A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about a new habit I had started that was provoking some conflicted feelings. A month has gone by since I started this habit, and I’ve been having some thoughts and feelings I wanted to document before I forget about them. So, you get a post! Yay!
The habit goal I am writing about is “finish my food by 8pm, 25 times by the end of the year.” I was experiencing both optimism and apprehension about adopting this habit. My biggest fear was that a habit like this would send me back into a dieting/restriction oriented mindset.
Overall, this habit is going a lot better than I expected, both in terms of emotional response and implementation.
In terms of emotional response, I did notice some thoughts creep in that concerned me.
For example: one night, I stayed up a bit late. I didn’t feel hungry at 8pm, but when my husband cooked something at 10pm, it smelled pretty good and I felt slightly hungry. However, I reminded myself that if I ate it now, I likely wouldn’t sleep well, and that I could have some the next day and it would still taste good. I decided to treat it as an experiment – if I went to sleep ever-so-slightly hungry, what would that feel like, and how would that affect my sleep? I was proud of myself for practicing self awareness in that moment. However, the next night I caught myself trying that line on myself again, when I actually WAS unquestionably hungry, and it wasn’t that late. So, I pointed out that trying an experiment for one night to see how it felt was one thing, but trying to repeat it when I actually WAS hungry was what I was trying to avoid. So I had a small meal.
I also noticed some thoughts that make me feel optimistic, encouraged and happy. Having an external reminder (the clock) during a time of day when I tend to be least aware of my hunger and satiety cues is actually helping me be more aware of these cues ALL the time. There are several examples, so you get a bulleted list! (I ❤ bulleted lists):
- On one day, I ate more than I was hungry for, and I felt uncomfortable going to sleep that night. The next day, I remembered that feeling, and I chose to recognize when I felt satisfied, and felt no sense of guilt/shame/deprivation about it. I just felt happy knowing that I was choosing something that would help me feel good when I slept and rested when I awoke.
- On another day, I was eating dinner by myself and browsing Facebook on my phone (before 8pm), when I felt angered by something that I read. Within a couple minutes, I noticed myself eating really quickly, chewing really quickly, and not tasting my food anymore. I took a deep breath and tried to slow down and it was very difficult. So I decided to walk away from my food. It was my second helping and I didn’t feel hungry anymore (and I knew I could come back later and eat more if I did). It felt like a huge deal to notice what I was doing AND stop!
- On another day (and after 8pm), I was eating my dinner and talking on the phone to some friends. Not realizing it, I walked into the kitchen and started to fill my bowl for seconds. And then, I realized what I was doing, realized that I wasn’t hungry and just there out of habit. I put down the serving utensil, took out the storage container, packed up the leftovers, and started a load of dishes to occupy myself while chatting. With no feelings of deprivation whatsoever!
- I have this package of big cookies – the kind of cookies that are 400 calories each and come two to a package (I don’t count my calorie intake; I am listing it here for descriptive purposes only, to illustrate what I mean by “big cookies”). And half of one of these cookies has been sitting in the passenger seat of my car for a few days (yes, my car is a mess). Readily accessible. Sometimes I take a bite of it. Sometimes I look at it and say “nah, I’m not feeling it now.” It’s still there.
- On several other days, for various reasons (scheduling, not quite eating enough during the day), I chose to eat after 8pm. And then at 8:15 or 8:30pm, I recognized that I felt satisfied, and chose to be finished eating for the night. I am really surprised by how easy this feels. It shows that I am taking the spirit of this habit to heart, and not viewing it as a black/white, all/nothing dichotomy. None of the “well, I didn’t meet the goal for today, so I might as well forget about hunger and satiety cues until my next opportunity for perfection (tomorrow) comes along.” Nope! Just stopped eating, with no emotional drama. I never THOUGHT I was an all/nothing person in the past, but seeing how surprised I am by this moderate, reasonable behavior, I guess maybe I was.
This was a particular big deal to me. I know that to most people, “eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full” probably sounds like pretty neutral and sane advice. But for me, growing up, this advice was always loaded. If I chose the “wrong” answer (“still hungry”), my mother’s fear and concern was palpable, and as a young child, it translated to me as “disappointment” (even though I now know that it was more “fear and concern” than disappointment). So the “stop when you’re full” advice often triggered resistance in me, even as an adult. Because I subconsciously feared future deprivation. And because “eff you, who are you to tell me what to do?”
