No sugar update – day 29

Today is Day 29 of my 30-day reset of not eating sugary snacks and treats. It’s gone surprisingly well.

When I started my mission get back into my no sugar lifestyle, I imagined that I’d slowly cut out one day’s treat over a period of several weeks and that by the end of it I’d be back on track. My first steps were to make sure I had something else to eat in place of my Monday afternoon snack, to remove any cash from my wallet that might make it easy to buy something I didn’t want, should I accidentally wander into a bakery or coffee shop.

After a couple of weeks of this I found that, even on the days I was allowed to have an unhealthy snack, I didn’t want to, so the 30-day reset began. In contrast to previous attempts at this, I’ve found the last 29 days to be quite easy and I haven’t really missed the cakes and chocolate.

I wondered why this was, because in the past it’s been really hard and I’ve struggled.

I think that because I’ve had several long periods where I haven’t eaten sugar, my body knows that this is my “normal”, so once I made the decision to go back to this and started to not eat cakes and chocolate, my body accepted it quite easily. I guess it knows that I am someone who doesn’t eat refined sugar, which is exactly the person I want to be.

I know some people think that cutting out something is a bit extreme and that most things in moderation are okay. The theory goes that if you completely deny yourself something, you’ll feel like you’re missing out and you’ll end up binging on the [forbidden thing], which would be worse for you than allowing yourself to have it occasionally.

Gretchen Rubin discusses this in Better Than Before. She says that some people do better by completely abstaining, because they find this easier than having the [forbidden thing] in moderation – for “abstainers”, having just a bit is almost impossible. Once they have opened the biscuit packet they’ll eat the whole lot. They won’t have one, and put the packet away until tomorrow.

As an abstainer herself, Ms Rubin notes that when abstainers deprive themselves of the [forbidden thing], they “conserve energy and will-power because there are no decisions to make and no self-control to muster”. They don’t have to decide whether to have (or do) the thing, then decide how much of the thing they will have (or do) and finally make themselves stop consuming (or doing) the thing. The decision is already made, and they can go on with their day.

She notes that someone can be an abstainer in relation to some things, but can be a “moderator” – someone for whom “everything in moderation” works well – for others. I might be an abstainer in relation to sugar, but a moderator in relation to alcohol, for example. So I’ll eat the whole block of chocolate, but I can have one glass of wine at lunch time and not spend the rest of the afternoon drinking. Unless I make a conscious choice to.

Ms Rubin notes that successful habit changes involve coordinating multiple strategies, and she gives an example of how she combined abstaining with other strategies to change her eating habits. For me, I can see how I have combined the strategy of abstaining (from sugar) with the strategy of identity (I am a person who doesn’t eat sugar) to change this particular habit. (I mentioned this strategy in this post.)

So this was an easy 30-day challenge for me – but it was only easy because of earlier work I’d done. I imagine that I’ll have more slip-ups in the future, but I hope that this experience of quite easily falling back into a healthy pattern will mean that the slip-ups aren’t frequent and aren’t as long-lived as this one was.

And here’s an unrelated picture of one of my chickens, as I contemplate what my next 30-day challenge will be.

20170701 Chook

30 days – let’s keep going!

About this time last year I started the ambitious project of undertaking a series of 30-day challenges. It kind of worked and kind of didn’t.

Some of the challenges were ideally suited to a 30-day format: 30 days of no alcohol, for example. This was because I had a clear idea in my head of what I’d be doing (or not doing in this case) over the 30 days, and my progress was easy to track. I either had 30 days free of alcohol or I didn’t.

Some of the other challenges were more vague and I didn’t have much of an idea what I needed to do over the 30 days. I didn’t have a plan or anything to measure my progress by. So that part of the project was less successful.

I’ve decided to revisit the idea now. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might remember some of my earlier attempts to quit sugar. I had some success with this, but this year have found my old habits of unhealthy snacking on sweet things have been creeping back in to the extent that resisting sweet snacks and desserts has become almost impossible for me.

I wasn’t feeling very happy about this, or some other elements of my life, so a few weeks ago I sat down and asked myself what sort of a person I wanted to be. (You can read about that here if you missed it.)

Among other things, I decided I wanted to be someone who doesn’t regularly eat refined sugar. I set about gradually weaning myself off it, by replacing one sweet treat a week with a healthier alternative, and taking the cash out of my wallet when I went out, so that if I did happen to wander past a store selling sweet temptations it would be more difficult for me to get it.

After a couple of weeks of this, I extended one day a week to two days a week, which was no big deal and I was quite happy with my progress. I imagined it might take a couple more months to wean myself off the sweet stuff completely.

