Can we create better habits in 2016?
It doesn’t matter whether you consider them to be good or bad; habits are hard to break. But because of this, it totally makes sense that it is worth working towards creating better ones. Of course, we have to put the work in and accept that we may not be immediately successful. We have to instil mindfulness. And it also requires non-judgement because we are bound to slip up now and again. But, if we do our best to stick with something, it eventually becomes “what we do” without thinking about it. We will no longer be preoccupied with trying to avoid certain things and then consumed by guilt if we give up and splurge. The habits we need to leave behind and let go of are those we sometimes feel “own” us. Those things that can seem slightly out of our control. Typically, one such preoccupation for lots of people has everything do with eating, weight loss and calorie counting: Food and its best buddy, body image.
These days the majority of people seem to be suffering from some type of digestive ailment, food intolerance or hormone disorder. Only in the Western World do we have “unexplained” weight gain. Instead of being typical amongst an older generation, it’s now common to hear of younger and younger people suffering from all kinds of gut related issue.
So what exactly are we doing wrong? One of my family members is a practising neurologist who spends most of his week telling patients that perceived health problems would vanish if they simply changed their diet and exercised. It’s a bitter pill for many to swallow. They have been searching for answers. The appointment is costly. They came along to be fixed. How can it be nothing more than lifestyle? So bearing this in mind, and the huge amount of people we are talking about, is it possible that many in the Western world are in denial about what foodstuffs are eaten regularly and how much? Is it also possible we often don’t consider ingredients when it comes to common processed pantry items that are available at the supermarket? Do we realise that clever packaging even in the “Health” aisle means that we may not be aware of how many things are created and produced in factories overseas?* Because of what is now considered “normal”, do we feel that certain things must be okay to consume regularly because it’s what “everyone” else does?
*Above left is a re-branded health snack – it used to be called “Mrs Maple’s Crunch”. Sounds like Nanna made it in her kitchen, but it’s made in China. The Maple Syrup is sugar syrup with a little bit of maple syrup added. It’s easy to be fooled.
The Ubiquitous Sausage Freaking Sizzle
I don’t know about you, but in December alone, I lost count of all the sausage sizzles that were on offer as part of each and every happening. Cheap-as-chips, “No-Frills” sausages wrapped in slices of “Wonder White” and served with sugary sauce. It was considered “lunch” two days in a row at my son’s high school orientation. It is the usual post-Nipper’s snack and was also the main fare this year at the annual Christmas party. Whether it’s outside Bunnings every weekend or at most sporting events and school fetes, sausage sizzles abound. And this for me – along with school canteens selling pizza slices and similar for breakfast – is just one example. Personally, I don’t get it. We smother our children in sunscreen so they won’t get skin cancer and don’t let them out of our sight lest they be abducted. They mustn’t climb trees in case they fall, play with snails or roll in mud because of germs. But yet, this carcinogenic mix of processed meat, sulphates, preservatives and God knows what else is served up at every opportunity. It makes me cringe, but the new normal means I have to shut up and smile or be treated like some nutty, over-zealous, crazy precious parent – which I am not. However, I do care very much about my kids long-term health. I also want them to develop good eating habits all round and to understand what is and what isn’t nutritionally sound and why it is so important.
So what exactly are we doing wrong. Do we think?
I am often asked what I eat. Curiosity perhaps because of what I do combined with the fact that I am quite a small person which is rare. People who know me know I have a pretty healthy, non-rigid, diet. Exercise for me is my yoga practice, and walking combined with the odd bike ride. Things I enjoy. I want my body to last so I avoid running or sports that are hard on the joints like netball. I am fit enough and (touch wood) pain-free. My doctor laughs when I have a yearly check up because he says it’s the best results he will see all week! But it’s not magic or even luck. It’s just good habits that I had no choice but to evolve over time. I only buy real food and as much as possible, I choose additive free. So I don’t think it has as much to do with what I do eat as it has to do with what I don’t.
What’s Not Hot, Sorry Paleos…
When it comes to fast food, I would have to be dying of starvation to eat McDonalds or KFC. I only ever buy packets of chips for gatherings and no one in my family generally snacks between meals unless it’s fruit. I hardly ever eat or buy packaged sweet biscuits and for the most part, we never have Kellogs-type or Uncle Toby’s style breakfast cereals in our house. Basically, it doesn’t matter whether it’s some kind of spread like margarine or a salad dressing, I just tend not to buy or eat anything processed (Except maybe Lindt chocolate – that’s a game changer). But really, that’s it. (Oh, and we have smaller portions of everything except for fruit and veg which we gorge through mountains of).
