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  • Writer's pictureSandhya Gokal

Shake it off

How to deal with healthy eating “failures”

Taylor Swift, the legend, the genius, once again came through with Shake It Off, a song about ignoring the haters, and strutting down your own path with pride. 

I stayed out too late, got nothing in my brain, at least that’s what people say 

Right now, it is incredibly easy to comment on the lives of people we have never met. It is easy to compare, judge and criticise what we see on social media. In the words of Taylor herself, “I see you over there, on the internet, comparing all the girls who are killing it.” 

It is human nature to notice the negative and dwell on it. In ancient time, negativity bias was a survival technique that helped us survive by pointing out all the things that were potentially hazardous. Tiger in the trees? Noted. Tree root that you could trip over. Saw that! Swarm of bees coming your way? Get the smoke out, confuse those bugs!

But nowadays, since we have essentially eliminated all the major threats to our physical wellbeing, negativity bias appears more focused on the mental dangers. And anything that threatens our sense of safety, familiarity and security comes under fire. 

It’s not just on the internet. Friends, family and frenemies can be lovingly cruel as well! 

When it comes to food, everyone has an opinion. The immediate access to knowledge in the palm of our hands means everyone can research, form their allegiances and then proceed to live in an echo chamber of what is best practice. 

But I keep cruising, can’t stop won’t stop moving, it’s like I’ve got this music, in my mind saying it’s gonna be alright

The antidote to all this negativity that fires at us from all directions? 

Choosing a path, and sticking to it….until you can’t

Healthy eating comes in all forms, all shapes and all sizes. What works for one person may not work for another. I have known vegan’s who are incredibly healthy, people who follow a keto diet who have abysmal health and people on weight loss medication whose food habits leave a lot to be desired. Healthy eating is as much about  mindset as it is about the food that’s ingested.

One thing is certain. Being a healthy eater may not be a straight path. With the incredible rise of the variety of food available in developed countries, what is healthy can be shrouded in mystery. As well, media has a foot in the healthy eating world, and what is considered “healthy” one day may be villified the next. 

Part of being a healthy eater is flexibility. Once you start down one path, it does not mean you are bound to that path forever! 

In 2017 I quit sugar. My research showed that sugar causes inflammation, inconsistent energy spikes, affects mood and skin and made my food cravings go out of control. I successfully managed to cut out all forms of sugar in processed forms, sticking to naturally occuring sugars in foods, and using xylitol (a sugar alcohol found in plants) as a replacement when it was absolutely necessary.

For a few years, I cruised along this path, enjoying my newfound sense of freedom from the shackles of sugar cravings. I experienced less IBS symptoms, better mood, better energy and a body that I was comfortable in rather than one that felt tight and bulky. 

Then all of a sudden, I got diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Suddenly all my health care providers were strongly urging me to include foods such as bread that I had eschewed, for the sake of my blood sugar control. 

I felt like I was spinning wildly out of control. Why did I have to restart foods that I knew didn’t serve me?

But gradually, I started noticing that even though I was eating foods that I had previously shunned, my health was stable. The habits I had built up through consistent practice now started to play their part. I didn’t overeat, I had a small portion then stopped. As well, I knew how to look for the start of my symptoms (bloating, reflux and gas) and was able to prevent them from overtaking my life.

My journey as a healthy eater had shifted. And after a few months, I settled into this new food journey with very little repercussions. 

What if your healthy eating journey starts to go stale?

Extreme changes can only last so long. After a while, you might notice that your body requires something different. If this happens it is crucial to recognise that moving onto a different path might be the best option, rather than sticking with the same path and finding it leads to a dead end. 

As a pharmacist, when I encountered and advised people on the weight loss journey, one of the most common issues I heard was that although the weight loss started out great, at some point, it plateaued. 

That’s completely normal! Plateau’s happen when the body becomes accustomed to a certain type of food and through a process called negative feedback, starts regulating metabolism in response. 

In this kind of situation, shaking things up can be the catalyst to further results. In a lifestyle program called Impromy that targets weight loss, blood sugar control and cholesterol control, plateaus were a indication that the phase the patient was in needed to change. Instead of focusing on meal replacements (portion and nutrient controlled), the patient was advised to start introducing portion controlled meals and given a recipe book which outlined portion sizes and nutritional breakdowns of each ingredient. 