But the fact that I’ve been noticing my fullness signals AND being able to stop eating (and even WANTING to stop eating) when I notice them, without feelings of resistance or anger, feels like a big deal to me.
So, emotional response has been MUCH better than expected, after talking myself through some initial thoughts that concerned me. I’m really glad I didn’t freak out and throw in the towel the second those initial thoughts snuck in. After all, given my background and experience, it’s natural that any habit that looks like a diet habit might trigger some diet-related thought patterns, just by association. That’s what I’m used to. I needed to consciously acknowledge those thought patterns, and choose to try something else. I needed to have some patience and stick to it for more than a week or two before making a judgment. I needed to allow myself to stumble a little (emotionally speaking) while I practiced a new skill. I needed to breathe through the discomfort, and notice my feelings in the stretch (or whatever yoga teachers like to say now).
Time for a parenting metaphor, because teaching myself a new mindset feels a lot like parenting to me. My kiddo just started swimming lessons, and the instructors are helping him learn to float on his back. He’s afraid to relax his head and allow his ears to get wet, which they tell me is natural and typical. But he’s not so afraid that he refuses to get near a pool. He gets excited for swimming lessons; it’s just that when they do the the back float part of the lesson, he is nervous. But he overcomes it and participates in the lesson. I’m confident he will learn to relax and float at some point.
The fact that he is nervous about floating isn’t a sign that we should backpedal and say “forget it, kid, you aren’t ready for swim lessons yet.” It’s a sign that he needs more exposure and practice. Now, if he were terrified of the water and refused to get in and threw screaming tantrums, maybe it would be time to table the whole idea of swimming lessons for a few months and try again later. But that isn’t the case – he enjoys the water and is curious and loves getting into the pool. So, rather than backing up, we are staying the course and hopefully allowing him to work through his nerves. (By the way, I’m not saying that this WILL work, and that it is the right choice for ALL children. I have a brother who never learned to swim, despite years of lessons. All people are different. Insert special snowflake disclaimer here.)
So, comparing myself to a kid who is forced to take swimming lessons…..I was a kid who was forced into dieting when I had no interest. My parents were highly invested in my learning how to diet, and I was highly invested in maintaining my autonomy and being loved unconditionally (read: highly resistant to dieting). Then, for a while in my teen and young adult years, I forced dieting on myself, without realizing that’s what I was doing, thinking that it was all about “health,” and that somehow made the behavior different than if it was all about size manipulation. Finally, last year, I said “enough is enough. I can’t put my kid through this.” And I truly stopped forcing that behavior on myself over the past year. Which meant, I stopped having something to rebel against. Nobody (myself included) was highly invested in me dieting anymore. Nobody (myself included) was disappointed in the way I looked anymore. Nobody (myself included) was policing my food choices anymore. Nobody (myself included) was valuing my physical health at the expense of my emotional health anymore. Nobody (myself included) was making feel-good habits like movement, sleep, and relationships all about weight loss. Nobody (myself included) was prioritizing food over all the other aspects of life. Finally, I could stop resisting, to the point where I was ready to get near the metaphorical pool. Whereas before, I would run screaming from any behavior that encouraged (admonished, it felt like?) STOPPING eating when I was full (even if it also encouraged eating when hungry. And even though none of this was conscious). Now I’m willing to get near the pool and get in, and see what this intuitive eating business is all about, even though I feel a little apprehensive about water getting in my ears when I float.
Pretty powerful stuff.
Oh, and as far as the actual implementation of the habit…the goal is to do it 25 times by the end of the year, and I am already up to 21. So it is highly likely I will meet this goal. And I plan to continue with it into 2016. Physically, I’ve been noticing: sleeping more deeply, waking up more refreshed, having more energy, and my pants feeling more comfortable. Really, all this is an afterthought compared with the emotional stuff, IMO.
A good first month! I’ll take it. This has been yet another catharsis on Power, Peace and the Porch Gym. Thank you for reading! If you can relate, drop a comment!