Do you find yourself struggling to build and sustain healthier eating habits? That may be because you are relying on willpower, when in fact the problem is one of patience and self-compassion.
To create change in our lives, we have to create an environment that will allow that change to take place.
Gardeners don’t just toss seeds on to unprepared ground and expect healthy plants to grow. Instead, they start with turning and preparing the soil, pulling out weeds and mixing in compost. The same is true of creating change in our lives.
If we want to change stubborn eating habits, we can’t simply cut out foods and start eating new one’s and expect new habits to take root and thrive. Relying on willpower may work for a time, but for lasting change, we have to prepare our minds so that new habits can take root.
Here are some simple ways to begin preparing our minds for breaking old, and creating new, lasting eating habits in just 21 days.
- Start a 2 Minute Gratitude Journal: Begin each day by taking 2 minutes in the morning to consider all the things that are going right in your life. Be sure to consider all five areas of wellbeing: Career, Social, Physical, Financial and Community. What do you have to be grateful for? Maybe you are grateful for the fact that your heart beats about 115,200 times per day? Maybe you are thankful for a family member’s unique sense of humour, Or for the incredible natural beauty of a place you once visited?
- 2 Minute Meaning Journal: This is a simple activity done each evening. Consider one meaningful experience that you had in the last 24 hours. Take a few moments to note and list every detail you can remember about that experience.
- 2 Minute Thank You Message: Send an e-mail, a text, or tell someone in person what they mean to you, or how thankful you are for them in your life.
In his book, Before Happiness, Shawn Achor shows that by doing activities such as these for 21 days, you will be change the way you brain views the world around you, preparing you to see yourself, the people around you, and the world in new ways.
Eating Healthier begins with your mind. Begin noticing how you think about food and eating. Do you see some foods as “good” or “bad?” If so, you are likely being hard on yourself when you choose “right” or “wrong” foods. Self-criticism is the trap that prevents us from sustaining new habits.
Have you ever seen a baby get frustrated when learning to walk or pronounce a new word? You don’t because they haven’t yet been programmed to believe they can’t. They simply try again, and again, until they master the new skill. They aren’t concerned with how long it takes.
Unfortunately, for many of us, at some point in our lives, we were told there was something wrong with us when we didn’t make changes according to someone else’s timeline (or unrealistic standards). As a result we begin to judge and criticize ourselves in the very same way.
To create change, we need to shift this habit by starting to be more compassionate with ourselves. We begin to appreciate how this self-criticism sabotages our best efforts – we punish ourselves by abstaining from foods, then “treat” ourselves by indulging again later.
With self-compassion, we can begin to observe this process of harming ourselves both with our self-talk and with eating things that may harm us over time. Rather than starting by cutting out the typical foods you’d prefer to avoid, start with not beating yourself up when you eat those things. Simply notice how you feel.
If you like, before having the chips, cookies, muffin or sweets, try having a serving of a whole food – something healthy you enjoy. Slice up an apple, or have a handful of baby carrots or snap peas with ½ cup of hummus or almonds and a glass of water.
Then have the food you want to avoid, and be aware of how you feel. Do the different foods make you feel differently?
Remember, your longing to change habits comes from a place of insight, a place in you that knows what your body needs, and how you feel after. Take time to listen, and see if what you are eating is satisfying you the way you think it is.
Be patient. A gardener wouldn’t criticize or blame a seed that didn’t sprout, or a plant that only grew to half it’s height. They care for the plant, and try to provide it with what it needs.
Learn to understand what your body needs. Nurture it by giving it the fuel it wants.
Allow, don’t force, new habits to develop. In time, you will be making stronger, healthier choices, and will have developed eating habits that make you feel better each day.
Yours in Wellbeing,
It is important to understand your nutritional needs to manage cravings and remain mentally and physically strong. Make an appointment to speak with a Naturopath or a Registered dietician. Sarah Tanner of Natural Choices Health Care Clinic, specializes in digestion and food intolerances, and can speak to you to ensure you are getting adequate nutrition.
If you are looking for healthy food suggestions check out Michael Gregor’s Daily Dozen App, it is a good, research-based starting point on foods for preventing illness and improving our mood and our lives.
If you need a boost of motivation, you might also want to check out Hungry For Change, a documentary found on Netflix that discusses the deceptive marketing strategies and the way processed foods are engineered to be addictive. It demonstrates the importance of compassion as an alternative to willpower.
Finally, take a few minutes to take the Five Star Wellbeing Quality of Life Assessment. It’s a way of looking at your life overall, and may help uncover some other reasons you are struggling with changing your eating habits. Alternatively, you may find yourself appreciating all that is going well in your life, which will provide comfort and hope as you are making changes to your eating habits.