I am NEVER going to eat [ ] again...
How often have you felt fed-up by your unhealthy diet and lifestyle and then created some food rules for yourself? Maybe some of these food-rules sound familiar:
"that's it - I'm going to stop eating all "bad" foods from tomorrow"
"I am never going to eat fried foods again"
"I am only going to start eating at midday and then eat within an 8 hour window - I won't eat before midday at all"
"no more gluten, dairy, refined sugar or alcohol for me from next week at all"
"I'm going to go low carb and stick to 800 calories a day for 4 weeks - just like they did on that TV show"
"I will never eat any carbs with my dinner again"
"that's it - I am deleting Deliveroo and Just Eat and will never use a food app again"
.... this rule list could continue.
Yet do you think that your rules around food are helping you to improve your health or harming you long-term?
What I tend to notice is that very strict rules around food - particularly those that use words such as "never" or "no more" - tend to set people up to have a very dysfunctional relationship with food. Yes, these rules are very strict and very clear to follow - yet if you then have any moment of weakness where you break a food-rule, you then are likely to completely give up on the rule altogether. These strict rules can create all or nothing thinking patterns - where you are either being "very good" or "very bad", where you are either "sticking to something" or "completely off the wagon". This is because the brain thinks "well I have broken the rule now - so I might as well REALLY break the rule now"... often then leading to over-eating or binge-eating.
Rules are made to be broken. Well they aren't when you create them at least - but when you give yourself no flexibility in your food-rules, you can end up just setting yourself up to fail. This applies in other areas of your life too. How often have you set yourself the goal of exercising for 30 minutes every day - but then you feel too lazy to exercise one day and so then the exercise-routine goes out the window for the rest of the week/ or the month? Or how often have you told yourself you will finish a project or work-task but then not finished it - becoming completely de-motivated and then procrastinating all day?
Our brains love rules because they are clear cut - yet because they are so clear-cut, if we break a rule even just slightly - then we leave ourselves vulnerable to completely giving up altogether.
So what can you do - if you want to change your diet or motivate yourself in some aspect of your life? Shouldn't you set goals at all? The approach that I take with my clients is to:
1. set goals that embed flexibility within them - so that within that "rule" there is already space to sometimes break the rule - this means that if on occasion, the rule is broken or the goal isn't reached immediately - it doesn't trigger the need to give up completely;
2. aim for progress and not perfection - I never encourage my clients to do or change too much at once - we are much more likely to stick with something if we feel successful at it and a great way to ensure we feel successful at something is to just aim to do a little at a time;
3. seeing rules as flexible guidelines, rather than strict rules that always have to be adhered to;
4. changing how my clients coach themselves to get to their goals - so that they do so in a motivational and yet kind way - often people enter into "all or nothing thinking" when they are beating themselves up or being really harsh on themselves for breaking a food-rule.
If you would like some help to break out of that all-or-nothing-mindset and to develop some healthier and more sustainable goals when it comes to your health and wellbeing, please get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book in a free 20 minute consultation.
“Just because something is familiar, doesn't mean it's safe. And just because something feels safe, doesn't mean it's good for you.” ― Brittany Burgunder