The Big Question.

It’s a simple enough question. “Can you give up Broccoli for 1 month?” I recon for most, the answer would probably be, “Well yes… easily.”

But what if the question was, “Can you give up bread for 1 month? Or chocolate, or coffee, or pasta, pizza or perhaps alcohol?”  Would you be so quick to say, “Yes, easily?”

This tends to be the part were we get answers starting with that verbal thought bubble “eh..,” quickly followed by something like. “Well i wouldn’t want to give up… everything,” or “Well, a  well balance diet is important.” Or even, “My God man, a chap has to live!”

Of course the reason we get different answers is that Broccoli is not a problem food for most people. The others however can be and if you were to answer anything other than, “Yes,” to your ability to giving them up for a month then they are probably a problem for you.

Now you may not give a damn one way or another that you have problems with quitting certain foods because you have no interest or reason to stop eating or drinking them.. but what if you do; then what? For example, if you are trying to lose weight or to improve your health then you need to be able to identify which foods are a problem for you and then decide if you are going to do something about them.

It comes as no surprise to most people that certain foods can create chemical dependencies in exactly the same way smoking can but most people don’t don’t take their eating addictions as seriously as they would a nicotine one… and there is plenty of reasons why they probably should. Cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, stroke and Alzheimer’s are all on the up in western cultures even as smoking is on the way down. Food and lifestyle are a big part of these increases.

Of course not all food addictions are chemical in nature, some are just habit. And some are a combination of the two.  The fact that a breakfast made from processed starches, boiled, bleached, dried, recoloured and with cheap man-made vitamins added back to replace the natural ones stripped out during the manufacturing process has been sold to the world as a healthy and normal way to start your day seems bizarre. But we have been eating it for so long that many people have not only fallen into the habit of eating it, they see it as normal food. (Here’s a little tip. if your food has to be manufactured, then it is not a food, it is a product. Leave it in the box it came in and go eat something that grew and lived.) Another example might be drinking a glass of wine in the evening after work. A nice idea perhaps but if you don’t feel you can relax at the end of the day without it, then perhaps it has become at the very least a habit.

Now this piece is not about tying to be the food police. There is nothing wrong with a glass of wine or eating some chocolate. If you are healthy and happy then everything is fine in moderation but if you are trying to change some bad habits its best to at least be honest with yourself as to which of you habits are holding you back. If you are only drinking a couple of glasses of wine on a Friday evening then giving them up is probably not going to make much of a difference to your overall lifestyle and fitness, but if you are getting through half a bottle more nights than not, then addressing this issue certainly will.

Once you have addressed where the problems lay at least you can start to address them.

Food diary’s and Journaling.

The easiest place to start getting to grips with poor eating habits and lifestyle choices is to record them in some way. This can be done using an app like, myfitnesspal, or by using something as simple as a small note book and a pen. If you already know what foods make up your bad habits it’s just a case of recording how often you eat them and maybe even adding why you ate them at the time. This can help you identify, not only how often you really are eating thee foods but it will also help you identify if they have become a comfort to stresses in your life.

The advantage to using an app, is that apps can reveal a lot more about your eating habits than just how often you hit the pastry aisle. For example you will quickly learn just how many calories you are consuming on a day to day basis. How much sugar you are eating, how many overall carbs or bad fats you are getting through. Most people who have never recorded what they have eaten before are surprised but what these apps reveal.  And is case you are thinking, you just don’t have the time to be recording all that data, a resent study found that most people who use an app to record their daily eating habits spend not more than about 25 min a day using the app at first. And as soon as they get familiar with it that time commitment drops to a out 14 min per day. That’s a very small investment of time to get a whole lot of data. [1] 

So what’s next. You have identified what you want to change so how do you go about changing it. For this we are going to turn to a few trusted plans as outlined in, Prochaska, Norcross, and Diclemente’s book “Changing for Good.” 

In this book they outline several angles of attack for changing a habit once you have reached the stage of actively trying to do something about it. They are, Social Liberation, Commitment, Reward, Countering, Environment control, and Helping relationships  

To make things easy, lets look at how you might apply this processes of change to something simple, like giving up bread.

Social Liberation.

Changing your social environment, to best remove your exposure to the problem. So if bread is the problem, stop shopping in bakeries. Stay out of the bread isle at the supermarket. When your friends suggest heading out to a Pizza parlour, suggest somewhere less bready, like a steak house or a sushi bar.

Commitment.

Become the change you want to make. If asked why you are not eating bread, don’t answer, “I’m off it,” or “I’m giving it up.” If you are off it you can just as easily be on it. If you re giving it up then you have not yet given up. A better answer, and one to be repeated over and over again when asked is “I don’t eat bead.” There is a lot less ambiguity about a statement like this, and remember you make that statement not for the person who has asked but for yourself. Every time you hear yourself say those words it will reinforce the idea in your own mind that you don’t eat bread.

Reward.

Once you have established a change behaviour into your plan, set up some rewards for achieving some preset goals. For example if you don’t eat bread for a week you will buy yourself that book you have been teetering on the edge of buying for a few weeks now. Or you might decide to treat yourself to a massage, a movie or a manicure. Have fun with this idea and don’t make the obvious choice of rewarding yourself with something else you know is not good for you. Positive rewards for positive actions work best.

Countering.

This one takes bit of forethought but it is very effective. You know you are going to find yourself in sticky situations, plan for them and plan how to work around them. If you always meet your friend for a bagel at 11.00 and you don’t what to have to explain why you are not ordering one this time. Or if you feel that in her company the temptation is just going to be too strong. Get there a couple of minuets early and order a non bread meal, so you are not in the Que with her. Make a list, identifying situations where you feel you will struggle, and make plans to deal with each of them. Don’t worry if you get some of them wrong. Nothing is set in stone. The act alone of doing an exercise like this will greatly improve you chances of countering a negative action with a positive one.

Environmental Control.

Don’t buy bread. Look at what you eat when you are at home and start to alter the foods available their. You control what foods are in your house, so if you are not going to be eating bread then don’t have it in the environment where you are preparing most of your meals. If you live with someone who will be eating bread arrange for them to store it in one particular cupboard, but do not store any of your food in this same cupboard. If you eat out a lot, look at eating at places where bread is going to be less of major part of the meal.

Helping relationships.

Helping relationships can be a big big help if you are trying to change a habit. As we saw in the Environmental section, having someone in your life who is happy to store their bread away is very helpful. Likewise for when it comes to eating out.  Some friends will badger, cajole, shame and even try and tempt you. You are looking for the ones that will encourage without judging, remind you of your plan without shaming and who will listen when are having trouble. Try not to pay attention to the ones that don’t help. This doesn’t mean you have to cull your friends list or stay from them, just don’t engage with them about what you are doing. They can still be very good friends.

I am going to add one more personal thing to this list and that is, forgive yourself. Forgive yourself when you occasionally  get things wrong, because you will. Forgive yourself for finding yourself in this situation in the first place. And forgive those that don’t understand what it is you are trying to do. Change rarely happens in a linear pattern and that is okay too, so roll with punches and when you fall, go easy on yourself, get back up and go again. We all have habits or issues we might want to change, the list above can help you will all of them no matter weather they are big, life changing obstacles or something as simple as giving up bread.

Take care