Breaking Free From Unhealthy Habits
When it comes to health, fitness and nutrition, breaking free from unhealthy habits starts with owing the fact that you are responsible for your own health. If your own self sabotage is holding you back from looking and feeling the way you want to in your body, this post will help you see that every challenge has a solution - or at least a partial one. The goal is to find the biggest two or three things that are holding you down, and commit to improving them by at least 50%. So let's get into it!
The predictable patterns That trip us up
At my house, we've been watching the HBO show 'Insecure.' Bear with me for just 30sec because I promise this does relate to health and fitness!
If you haven't seen it, Insecure follows a character named Issa and her friend Molly as they navigate the ups and downs of romantic relationships, friendships and their careers.
It's super funny and it can be emotional. It also makes me cringe nearly every episode. I usually end up yelling at the TV because the characters are such experts at self sabotage. I'm rooting for them. I want them to do better. But they always slip into the same out traps.
Take Molly for example. I won't mention specifics (so no spoiler alert necessary) but she's a respected corporate lawyer, has a tight group of friends, a wicked sense of humour, and an impossible rotation of killer outfits. Basically, she's one put-together lady.
A big part of her story arc is the search for a nice, stable man to settle down with. Let me tell you: she goes on a lot of dates and has a lot of choice. But she never gives the right kind of guys a chance, and always makes terrible decisions that land her in relationships that are 100% doomed to fail. Just when we think she may have learned a lesson and is finally about to get on track, she makes another worse decision. On and on it goes.
No one is responsible for all that heartache but her. She completely sabotages her own success. That's what gets me yelling at the TV, "Moollllly! What. Is. Wrong. With. You?! F*^K!"
Why do I bring this up?
When we watch a TV show or a film, read a story, or observe the lives of those close to us, it's typically pretty easy to see the predictable patterns that trip people up - whether they're fictional or people we know. The trouble is, having the same awareness about our own lives is much harder.
We let ourselves off too easy, making excuses. We focus on certain areas where we excel and avoid areas that are difficult. We dismiss things as impossible or diminish our abilities by saying things like "I'm just not the type of person who's good at eating healthy" or "I'm lazy", even though there are areas of your life that disprove those assumptions (think of situations when you're the total opposite of lazy, for instance). Or we're too caught up in each moment to see similarities - to notice the extremely predictable patterns that show up over and over and shape our outcomes.
"NOT TODAY": breaking free from unhealthy habits
How can we step outside of our predictable patterns in order to live the way we really want to?
The first thing is to practice taking and outside, detached perspective so, like a film director, you can see the story unfold within the bigger picture. I call this, you guessed it, "director's view".
The more you can zoom out and analyse your entire lifestyle and thinking/feelings around food and exercise, the more you improve your chances.
Ask yourself hard questions: Where do I fall down? Where am I least consistent? What excuses do I use? Why might these excuses be false? Or else, what could I do to negate them? What are the patterns?
When you figure that out, you can look at it more objectively and say, "not today." "I'm not going to go down this same road today." You can turn it into a game and try to beat your own bad habits. But it all starts with awareness.
A Real Life EXAMPLE: Does this sound like you?
Here's an excerpt from an email with a nutrition-coaching client:
I have been trying to nail down my biggest challenges, so far this is what I have:
- Being at home with the kids - I eat what they eat or worse, I eat my food then still snack on theirs (seeing as they have the stuff I want ie carbs...)
- I snack all day long, but instead of making healthy choices or drinking more water, I end up grabbing things that I tell myself are ok, but in reality they add up.
- My husband and I enjoy our wine on the weekends - but it usually goes hand in hand with overeating late at night or eating junk food.
- I have an intense emotional connection with food - it's a reward and immediate gratification. It's always the "I deserve this"...
At this point I'm really frustrated and am ready to make this stick. I've planned snacks for tonight, but I want to see if I even get hungry, it's part of the weekend routine to eat and drink wine...it's a time to connect and unwind - so that's a hard habit to break.
I planned ahead in terms of dinner tonight knowing that I would get the kids something easy today (hero burger :) so I grabbed a salad...
I have to be honest, I'm a bit bummed (but not shocked) about my lack of progress...I'm trying really hard to stay positive.
Looking at your routines and acknowledging (on paper helps!) where you're struggling is the only way to ever improve. Trust me.
Take Responsibility for unhelpful patterns in order to break them
You've got this. You have the power to start making progress. Just like Molly's character, you just need to wake-up and see what's really going on. She could decide, in one day, to tell all those zero's to take a hike, to figure out the most important characteristics she wants in a man, and learn to stop putting so much pressure on each relationship early on. Oh, and stop messing around with married men. That shit isn't going anywhere.