On Friday the week before last (which wasn’t a designated no-sugar day), I thought about getting a peppermint slice after lunch. I knew where I was going to go and I had the cash on me. Then to my great surprise I said, “Actually no I won’t. I don’t want one.”

Quite the mindset shift. Very unexpected. “What do you mean you don’t want one? Today’s not a sugar-free day. Go ahead and have it!”

I will confess at this point that I did, and I really didn’t want it and I regretted it. So the next day I decided that if I was now at the point where I genuinely didn’t want a sweet treat, but was still prepared to have one, it was time to move to the next level, and to become that person who doesn’t eat refined sugar.

And that’s how the 30 days sugar-free challenge (2017 edition) came about. Today is Day 10.

(If you read the previous post, an update on the replacing alcohol with herbal tea on Mondays challenge is that I have now extended this to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It’s going well. The 10.00pm bedtime is going less well. It needs some more work and a bit more commitment on my part. I’ll get there!)

 

 

Baby steps

So I’ve now publicly confessed that I’ve become somewhat more relaxed about sticking to some of the healthy life choices I’d been succeeding with, and have had a good hard look at why it might be a good idea to make some changes to get things back on track (she writes with a glass of wine in one hand).

Good. Recognising that there’s something not right and, very importantly, identifying why I need to fix it is a good first step. But now I actually have to do the hard work, decide what I’m going to do and (shudder) do it!

But where to start?

There are loads of areas I would like to have better habits in, but I know if I try to change everything at once, I’m not going to succeed. It will be too much in too short a time. There’s some reason out there in brain research world about why this is. It’s something to do with our caveman brain getting very agitated if things change too fast, and sabotaging our efforts because Change = Danger. So, the theories go, we have to trick caveman brain into thinking it’s safe by making only very tiny changes that don’t register with it.

If this is right, the baby steps approach is in order. And absolutely no stepping on the cracks, because caveman brain would notice that kind of dangerous behaviour and step in to try and keep me away from danger.

A concept I’ve read about in several places when you’re contemplating trying to make a change is, rather than looking at what you want to do, to ask yourself who you want to be, and then ask yourself what that person would do.

Gretchen Rubin refers to this in her book Better Than Before as “the Strategy of Identity”. The basic idea is that: “Your habits reflect your identity, so if you struggle to change a particular habit, re-think your identity”.

Ms Rubin gives an example of a way she changed her own thinking:

For years I thought of myself as someone who “hates exercise”, but at some point I realised that I hate sports . . .  I don’t mind exercise .  . .  Thinking of myself as someone who “enjoys exercise” allowed me to change the way I viewed my nature, and that helped me to become a regular exerciser.

Neat hey.

I looked at the main habits that are causing me concern – the afternoon snacking, the extra glass or two of wine every night, and the late nights – and I considered who I wanted to be in relation to those habits. This is what I came up with:

  • I am someone who doesn’t regularly eat food with refined sugar.
  • I am someone who doesn’t drink alcohol at home during the week.
  • I am someone who gets 6-7 hours of sleep a night.

Oooh! Dotpoints! This is serious.

I think that if I tried to become that person in one big swoop, caveman brain would notice and would strongly resist, and I’d fail. Again. So I’ve decided to be that person on Mondays. The rest of the week, caveman brain can stay safe with the familiar.

(Maybe I need a name for caveman brain, which is looking out for my best interests and keeping me safe by making change so damn hard, so that we can become friends. I know it’s just doing what it was programmed to do and thinks it’s acting in my best interests. I mean if I was suddenly jumpscared by a tiger, caveman brain would be right there trying to save me.)

So now, what would dotpoint person do on a Monday?

She would make sure she has a nice healthy snack on hand so that when she gets the after lunch craving, she has something else available. (*Puts almonds on shopping list.*)

She might also think about taking all the cash out of her wallet when she goes out, so it’s slightly more difficult to buy the item in question. (She has a reluctance to EFTPOS small amounts, which might turn out to be a useful thing for this situation.) She also might decide not to walk past any tempting shops when she goes out at lunch time (including a certain clothes store).

James Clear refers to the practice of setting up your environment in a way that will support your desired (healthier) habits as “choice architecture“.

Having succeeded at not indulging in the afternoon, our hero would feel pretty good when she got home. (OK, hero might be overstating things a bit. She resisted eating cake. She didn’t save someone’s life.)

