done on this topic. My bottom line is a bit simpler and yet a bit more enigmatic – give it time.

It will help to focus on one habit at a time. Going back to our example of servings at that potluck, if you want to work on cutting serving size don’t also try to cut a food group. If you think you want to try an elimination diet (where you cut several food groups simultaneously, then re-add them one at a time to see if you react to something in particular) – this isn’t the time. Pick one. Either do the elimination diet now, and work on serving sizes later, or vice versa. Keeping it to one habit at a time leaves all of your willpower resources available to help you succeed at that one habit change.

This was a simplified and shortened take on what is in truth a much broader and deeper topic. In the future I’ll tackle it one piece at a time, for now if you can keep these two ideas in mind you’ll be well on your way to making the eating habit changes you want to make.