By Dietitian Jill
The other day, I felt a switch go off in my head. Y’know … when you suddenly get infused with energy to do something. And pursue it full-speed ahead? That’s how I felt!
But … you know (I KNOW you do!) that this feeling usually doesn’t last. All your old behaviors flood in.
Because research has shown that we retain the negative and have a hard time accentuating “the positive” And … as the song says … an even harder time with not messing “with Mr. in-between” as most of us think in black-and-white terms and avoid all the brilliant shades of grey.
In a short time after that energy infusion … you probably find yourself back to feeling depressed because you closet-ate the whole bag of potato chips … IN the closet … because your family is loudly critical about your eating.
Or … like an old client of mine … who did what I labeled “the loop” … went to the same three fast food places one after the other when she felt stressed from work. I’ve been also saying to these types of clients FOR YEARS …
I’m not going to be there at 2am to pry the cookie dough out of your hands. You’re going to have to do that YOURSELF!
The reality is … WE HAVE FIND SOME WAY TO DO IT OURSELVES. Because no one IS going to be there at 2am.
So … the reality also is … we need to find valid tools to help us on this journey. We need to find a way to keep that switch ON. Or keep turning it ON.
A word of caution … this isn’t going to work if you have a raging eating disorder or have been compulsively overeating for years. For that you need a therapist or a professional like me who’s trained and treated these types of issues for a long time.
But if you are ready to make the change … whatever change that is … you have to at least done some healing to be able to make these changes without a ton of effort. Or a constant fear that you’re going to fail any second.
How I Did It …
As I said that, I thought of “Young Frankenstein” and the book Gene Wilder’s character was prying from the corpse of his uncle’s hands. That’s how MY mind works.
I really … this time … felt a real pull to change what I do and lose weight. Because … even I struggle with getting there.
Years ago I participated in writing a diet plan for a chiropractor called “Smart Choice”. The plan has long fallen by the wayside … I think it was tinged too much with calorie-counting and other traditional dieting practices that really don’t suit weight loss (or other eating lifestyle changes for that matter).
But the concept of CHOICE stuck with me. Because that’s what it is. And the CHOICE is immediate for us when we’re asking ourselves from at least once to sometimes 20 times a day … what do I want to eat? How am I going to eat it? What’s in the fridge or pantry? Do I stay in, go out, or drive by the local fast food place? Or more than one?
It’s that immediate choice thing I wanted to target. As for most of us it’s an instantaneous decision … like putting stuff on your plate in a buffet line.
So I figured I’d have to find some device to “head off” the decision to eat that cake (not MY food-drug of choice but possibly yours) “at the pass” with a quick intervention of sorts. I began working on the logo (pictured here) and the image of a big red button to represent the “switch” floated into my mind.
Then I thought … “I wonder if you can buy programmable ‘panic buttons’ (I LOVED my “That Was Easy” button from Staples when I got it … and it’s still a fixture on my desk)”. A look on Amazon and .. VOILA! … bought two right away … a desk-top version and a portable one that now holds my keys.
In other words, I got one to cover my time at this desk … which is considerable … and another to constantly carry. But then I realized …
You Have to Ask the Right Questions …
The right questions are CRUCIAL for any lifestyle change … and even more crucial to revamp your eating lifestyle. Because we’re SOOOO inundated with diet mentality … calories … obsession … right-wrong foods … APPS … ACCOUNTING FOR EVERY MORSEL … DIETING IS DRIVING ME CRAAAZZZY!
Whew … I’m out of breath! As I said … we’re so inundated with the diet mentality that the “switch” in our heads that turns this thinking OFF and switches ON a new way of thinking has to be backed up with some powerful motivation to do it in the first place.
Mine … I wanted to be slimmer and have more energy when I visit my sister (and walk all over New York) next month. But I found later that that’s a really shallow reason. It needs instead to be POWERFUL …what I call a HEART-REASON. You can read about the whole process in my article, Setting Up YOUR Health Self-Experiment.
And here’s some of the questions from the article that I suggest you ask yourself …
To start, you might want to get a pen and paper (or journal) and write answers to the following …
- What do I want to change about my health?
- What am I willing to do in order to get what I want?
- How much work, time, and effort am I willing to put in every day?
That’s a good beginning. Now go deeper and ask yourself …
- What makes me come alive?
- How do I add the greatest value to whatever I do?
- How will I measure that my life has been well-lived?
THEN ask about your reason for whatever purpose you’d like to explore (i.e. lose weight, get healthy, cure yourself of an autoimmune disease, etc.)
