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  • Writer's pictureSandhya Gokal

Taking Responsibility

It’s 5am and I can’t sleep

The thoughts that are going around in my head are the same.

Why can’t I be better? Why do I always do this? Why do I always eat like crap and then feel despair?

I feel stressed, anxious and downhearted.

And then suddenly it hits me. 

My choices are what makes me.

My choices around the actions I take make me who I am.

Feeling despair about what is going on in my life is a victim mentality attitude.

Accepting that my choices create my reality gives me power. Because if my choices are the catalyst for the pathway I am on, then I can alter that path at any given moment simply by changing my choices

That thought revolves in my head, makes me smile, and I close my eyes and drift off to sleep….

Ha! I wish. The thoughts get me all fired up, and I get up to write this article.


Responsibility is the ability to respond to any given situation. It is not a measure of the intelligence required to deal with a scenario. It does not take into account the resources at hand. 

Responsibility is using what I have to respond to a situation to the best of my ability.

Accepting responsibility in my life turbo-boosts my journey in a way nothing else can do. Once I accept that my choices are in my hands and my hands alone, the burden of allowing others to dictate my life falls away and it seems like nothing can stop me. I open my arms and accept the consequences of my actions, good or bad. 

One of my favourite card games is Crew, a cooperative game in which the players work together to complete each round by ensuring that certain players get certain cards. However, communication is limited. So it is only through taking responsibility and understanding what is happening in each round that the game can be won. 

Back in reality, I need to remember that if I choose to eat badly, that is on me. If I choose to deviate from my eating path in any way, I can re enter the arena and try again. But feeling despair about my choices is not an option anymore - I don’t want to leave the choices up to someone else. I refuse to allow my feelings about my eating habits to be dictated by others thoughts and expectations. 

Setting boundaries

If I am to take responsibility in my own life, for my own choices, then it is crucial to set up some rules, so I can set myself free by living true to MY ideals. 

My rules are as follows: 

  1. I choose what goes into my body.

  2. If Rule #1 is true, then it is important for me to prepare foods and make food choices that benefit my body in some way, shape or form. 

  3. I will no longer pander to others by accepting food that does not benefit me - even if it is prepared with love. 

  4. Pleasing others means I am losing confidence and respect for myself. 

  5. If I eat something that I know will cause a negative reaction in my body, then the consequences must be accepted willingly. 

  6. To win: I must abide by my rules at all times, no matter how hard it may seem, and despite the thoughts of those around me. 

Above all, I have to remember: If I break my rules, I am hurting only myself. 

Stick to the rules

My mum has always been vegetarian. But around 2006 she decided to become super strict in her food choices. She cut out all animal products except dairy and honey. Seems easy right? But she went a few steps further. If a food item even had traces of egg, crustaceans or gelatin, it was out. She would not eat at any restaurant that served meat, because there was no guarantee that the food had not been prepared on the same equipment. 

At first, it was easy to resent her because her choice to become strict affected my dad, my brother and I pretty severely. We had to double check all our shopping choices.  If we wanted to cook or bake something, we had to find alternatives to egg and gelatin.

Going out was a chore because instead of being able to try all the fancy cool new food options, we were now limited to vegan restaurants. This was before being vegan was a big thing so we had only 3 go-to restaurants. It made dining out pretty hard. 

She never asked us to follow her path, and if we wanted to eat somewhere else, she made it clear that although she wouldn’t eat there, she was happy to come along. (Of course, we never did this.)

Once I moved out, I realised how hard it was for my mum, and my resentment evolved into admiration. She stuck to what she wanted, no matter how much my brother and I tried to dissuade her, or convince her to “just try something!” I was grateful to her for showing me that it is okay to make a choice that is different to what people expect. I learned the skill of checking food labels quickly and carefully. And above all, the experience taught me to adapt to other people’s food choices and requirements - a talent that would come in handy down the track.

When I decided to cut out sugar in 2019, I had all these hidden weapons on hand which made it infinitely easier to implement. 

Finding alternatives to sugar for cooking and baking? Check

Being able to read food labels quickly to see if sugar was in a product? Check

Discovering new ways to dine out that adhered to my rules? Check

Telling people around me of my choice, and sticking to it? Well, I'm still working on that one. When faced with a loved one, it is much harder to refuse food that they have carefully and thoughtfully prepared. But, the more I say it, the easier it becomes. 

Making it part of my identity

When a child is doing something they are not supposed to do, there are two ways to scold them.

“You’re being bad!”

“You did something that was wrong.”

