Creatures of Habit
How much of what you do every day is the result of habits rather than planned thought? We get up in the morning and have our morning routines. We get out of the house and do the things we normally do during the day, getting home to do the things we normally do in the evening. We have routines for hygiene, clothing ourselves, eating, exercising, and any of the numerous things that regularly populate our lives. Humans are geared this way; it’s normal. However, when we decide that we want to make change in our lives, these deeply ingrained habits still persist and can get in the way, helping us feel that it is impossible for us to succeed at reaching the new goal.
And such it is for weight loss. Not only do we have habits for how and when and what we eat, our bodies have actually become habituated to the foods and drinks we consume. So if we decide that we are going to make a radical switch from a fast food diet to a vegan one, our bodies are likely to react equally as radically. They have become used to processing the foods we put in ourselves on a regular basis, and even if we don’t feel good when we eat certain foods, it is a familiar feeling of discomfort.
The good news is that it is possible to develop new habits, and these tendencies to create habits will, in time, lead to new habits forming. I have a client who actually lived on a fast food diet, had extremely high cholesterol readings and was being threatened with medication for diabetes because her blood sugar was over 300. Over about a 3 month period, with focused and conscious effort, she managed to change her diet little by little removing visible sugar, many processed foods, and moving towards eating whole foods – fruits, vegetables, grains, and low-fat protein. As a result, her health began to improve. And then she came in contact with a beloved food – pepperoni pizza. She had a couple of pieces, and within hours, she could feel how unhappy her body was with it. This surprised her because she had been able to consume large quantities of it in the past. But her body had begun to adapt to her changed whole-food diet, and now it expected to have fiber and nutrient-laden foods rather than starchy fatty ones. So she was pleasantly surprised at how the gradual change in her eating patterns actually supported her continuing to eliminate unhealthy foods from her regular eating routine.
It is possible to change our habits, but we never lose the ones we establish – we just build new ones that, over time, deepen and can be followed instead of the old ones. This is why an alcoholic who stops drinking for years and years can go back in a very short time to the level of alcohol intake he had when he stopped – the habit is still there, and his body has body memory of that habit.
I have learned over the years that I generally need reinforcement to build and sustain new habits, and that having the people around me being supportive is a tremendous asset. However, there are many times when this isn’t the case, and the people we love and know don’t support our changes. Don’t despair, but do seek the help of others. There are many forms of support groups ranging from individual counseling and coaching to support groups like Weight Watchers to meet-up groups and so on. Having like-minded people in your world helps you see what the impact of changes look like on others and can give you role models for making your own progress. And even if you want to make changes in private, we now have access to virtual groups via the internet that can provide this support at a distance.
You can make change in your life and you can achieve your goals; all you need to do is set your intentions, set a path to your goal, and go for it. Over time you will surprise yourself at how much you can achieve.