I’m a chronic health-seeker. I wouldn’t be “here” learning about health, always looking to get better, healthier, younger, more energetic (and help you do it too), if this was just my career. This is my life. This is who I am.
But make no mistake, I am not perfect. Most of you all don’t know me and I could easily “bluff” my way around here and pretend I am perfect, I eat perfectly, never let a french fry touch my lips, I have perfect kids, exercise everyday, etc, but I am not.
BUT for most of my health-seeking career, I was doing things wrong. I was making a common mistake that I see MOST of my patients doing too.
In my quest to get healthier, feel better (and maybe lose a few pounds) I would do things like go on a three-day “cleanse” and eat nothing but vegetable soup.
I would eliminate carbs, lose weight and feel great, then crave bread so intensely I would binge , feel horrible about myself but gain it all back like a runaway train.
I was a vegetarian for YEARS…I actually felt worse, but convinced myself that this was the best way to be healthy, until I started dreaming about hamburgers. And dreaming. And dreaming. Finally, I ate them.
Then I found PALEO and convinced myself that it wasn’t a “diet” but a lifestyle….I cut out a lot of foods like beans, whole grains, and dairy that didn’t bother me/make me sick (and I already knew this, as I had “tested” those foods for triggers in the past). I did indeed feel better for a short while, and I did lose some weight, but as my cravings increased, I did more research and later abandoned the more rigid approach for myself.
Do you see the mistake I was making? Does my story sound familiar?
This mistake is the difference between success and failure. Between short-term gain and long-term results. This mistake may be the only thing standing in your way to having the health, energy and vibrant life you want.
So what is this common mistake?
I was focusing on the “bad” things in my diet/lifestyle that I needed to eliminate and change.
When you focus on the forbidden fruit, what happens? You crave it! You want it! You dream about it!!
This isn’t just my opinion, this is psychological fact. If you go around all day thinking “Oh my god, does this have carbs in it? Which salad can i pick without carbs? How many carbs have a I had today?”—what is in your head? CARBS CARBS CARBS!!
How long will your willpower last? Maybe a few months or weeks? Of course, I “failed”. [I dont really believe in failure, but thats another story].
Nearly, every single patient of mine over the last 10 years has come in with this frame of mind. People would ask me “What should I eliminate? Tell me what I am doing wrong. I shouldn’t be eating this should I?”
After studying the psychology of habit change, I can say now that my philosophy to “get healthy” doesn’t mean I focus on the “bad” things I need to quit or get rid off, but rather focus on adding in positive habits and behaviors.
Instead of saying “I’m not going to eat candy bars ever again”. I might say “I am going to add in a smoothie or shake” once a day.
Or, instead of saying “I’m not going to eat pizza”, I might say “I am going to eat one salad a day”.
Or, instead of “No more margaritas”, I might say “I’m going to drink at least 2 L of water a day”.
I have also found in my decade of experience (and countless studies confirm) that making too many changes at once decreases your chances of success at any one of the behavior. Most people are better at picking ONE thing to change, and just doing that until it is easy, automatic and habit, and THEN moving on to the next healthy habit to add in.
For so long, I made the mistake of thinking that if I focused on what I was doing wrong, I could somehow change it. But the truth is that what you resist persists, and by focusing on the chocolate/wine/donuts/chips you should not be eating, you are actually keeping them in the front of your mind, tempting you again and again.
This is where I am right now in my process. What do you think? Have you been focusing on the negative habit or working on adding in a new healthy habit?