Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How to change your life: Breaking bad habits

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Summer chopped salad with cucumbers, red bell peppers cherry tomatoes and avocado
One new habit: I take my lunch to work instead of relying on takeout

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Shortly after I got the doctor's call last summer and decided to take control of my health, I realized that I had developed a lot of bad habits.

It felt like the bad habits had crept up on me.

It's not like I had actually decided to eat poorly, eat too much, and stop exercising. I mean...who would make those decisions consciously?

But for whatever reason, that's exactly what I had done for years: eat poorly, eat too much, and avoid exercise.

My bad habits


These were a few of my bad habits:
  • Eating because it was time to eat, not because I was hungry
  • Eating because I was bored, not because I was hungry
  • Eating because I was afraid that at some point in the future I might be hungry
  • Sitting on my ass instead of exercising
  • Building meals around carbohydrates
In the past I might have sat around for a few days, or weeks, or months, trying to figure out how I'd gotten to where I was. Thinking that if I understood how it happened, I'd be able to avoid it in the future.

This time I didn't give the past a moment's thought. It didn't matter why or how I'd developed those bad habits. All that mattered was what I could do to change them.

Breaking habits is hard.


I was about to write "I can't tell you how many times I had tried to break these bad habits in the past."

But as I was typing it, I realized that it wasn't true.

I had never really tried to break these habits before. Instead, I made excuses for why I didn't need to break them.

I might have made half-hearted attempts to change my eating and exercise habits. But in my mind, the changes were temporary. They were things I had to do to achieve whatever short-term goal was in front of me: losing weight, mostly.

But as soon as I was near the goal, I screamed "I'M DONE!" in my head and went right back to my old habits. With predictable results.

This time is different.


This time is different because I have decided that the bad habits are gone for good.

My new habits are the way it's going to be for the rest of my life. Without excuses.

Another new habit: Evening walks with friends
Another new habit: Evening walk-and-talks with friends (hi Sue!)


This next part is going to sound a little crazy, but it's true: I started breaking my bad habits by talking to myself. 

I'll write more about this in another post, but for now, think of it like leaving yourself notes on your bathroom mirror.

Focusing on long-term goals felt overwhelming. So I decided to stay in the moment. And that's what I talked to myself about.

Every day I asked myself: What am I going to do today? What can I do right now, right this second, to make myself healthier? What decisions will I make today that will move things in the right direction?

I figured if I could do the right things today, then I could wake up and decide to do the right things again tomorrow. And then the day after that.

One day at a time, I ate better, ate less, ate only when I was hungry, and exercised.

One day at a time, I made new habits.

My new habits


I like my new habits. And I plan to keep them. Some of them are:
  • Exercise, every single day, usually first thing in the morning
  • Eat only when I am physically hungry
  • Avoid most carbohydrates (here are the details on what I choose to eat, what I choose to avoid, and why)
  • Build meals around vegetables and protein, in that order
  • Pack lunch to take to work (mostly to save money, but also to make sure I have food I like that's good for me)
  • Drink more liquids (water, iced decaffeinated tea, and iced decaffeinated coffee with unsweetened almond milk)
  • Eat some dark chocolate every day...because, you know, CHOCOLATE
  • Put myself and my needs first as often as possible
That last one is important. It's easy for parents, particularly moms, to subjugate our needs to those of our children. 

Sometimes, of course, it's the right thing to do. If my kid is bleeding and needs to go to the emergency room, I'm not going to say "Hang on, honey, I've only got 10 minutes left on the elliptical."

But daily exercise is a need for me. It's not a nice-to-have. It's a have-to-have, or my health will suffer.

So if my kid wants a ride to school because he's running late and doesn't feel like race-walking with a heavy backpack, and giving him a ride means I won't get to exercise before going to work...guess what? He's walking.

If there's one portion of last night's dinner left and I can either pack it in my lunchbox or leave it for my husband...I pack it.

If my husband and kids want to go out for sushi, or Chinese food, or burgers and fries, or ice cream, and I'm either not hungry or don't want to eat what they want to eat...I stay home and knit while watching something extremely girly on Netflix. Or I get a pedicure. (When you live with three men, you seize all opportunities to do girly things.)

There's one new habit I have tried hard not to set, by the way: I am not my family's Food and Exercise Police. And I don't intend to be. I'm leading by example, but they need to do what's right for them and make their own decisions.

4 comments:

Cathy @ She Paused 4 Thought said...

Wow, well stated. I applaud you on your new lifestyle. Anytime I am around you, I will try to support your decisions in any way I can.

You Go Girl!

Judy @ My Well Seasoned Life said...

Erika your commitment to yourself shows. I've never seen you look so good nor exude more energy. Whatever you're doing is working. Way to go!

SallyBR said...

Another great post! i do this "talk to myself" a lot, without realizing it is probably one reason I tend to stick to my habits and routine of exercising and eating a balanced diet. You are evidently listening to your body and doing what is best for you now... that is simply awesome!

Andrew Wilder said...

"This time is different because I have decided that the bad habits are gone for good."

YES!!

When are we taking Molly for a walk?

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