Everyone loves a plan to start off the new year right with energy and optimism. We tell ourselves that we are going to eat better and begin to make grand plans for a nutritional overhaul. There is so much to be learned about ourselves by exploring new territories, and taking on challenges, even when things don’t go as planned.
When we decide to change our diet habits in any way, whether it’s something small or very dramatic, we forget that beyond the physical act of preparing and eating new foods, there are unexpected psychological issues that come up as well. These are what I like to call “food freak-outs.” It’s not necessarily about the food, but it’s the mental challenge of changing our habits. Women especially have a very complicated interconnected relationship between food and our mental environment. We tend to use food as rewards, punishments, social lubricants, feeling suppressors and mind numbing agents. Feelings of anxiety and conflict can arise when those voices start to say “It won’t kill me to have just one. What’s my quality of life if I say ‘no’ to everything?” versus “You made a commitment to stick to something so you must stick to it.” Balance is key and it’s best to decide what is going to work for you. I find that diet programs usually don’t work (for me at least) because it’s an external force, designed by somebody who is not you, influencing your internal system and thought process.
So how can we find harmony and success in this process of improving our health without hating ourselves like Louis C.K says?
Make up your own rules to follow, but still be smart. Decide where you can tiptoe across that line occasionally (a glass of wine with dinner or some dark chocolate), and where you will never step foot (multiple cocktails and a trip to the drive-through). You are more likely to stick to something that you have laid out for yourself than a preplanned rule based system made by a stranger. The difference is you have to want it, and you’re more likely to followthrough with something if you created it for yourself.
Allow yourself a momentary pass for certain situations. The hardest part about making the changes last is when you get that last minute call from a friend to go out to dinner, or when you forgot your lunch at home and have to find a fast replacement during your 15 minute lunch break. Then the guilt and hatred sets in when you “fall off the wagon.” It feels terrible to go to someone’s house and have to tell them that you don’t eat certain foods. That was something I decided I couldn’t do. So when I am in my home, doing my own cooking and food shopping I go as heathy as possible, that way I can relax a bit and not beat myself up during the times when I don’t have all the control. I found that when I’m in a situation I cannot control, the really unhealthy thing to do is work myself up into an anxious frenzy or a “food freakout.”
Be kind to yourself. Harsh words toward yourself are the opposite of health promoting. So if you find yourself on a diet where you are constantly depriving yourself or experiencing harsh thoughts toward yourself (“I can’t believe I just ate two chicken chalupas. I hate myself!”) something is not working. That’s not to say allow yourself every indulgence and disguise it as self love. Taking good care of yourself is as much about food, as it is your thoughts.
Experiment. For short periods of time I have done every kind of nutritional plan including vegetarian, vegan, paleo, Whole-30, gluten free, and felt like a failure when I “cheated.” I found that the key wasn’t converting to one for the rest of my life because at some point I was bound to fail, or just change my mind. Try something out for as long as your willing to keep it up. It could be a month, a day, or just one meal. The benefit is you will learn to prepare new types of foods, and you can see what works best for your body. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Don’t ever set yourself up for a failure! Today I was a vegetarian, tomorrow I may be paleo. As long as what you are trying out is mostly whole unprocessed foods, play around!
For people who are natural worriers, adding another thing to life that you are going to worry about is a recipe for disaster. During the times that I experience conflicting thoughts and harsh feelings toward myself when it came to my food choices I ask myself what’s my bottom line? Is it keeping to a regimented program just for the sake of it and in the process beating my soul into submission with feelings of guilt and anxiety? Or is it being loving and kind toward myself and rolling with the flow of life as best I can, while making good choices? I’m sure you can figure out the answer to that one.
Sometimes life give you moments where it’s healthier to go with the flow and pick up again tomorrow.