Climb the mountain, one step at a time
Our lifestyles are a by-product of our daily routine and the status of our body. It differs from person to person. Lifestyles get embedded in our body after a while. It takes 21 days to form a habit (think of all the habits you could have picked up in just this lockdown!) and expecting a sudden change in it does no good. You have taken time to develop it. You will take time to shed it too!
But the most important part of it all, is convincing yourself to get ready for change. Most times, it is hard especially our habits of guilty pleasures, our negative thoughts and unhealthy eating habits. They have all been rewarding us in some way and to change the shades of your routine, you need to convince yourself of the benefits you decide to opt for, while going out to change a routine or habit.
And, that’s the first part. Now, you are ready for change. You have affirmed yourself that everything you eat will be nutritious. Every day will be productive. Every thought will be charitable. Every relationship will be rewarding.
It’s a new day with a new sheriff in town. From here on out, life is going to be different. You feel the change in your body. You are so ready to be a new “you.” You are so ready to be “YOU 2.0.”
Now, what’s wrong with that?
Two things: the night before and the days afterward. It is all a play of psychology and how well equipped your already existing habits are, in convincing your mind to slip or relax before your big break.
Let’s look at a specific change—say, limiting your sugar intake. A worthy goal! First, though, you’re going to treat yourself to a scrumptious dinner topped off with about eight different desserts. After all, you need to reward yourself for the fact that you will “Never Eat Sugar Again in Your Lifetime.”
The morning after, you wake up and realize that you’re due at your friend’s birthday party. “Oh well. The diet will start Monday.” Meanwhile, there will be another scrumptious dinner. See where this is going?
That’s the night (or nights) before. It’s sometimes called “Last Supper Syndrome.”
This syndrome is one symptom of an unhealthy mentality towards eating that divides foods into “clean” (kale, carrots, chia) and “dirty” categories (donuts, cake, chips).
What really happens is such dieting casts healthy eating as a challenge, and causes specific foods to be linked with self-control and self-worth. As a result, the mind leans towards binge-eating. Binge-eating creates spikes in blood sugar levels, shooting false messages to the brain which lead to cravings. This sparks a cycle of deprivation and dieting, rather than a sustainable, long-term lifestyle change. Extreme cases may lead to eating disorders that may trigger major mental health problems.
The days afterward? They can trap you into a vicious circle of guilt. Guilt is a negative emotion that causes stress and initiates other harmful psychological responses in the body.
Let’s see an example.
Sanjana is two weeks into her new regimen. She feels great. Then the unthinkable happens: she eats a brownie. One slip does not make a disaster. Unfortunately, Sanjana’s reaction to the slip is to feel guilty. Guilt leads to binging, more guilt and more binging. Voilà: Circle.
Sanjana will probably pull herself out of the circle (after another last supper, of course). By then, more damage has been done than if she had just enjoyed the brownie and gone right back to healthful eating.
Indulging in such kinds of guilty pleasure emphasises triggers on eating more of the wrong stuff and jeopardises the cycle of healthy eating.
Are Sanjana’s health aspirations doomed to failure? Emphatically not. But it would help him to remember that big changes happen towards healthy lifestyles through small steps.
Any routine takes time to develop. The routine of your good eating is no different, in this case. It would take time before you are thoroughly independent of your previous habit of binge eating and unhealthy food habits, and to replace the habit with a healthier lifestyle with a nicer choice of foods.
To change yourself and your lifestyle, here are small steps that shall help you reach the higher mark.
Know where you are. Imagine planning a 5K race. How will you know where to put the finish line if you don’t know where the runners will start? Before you cut down on sugar, figure out how much sugar you currently consume. Don’t forget to include processed foods. If you eat out, estimate as closely as you can.
Don’t change anything; just observe. Know what triggers you to eat sugar, what emotions or people bring you a surge in sugar intake and try to avoid them as much as you can. An outing with friends is great news, until you end up in your favourite dessert shop! That’s where the difficulties begin. And if not resistance, you can use avoidance and skip on visiting the dessert outlet.
Know where you’re going—exactly. “I’m cutting down on sugar” is vague. “Cutting out sugar completely” is drastic. Decide exactly how much (in teaspoons or grams) you want to decrease your sugar intake by.
This amount isn’t written in stone; you can adjust it later. “I want to reduce 500gms of sugar of my intake each day,” sounds a definite amount to begin with. Also, just because this amount isn’t written in stone doesn’t mean you can lower it, each day.
Fix the definite amount and then plan your days to work accordingly. Lowering your destined amount and planning a retreat sounds good in the battlefield and not very productive when you are trying to make a lifestyle diet change.
Start small and build momentum. Yet if someone plopped a ton of food in front of you and insisted you eat it, you’d protest that you couldn’t possibly. Moral: Don’t try to accomplish too much at once. Take a single step. Rome wasn’t built in a day and so shan’t your own body’s lifestyle. Why not start by drinking your tea or coffee unsweetened? It’s only a teaspoon or two of sugar, but it’s a beginning.
Get used to one small change before you make another. Starting off big and not able to accomplish it will lead to guilt, again and voila, a circle for you, your guilt and the pleasures of another dessert! Starting off big is often quite demotivating, given that our tolerance and resistance is only built over time. So, start small with tiny changes that makes your bigger chances matter better in the long run.
There is no “fail”. When making lifestyle changes, you cannot fail. You may change slower than anticipated. You may experience setbacks. You may even stop for a while. But there is no such state as failed. As long as you can try again, you are still on the road to success. Your occasional flexible allowances might depress you and trick you into thinking that you are working for a lost cause.
You need to remember that, a single swerve is not a failure, a single intake more than the prescribed, of sugar doesn’t punish you with extra grams to lose, a single failed routine doesn’t mean there aren’t any more routines you can draft and try for your routine to change. Change begins from within and you need to go all along the way, to see if it was worth it, because it sure will be.
Here’s to you—the new you! Grab your resolutions, taste the freedom, be firm yet relenting when needed, take it slow yet take it close, and don’t give up before you find a new “you” at the end of your journey. And it shall happen, not in one day, but definitely one day, so keep going, one routine, one limitation, one resolution, one day at a time!
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