Why does it feel like it is so unbelievably hard to change, even though it is something you desperately want?
It does not matter how many times you go to bed telling yourself that tomorrow your going to give up *starving yourself/weighing yourself/binge eating, whatever it may be for you, that you wake up the next day and do it all over again.
I get it trust me I do. Every night for two years I went to bed promising myself that I was going to eat at ‘normal’ times. To waking up each day and doing every job under the sun so I could avoid eating breakfast until some bizarre time I had set for myself. I remember the worst it got was 12pm. Can you imagine be severely underweight, starving yourself to the point of feeling cold and light headed and lying to those around you saying you just weren’t hungry. All so you could fulfil a habit. A habit that made no sense to anyone, not even you.
Unfortunately we as humans, especially women, just can’t help it. We are creatures of habit.
Now I don’t want you to think that all habits are a bad thing, without them we would be stuck. Can you imagine having to consciously think about every single little thing you do..Who the hell has the time or mental capacity for that?! Now that would drive us all insane.
In fact habits, such as exercising more, meditating daily or drinking 2L of water every day, have such a positive impact on not only our physical health but also our mental health. It is only when these habits begin to take over your life that we need to take a step back and re-assess what is going on and who really is in control. Because I can guarantee you, it’s not you.
Before we get into the knitty gritty around how to change our habits because let’s face it, habits are the foundation of our relationship with food, I think we need to understand what a habit really is.
According to Marc David in his fantastic book, Nourishing Wisdom, a habit is a behaviour or thought that is unconsciously repeated over and over again. Habits are a survival mechanism, as the process of habituating serves one purpose, to guide us towards things that bring us pleasure and reward and move us away from things that bring us pain and anxiety. David goes on to explain there are two types of habits: positive and negative. Whilst these types of habits do not refer to moral judgement, a positive habit is a thought or behaviour that lights us up from the inside. It is a habit that supports our physical and mental health. For example, drinking hot water and lemon every morning before starting the day. A negative habit on the other hand is a thought or behaviour that sabotages our physical and mental health and drains our body from energy. Think smoking or over-exercising.
For example, at one point in your life (you may have even forgotten when it first began) you came home from a shitty day at school or work and without thinking tucked into tub of ice cream. The ice cream made you feel instantaneously better. Because our minds are so powerful and want to avoid feelings of pain, from here on in whenever you are having a shitty day you remember that ice cream made you feel better. So you eat ice cream. This quickly becomes an automatic response and a new habit is created. Alternatively you may have overeaten one night and felt so guilty and fat that you decided to throw it back up. Afterwards you feel better, you feel lighter and that loud voice in your head is quieter. The next time you overeat, you know how to fix it. You have now figured out what makes you feel better and how you can avoid pain. However these are all negative habits and whilst you may think you are in control when you act out in ways that instantaneously make you feel better I can tell you, your not.
So how can we stop them when we have tried so many times before? How can we change into the person we desperately want to be? The answer to this: stop fighting them.
Stop being at war with your habits.
The more we are at war with our habits, the stronger the habit becomes. You’ve heard the saying what you resist, persists and that can not be more true of our habits. The more we try to suppress a habit the tighter they cling on and become a part of our identity.
I know this because this was me. It was not until I started accepting myself and acknowledging my habits with love and kindness, as opposed to judgement and anxiety, that I had any hope of moving on. Instead of clinging on to that habit I decided that I would educate myself on what my behaviour was doing to my health. It was here that I was able to show my body love, rather than neglect. Knowledge is power and I would really encourage you to investigate what that habit is doing to both your physical and mental health. I can proudly say that I kicked that habit in it’s backside. Now that is not me saying I am completely ‘fixed’, sure I still have my habits around what snacks I LOVE to eat (i.e. peanut butter and apple or yoghurt and fruit) but hey Rome wasn’t built in a day. Im slowly getting there, accepting one habit at a time.
Acceptance is the first step to change.
When we really allow ourselves to accept our habits and treat them from a place of love, as opposed to fear, you will find that the urge to cling on to your habit will slowly disappear. This will take LOTS of patience and persistence but please listen to me when I say, even though you may feel in control when you eat a certain kind of food or go for a run, it is not until you step out of this space that you realise how not in control you are. Yes it might bring you immediate happiness, a sense of security and comfort but the long-term consequences will always outweigh the short-term rewards.
If you want to get honest about your habits and you feel like you need to be held accountable, tell someone. I am a big believer of the saying a problem shared is a problem halved. By letting someone else know, they can pull you up when you fall down. Because I can guarantee you, you will perform your habit again and again and probably again. You will need someone to help you stay accountable, you don’t have to do it on your own. For me it is my mum. Whenever I start becoming attached to a certain behaviour i.e. eating muesli too many days in a row, you can sure as hell bet my mum is on to me!
A beautiful family friend recently gave me a weekly goals and habits journal from Kiki K for my birthday (if you don’t already know, I have an obsession with stationary) and it is fantastic. I would really encourage you to get something like this as it really helps you begin to look at your habits from a place of love, as opposed to fear. You are also given the space to create new, healthy habits.
Now I want you to think of a habit you desperately want to change. I don’t care if you have lost hope and have attempted a thousand times before, this time it will be different.
I want you to make a list of all the things that are standing in your way from changing. For me it was being scared of change. It was being afraid to let go of ‘Georgia 2’ because I had forgotten who the real me was. I was afraid I wouldn’t have anything to talk about if I still didn’t have my illness. All irrational fears now but at the time made me unbelievably scared to change.
Now I want you to make a list of all the positive benefits that would occur if you changed that habit. For me it was being able to eat at normal times, being able to eat with friends and family, decreasing feeling of anxiety, not being cold, not being hungry…ahh the list goes on and on.
Once you put pen to paper and see what is holding you back versus what you can achieve the “what the f am I doing” epiphany hits you like a ton of bricks.
Now go out and with love and acceptance change that habit that is taking over your life. Why? Because life is too short to be afraid of what if…
You deserve to live a happy and healthy life.
David, M. Nourishing Wisdom. New York: Bell Tower; 1991.