It’s been a struggle for me to find my way back to a healthy diet and gym routine. S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E.
Here’s the problem with some habits. Once you STOP a habit, it’s HARDER to get back into it. In Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, she believes that we overestimate how easy it will be to start a habit again. When it comes to starting over with a former habit, she writes, “the novelty has worn off, I’ve remembered all the reasons I struggle with that habit, and it’s discouraging to feel myself backsliding.”
I read that paragraph and realized it was describing me. I had let my ego get the better of me. I believed that since I knew how to eat well, maintain a healthy weight, and challenge myself at the gym, it wouldn’t be a big deal to veer off the healthy path. Just for a little bit. We all know how that goes. It took a just this once mentality to fool myself and fall off the path completely.
I used to have only Saturdays reserved for my cheat days, when my husband and I would go to town on carbs and sweets a la Tim Ferriss’s Slow-Carb Diet. It then morphed into Friday nights AND Saturday (because Friday night is part of the weekend, right?). Then indulging for Friday lunches and Thursday evenings crept into the mix. Worse than the increase of my cheat days was that I also began emotionally eating. I would snack or crave carbs when I was stressed and depleted of willpower and discipline, but I would also eat unhealthily when I was happy and wanted to celebrate the weekend or a special occasion.
Tony Robbins calls this process Anchoring, which is tying a behavior or stimulus to an intense emotional state. Anchoring is something you can train yourself to do, and it can be used for better or worse. A good example would be like assuming a powerful stance in order to associate it with the feeling of confidence. If you train yourself effectively, you can call up this emotion every time you act out the behavior (hands on your hips) or see a stimulus (the podium and microphone for your presentation). But Anchoring can also be tied to bad behaviors, such as the case of my unhealthy eating habits. In the few months I let myself veer off course, I had unintentionally ANCHORED myself to associate the behavior of eating junk food and the stimulus of NetFlix with two powerful emotional states: stress and joy. Nice move, P.
The weight that I had lost last year and had proudly maintained for nearly 6 months crept back. The glimmer of toned muscle on my arms, legs, and abs disappeared. My pants were getting snug, and I was deliberately choosing shirts with more room. AND YET. I couldn’t stop. My husband couldn’t stop either. We were both turning into a regularly snack and pizza-obsessed, Netflix-watching couple, and it was a slow-moving train wreck that neither of us had the willpower to stop.
After several weeks of unsuccessfully trying to stop myself from snacking, I gave up. Kind of. It was time to switch approaches. So, I decided to stop stopping. Instead of fighting against my primal, emotional side with my limited willpower, I had to find a way to work with it. To acknowledge its existence. I needed to use emotions with emotions.
I’ve experienced how ineffective it is to deprive myself. It doesn’t work for very long. Ever get the urge to do something EVEN MORE when you tell yourself you can’t do it? Often times people who go on a restricted low-calorie diet usually binge afterwards and gain everything back. I had to find other ways to reward myself when I was happy and to soothe myself when I was stressed. After some trial and error, I discovered a few tricks that started to work for me.
When I’m happy and want to go out, I am usually satisfied with treating myself with frozen yogurt. Or when I’m stressed, I bypass the urge to watch NetFlix by not staying home. Instead, I immediately head to the gym for Zumba or do some window-shopping at the mall. It’s a re-direction tactic, and it works because my stress melts away when I get to mindlessly dance it off or browse pretty stuff at the boutiques. I have also begun to ANCHOR myself with a new healthy habit and routine. After a good workout, I drive over to Whole Foods and reward myself with a refreshing drink at the juice bar and happily wander the aisles for tasty and healthy snacks. It actually feels like an indulgence when I go to the juice bar. Yes, it’s $7 for cold-pressed juice, but it’s damned GOOD. It also feels like a treat when I buy a local, organic brand of almond butter because the label looks pretty or a container of Strauss yogurt because it’s delicious swirled with honey and berries. My taste buds appreciate food that is good, even if it’s healthy.
Okay, it’s not the same thing as splurging on a shiny pair of shoes or ordering a cocktail at a restaurant. But surprisingly, those small indulgences are enough to make me happy. And maybe that’s enough for my body and spirit to get back on track.