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  • Writer's pictureSandhya Gokal


“I have this thing where I get older but just never wiser”

Have you ever felt like healthy eating is just an elusive dream? It comes just within reach then slips from your grasp like water through the sands of time. 

Taylor’s Swift’s iconic song from her album Midnights epitomises the most common pitfall faced by those transforming into healthy eaters.

Follow along with me as we explore how being an Anti-Hero on your own journey can be overcome, and step into the shoes of a Hero. 

“I should not be left to my own devices

They come with prices and vices

I end up in crisis (tale as old as time)”

The first step on any healthy eating journey is taking action that is unfamiliar.

In this context, unfamiliarity doesn’t mean that you don’t know what the action IS. Unfamiliar is from the perspective of your brain. 

A new action in any habit change journey is, to the brain, clunky and unrefined. Your body and brain has to work overtime, expending energy to consciously execute each step of the action. Remember that the brain is like a productivity manager - it prizes efficiency over all else. So something that is slow and requires excess energy is to the brain, not worth it. 

Remember when you first sat in a car as a driver? You have to check every little thing, probably a few times. It was most likely a high adrenalin situation. You also had to remind yourself a few times to keep checking the rearview and side mirrors, which side the indicators were on, maybe even which pedal was the brake and which was the accelerator (don’t want to mix those up, especially in a driveway!)

But soon, as you kept driving, things just became natural. You might not even remember when that happened! 

That’s Brain, your productivity manager’s work. Brain’s job is to see which actions repeat multiple times and decide, based on the feelings the action evokes, if it’s worth creating freeways for those actions, so that you can free up time and energy for other, more important things. 

Now, if the action you have repeated for years is something like walking in the door after work, kicking off your shoes and sitting on the couch with a bag of chips while watching a TV show, then working to change that action requires you to make something else more familiar, and more enjoyable than the current action. 

But doing this alone can be as tough as climbing a mountain in the Austrian Alps. For starters, what action are you going to replace your current action with? 

Knowing what will move you furthest in the direction you want to go can be the difference between making it up the mountain, or sliding all the way back down. Do you cut out all ultra processed foods straight away? Or do you take the slower, safer route and substitute one thing at a time, or add a salad to each meal?

Answering these questions takes time and conscious thought. Unfortunately, there’s usually a ticking clock when it comes to healthy eating, especially when one is trying to lose weight quickly. The result is that shoddy changes are made, with ricketty foundations, and once the wedding, or party, or photo shoot, or end of the 30 day challenge rolls around, most people sprint back to the foods they had to avoid, unravelling all their hard work. Yo-yo dieting indeed.

Repeat this a few times, and what happens is that tangled webs start forming in the brain - the information becomes convoluted and starts warping until it no longer resembles the original knowledge. As you add more dimensions to each piece of knowledge, your brain becomes confused, and it gets harder to stick to your rules. 

“Eat 100g of protein at each meal, but make sure it’s lean. And it must be responsibly sourced. And also, isn’t 100g of protein too much? I’ve read that amount is what body builders eat. But I want to lose weight, and also, calories in and calories out. If I eat that much protein, does that mean that’s going to be my only meal for the day?”

Cue mind explosion. Game over. After that thought stream, you probably just said “screw it, let’s just order takeout.” 

Alternate Reality Experiment

First step - Get an accountability buddy at the very least. Someone who will join you in the game, who you can share your triumphs and sorrows with, and with whom you can bounce ideas about what constitutes healthy eating for you. A healthy eating coach is also a good option for this!

Second step - decide exactly what you want to achieve, and get super specific about what is going to be included on your healthy eating journey. And I mean specific. If you want to eat peaches, but don’t like white peaches, or peaches that are too soft, or too sour, then that’s your rules. 

Third step - examine each feeling that comes your way when you start on your journey. Positive or negative, it’s critical to give each feeling importance, because you want to eliminate any barriers to sustainability! Negative emotions come up when our boundaries are crossed. By addressing them straight away, you have a much higher likelihood of success. Hate kale, because it’s bitter? Well, when the feeling of disgust comes up at the thought of eating kale, look up straightaway ways to reduce bitterness of kale (hint: add lemon juice and salt. It’s freaking delicious.) Congratulations, you have just removed an emotional hurdle that stood in your way. 

Fourth step: Repeat consistently. 

It's me, hi, I'm the problem, it's me

At tea time, everybody agrees

I'll stare directly at the sun but never in the mirror

It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero

The last line says it all, doesn't it? 

It's Exhausting always having to watch what you eat. 

It's exhausting always wishing that you looked a different way, or felt a different way about your body. 

It's exhausting always feeling like there are the clangs and clashes of a sword fight going on in your mind everytime lunchtime rolls around. 

And all the while, a part of you probably hopes that the naughty devil in your mind fighting for the pizza and burgers wins. 

Admitting that feels exhilarating doesn't it? Go on, it's okay, we're all friends here. 

Being your own enemy is exhausting. When you aren't clear with your mind what you want, achieving the “healthy eater” title is like wading through a swamp. 

Being clear has 2 parts. 

Firstly, define your purpose. Why is being a healthy eater important to you? 