- What do I want to do to make my life better?
- Why do I want to do that?
- Is that true? If not, why do I want to do that?
- Is that true? If not, why do I want to do that? …
Continue in this way until the angels (or whoever you picture) start singing ( or whatever they do). Or until you answer “yes” to “Is that true?” Then write out your Heart-Reason in a similar way to
Me … I’m now 77 … still swinging … happy with my life … and My Heart-Reason for doing this is that I want to keep going in this way … this active and aware … until I’m 100 … then die in my sleep … GOOD REASON! My heart sings when I read that sentence … but I don’t know about the angels …
So … after all that … it’s important to …
Then Send the Right Message …
I played with my two buttons (red of course) when I got them (and instantly put my keys to the keychain one so it would go with me wherever I go). But then I realized that I needed to craft a message that would actually work to change my mind when I’m facing a mound of orange chicken (a particular favorite of mine) and be able to “switch” it to an order like BBQ pork with green beans … another favorite. Or just avoid the food altogether.
I began with SPEAKING TO MYSELF IN THE THIRD PERSON. Researchers have found that … if you do this … you’ll view potentially threatening circumstances and negative emotions with the psychological distance where you then can think more objectively and calmly.
Then YOU NEED TO IDENTIFY THE SPECIFIC BEHAVIOR YOU WANT TO CHANGE. I began the recordings with general things like “Jill … push the button … switch … atta girl … YAY” and then realized that it wasn’t specific enough.
So I began to analyze my behavior. And realized that … since I don’t overeat most of the time … the REAL challenge was at the psychiatric hospital where I work.
Coupled with the stress of the job was the fact that I have access to all sorts of food … from the snacks stored in my office to the 3-times-a-day trayline to the ever-present donuts on the units. So I realized the specific behavior I wanted to change was the stress eating at the hospital.
So I made myself a recording that said “Jill …I know you want to eat that thing … but before you do … you might want to ask yourself … is it because you’re sick, stressed, or are you really hungry? Before you eat that thing … you might want to ask yourself that question. (and I end all these recordings with …) push the button (the remind myself to do so in the future) … switch (to change the way I think and …) YAY!”
You’ll notice that I ASKED MYSELF QUESTIONS ABOUT THAT PARTICULAR BEHAVIOR. I didn’t punish the behavior or say anything negative … and ended always on a positive note. I put it in terms where I could really consider what I was doing when I was doing it and also consider changing the behavior.
So … for you to REALLY make this work … you’re going to REALLY have to be observant and notice your behavior around food IN GREAT DETAIL! I would take a day when you’re in a normal life situation … at work … with the kids … and note what you do with food. Take you cell phone and record what happens when you’re eating something to don’t want to eat … and record how you feel and what happened.
Then write down how you would switch the behavior if you could record it. Include …
- your name in the third person (i.e. Jill)
- the specific behavior you want to change (make it a small step)
- ask yourself questions about the specific behavior
- end with reminders to “push the button”, “switch” (your behavior) and an “atta girl (boy)” and/or some positive inspiration
And … last but EXTREMELY IMPORTANT … choose only one small behavior or step at a time. For example, if you’re drinking 3 quarts of soda a day … you might want to reduce it to 2 quarts. Small successful steps always make us want to do more … and eventually lead to big wins.
PUSH THE BUTTON
We tend to have that “switch” go off in our heads … get all excited … vow to change FOREVER … and then go back to our regular routine. There’s nothing wrong with you … humans are wired to the behaviors we’ve formed over time that we think keep us safe.
Unfortunately, we’re wired … too … to repeat the same behaviors over and over even if they don’t benefit us. If you don’t believe me … read my article, Rebuild Neural Pathways.
Fortunately … constant reinforcement is something that can instantly begin to rebuild those neural pathways. And … once they’re thick and strong … the old behaviors will dissolve and float away.
Put you have to continue to keep pushing the button. I found I did just that that over time. So now I keep reminding myself. It helps to have my big red button right in front of me while I’m typing this. And the small one with me at all times.
And once you’ve mastered that small step …
The Message Will Change over Time
Once you get one habit under control hopefully you’ll continue the process on to other small steps. And … I think … once you go through the initial analyzing process … which could take you quite some time … you’ll have an inkling about where you want to go next.
The main thing is … have fun with it … use it … and note how your behavior changes over time in response to it. And … by all means … celebrate those wins no matter how small.
To change any behavior we have to slow down and act intentionally rather than from habit and impulse.