I had a sort of epiphany today. One that hadn't really occurred to me before. And it's silly because it's a completely obvious, not at all revolutionary concept. But for me, it's significant.
Your eating habits are, indeed, habits.
Ha. I told you it was simple.
I've shared before about how healthy living, for me, is like a light switch. When it's on, I make smart decisions, exercise self-control, and am capable of thinking like a rational person. When it's off, though, it's off. I will eat whatever I want, whenever I want with zero regard for what's best for my body.
The trouble is learning how to turn the light switch on when it's off.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I knew I'd be starting the Whole30 this week, so I told myself it was okay to indulge. And then I really indulged. Every meal was an opportunity to eat something delicious because, you know, 30 days without crappy food is basically a lifetime. And I deserved to taste everything one last time.
With that mindset, I got into a legitimate habit of ordering the most delicious thing on all the menus and adding dessert, even when I was full. In just a couple of weeks!
Now I'm five days into this Whole30, and I'm forcing myself to exercise a ridiculous amount of self-control. In doing so, I'm having to rewire my brain. Again. What I've noticed, though, is that with every day that goes by, I have to think less before telling myself that I won't have something non-compliant. My decision-making process is becoming more automatic. I know that I won't be eating the cookies, so I don't eat the cookies. Eggs, kale, tomatoes, hot sauce. Repeat.
Maybe that sounds awful and uninspired to you. But for me, it's such a relief. And it's proof that our bodies and minds are so very malleable. Two weeks ago, I was eating donuts like my life depended on it. Today, the homemade ranch I dipped my kale in this morning tasted like heaven.
So then two significant questions come to mind: How do you go about creating healthy habits? And once you've established such habits, how do you learn to practice moderation so that you don't have to forego your favorite foods for the rest of your life?
With respect to the first question, I think the answer really is pretty simple. At least for me.
You just do it. You do whatever it takes. For me, that probably means committing to doing a Whole30 a few times a year. So that way, when my motivation starts to wane, I've already got a plan in place to get myself back on track.
For you, it might mean committing to one week without dessert. Or chips and queso. You get an accountability partner who will be willing to call you on the carpet if you slip up during your challenge. You tell yourself that you'll eat clean for an entire day. And then see how you feel.
You make one healthy decision, and then another, and then another. And after a week, you'll look up, and you will have created a legitimate habit.
But complying with the Whole30 guidelines for the rest of your life obviously isn't really feasible. At least not for me. If you have an autoimmune disease, you may have to accept that deviating from the Paleo plan isn't an option if you want to stay well, but for the rest of us... well, it'd be fantastic if we could all find a way to exercise some moderation.
The answer to that question is a little more difficult.
On the one hand, I've typically not been very good with moderation. One cheat night turns into another, and then another, and then, before I know it, I've got unhealthy eating habits again.
I did significantly better this last go-around because I found the Paleo lifestyle to be so much more livable than anything else I've ever done. For five months or so, I was able to occasionally indulge in my favorite foods without compromising my commitment to Paleo.
But then we went to Austin, and I gave myself "permission" to check out for several days. I didn't make ANY effort to keep my brain on track, and I arguably created bad habits in that very short time span. Thanksgiving came shortly thereafter, and I was able to keep it together for the first part of December, but the damage had been done.
Maybe what I need is to make sure I keep my indulgences limited in time frame and frequency so that I can maintain the healthy frame of mind that serves me well?