It could be that you want the energy to join your kids in all their shenanigans

Or maybe you want to run a triathalon

Perhaps you want to look in the mirror and see the inflammation reduce, your skin have a healthy glow and feel the vitality bursting from your pores.

It might even be that you just want more stable energy throughout the day and to not be exhausted by the smallest outing. 

Whatever it is, it has to be something you truly believe in. It has to be something you desire. if you can link it to another person, or other people, your purpose shield strengthens and solidifies. 

Secondly, you need to counter any potential objection your mind might come up with. Like a child wanting candy, your mind will come up with any and every excuse to do what it wants to do. But YOU are the master in command. Be firm. 

Mind says, it's just one time? you might answer: but many “one times” add up and make me feel terrible about myself. 

Mind cries, but I just feel like it today! you can turn around and say: but eating that isn't going to make that feeling go away. Proper nourishment will, because you'll be satisfying the nutritional deficiency causing that craving

Your mind begs: what's the harm of One? You reply: it isn't the 1 thats the problem. It's the many that come after the 1. I know i can't stop at 1, so i"ll abstain instead. 

Slowly, you will stop being a slave to your mind's desires and start becoming a hero to yourself - someone who can be trusted to keep their word and knows how to do what is best for their body. 

Eating healthy has a hidden bonus attached. Once you start eating healthily on a regular, consistent basis, your body changes. You start to shed the excess kilos because what you are consuming is what you need and no more - allowing the glucagon in your body to release the fat stored inside those pesky fat cells. You might also notice that your skin starts glowing from within as the fluids from the food you are eating and the water you are drinking starts hydrating your cells. You will also realise the energy power that healthy eating gives you - steady energy that lasts throughout the entire day. 

The hidden bonus is these changes can cause your body image and body confidence to shoot up! 

If you can access this hidden bonus, then you are well on your way to becoming a hero. Congratulations on defeating your anti-hero!

Sometimes I feel like everybody is a sexy baby

And I'm a monster on the hill

Too big to hang out, slowly lurching toward your favorite city

Pierced through the heart, but never killed

When I first heard these lyrics, I had to do a double take - which in this day and age means just going back a few seconds to re-listen and make sure that I had heard it correctly. Sexy Baby? Uhh, what? Is there even such a thing? As a new mother, sleep deprived and in a haze of crazy thinking, I started doubting Taylor Swift’s sanity (cue GASP). 

Of course, later, I realised it was a reference to a 30 Rock episode.

Part of my unease came from the fact that those words resonated so deeply within me. For years, I felt unwieldy, gigantic, and clumsy, always bumbling around people much more fragile, delicate and beautiful than me. It’s the tiny comments that created the deepest wounds - a friend casually mentioning that if I lost weight, I'd be so pretty. Wearing the same dress as a friend, and using the comparison as a way to disparage myself. 

I’m curvy and wide. I could never measure up to the petite trend that raged through society when I was growing up. Think Penelope Featherington in a world full of Daphne Bridgerton’s.

In the last few years, though, that has changed through using the right weapons and shields effectively. I no longer compare myself to others, knowing through years of conversations that each person has their own insecurities, and judging myself against the outward image of another led to  a downward spiral. I eat based on what my body tells me, rather than what I feel compelled to eat to make others feel better about their own food choices. I rarely engage in the societal norm of disparaging my appearance, knowing that a small barb from myself cuts deep. (as a pharmacist side note - did you know it takes up to 6 months for a shallow skin graze to heal completely - for the skin cells to regenerate to their maximum tensile strength? So how long do you think it can take to heal a cut that goes down to the core of yourself? I’d say that would take years.)

Negativity bias is a phenomenon by which our brains have been trained over the ages to identify threats to our physical well-being. As we are no longer in constant danger of being attacked by a lion* in most parts of the developed world, negativity bias now pokes holes in our mental wellbeing. 

In the last decade, there has been an increase in body confidence awareness. There has been a huge shift from shaming different body types to body acceptance. This is a phenomenal movement! 

Experiment: in your mind, craft an image of what you ideally look like. To do this, you can take inspiration from what you have previously achieved, images of what you aspire to be and people around you who have similar body types and have achieved what you want. 

before you go to sleep each night, recreate that image. As you do this more and more, add in feelings - how would it feel to look that way? what does your skin feel like? 

as the image comes up more naturally (which can take up to 3 weeks) add words in. “I am brave, I am bold, this is who I'm meant to be  this is me”. Whatever words give you a feeling of love and a burst of uplifting energy. 

Practice this every night for a year. 

It’s me, Hi, i’m the problem it’s me.

At the end of the day, there is only one person who can guarantee the success of your healthy eating journey - You. There is only one person responsible for how you feel about your body and yourself - you. Whether you win, or whether you need to increase your experience to level up, it’s on you. That can be a tough pill to swallow, but that’s reality. 

I hope you take Tay Tay’s words to heart and step up to your own superpower to become a healthy eating hero - and stop being your own worst enemy. Let me know in the comments below how some of the power boosts in this article work out for you!

*This being said, I do live in a country where we have a high percentage of fatally venomous creatures. Also crocodiles - snap snap. 

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