One is an identity. The other is an action. 

This is an important distinction. To truly take responsibility for changing my eating habits I needed to change how I talked about myself - my identity.

Studies have shown that behavioural change is harder, better, faster and stronger when accompanied by a change in identity. (That may also have been Daft Punk and Kanye West, but the gist is the same). One study showed that children who started playing piano progressed much faster when they identified themselves as pianists (identity), rather than just saying that they played the piano (action).

I used this mentality when starting

figure skating. By saying I was a figure skater even when I was at the lowest level, all my actions became designed to improve my progress. I stretched daily to improve flexibility, because that is what a figure skater does. I practiced my jumps at cafes while waiting for my drink, because that is what a figure skater does. I did off ice exercises to strengthen my core and used my spinning plate to improve my capacity for dizziness - because that is what a figure skater does. 

When I decided to quit sugar, I used this on a much larger scale. Food is not a side hobby - it is vital for survival. So any change I made had to be done on the level of identity because incongruence between my identity and my choices would be like playing tug of war. 

So, I became someone who doesn’t eat sugar*. 

If someone offered me a piece of cake, my response was “I don’t eat that.”

I didn’t say “I CAN’T eat that”. 

I say don’t.

Can’t is behavioural. Can’t implies that there is an obstacle in the way of my consuming that item. Can’t puts the responsibility of consumption on something external. 

Don’t is identity. Don’t implies that it is not in my sphere of existence. Don’t strengthens my resolve, my confidence in my decision making and internal picture of myself. 

It seems like the tiniest change, but in the words of Matilda (via Tim Minchin) “the tiniest mite has the mightiest sting.” Making this small change in how you speak to yourself and others can act like a red mushroom does in Mario Kart and give you a turbo-boost that speeds up your progress and puts you ahead in the game. 

I am someone who doesn’t eat sugar. I eat only when I am hungry. I eat to 80% fullness, true to harahachibu. I am kind but firm about my food choices. And if I say no, I mean no.  

“I’m not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me.” - Keala Seattle from The Greatest Showman

Playing my game - navigating my inner landscape and battling my demons

As a pharmacist and healthy eating coach, I know I am meant to be the authority on this topic. And while I do humbly recognise that I have a lot of expertise in this area, and my passion for food inspires me to forge a path that is unique to my needs and specifications while enjoying what I eat…

I also acknowledge that I am not perfect. I have off days. I have days when I succumb to the “last supper” phenomenon and gorge myself on junk food. There are many moments where the temptations presented to me by people I care deeply for who have created culinary delights, weaken my resolve and I cave.

But I will never give up. I will always push myself to be better, everyday. I am constantly trying new strategies to win at the game I created for myself. And most days, I do win!

Part of taking responsibility while playing the game is celebrating when I win, and being kind to myself when I feel like I have lost points. 

This is the part I struggle with most. The empirical choices that come with my food journey are black and white, but my internal landscape lies in the grey. A day where I’ve eaten cleanly and am proud of my choices does not suddenly tip the scale to crazy heights of self-love bordering on narcissism. Rather, it moves the scale a few points in that direction. Streaks of multiple win days can improve my self-love levels pretty well, but it isn’t a permanent change as of yet. 

I have recently started an experiment where I avoid seeing my reflection more than once a day. I’m not a barbarian - I always check that I don’t have toothpaste on my face, and that my dress isn’t tucked into my underwear. But aside from that, I have noticed that checking my reflection on multiple occasions throughout the day gives me too many opportunities to find flaws. This has always been a source of discomfort to me because in my head, I feel like I look pretty good! The disconnect between what I see in my mind’s eye and what I see in my reflection creates a dissension I want to quash with a vengeance. 

Since doing this, I have noticed a significant improvement in my mood as well as an increased capacity to stay in the present moment rather than worrying about what I look like. Further study is needed, but so far, I am deeming this experiment a success and I have high hopes for the future results!

Following the yellow brick road

Taking responsibility is a game changer for me. Once I started doing this, my whole journey just transformed into the Rainbow Road (but one I can actually travel on, not just keep falling off like in Mario Kart.) I feel so much freer, lighter and can smile easily when it comes to making food decisions. I am no longer trapped by the constraints of analysis paralysis, or hurting other people’s feelings because I know that if I keep others happy, I am hurting myself. 

This post was in the first person because it is what I needed to hear myself. I hope that some of this resonated with you! 

*Hypnosis was a tool that I used to push myself further in this direction. If you want to know more about this, send me a message and I’d be happy to tell you more!

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