Before starting any kind of healthy eating change, research your decision, be comfortable with it, then go ahead. Just keep in mind that if the path meanders from the original plan, that’s completely fine and might even be to your benefit. 

What if I can’t stick to my healthy eating plan?

Some healthy eating plans are extreme. 

Fact #1: Healthy eating is not about restriction. 

Fact #2: Healthy eating does not require you to count calories

Fact #3: Healthy eating is not the same for every person

That is not to say that you can’t include some form of restriction, counting calories (or rather portion control) and copying in your own journey. But these are not concrete rules that make up being a healthy eater.

Here’s the deal. If you can’t stick to your healthy eating plan, something in it is not working for you. So it’s time to change the plan. Instead of dwelling on your “failure” accept it as a learning experience, know it’s not for you and move on to a different path. 

Research your options. Talk to people who have achieved something similar to you. Factor in all your own specific eating rules (eg. no sugar, allergies, dietary requirements). Then forge ahead on your own special path.

Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play

And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake

Shake it off, Shake it off!

There are two issues at play here. Let’s explore some weapons and shields you can use to counteract them.

#1 - feeling like a failure

If you are on a healthy eating journey and you start to feel like a failure, it’s time to change the game. Stop being a hater, and start being a shaker.

Self-talk can be the difference between consistent action leading to progress, and spurts of action leading to a lack of progress. 

If you can change your self-talk to be on the neutral to positive side, you’ve won half the battle. 

Shield time! Try this. 

In the shower or in your journal, examine your eating choices for the day. Sort them into 2 categories: 

Moving you forward, or moving you sideways. 

In the sideways category, note down what could change, what caused the sideways movement, and whether or not you enjoyed the foray sideways. Try to be as neutral as possible and avoid judgement, shame or disgust. The idea here is to find the lesson, then move on. 

In the Forward category, celebrate those wins! Really appreciate the fact that you did well today. 

Expected Result: Your self-talk shield will be strengthened as you start focusing more on the things you did well rather than the things you did poorly. 

This shield takes a while to build up. Remember, our brains are hard wired to notice negativity! But it is possible to shift the balance. Like any habit change, it takes time and effort. Keep at it, and you will start to see your outlook on your journey shift into brighter colours. 

#2 - Your past is coming back to haunt you

If you’re like me, you have one foot in the past, and one foot in the present, with a hand stretched out to the future. Unfortunately, the foot in the past often is the strongest. 

I can spend hours musing on how it used to be, and berating myself for not being able to go back there. 

If that sounds familiar, let me ask you this:

Why would you want to?

Who you are today is a culmination of all your past failures, wins, mistakes and epiphanies. 

The person you are in the past is, comparitively, an ignorant little birdy flying around cluelessly. 

If you are stuck in the past, and can’t appreciate what you’ve built, then I’ve got just the weapon to unstick that foot, and plant you firmly in the present.

Weapons time! Try this.

Anytime you notice yourself dwelling on what you used to be, try a technique called Retrospective Analysis

Write down what you achieved in the past

Then look at every decision that brought you there. Was is eating a particular way? Did you have more time on your hands, or less time? Was there a particular catalyst event?

Now look at your current situation. What elements from your past success can you realistically implement in your present moment?

Break those elements down into the smallest iterations. You have the knowledge, but something has stopped you in the current moment from making those changes. So by breaking it down you are reducing the barriers to entry for the habit to start reforming.

I’m dancing on my own, I make the moves up as I go!

Above all, becoming a healthy eating superhero is about enjoying your food life! Make your own rules, celebrate the wins you have when you’ve had great healthy eating days and remind yourself that it’s okay to have a few days here and there where you don’t achieve 100% success rates. 

If you’re really struggling with becoming a healthy eater, and you sense that there are more than just the normal obstacles in your path, or you know that you’re gearing up to face mental monsters, consider booking a free consult call with me, and we can see if we can move you onto the path you want to go down! 

Let me know in the comments below how you go! See you next time!

Stay curious, play always


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