Making changes to a habitual way of eating (and drinking!)

Low Fodmap for LifeIn my last post I shared with you how I was shamefully de-railed by sugar (read about it here) and my commitment to quitting sugar completely for 8 weeks. Well, I am now in Day 9 without sugar, fruit or sweeteners and I can confide this: it hasn’t been that hard and I think I know why…

Having gone through the enormous challenge of taking on the low fodmap diet 3 years ago and sticking with it, I am now realising that I have learnt more about changing habits than I previously thought. Three years ago it wasn’t always smooth sailing, in fact many times it was very tough, but I stuck with it and following the fodmap food restrictions is automatic for me now. It took a long time, but I have now established a habit, so the conscious part of my brain rarely gets involved in making low fodmap food choices. I notice that it is the same with Gluten Free eating these days; there are no emotions for me involved in choosing gluten free foods as this has also become a habit.

How wonderful would it be if this automatic way of being could be extended to choosing to avoid sugar! This is my dream at the moment, and I am really hoping that after 8 weeks off the sweet stuff that my taste buds and emotional eating habits will have moved on…

Over the last few days I have been reflecting on why this big change has, so far, been easier than I thought it would be. I have come to the conclusion that the reason that it has worked so far is that I approached this by incorporating many of the key things that have been shown to help people make changes:

1. Have a very strong intention (goal) – mine: Quitting sugar for 8 weeks (and fruit and sweeteners for 6 wks) to break the cycle of sugar for good. 

2. Make the goal SMART – specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-oriented. I think mine is…

3. Consider the cost of not changing? – mine: I don’t like how I feel after eating sugar and I especially hate when the cravings kick in and when I give into those cravings. Fishing cake out of the bin was a bit of a low point…

4. If changes are numerous and enormous, start small. Each week choose one thing to change rather than change it all at once. – mine: I have been replacing sugar with alternatives for about 2 years now and have also really cut back on my fruit, so reducing sugar has been a slow and steady thing for me, but now is time to bite the bullet, and quit fruit, sugar and sweeteners, for 8 weeks anyway.

5. Change your environment to help re-enforce your goal. – mine: I don’t have chocolate or gluten free sweet treats in the house. Otherwise it is too tempting. I have continued to bake muffins and biscuits for the kids but as these are made on spelt flour they aren’t gluten free, and so I’m not even remotely interested in eating them. Relief!

6. Get some support, perhaps a partner, friend, colleague, counsellor, dietitian, support group. – mine: My husband is joining this gig of quitting sugar and it has helped me feel that I can do it and it is also more fun than going it alone! (It is interesting to note, as I write this, that I didn’t feel I had a similar support when I started the low fodmap diet, in fact I felt very isolated. Maybe that contributed to why it was so hard? It certainly confirms to me the importance of support.)

7. Plan ahead to identify what will trip you up. Use the “If…then” approach to finding solutions so you are prepared in advance. – mine: If I am craving chocolate, then I will drink a hot chocolate made on raw unsweetened cacoa or eat some yummy coco-nutty granola and yoghurt. If I am craving something sweet after lunch, then I will have a few spoons of coconut milk and drink a comforting warm cup of peppermint tea or de-caf. etc. 

8. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. – mine: This is something I find difficult to do as I am so used to being hardest on myself. I am trying to be mindful of giving myself a bit of slack these days as I am weary of the old “not good enough” refrain that plays out in my mind on repeat… 

If there are changes that you are looking to make in your life, perhaps this might give you some ideas on how to put a bit of time in up-front to help you succeed.

I have also decided to quit alcohol for the month of February (I started early on the 27th) as in the past when I have cut out sugar I have tended to drink a little extra wine in the evenings to make up for the lack of sweet treats. I have made it a little more challenging for myself but I think it is the right decision and I have used the same way of thinking about this change and I am hopeful it will help me stay on track.

Happy habit changes!

Sacha x

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