Yep, today she’s someone who doesn’t eat refined sugar. The same someone also doesn’t drink on a school night, but by the time Monday evening comes around, she’s tired and would quite like to relax with an alcoholic beverage. However, she knows that one leads to two leads to three leads to staying up late and being exhausted in the morning.

Knowing the flow-on effect of one drink on her ability to be someone who gets 6-7 hours of sleep, she also has to be someone who doesn’t drink. She has learned about choice architecture, and so she thoughtfully set up her teapot, tea and cup near the kettle, which she filled up before she went to work in the morning. They’re all there, making it easier for her to make the choice to drink tea rather than beer.


She sits with her tea and writes in her journal.

And when her 9.30 pack up alarm* goes off, she doesn’t have half a glass of wine left that inevitably seems to get refilled, or the decreased will power that alcohol appears to inflict on her, and she actually packs up and gets to bed by 10pm.

A successful mission.

These are the smallest of baby steps. In isolation, this is no big achievement. It will only benefit me if I keep being this person every Monday. I’ve already noticed how much better I feel on a Tuesday when I’ve had more sleep than I get on other nights. Wednesday morning me wants to be like Tuesday me, so Tuesday me will have to have almonds instead of cake and herbal tea instead of beer, and will have to go to bed on time. And within a few weeks, I’ll be that person I want to be without caveman brain Betty having noticed.

It sounds easy. I’m sure it won’t be. So, in the spirit of trying new things out, this is an experiment to find out if thinking about who I want to be rather than what I want to do is an effective way to change a habit.

If you think this might be a helpful strategy for a habit you want to change, tell me about it in the comments, and we can cheer each other on.

Who do you want to be?

* The packup alarm is supposed to remind you that you need to be getting up in 6/7/8 hours, and that it’s time to pack up, turn your screens off and go to bed. I have several of them. I ignore every single one and carry on. (Bedtime alarms really is a thing. Google “bedtime alarm”.)

I’m struggling

I thought I was doing well in healthy eating and taking care of myself a few months ago. But I’ve slowly slipped back into bad habits that are sabotaging all of that, and I don’t like it.

It seems like every healthy habit I have is hanging there by a thread. After three attempts at quitting sugar, I hadn’t eaten it for months, and I thought I’d kicked the habit for good. But then, after a couple of “just this once” desserts, now I have a cake or sugary snack almost every day after lunch and I don’t know how to stop myself. I look forward to it. If I can get through the morning, I can have a treat. Eating crap was a habit that was disturbingly easy to pick back up.

I get up stupidly early in the morning and walk 20-30 minutes and meditate. I’ve been doing this every morning for over 18 months, but I still struggle to do it every single day. It takes a huge effort to do this – it’s not something I can “set and forget”. To maintain the habit, I refuse to let myself skip a day unless there’s a genuine reason not to do it, because it would be too easy to stop. I’d just miss one day, then another, then another, and the habit that I’ve spent so long to develop would be gone within a week.

I don’t love doing this. I think I’d love to sleep in more. Yet somehow I can hold myself to this obligation, but not the obligation to eat healthily. Why?

I know that a big factor in people’s success in achieving what they want to achieve is having a strong “why”.  A really meaningful and powerful reason for doing it that’s strong enough to override their impulse to not do it.

I can’t find any why stronger than that I want to be an active presence and positive influence in my child’s life for as long as I possibly can. I want to set a good example for him so that he can grow up fit and healthy and not have to battle his weight like I have.

But it’s not all about him. I want to be active and healthy for as long as I can be so that I can keep doing the things I want to do when I’m older, not be confined to a lounge chair full of regrets.

And if these two things don’t  motivate me I don’t know what will.

Yet I still feel like I did when I was 20 and feel like I have this air of immortality.

Logically I know that I don’t have all the time in the world to make the changes I know I need to to maintain my health into the future. I don’t want to be one of those people who ends up on their death bed regretting the things they didn’t do and the opportunities they didn’t take.

I want to turn things around because I’m making a lot of unhealthy choices and I don’t want to do that any more. But the unhealthy choice is usually the easier one.

Why don’t I want to make unhealthy choices any more?

Because making the types of unhealthy choices I am making will be bad for me  in the long term. I don’t want my health to deteriorate when I get older because of choices I’m making now. And I want to give myself the best chance of getting older in the first place!

Why don’t I want my health to deteriorate as I get older?

Because I want to be around for as long as I can be. I want to be physically and mentally able to do exciting things when I retire from work. I want to be around to see my son grow up. And if he has kids, I want to be able to do things with them.

Someone recently described this to me as wanting to be “a rocking Grandma” – if I become a Grandma. Great concept! And if I don’t become a Grandma I want to be a rocking old lady who is active, healthy, energetic, brave, fun and full of adventure for as long as I can.

