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How You Can Change - Part 1

Author: Project Fit Life Coach Merry C. Lin
*adapted from Craving Change by Shah and Cannon

Now that you know your eating triggers, it's time to learn how to manage them.  Get ready to "unlearn" your old way of responding to food, and learn how to respond differently. But keep in mind that this change will take time, so be patient with yourself and give yourself lots of grace for your mistakes.  Remember, this isn't about perfection but about progress. This is about life change and not about a quick-fix diet.  This is not about willpower, but about learning and practicing new habits, and new ways of thinking and behaving.

Over the next few weeks, I will be introducing a number of techniques and skills that will help you change your eating thoughts and behaviours. Consider these options as just that - options that may or may not work for you. But I would ask you to at least try them out. I know it can feel uncomfortable and you may not "feel" like doing certain things, and I certainly would not ask you to "will" yourself to feel a certain way. But I've learnt that when I work on changing my thoughts and behaviours, eventually my feelings will follow and they, too, will change.

But because choice is always important, when you experience a food craving, you have a choice to choose your usual food response or you can choose to try a strategy from The Change Menu.  I list all the options here today, but I will introduce two or three at a time each week throughout this next month, to give you a chance to try each "menu" item.  Remember, though, it's best to sample one strategy at a time, and try it several times as learning new behaviours takes practice:

1.    Nurture Yourself

2.    Follow the 80/20 Rule

3.    Stop Unwanted Thoughts

4.    Distract Yourself

5.    Manage Your Stress

6.    Journal

7.    Put your Cravings on Hold

8.    Ambush Your Triggers

9.    Assert Yourself

10.  Solve Your Problems Effectively

The first one, Nurture Yourself, was introduced to you last session, so go back and read that blog (CLICK HERE FOR PREVIOUS BLOG) to review this exercise. This one is important to do on an ongoing basis, even daily if possible.

Menu Choice #2 - Follow the 80/20 Rule

Avoid all-or-nothing thinking.

Many people who struggle with eating can be perfectionists in their thinking and rigid in following a closely regimented diet. They have high expectations of themselves and can have black and white rules that allow for no in-betweens or mess-ups.  However, these strict dietary rules are easy to fail.  After all, who can be perfect all the time? And the risk is that we might think, "I've blown it all now, I might as well eat whatever I want and try for perfection tomorrow."

Try using the 80/20 rule, and allow yourself to have a treat now and again to avoid feeling deprived.  In fact, PLAN on having a treat. Eat so that 80% of the time you're making healthy food choices, and 20% of the time you allow yourself some less healthy food WITHOUT GUILT.

Here's what you do:

1.    Don't try and totally avoid any specific food unless it's necessary for medical reasons.

2.    Give yourself permission to have some flexibility with your eating pattern. Making healthy choices 80% of the time is very acceptable.

3.    Plan to eat a favourite food once a week. This is part of the 80/20 rule and prevents the feeling of deprivation which can lead to unhealthy eating. When you eat in a less healthy way occasionally, don't see it as "cheating" but as part of an acceptable eating pattern.

4.    Tell yourself that there's no time during a snack or meal at which it's too late to stop. Partial control of a problematic eating episode is better than no control at all.

Menu Choice #3 - Stop Unwanted Thoughts

Get rid of trigger thinking.

Whether we are paying attention or not to our thoughts, we are constantly thinking, and our thoughts can have a very powerful influence on how we behave. Thinking negative thought, especially about ourselves, can be a big trigger for problem eating. Often these negative thoughts will play over and over in our mind, like a broken record. Imagine trying to change your mood when you're telling yourself you're a loser every few minutes!

The average person makes over 200 decisions about food each day. Those who have tried dieting in the past may think about food constantly. Studies have shown that just thinking about food can trigger uncontrolled eating for some people.

Try stopping your negative thoughts or thinking about food by following this technique:

1.    Identify the thoughts that are acting as triggers for you, and consider writing them down to make them concrete. Especially track your negative self-talk.

2.    Set aside about 20 minutes of time just for yourself, somewhere where you won't be disturbed (or embarrassed to be caught doing this exercise!). Let your thoughts drift, but as soon as your problem thought enters your mind - jump up, clap and shout STOP!!

3.    Sit back down, clear your mind and again, follow your thoughts as you let them wander.

4.    As soon as you're aware of your problem thought sneaking in again - jump, clap and shout!

5.    Continue this for about 10 to 20 minutes.

6.    Repeat again in a day or two. Being more aware of your problem thoughts and mentally stopping them, takes practice.

7.    Eventually, find a less obvious way to respond to your problem thought, for example, visualize a big stop sign, or snap an elastic band you wear on your wrist.

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