Lasting Change: Falling Back on Old Habits

At this writing, I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve walked with as they transitioned into a Whole Foods style of eating. I don’t know exactly how many it is anymore, but I know it’s enough that I’ve begun to see specific patterns emerge in most of the people I’ve coached. They’re incredibly predictable – evidence of the mindset we all share that underlies the sick, stressed, rushed, distracted, and pushed society that we are products of. I want to address one of those today.

Often, when clients come to me for help, they understand the important role that food has to play in changing their body and/or their health. They know they need to change what they eat, but what they often aren’t prepared for are all the other things that must change in order to change their diet. Sure, the food is important. But for change to truly take hold, changing their diet must be but the stone that causes the ripples of change to roll out into many other areas of life.

I strongly believe in approaching health from a Holistic Model – you cannot treat symptoms of disease and unhealth out of context or you risk missing all the associated structures and ways of living that go along with and cause the symptom level problem. In other words, when a client approaches me with the goal of diet change, there are a lot of other things that have to change in order for that diet change to take place! Often, those “other changes” are much farther reaching and much deeper than most clients ever expect.

Think of change like a flower (stay with me, this will make sense in a second…). Pretend you walk out into your backyard and you see some dandelions growing. Darn weeds!! So, you go to nursery and explain that you’ve got dandelions growing in your backyard and you’d rather have roses. You ask how to accomplish that and the nice associate at the nursery explains that you first have to:

1. Pull up the dandelions, root, stem, flower and all!

2. Plant the new growth you want.

3. Cultivate and care for the new plants.

4. Be on guard against regrowth of the old plants.

You say, “That sounds like a lot of work! Isn’t there anything quicker?? Couldn’t we just pluck the dandelion flowers off and stick rose flowers on??”

Ridiculous, right. Just plain silly.

But, that’s what a lot of people are expecting when they enter into changing their food. They want to just pick up the pizza off their plate and put salad on instead. Sounds so simple, what’s the problem? Just eat differently, right?!

What’s missing from this “just eat differently” picture is that all the supporting actions, behaviors, attitudes, values, beliefs, habits, and history that determine what ends up on our plate are not being addressed. To change what ends up on your plate, you need to:

1. Address and process habits, history, emotions, attitudes, etc

2. Plant new habits, beliefs, attitudes, etc.

3. Cultivate and maintain these new habits and attitudes.

4. Be on guard against the old habits and attitudes creeping back in.

If you are trying to change your health, body, or food without going through this process, you are setting yourself up for the regrowth of old habits somewhere down the road. Many people are able to, by sheer force of will, maintain good habits for a time. How long that time is varies, but it really doesn’t matter, because eventually the old habits creep back in.

I don’t want to see people hanging on to their health by the skin of their teeth, battling with their will and emotions on a daily or weekly basis.

I want to see habit level, belief level, attitude level change occurring in my clients. When this happens, you have cultivated deep roots for a healthy life. This is change that will last, come what may.

Stay tuned for more in this series!

Questions for reflection:

1) What resonated in me from this post?

2) Do I approach diet change by trying to stick to a plan, or by discovering bad habits and changing them?

3) What is one habits I could start changing today that would help me reach my goal?

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