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  • Writer's pictureamyk73

Making Better Habits Habitual

Let’s say you want to give up chocolate for good. For the rest of your life not one more bit of chocolate passes your lips.


Most of us cannot make it 40 days of Lent without breaking our promise to not eat chocolate. If we do manage it, then that Easter Sunday we are taking on the chocolate bunny like it is manna from Heaven. So what makes us think we could possibly give up chocolate the rest of our life?


Some of us try though, repeatedly.


That is the logic of diets.


Give up certain foods, categories of foods even that are not considered within the parameters of the diet for ever. Build a new lifestyle based on these rules and you’ll live a skinny life looking and feeling your best. If it means giving up chocolate, birthday cakes, wedding cakes, peas, corn, bread, eggs, and any other food deemed unaligned with that diet, is it worth it though?


We have all done at least one strange diet that required adding in or restricting some odd piece of food or several.


What guarantee do you have that you will look and feel your best? Given diets track record I think its safe to say very few of us can go without foods we enjoy the rest of our chosen diet lifestyle.


Can we truly be happy if we never have another birthday cake in our life?


My answer is no. I know personally that would be a deal breaker for me. Going to a birthday party, even my own, and never being able to enjoy and partake in the centerpiece of that event would not be happy for me.


Food is a socially and culturally embedded element for who we are. Food is meant to be used as a way to connect us to others, celebrate and comfort one another and be there as our foundation of life.


Why then would we do anything that takes that element of ourselves out of our life?


The rules of dieting are dumb. They rob us of the very joy of eating and destroy our relationship with food.” – Amy Kramer, Dragonspit Apothecary


When we think then of changing a bad habit to a healthier one, what does that even mean?


Well for one thing, it is not a process of deprivation and restriction. It is one thing to improve ourselves and another to punish ourselves. Our approach to building better habits can go down either path but only one is life lasting.


For demonstration, let’s say we choose the restrictive path and swore off a certain food for the rest of our lives. What that does emotionally and spiritually to us is based on how important that food is to us, individually, socially and culturally. Given that most of us go for the big things in life as we see them for the reason we are in the state we are, that usually means a food that is significant.


The first few times we’re practicing this new restriction it will be challenging and hard. Over time it may get easier to physically refrain from eating it. We may even feel proud of ourselves for not having any of it for many years. Yet, what doesn’t get talked about is how that action physically is impacting us emotionally and spiritually. It is not talked about how we feel when we are at a celebration or situation in our life where that food is there and it is calling to us. We create this battle inside ourselves between body, mind and spirit instead of being free to celebrate, grief, connect, comfort, and experience the essence of that life situation. We scold ourselves for considering giving in. We feel the eyes of those around us waiting to see if we will eat it or not.


In many cases this behavior leads to closet eating. We are so embarrassed that we are not as strong as we want others to believe so we eat Little Debbie Cakes in our closet where no one can see our stash. Then we scold ourselves for being so weak.


Neither approach is positive for a healthy relationship within yourself.


Instead of restriction, I prefer to teach my clients the value of having a healthy relationship with food. In this method, we work to see where special foods fit into our lives and build the healthy habits to have our cake and eat it too. Is it Sunday dinner with a group of friends, an upcoming friend’s wedding or just something you deeply enjoy?


The number of habit building techniques and tricks available are not always helpful here either because they can again introduce restrictive punishment to our selves. So, to build a new habit you must first develop a good foundation within yourself. Understanding where that special food comes into play matters.


What I teach clients is:

  • You get to be human in the process of being healthier

  • Foods and settings where we eat them is important to our physical, emotional and spiritual health

  • You can include all kinds of food without deprivation and still reach a health goal

  • Losing weight is a side effect of building health across your mind, body and spirit

  • It doesn’t mean we get to eat Oreos every day

I think one of the most important things we have forgotten in the diet thinking we’re programmed to do is that we are human. We get to feel, enjoy, find pleasure and connect over food. In fact, we were created to do just that.


Secondly, where things have gotten off the rail is in treats. As Americans, we love treats and snacks. Gradually over time, many of us graze all day rather than at specific meals. This constant eating has caused us to have no boundary when meals begin and snacking ends. That distorts our ability to understand when we are hungry and when we are full.


