Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks
A long time ago I asked a good friend how to turn desires into actions. His answer was less than satisfying. He said, “Desires are actions.” Oh? How’s that? Not for me, buddy. I have to get to a point where the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. Or something like that. Maybe it is that the stars have to align just right, or all my ducks are in a row, or I don’t know, it just feels right. For some people, announcing their goal to the world helps them to reach it. Many books advocate that. I find that I do better if my goal is secret, just me and the good Lord above know about it. That way there are no expectations and I can just quietly transform into what I want to be. For a little while anyway. I haven’t found the right motivation to stick with the change. I know it is a mind thing because nobody is holding a gun to my head and forcing me to eat. I am in a deep rut of habituation and would like to climb out but the sides are pretty steep and slick.
In 2012 I stumbled onto a method for establishing new habits that was super interesting. Dr. B.J. Fogg, a professor at Stanford University, discovered (after 20 years of study) this method and shares it at tinyhabits.com. The method is basically this: choose three things you want to establish as habits, then find a behavior to anchor them to, then do it. The anchor seems to be the key. For example, most of us have a morning routine, we roll out of bed, go to the toilet, shower, brush teeth, shave, dress, fix and eat breakfast, head to work, etc. Or some variation on that theme. The key to a new habit is anchoring it to something you already do. For instance, “After I go to the toilet (the anchor) I will stretch, and touch my toes (the new habit).” By anchoring the new habit to one you already have it is easier to establish. We do the new thing after we have done the old thing. “After I make my bed I will kneel down and say prayers.” “After I come in the door after work I will read to my child.” “After the blessing on the food I will pause and decide what I want to eat.”
Dr. Fogg found that adding the new habit to the old one was much easier to follow than trying to add a new habit as a “before.” It’s too hard to remember a before, but much easier to remember an “after.” I tried it and know it works, but one must keep at it and not let oneself be distracted by everything going on around one. The next time I use this I will stick to one habit at a time. He recommended three at a time, or more! Maybe for others that works, but I think my life can handle only one thing at a time.
Another strategy I wish I could go back to the beginning to use is replace using food as a reward or expression of love with something else. Instead of saying I love you with food, I would like a flower, a note, a hug, help with a task, a walk around the block, a rousing game of Yahtzee, or anything but food. We are so conditioned to food that we are like Pavlov’s dog. “I love you, here’s a box of chocolates.” “I’m sorry, here’s a candy bar.” “You seem sad, here’s a bowl of ice cream.” “You seem tired tonight, let’s go out to eat.” You get the idea. We use food for everything. I would like to change that habit.
We, husband and I, go out to movies regularly. We are in the habit of getting popcorn and usually some candy. Why? Why do we eat fattening foods while sitting still? Madness! At home I can have a lamp on while watching a movie so I can keep my hands busy with knitting, crocheting, or some other handwork, even if it is just folding clothes or ironing. At a theater not so much. Still, there is no need to eat, especially if we ate dinner before the movie. This is where using the anchor would be helpful: AFTER we decide to go to the movies let’s decide not to eat anything there, or set a specific limit, such as a small popcorn instead of jumbo, bottomless pit popcorn.
I read an interesting book called French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billion, subtitled: How our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters. I wish I had read it before I began having children. Oh, well. I did learn that the French train their children to not eat between meals. This is so the child will be hungry at meal time and eat what is served. In the U.S. most “diets” recommend eating six small meals, or three main meals with two or more snacks in between, or eating every three hours, or some variation on the theme of not letting your tummy go too long without food. Americans are fat, the French are not. So whose method is correct or better? My money is on the French. For me I know that if I start having snacks in between meals I end up grazing continuously and eat way more than I would have if I had stuck to three meals. It is okay to feel hungry for that is the signal to eat. It is especially okay for your stomach to be empty and resting from its labors before the next onslaught of food.
Eating traditions and folklore are different all over the world. In Korea (and other Asian countries) there are not “breakfast” foods, “lunch” foods, and “supper” foods. They eat rice, fish and vegetables for almost every meal. In Japan our hostess served us chopped cabbage, tomatoes, and citrus fruit as part of a breakfast that also included rice, seaweed soup, and a lovely salmon filet. Not the breakfast foods I was used to, but utterly delicious and I wasn’t hungry until lunch time. I lost about eight pounds in the four days I was there. Between the filling but low calorie foods and the constant walking (almost running) around Tokyo I dropped weight easily. My good friend Kyoko should open a spa/weight-loss clinic for us fat Americans! (The spa part would be the fabulous baths they have, but that is a story for another time.)
It is possible to change habits, replacing bad ones, the ones causing our weight gain, with good ones, the ones that will cause weight loss. We just have to make up our minds to consistently, and persistently DO IT.
One of the speakers in the recent LDS General Conference said “It’s never too early and it’s never too late.” That gives me hope that I can do this.