Actually I want to be that person right now – I don’t want to wait until I’m old. I want to live a life where I can be the best version of me that I can be. I want to be healthy, active and creative. I want to learn and explore, have adventures, and create beauty. I want to be brave, calm and kind. I can’t be that person if I feel tired and uninspired from lack of sleep and sluggish from eating the wrong foods.

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My motivation

I also want to set a good example for my son so that he grows up fit and healthy, not like me with a poor body image and unhealthy relationship with food.

I recently realised that I most likely have had more yesterdays than I have tomorrows – unless I am incredibly lucky – and, unless I make some lifestyle changes now, my number of tomorrows might be even smaller than I think I have.

That means that I’m running out of days where I can say “I’ll start tomorrow”. As I get older, time moves faster and faster, the years all start to blend into one, and the next thing I know it’s another January 1st and I am exactly where I was at January 1st the year before. Yet I still persist in believing that I have time to turn things around, so I don’t have to start just yet. Next week will be OK, because we all know that next week, just like tomorrow, never comes.

I’ve had periods where I’ve thought I’d succeeded. I’ve been able to run 7 km and have weighed 56 kg. I kicked the sugar habit, once, twice and finally (or so I thought) a third time. I know all of this is possible to do because I’ve done it before. But what I have really learned is that we never really succeed – we don’t reach a point where  all of a sudden we are the person that we set out to be. Life is a journey, not a destination. We reach milestones along the journey, and we might know the general direction we are heading in, but we don’t ever get to what we might consider our final destination. Because we don’t become the person we want to be and then stop. We have to keep on being that person, and doing the things that make us that person.

We don’t “become” healthy and then stop. We only remain healthy because we continue to make healthy choices. We don’t “become” creative and then stop. We are creative because we continue to create.

So it’s up to me – to know that if I want to be a rocking old lady with an active and positive presence in my son’s life, I need to put the foundations in place now. If I don’t, one day I will wake up in that lounge chair full of regrets instead of being the rocking old lady I wanted to be.

I have to go back to basics. Again. And what better time to start then now?

Next time: Baby steps towards restarting.

 

 

Channelling (10-12 July 2015) – Day 1

One of the good things about living so far away* from where I grew up is that a lot of the nearby places that Slabs and Juniordwarf haven’t been to are places I’m also not familiar with.

One of these areas is the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, which is the stretch of water between mainland Tasmania and Bruny Island. The Channel region is the area south of Hobart between the Huon Valley and the water. It includes the towns of Margate, Sung, Kettering and Woodbridge, and it’s from Kettering that you get the ferry to Bruny, as we did on one of our mini-breaks last year.

We thought that school holidays would be a good time to go away for a couple of days. I wanted to go to the beach (I’m not a beach fan, but I like them in winter), and Slabs wanted to go somewhere relatively close. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing we agreed Kettering would be a good base for the weekend.

We had a few options for accommodation, and finally settled on Herons Rise Vineyard, about 1 km out of Kettering. It has 3 self-contained cottages, which you can book with or without breakfast. There is also the option of including a 2 course dinner and a bottle of wine.

Herons Rise Vineyard

Herons Rise Vineyard

I wanted to be able to see the water, so we chose the Wine Loft cottage, which is above the wine cellar. It has two bedrooms and can accommodate up to 5 people. The thought of having a home-cooked dinner rather than having to cater ourselves or go out somewhere appealed, so we booked dinner for both nights.

The Wine Loft

The Wine Loft

The Wine Loft

The Wine Loft

Kettering is actually a lot closer to Hobart than I remembered, and it took us just over half an hour to get there. Heron’s Rise is about 1 km out of the town, up the hill, and we could just see the water through the trees. Criterion satisfied!

I can see the water!

I can see the water!

Juniordwarf decided he’d have the main bedroom, which had a queen bed and a single, leaving us the other bedroom, which also had a queen bed. I’m not sure how that even happened, he did it so smoothly.

Bedrooms and loungeroom

Bedrooms and loungeroom

This trip we finally remembered the board games, and decided to teach Juniordwarf the game of Qwirkle, which Lil Sis had introduced us to several years ago. She’s so good at the game that people who play against her call her “The Cheater”, which Juniordwarf found hilarious. He came out with this classic line, which cracked me up: “Lil Sis is a cheater. We have to defeat her.” (She says it’s all lies. I believe her.)