When I work with a client who has dieted more times than she can count, struggles with cravings, is desperate to lose weight and has so much dieting thinking programmed in her, things can feel tough. She looks at me like I’m insane when I say no food is off limit from now on. Some of them are not sure how to respond because for so many years they’ve been told not to eat certain things or it didn’t fit into whatever diet they were doing so for years they’ve not had something, like an egg. In the process of building new habits we have to break up with the old patterns by gifting ourselves freedom from the chains of restrictive eating.


By relearning to eat we relearn how to work across our mind, body and spirit when it comes to navigating food. We relearn how food feels, tastes and appeals to us in different situations. There is this healing we undergo to reconnect our mind and body when it comes to eating so that they work together rather than at odds.


Dieting has broken that bond between our mind and body making them enemies. Our mind tries to take control because it sees the body as not doing what it needs to retain or be the size we think it should be. Over time that creates this negative thinking not only about our body but with our relationship to food. There is this continual guilt and shame applied to foods or deprivation as rewarding thinking that further tears down the internal connection in ourself and the perspective we carry about food.

In the process of building new habits we have to break up with the old patterns by gifting ourselves freedom from the chains of restrictive eating. – Amy Kramer, Dragonspit Apothecary

Here’s a great example, a friend of mine follows and sells a popular weight loss program. In this program you must eat or rather drink these mixtures of powder throughout the day and then have a reasonable meal in the evening. Certain foods are prohibited in this program including green peas, breads, desserts and other higher in sugar, whether naturally there or not, foods.


My friend lost a lot of weight and became a proponent of this way of eating. It became impossible to go out to eat with her because there was very little off an average restaurant’s menu she could eat on this program. It became even harder to have her included in get-togethers where there was no guarantee there would be anything aligned to her meal program that was allowed. Very importantly her unwillingness to partake in birthday cake, made others feel uncomfortable about eating it!


Yes, we are deeply influenced by others in our eating. For good and bad. My friend’s decision to eat a strict diet actually prevented others from enjoying a milestone celebration with a slice of cake. So not only did she not have any, many others didn’t either. This relationship with her created an isolation where she was no longer included. It wasn’t that we didn’t love her anymore but that we couldn’t connect with her. There was nothing holding us together.


Now, I can hear some of you saying but she chose to be healthy. Cake is bad! Yes I agree cake isn’t necessarily a healthy food but it is an emotional food. It is a celebration food in this situation and important. There is a balance that is necessary to not only feed our physical body but also our emotions.


Also and this is most important, like it or not, food connects us. It connects us to ourselves through understanding why we are drawn to certain foods so we can support ourselves. It also nourishes us physically. If we only feed the physical we disconnect our brain, emotional response and body from using food in the way it needs to thrive.


I’m not saying my friend was right or wrong in choosing to not eat birthday cake. It was after all her choice. What I’m saying is over time of this repeated behavior it became uncomfortable to be myself around her. She changed in a way that no longer connected with me and others we were friends with. There is an ancient from Tibet philosophy that says, “It is better to eat cake with a friend, than a carrot in isolation.”


I do truly believe it is wonderful she lost a bunch of weight and I wish her only the best. However, I also truly miss our friendship and the connection I had with her that is no longer possible.


Building new habits has to encompass our mind, body and spirit in the process of positive change.


Let’s consider for a moment, you are ready to incorporate healthy habits into your life. You want to drop some weight and be realistic this time about how you achieve that. Here are my favorite tips for clients in this work:

  • It is still about doing the work but this work is about freedom not restriction

  • This process is about learning to listen to your body, not shut it down and scold it for being human

  • There is room for cake and eating it too

  • If it doesn’t feel good in the body, mind or spirit then it isn’t right for you

  • It can take a long time to de-program from diet thinking

  • Building habits is not an overnight, 5 minute activity

The steps you take to build a healthy new habit involve forgiveness, love, support, strength, freedom. Ironically, none of these words are typically found in diets or meal plan programs. Again, it doesn’t mean you’ll eat Oreos every day but it does mean you will make choices right for yourself when presented Oreos. That is truly empowering and loving to yourself.


One step at a time is where we start to see healthy habits emerge and personalized to who we are as individuals. It is unique to ourselves because we know what we need and how to support our body, mind and spirit in a loving way nutritionally and in connection to food.


To work with me, book a consultation at dragonspitapothecary.com

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