Let's talk about the majority of individuals trying to make a lifestyle change. Many may want more energy, mental clarity, or perhaps have headaches or difficulty losing weight.
I’ve found the second type of “changer” is a person who makes a change, feels better, but then falls off the wagon. Last week one of my co-workers illustrated this course so clearly. She said, “Wendie, I feel so much better when I don't eat sugar and I usually do really well for a few weeks. Then I binge eat and feel terrible! My brain isn’t clear, I’m bloated and I feel sick for days!”
I have to admit that my first thought was “then why on earth would you want to do that?" However, being human often means making mistakes; or in her case, committing dietary indiscretions.
I cannot tell you how many times I've heard similar stories from my patients. Interestingly, almost every person tells me that they felt so much better after making a change, but for one reason or another, stopped the plan they were on. Sometimes it was due to travel, other times a family events, holiday parties, stress, or sleep deprivation. However, it is during these times that we are most vulnerable to falling off the wagon. Simply recognizing that you’re stressed and at risk of deviating often helps you stay on track.
What was really interesting about my co-worker was that she was surprised she kept making mistakes, and was really down on herself for it. Typically, what makes changing difficult is that when you feel better you have little motivation for staying on track. You’ve likely forgotten how terrible you previously felt and it seems like you’ve fixed the problem, so the human response is to revert back to your old habits.
Sustained change can be difficult, particularly if it sets you apart from your peers, and especially when it involves food, which, the last time I checked, is EVERYWHERE! If you read my last post, you know that I never eat anything unless it is labeled gluten free or I've spoken with the person preparing my food. It's really tiring to have to discuss dietary restrictions with the server or caterer rather than just eating what everyone else is. When everyone is listening it can also be embarrassing.
So how do we confront making changes, particularly with food choices? First of all, I don't use the word "diet”. It implies you need to "die" to do it, which does not inspire me at all. Secondly, we normally think of diets as something temporary. Which is why when I recommend that my patients make changes, I encourage them to view their new programs as something they will do for six months to a year and then reevaluate. I’ve found both personally and professionally that it takes about two years to make a lifestyle change stick. Three months is a nice start, but that’s not the end of the story!
Humanity happens. Forgive yourself. Start over. At some point it will get easier. In my next post, we’ll explore how being conscious when you’re going off the wagon can ultimately help you stay in control.