As one who has had to give up a multitude of foods due to allergies and general health issues, I have learned a thing or two about successfully changing my eating habits. I am currently Gluten, Dairy, and Sugar free. And even though I have had to deal with these food changes, I can honestly say I rarely feel deprived, but rather enjoy my food immensely. I thought I’d share some of my methods and pass on what I’ve learned through my personal experiences.
1. Know That Eating is Emotional
The first and most important thing we need to understand, is that eating is highly emotional. It is not just about how it tastes or how it makes us feel physically, it is about the comfort it brings, the memories attached, and the ambiance we enjoy while consuming it. This emotion is largely tied to our culture. I have never felt that giving up fried chicken for the rest of my life was a big deal, because we rarely ate fried chicken in my family growing up. This may be extremely difficult for someone from the south, however, because in the south they eat fried chicken regularly. To them, fried chicken is family, abundance, and comfort.
For me the idea of giving up coffee is earth shattering, because I associate it with all the long conversations I’ve had with friends, the daily caffeine runs Dan and I do together (he’s a RedBull guy), and warm comfort on a cold morning. Giving up coffee would feel like losing an indulgent part of me I adore.
It’s important to understand this emotional connection with what we eat, so that when we are trying to give up a certain food, and that rebellious thought, “I don’t want to give this up FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE!” happens, we can recognize it as a normal reaction. This is our mind freaking out over our memories. Expect this to happen and prepare for it. Tell yourself that this is an emotional coping mechanism, but that it’s not true. You can live without it. Be prepared with an image to counteract the memory. A definition of who you want to be. Ones that have been especially effective for me have been:
- Telling myself I was too good to eat junk food, and being a snob about it.
- Thinking about my appearance and health goals, and burning that image into my mind.
- Thinking of myself as one of the “pretty girls” who eat well and look good. (Don’t judge me.)
2. Trust That Your Palette Will Adjust
My palette is COMPLETELY different than it used to be. I’ll never forget the first time I was served a salad with mixed greens. I was appalled and thought it was disgusting. Now, I get excited about mixed greens, kale, spinach, arugula, chard, mustard greens, you name it. My mouth literally waters over them. When I started drinking coffee, I drank mochas. Then I went on Weight Watchers, so I started drinking half pump mochas (2 pumps instead of 4). The first time I had a half pump mocha, I was sucking it up. It was horrible and tasted nothing like chocolate. But I kept ordering it. Pretty soon I found it tasted very chocolatey, and reduced it to 1/2 of one pump. Then… I stopped with the mocha all together and just ordered a latte. My first latte was horrible. It was so bitter. But I kept ordering them because I had to give up sugar. Eventually, I LOVED my lattes, and thought the milk made them sweet and delicious. Then, I had to give up dairy. So guess what I ordered? An Americano (espresso with hot water instead of milk). Not the best. But it was that or give up coffee all together. Now, I drink straight black coffee and Americanos and love them.
I am here to tell you, your palette can adjust to anything. Trust the process. Get through the horrible phase. The one where everything tastes funny, and nothing is comfort food, and just keep eating it. Then, one day, you’ll find yourself enjoying it. And eventually, you’ll crave it. You’ll feel happy and satisfied and wonder how you ever ate all that overly salted, sugared, and fatty food.
3. Food is Addictive
There are actual chemical processes associated with some foods that are really addictive. In studies done on lab rats, sugar was found to be more addictive than Cocaine! And man, I believe it. When I first gave up sugar, I removed everything in my house that contained even a sprinkle of sugar in it so I wouldn’t cave. And I was doing really well. It had been about two months since I’d had processed sugar, or anything that turned into sugar in my body, when I came across an unopened bag of chocolate chips in the back of my baking cabinet. I kid you not, I ripped open the bag and poured them frantically into my mouth like a straight up drug addict. I couldn’t believe it. I was so embarrassed.
I told my dad about it when I saw him, and he got serious. Being a drug rehab therapist, he was equipped to give me advice. He said addicts usually have a “cave” moment at this stage, and that what I needed to do was forgive myself and move forward. I felt better knowing it was normal, but freaked out by the fact that I essentially needed drug counseling to give up sugar.
When I had to give up wheat, I knew that I would try to justify eating it in a multitude of ways, because I was addicted to it. When we’re addicted, our brain is trying to figure out how to get it no matter what. Knowing this ahead of time, when my brain came up with a plan, I was able to recognize it as the addiction talking and take it seriously. Then I could fight it off and push through it. Don’t underestimate the power of your addiction. If you do, you’ll give in.
4. Don’t Starve Yourself
The surest way to fail at changing your eating habits, is to adopt a deprivation mentality. The minute I focus on everything I can’t eat, I feel starving. Or if I call myself by a name, like Paleo or Raw Foodist, I only think of what they don’t eat, and again I’m starving. But when I focus on everything I can eat, and then fill my refrigerator and pantry with that, I no longer feel starving. The harsh lines of everything I’m eating disappear, and I only have to deal with what I can’t eat if it’s in front of me. Then I suddenly have so many wonderful things to eat, and I’m excited about it. I’ve made the mistake of taking all the bad stuff out and not replacing it with alternatives before as well. And I just sat there and starved… then went and bought a cheeseburger. It doesn’t work. Fill your life with good food until there’s no room for the bad, and you’ll be healthier AND happier. You don’t want to walk around like you’re emaciated all the time. Be vibrant! Be satisfied and full!
5. Listen to Your Body
There are always new studies and evidence for eating one way and not another. There are studies that say being a Vegan is Best. Studies that show we need animal meat. Studies that say eggs are bad. Studies that say eggs are good. And studies that say your blood type determines what you can eat. In the end, you have to listen to your body.
When I started Crossfit a few years back, they wanted everyone to come 4-5 days a week, but I felt I needed 3-4 days to recover between workouts. I got a lot of flack for it, but I stuck to my guns. (Mostly because I could barely walk, let alone work out again.) I went 1-2 times a week tops. And guess what? I improved faster, got less injuries, and wasn’t getting sick as often as everyone around me. Eventually I gave it up all together because even though it was really good for me emotionally, I notice my adrenal glands were getting weaker and weaker and I grew more and more fatigued. It just didn’t work with my body. My body does best with moderate training.
Same goes for food. Regardless of what’s supposed to be good for you, listen to how your body reacts. There are all sorts of odd things I stay away from because they really upset my stomach. Any kind of pork, beets, too many nuts, etc…
How you think about your food (and yourself) will make all the difference. Don’t go on a diet, change how you see food.