Sometimes a really simple a clear thought arrives in your head and just flops out of your mouth into conversation – or ends up being typed in a text.
This morning it happened almost without realising while I was chatting with a friend, and there it was. My attitude to dieting – encapsulated in one sentence.
‘Add a new habit or give one up.’
This didn’t seem particularly profound when I typed it – but my friend picked up on it and the more I thought about the phrase the more it rang true. At least for me. The moment everything started changing for me I was doing just this. I’ve done it again and again recently, and each time I’ve made a little more progress toward my goals.
I’m hoping that the things I’ve given up and the new habits that I’ve adopted will be lifelong changes.
The fact of the matter was that for years and years I was the living embodiment of the often quoted definition of insanity (at least according to Einstein, amongst others). I was a man hoping for change but unwilling to do anything different in order to achieve it. I was a committed yo-yo dieter who spent more time at the bottom of a string than the top, and as soon as I accepted the truth that there would be no forward progress without change I began to get results.
However – I’m not sure my approach to the problem is something that’s a ‘one size fits all’ cut out and keep fridge magnet bumper sticker internet meme – as it may not be palatable for everyone.
However – if you’re like me it may be worth considering.
I don’t really do moderation. I’ve never been very good at doing little bits of things. I like to squeeze the most out of everything if I do it – or I don’t want to do it at all. In that respect (at least when it comes to things that may be considered habitual) I’m a very binary person.
I smoked to excess, and then just stopped. I drank to excess and then just stopped. I did nothing towards losing weight and then became fanatical about it. I ignored exercise and then became unable to do without it. The lists of things like this go on and on.
The bad side of my personality is that sometimes I can’t switch off the harmful aspects of being able to focus (or maybe the correct word is obsess) on one thing.
the good side is that when I do I can turn my habitual side into something that really benefits me.
I’ve often heard that this ‘black and white’ way of thinking is a male trait, but I don’t agree with that particular stereotype, just as I don’t agree with the statement that men lose weight easier than women. It’s hard for everyone – and I believe that my way of thinking is a product of my upbringing and personality type, not my gender.
I develop strong opinions and tend to build structure around them.
For instance, the reason I don’t do ‘fakeaways’ (the Slimming World ‘cheat’ versions of popular fast food) is that I used to continually obsess over the thought of chips, sausage and egg Mcmuffins, Dominos pizza or a chicken kebab until it drove me crazy and I had to have one.
I ate enough of them to last me a lifetime.
I’d prefer to have new habitual tastes for lovely freshly cooked, balanced meals that don’t lead me back to the wrong kinds of food if I fall off the wagon – rather than perpetuate a taste for things that caused my weight gains and brought on my diabetes in the past.
I guess the reason I was so worried about back sliding last year was that I know how dramatically the ‘me of the past’ could shift from obsessions with positive things to negative ones. So – I still protect myself the only way I know how, and I actively try and find good things that I can become just as addicted to as I was when I continually and morbidly ate crap.
Although there are conflicting theories on the subject, after a given period of doing anything repetitively it becomes habitual. It can take from 21 days to a year depending on who you believe (further reading here) but I’m living proof that it does happen.
It’s raining outside today – and going for a walk would have really sucked, but when I woke up I knew I needed to fill the silly little pointless rings on the screen of my Apple Watch today – so I headed straight to my exercise bike for a hill climb programme – all the time watching the thing on my wrist constantly increasing my stats and telling me I’m a good boy.
What does it matter?
I don’t know really. I just know that it does and that I won’t be able to sleep properly if I dont do it. The fortuitous side effect of this particular obsession (which is becoming a habit) happened to be that I started feeling insanely great all of a sudden.
The first week in early January that I started using my bike again was frankly a bag of ass. It tired me out and I didn’t enjoy the first 15-20 minutes of ANY out of breath cardio type exercise.
And then all of a sudden (around a week in) I just did.
I’ve been doing it ever since. I’d used the OCD part of my personality to fixate on an Apple Watch achievement and quite unexpectedly it led to something else that I’m really beginning to love.
So – I’m not sure whether my advice is good or bad – because what I’m advocating pre-supposes that you’re like me – which you’re probably not.
However – if you are then it just so happens that there’s a way forward. All you have to do is add a new habit and/or give one up. You don’t change all of the bad habits all at once. One change at a time starts the ball rolling.
If you’re hooked on chocolate, try carrots, or chew some gum. If you’re obsessed with having snacks while you watch telly in the evening then don’t watch TV and go for a walk for a change. If you drink too much wine then find another drink you love the taste of that doesn’t de-rail you all the time and get stuck into that instead.
Get a fitness tracker and start watching the stats as you improve.
Just keep trying things until you find a better obsession.
Soon enough the pleasure of NOT doing something (at least for me) becomes equal, if not greater, than actually doing it – partially because of the sense of smug self satisfaction I get from knowing I’ve kicked a habit.
However internet – I’m also willing to accept I might be a bit odd, and that you’re perfectly fine with moderation. If so then knock yourself out and (if you follow Slimming World) enjoy your low syn Curly Wurly and packet of French Fries totally on plan.