A few friends expressed shock and horror at the fact I have sugar in my tea and coffee. “OHMYGOD! But you’re a YOGA teacher..!” But as I only have a couple of beverages a day it’s hardly a deal breaker for someone who rarely thinks about alcohol and never touches soft drink. If you make me a dessert or offer me a slice of homemade cake, I’ll have some (unless it’s a donut; I draw the line at fried cake), but I only need a tiny bit. I eat chocolate nearly every day – but usually only two or three squares and can’t remember the last time I ate a whole bar of some kind of confectionary. But my diet isn’t strict. I detest fads, and will not cut out one whole food group unless someone tells me I am allergic. Sorry Paleos, but I refuse to believe that a little bit of rice now and again is so awful when traditional Asian diets are so fresh and healthy. I also refuse to accept that too much fruit will affect my body’s ability to metabolise glucose and perhaps cause diabetes type 2.** Nothing is “forbidden” as far as I’m concerned which means I rarely feel the desire or urge for anything that unhealthy. But if I do.…well..It’s done. Can you tell by looking at me that I had an extra piece of pavlova last week? Didn’t think so. Guilt is overrated seeing as it’s about the past. We should let it go and move right on.
Insane Obsessions – Been There,
However, this most definitely wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, a long time ago, I suffered from a terrible problem with food and body image problems. My habits turned into an addictive-type eating disorder that went on for around eight or nine years. A very long time in your youth to be unhappy.
I don’t really know how this happened, being that I was born a tiny person and never thought about food or weight until I began reading young teen magazines (of which there were plenty back in the early eighties) and became caught up in the body image problems of others. I hadn’t even realised much of this stuff existed. Bulimia? Anorexia? Wow, what an eye-opener.
To cut a long and boring story rather short, whatever you over-think tends to become an obsession. It might begin as one thing, but quickly becomes your emotional “go to”. By way of explanation, what I mean is, if you compare those with a gambling, drink or drug problem, they can just as easily convince themselves they need their “thing” to celebrate as to commiserate. Just as I did. And even if your addiction/compulsion has nothing to do with food, you can still virtually taste the sensation in your mouth and feel the prickles in your body. Addictive behaviour takes over your mind and disempowers your ability to make a better decision. It begins to own you. It’s all you think about and the lack of self control can be very disconcerting.
Not surprisingly perhaps, I also had terrible tummy problems. My eating habits were diabolical. But digestion is NOT just about the food choices we make, it’s also about how we digest our life experiences. Your tummy is where you feel everything.
So how do you change your “mind”?
I do recall the actual day I pondered on how long I had been saying or thinking that this was the last time and that tomorrow I would “start” afresh. Shocking! When we visualise ourselves as we often do in some “imaginary future”, things are usually better. I had reached my imaginary future but was still stuck in the same place. It had to stop. I wanted my life back.
The decisions I made and the realisations I came to were pretty simple. No more guilt, no more judgement. I had to rethink my relationship with food. Something that had the power to nourish me and make me feel strong and healthy should be my friend, not my enemy. I threw out the scales (and don’t own any still). I decided I would only ever eat healthy food – which to me, is mainly fresh fruit and vegetables – and I would never count another calorie (I never have). It should have been obvious – but for some reason it wasn’t – that no matter what I did, no matter what I ate and no matter what kind of exercise I undertook and how much, I was not suddenly going to morph into a tall, leggy, busty, bikini-body type. Promises may abound, but we are what we are. I let it go and decided to become a healthier version of me.
I also realised that because I had allowed my mind to be hijacked to a point where I had no control over my behaviour, I was the only one who could change it. I had been creating more and more misery in my own world and then being a sad sack about it. Only a crazy person bangs their head against a wall over and over again right?
The hardest thing was making a decision to actually “be” with the feelings I didn’t like. To sit with them and face them instead of buying into them and indulging my addiction. This is what yoga teaches you and it’s why it changes lives.
From Little Things Big Things Grow..
To conclude, this is all such a distant memory to me now that it feels as if I am writing about someone else. I rarely even think about food anymore unless I’m hungry. But, importantly, I know that long-term change is possible. If I can do it anyone can. But my experience tells me that it is more likely to be cemented into our DNA if our plan involves allowing new habits to evolve and to be moderate rather than extreme. If we accept that it’s a process and not an overnight miracle. If we make the decision to believe that actually, we are already OK as we are and to understand that striving means we have our minds constantly in the future rather than the precious here and now. If we can let go of lofty ideals, forget the all-or-nothing mentality that has got us nowhere in the past and instead, make small changes regularly, that are easy to stick with – such as just giving up processed food for a start. And if we fall off the wagon occasionally, we should also make the decision to dust ourselves off and get right back on without looking back. Daily life should be organic and natural and I’m not just talking about food. We do not need a set of scales and neither do we need a Fit Bit to check our steps or count our calories. We shouldn’t have to obsess over this stuff because it’s really very simple; eat less, breathe less, stress less, think less and move (and laugh) more.
My new, year-long course about setting positive intentions and creating better habits, promises to be a game-changer. You can read all about it and book in here or head to the ‘event” section on this website.
** Check out this interview from CNN with a fruitarian athlete. Extreme yes. But he looks healthy to me.