When it comes to health, fitness and nutrition, you need the same process. Every challenge has a solution - at least a partial one. Find the biggest two or three things that are holding you down, and commit to improving them by at least 50%.
And if don't know where to start, get help.
But it starts with owing the fact that you are responsible for your own health. So what will you do to prioritise that more? Are you doing enough to make a change? The proof is in the pudding on this, so if you're not seeing the results you want, the changes you've made are demonstrably not cutting it, and it's time to level up.
breaking free from unhealthy habits: a Basic Plan
Here was the initial plan for the client mentioned above along with a few specific suggestions that we discussed over email:
1. Default Thoughts: "Not Today" and "What is my best option here?"
When faced with an eating decision, get into the habit of immediately thinking this. Do it often! In other words, what negative pattern are you going to avoid, and even if you're in a tough situation, what's the best you can do. Don't worry about being perfect. Worry about doing better.
2. Key Habits to Plan Ahead and Take Control
Do some or all of these on a daily basis to stay in control instead of reacting to the challenges that inevitably come up in your life:
- Plan (write down) your main meals (including any necessary snacks) the day/night before.
- Plan ahead for anything you're going to purposely avoid the following day.
- Note at least one thing that would make the next day go really well.
- Note at least one thing that went well/that you're grateful for from the current day.
- Nightly food prep: when prepping for the kids school lunch, take care of you. You know how in airplanes they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before putting someone else's on? Same idea. Do you FIRST. That way it will get done.
3. Avoid Getting Hangry (this is where things go south fast), i.e. Have Some Quick Back-up Options:
- Grab some healthy back-up snacks. In this case we opted for a higher quality protein bar (I recommend: Paleo Bars and B UP bars). The homework was to get a case by the end of the week and to email me with photo confirmation.
- Make a smoothie in the morning and bring it with you on days that could get busy and require a snack.
4. For Afternoon Snack
- If you're not sure if you're actually that hungry (if it's just a craving or habit), start with 2 big glasses of water and drink slowly. See how you feel in 15mins.
- If you are hungry, hopefully you've planned out an option (see Big Point #2!). A small version of a regular meal is your best bet (pro + veg leftovers, etc.), or else make a quick salad, soup works well (see if you can get some donations from your dad), otherwise smoked salmon or deli meat. It doesn't have to be pretty!
and lastly, here's the advice i gave my client, whose email i shared above
None of these ideas are magic bullets, but here are a few things you might want to consider:
- Totally normal to be a bit bummed at this stage. But the only way forward is forward. So just focusing on what you can do to make each day and week good enough to get you moving in the right direction. It should be comforting to know that, unlike doing a group project in high school with major slackers, this one is firmly in your control. Keep taking responsibility and do what needs doing.
- List at least 2 (or more) alternatives beside wine and food that would allow you and Yoni to connect at the end of the week? In fact, let's take that a step further. What would be an even better alternative? Even more enjoyable?
- Re: food as a reward. Having awareness of this makes you a player in the game. You're not just automatically responding to stimuli. You see the pattern. Just like how you can see the pattern of someone in an abusive relationship but keeps going back, or someone who's a smoker and dealing with health problems but can't quit, you can see with an outside perspective. You can see the pattern. Disrupt the pattern. Don't let your reptile brain (the part of you that wants treats for being good) fool you.
Also, it's much easier if you can replace this habit with something else instead of just eliminating it - as per the previous email. Go on a walk, do a crossword, take a bath, etc.
Either way, when you hear yourself saying 'I deserve this', stop and come up with an alternative thought process. For example: 'Just a minute. This is a harmful pattern. In reality, I deserve to feel energetic, happy and fit. Having a treat right now doesn't comply with that. But, here's something I can do to unwind/reward myself for a job well done that is totally inline with deserving to feel better."
- And lastly, I included this in my newsletter a week or two ago. It's simple and true. I'll just copy and paste the blurb I included:
Here’s some simple yet insightful advice from former Navy SEAL Task Unit commander Jocko WIllink: “If you want to be tougher mentally, it is simple: Be tougher. Don’t meditate on it.”
This comes from a Tim Ferris interview of Jocko. He elaborates in his book “Tools of Titans”:
“Being tougher was, more than anything, a decision to be tougher. It’s possible to immediately “be tougher,” starting with your next decision. Have trouble saying “no” to dessert? Be tougher. Make that your starting decision. Feeling winded? Take the stairs anyway. Ditto. It doesn’t matter how small or big you start. If you want to be tougher, be tougher.” (p. 414 of “Tools of Titans)