This quarter, in my studies, we are looking at a variety of theories around why people change their (dietary) behavior, and what makes these changes successful, or not so much. It’s been both fascinating and boring (I can rattle off nearly a dozen behavioral, cognitive or psychosocial theories now – look out Alex Trebeck and Jeopardy!), but mostly fascinating. Anyone who has ever taken a psychology or sociology class has probably looked at a number of these theories, but without a specific context or subject, it’s all sort of fluffy (to me). What got me thinking this week is about MY OWN behaviors, and why I do what I do. And I was kind of surprised to see how obvious it is why I haven’t always been successful at changing things I’ve wanted to change – even though I’m a very driven and often, self-critical person.
So, I thought I’d share a little about my own experiences with food habits and where I think I need to go next. Please be gentle – even us future nutritionists have bad habits too. We are all human and we need to support one another in our quest for good health, lots of energy and an excellent quality of life.
My nemesis? Sugar. In all forms, but especially with lots of fat. I love cakes, cookies, ice cream, you name it. I love fruit, which is great, and I’ve increased my veggie intake tremendously over the past 5-10 years (ask my husband – I wouldn’t even eat carrots or green beans when he met me!). But I still get these crazy sugar cravings on an almost daily basis. And, when I’m stressed, tired, grouchy or mad (I’m not a depressed eater, though I know people who are. We all have our triggers) – I want sugary treats. I also want it after dinner – it just seems like my body isn’t done eating until I’ve had that chocolate or whatever. This isn’t healthy for me, as my blood glucose levels have crept up slowly over the past few years, as has my weight. I work out like a fiend, but really, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet.
So, why can’t I change? Well, what I’ve learned through my studies and my own self-reflection is this:
1. You have to be very self-aware of your issues and your triggers. I’m definitely there. good start.
2. Knowledge of the issue and the severity of the consequences is key. Really, it’s not just that my pants don’t fit well — my sugar habit could someday saddle me with type 2 diabetes. That is not cool. And, that worries me. But, does it worry me enough? See #3
3. You have to want to change (duh, but you gotta REALLY want it) and you need to have the optimism and confidence that you can change. The latter is where I really fall down. I’ve had all kinds of “phases” where I’ve tried to cut back sugar or cut it out completely – and I always end up back eating it again, in large quantities. I think I’ve just decided “I’m not good at this” or “I can’t do it.” I need to change this mindset. But how?
4. Get smart. Sometimes you just need some additional skills for how to deal with a situation or a planned change. For some people, it’s buying and cutting up fresh fruits and vegetables so they are always handy, or learning to cook with more produce and whole grains. For me, I think I need to figure out how to distract myself, find a new pattern after dinner, and find other ways to get my craving satisfied. Summer is coming and I do find that berries totally quench my sweet tooth. They may not always help, but finding alternatives that satisfy is key for my own personal success. I also plan to share my goal with a couple people. I’m not usually vocal about goals – I prefer to work at them in silence, my own inner demons driving them along – but I think I’m ready to try something different. I don’t need pushing or competition (though some people are really motivated this way – what about you? It’s good to know what drives you!), but I do need gentle, supportive advice and insight – and fresh ideas. Yes, even us future dieticians…
4. Set goals, make a plan, establish milestones and rewards. By having a plan, you have committed to action, you’ve defined specific steps and goals. AND you’ve made key decisions in advance. This means, you don’t really have to think about it anymore. This latter concept sort of bowled me over this week – instead of worrying about whether I might feel pressure or temptation to order dessert when I’m out with my hubby and friends, I know that I’ve already decided I’m only having dessert on Saturdays. So, I don’t have to think about it. Is it Saturday? No? Ok, I don’t eat that. I’ve also decided that I’m just going to work on 1 day at a time. TODAY, I’m not going to eat dessert or candy, etc. Then, tomorrow, I will start over. And, if I “screw it up,” I’m just going to start over again the next day. And, in my new plan, I’ve added a few rewards to myself for goals reached. These are things that I can certainly live without, but are healthy, fun and I will look forward to the experience of reaching a goal or milestone.
Finally, your goals should be attainable and sensible. As you can see, I’m not planning to banish sugar forever. I know that’s not realistic (or desirable) for me. But, I want to take better charge of my eating. This level of planning and moderation will help keep me on track.
In the end, it’s a combination of awareness + motivation + skills + confidence + a plan. And, asking for help if you need it. Your scenario may look different, but if you’re trying to make a change (of any kind, not just diet or exercise!) and haven’t been successful in the past, give this some thought. You CAN do it. And so will I.