Breaking the Cycle
Quite often when I speak to nutrition clients, they have this preconceived notion that they should be able to “give up” certain foods and/or make changes to their nutrition with ease. There is something about making changes to our nutrition that most think should be easy. “I will just not eat that”, or “I can add that to my daily menu, no problem” and when it is not, we find ourselves feeling like a failure.
I have noticed this quite often when speaking with my clients who are parents. I am a mother of a 11 ½ month old and I now know what it feels like to completely sacrifice self. What does this look like for me? Well for starters, until last night, I had not sleep more than 4-5 hours in a clip for the last 11 ½ months. Lack a sleep is a whole other obstacle with its own negative effects – for a discussion at a different time.
In addition to being sleep deprived, I work more than 8 hours most days (not including my motherly and other duties). Self-care, whether it be taking time to fix my hair, keeping up with personal doctor’s appointments, exercise, etc. took the back-burner. The cumulation of these things made me realize, most days, I didn’t even recognize the person in the mirror starring back at me (that is, when I had enough time to look in a mirror).
After allowing this to take place for almost a year, I realize many things. For starters, I was physically, mentally, and emotional spent. I am not one to count the hours to the end of a day, as I realize time is precious, but recently I had found myself counting down the hours until I would be back in bed again out of pure exhaustion. This is not to say I haven’t loved the time I have dedicated to my daughter/my family, as being a mother is my favorite thing in the world, but I’ve learned there comes a point (a point that will be different for us all) where we must find ourselves amongst the daily chaos (as this daily chaos is now everyday life). A time where we must save ourselves from/for ourselves and for that same little child who we once sacrificed it all for. One day she will be grown, and she will need me in her life, just as she does now.
As a new mother, my exercise routine and nutrition began to really suffer (along with other things). I found time that was set aside for working out was easily filled with some other task, and then as a result of tiredness I found myself making less than stellar food choices.
Now for me, a person who is passionate about health (a professional exercise and nutrition coach), it was blatantly obvious this was happening. I could see myself making exceptions to my normal nutrition habits due to exhaustion or stress. However, I wouldn’t expect someone who isn’t in my profession to be able to easily identify these connections or easily make the needed adjustments without the proper guidance.
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe your clothes don’t fit as well as they used to. Maybe you are no longer comfortable in your own skin; and/or not pleased with what you see in the mirror.
Overcoming this lifestyle of self-sacrifice is a must. As this is not healthy over the long-haul nor maintainable. Now, I am not here to tell you “be less of a mom/or dad”, please don’t interpret this in such a way. Everybody will have their own moment when it hits them. For some clients it has sounded something like, “I have raised 5 children, my youngest is 3, and I now I want to ensure I will be around when they are older” or “I’ve spent the last X number of years, taking care of everyone else and I now want to take care of myself, but I am fearful I am too far gone.”
I am here to tell you with the right help, you are never too far gone. As long as you are breathing and walking this planet, there is time for change. No matter what you’re feeling, no matter all the responsibilities that rest on your shoulder, IT IS POSSIBLE TO MAKE CHANGE.
Now what we often see is a vicious cycle or habit that needs breaking. This habit is hard to even identify for some. We think we eat because we are hungry and find the flaw to be that we just need to make better choices. I think it is when we think of it this way that we expect change to come easy. What I have noticed is that we aren’t eating just because we are hungry, but for a multitude of other reasons. Most times we are emotional (stressed, sad, lonely etc.), tired or using food as a personal reward. In these cases, we may think in the moment we are hungry, but really, we are eating out of behavioral dependence. Some external factor causes us to seek food for comfort. Perhaps you didn’t sleep and you’re tired, there is a stressful deadline approaching, you’re going some emotionally taxing life event. Many times, in these cases we find ourselves over-eating the wrong things and for the wrong reasons.
A fire is set (a stressful/emotional weakening event) takes place. We overeat or make poor choices. Once the immediate “feel good” of our food choices wears off, we find ourselves disappointed with our choice. This in essence adds to the emotions we were already feeling, those emotions that triggered the eating event in the first place. From here, we either vow to make change, putting extra stress on ourselves or find ourselves eating more of the same poor choice for the same temporary pick me, causing the cycle to repeat.
You can see how this can become a vicious cycle, very difficult at times, almost seeming impossible to break.
What is one step we can start today to break the cycle?
I want you to pay close attention to why you are eating things. A simple step I give clients is to write down the “why” for all the foods they eat. This assignment is eye-opening. Most times, we find that we are eating for many reasons other than hunger. In the beginning we may think it is hunger, but then we realize some other trigger is causing us to eat to cope. In the beginning, it isn’t nearly as important to try and make changes as it is to recognize the reasons and get a true understanding of the whole picture. Perhaps several events, not just one led to over-eating or eating poorly. In example, you woke up late, had an unfriendly encounter with someone on the drive to work, got to work and realized you weren’t prepared for the meeting that is taking place in 30 minutes. Initially, we may think our poor food choice came solely from the stress of being ill prepared for our meeting when in essence maybe it all stemmed from staying up too late surfing social media, which caused you to oversleep, be rushed on the road ways, and then stole away time you had set aside in the morning for meeting preparation. Or perhaps you and your husband are divorced, and you noticed immediately after dropping the kids off at his place, you find yourself making a poor decision, or whenever your boss calls you into their office immediately following you go to the candy tray.
It is only when we recognize these types of trends that we can devise a correction action plan. In addition to several other steps we take to identify and change behaviors, the most important one is creating an environment that supports change. Finding a coach or team that cannot just help you make the required changes, but help you make them for life is imperative. Most people wouldn’t blink an eye at the thought of recruiting a coach to help them with their fitness goals, finances, marriage, etc. and it’s time we treat our nutrition with the same level of sensitivity, and importance.