The calendar flips from December to January and the world is reborn, supposedly. For some reason we treat this change much differently than we do any other page turn. January is the month of joining health clubs, losing weight, giving up smoking, and being organized. In February we still have hope but are faltering. By March it is back to business as usual. Maybe we’ll try again next year.
I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about the difference between resolutions and life style changes. I am trying to figure out how this time around I have what I believe to be a long term change with how I view food versus all my past attempts.
A little bit of history for those that don’t know me well. I have fought with my weight and food since I was 5 years old. I was a skinny child until I was sick for almost a full year with tonsillitis and they finally took them out. From that point forward I have been fat or obese. But being overweight for me has always been a frustration, because at the same time I fight with anorexia. Despite what one might think to look at me, I don’t like food. I am happy going days without eating. I genuinely do not feel hunger and eating is something I just forget to do unless something reminds me. I have NEVER eaten enough to weigh what I do and that has always been a pain point for me. I always joked I was allergic to food, who knew it was more real than joke. My weight has ranged from 185 when I graduated high school to at least 335 in 2009. Late in 2009 I found a personal trainer and started diligently trying to deal with my weight. I got down to about 220, but I was still miserable. It required deprivation, living on chicken breast and being in the gym 10 hours a week. Then despite doing all that my weight started to climb. Nothing worked. I was doing everything they said and it just got worse. I mostly gave up and accepted my life was going to exist around 300 lbs. That was fine until I started having more and more digestive problems, by last summer everything I ate made me sick, bloated and miserable. And when I say everything I mean a piece of lettuce would do me in. For someone who doesn’t like to eat this just fueled the fire.
The mantra in change leadership is “change happens when the pain of staying the same outweighs the pain of change”. I hit that point by the fall. I was tired of being in pain and my blood sugar was teetering on the cusp of diabetes land. I decided to make a change. It wasn’t going to be about weight (I long ago gave up on feeling I can master that) but about figuring out what I could eat that wouldn’t cause pain. I had no clue what I was doing so I said ok let’s start by cutting out grains (I have known my whole life I can literally gain 10 lbs by eating a slice of bread) and processed sugar. It is also worth pointing out that I, up to that point, hated to cook and did not know how. I was the queen of take out, reservations and frozen foods! I don’t know if deciding to start cooking was a conscious choice or a requirement that just happened as I started to eliminate food groups, but either way it showed up on the journey.
Fast forward 6 months, I now eat 100% paleo when I am at home (and do my best on the road). Paleo in the popular media is ‘not eating what the cave men didn’t have access to’ but at its core is really about eliminating foods that trigger the immune system to react. For me I avoid dairy, grains, processed sugar, soy and other high immune foods. I also limit my exposure to foods in the nightshade family because they cause a lot of my pain. I have learned to cook like a pro and have become really talented at converting every day recipes into paleo versions.
That’s all great, you just learned a lot about me, but that wasn’t the goal of this blog post was it. What I realized this week while hosting a friend and client at my house and cooking together all week, was that this is different for me. This isn’t like my past diets, this is who I am now. I have made a true lifestyle change. I did it in such an unplanned way that I needed to go back and examine it in hindsight to understand how and why it worked when I wasn’t trying but never did when I was trying.
I’ve identified a couple obvious differences between when we set goals versus when we make true life changes.
1. Setting the alarm clock! For most of us when we start out on a goal we tie a time frame to it. I am going to give up sugar for 30 days, I am staying off Facebook for Lent, I’ll give up drinking until we go on vacation in August. Even if the change is something we know we should or want to do long term we tied and end date to it. Having this end date, and counting towards it, mentally sets up for eventual return to our old ways. We set ourselves up to fail at a given point in time!
2. Bread and Water for the Prisoner! With the majority of goals, such as losing weight or breaking a bad habit, our chosen path is self-punishment. We are sacrificing, we are giving up something, we are removing from our lives. And let’s face it, that sucks! It leaves a void, it focuses us on the loss and it creates a negative mindset. We feel deprived and spend our time pining for how or when we can get it back.
In a lifestyle change we come at things very differently. Not only do we say goodbye permanently from day 1, but if done right we find something different to put in the void that is as equally satisfying and meets the same emotional needs and desires.
I never set out to give up bread for a day, a week or a month. I accepted that grain did not make me feel good and we broke up. Sure when I am on the road and can’t find good replacements there are ‘late night texts’ where I beg it to come back *smile*, but I always regret it in the daylight. The key to success for me has been in finding equivalent replacements. When I say I am eating paleo curious friends start to google recipes and tell me they are considering trying them too. I think this is a path to failure. It leads back to feeling punished. It is saying to yourself ‘I want pizza but I am eating healthy so let me try this recipe for pork’. Eventually the desire for pizza will win out and you will revert. Much more successful is to admit you want the pizza and to find a way to have healthy pizza (be that with a great paleo recipe or to use cauliflower *gross* as a crust or another alternative).
These to me seemed the obvious differences, but this morning as I was making pancakes (of course grain free) it hit me, there is a third more subtle difference in a lifestyle change. Much like my previous post mentioned, you change the dialog. I realized that this change took for me because I had a different discussion with my body and for the first time in over 40 years we have reached a peace accord and it is one that works long term for both sides, so it doesn’t feel like a deal I am trying to escape from.
We have agreed that I will listen when it is telling me that a food is not friendly and stop eating it. My body has agreed that yes at times I will cheat or slip up and I will be in pain or gain weight but it will be a short term event not a pattern and as a reward I will feel better and the scale will drop a little at a time (so far about 40 lbs btw).
This was a very long way to get to the central thought, but lifestyle change is about acceptance not avoidance! It is about finding peace and satisfaction in a new way and embracing a visit or two to the old way but realizing it is that, a visit, from the beginning, and loving a new ‘home’.
PS All the photos in this post are paleo foods I have made in my home recently!