Thanks, in at least some part, to a double Qwirkle, Slabs won the game, and Juniordwarf didn’t disgrace himself coming second. I, on the other hand, deserve a place in the hall of shame for setting up the double Qwirkle without realising it, and not even the bonus points for using all my tiles first could lift me out of last place.

Lucky I’m not competitive isn’t it.

Juniordwarf's first Qwirkle game

Juniordwarf’s first Qwirkle game

Ordering dinner turned out to be an excellent decision. Our host Gerry brought down a big box holding our meals – tonight it was chicken breast wrapped in prosciutto, a potato gratin and steamed veggies – and laid it all out on the table for us. Dessert (because it was a 2-course dinner) was a divine chocolate cake with a berry compote, or whatever it is you call a sauce that includes the whole berries, and whipped cream. I decided to let my sugar-free lifestyle have a very small break, mainly because I know I’m now capable of having dessert every now and then without letting the whole thing go.

Dinner at Herons Rise

Dinner at Herons Rise

We topped it off with a bottle of one of our favourite wines, the 2003 cabernet sauvignon from Derwent Estate, that we apparently bought the very last bottles of a couple of years ago.

2003 Derwent Estate Cab Sav. Glorious!

2003 Derwent Estate Cab Sav. Glorious!

It was a lovely way to end our first night away.

* By Tasmanian standards

Week in review – 5-11 January

I was back at work all week. Because it’s school holidays I don’t have to work school hours, and I can put a full day in. I decided to work longer days while Slabs is on holiday so that I can have few of days off later in January.

It feels weird to be working a full day instead of leaving at 2.30. But these days are a lot less stressful than my 5 hour days, where it’s go-go-go from the moment I get up. On those days I often feel like I’ve just started the day when it’s time to leave. Having done part time days (3 days a week) and part time hours 5 days a week, I’m sure doing fewer days a week is easier than working every day but doing fewer hours.

This year I’m determined to find ways to make those short days less stressful, because I feel like I barely have time to take a breath.

Slabs and Juniordwarf went camping during the week, so I had a nice night to myself at home.

Juniordwarf left Zoe with me to keep me company, and I was under strict instructions to take her to work with me. He said she could help me typing on the computer. I’d type one sentence and she’d type the next one. I’m not sure that’s a great model for efficiency at work, but I tried.

20150107 Zoe at my work 2 editI’m not a great believer in New Year’s resolutions, but I guess a week off at the end of the year is a good chance to sit down, catch my breath and think about trying to take steps to get me to where I want to be. Last year I felt like even making small changes to my lifestyle was impossible, and it felt like I was taking one step forward and two steps back. It wasn’t my best year at work either. In a way, the end of the year was a symbolic way to shut the door on everything that had gone wrong in 2014 and start again.

One thing I did succeed with last year was quitting sugar. I’ve been back on this since the beginning of December, so I think this is Week 6. It’s been a lot easier this time than when I first did this in 2013. I think I did the really tough work back then, because I’ve had no withdrawal symptoms and very few cravings. The hardest thing this time was starting – and getting through the first few days without having an afternoon chocolate or cake. Once I’d got past that, it was easy and I haven’t been tempted at all. Not even at Christmas.

Just before the holidays I read an interesting article about habits and a book called The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, They have both helped me to start to introduce the small changes into my lifestyle that I couldn’t do last year.

This is a long-winded way of saying I’ve started walking again. I’ve been getting up at (some stupid time very close to) 5am and the reward for this is being awake for the sunrise.

20150108 Sunrise editNow I just have to introduce the corresponding habit of going to bed earlier than midnight, and I just might get the sleep I need to function normally.

It’s been a good week. I hope you’ve had a good week too.

12 of 12 May 2014

Monday 12 May was the start of the second week of school. All the good work I’d done getting back into a walking routine before the holidays started has gone out the window and I’m back to doing nothing. I just can’t bring myself to set the alarm for 5am . . .

1 of 12 – and the reason for this is probably because I’ve been staying up until after midnight most nights. Yesterday’s excuse was that I was reliving some of the fun of the weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest.

20140512-01B Euorovision

2 of 12 – I’m still struggling with trying to give up fructose. I made this choc-nut granola from Sarah Wilson’s new book to try and console my sweet tooth.

20140512-02 Granola

3 of 12 – It’s autumn! St David’s Park is looking very pretty.

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4 of 12 – This is what’s left of the old Government Print Building and the old PABX building in Salamanca Place.

20140512-04 Parliament Square

5 of 12 – I’m not being very successful at drinking more water during the day either.

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6 of 12 – Monday is a heavy walking day. Time to bust out the new shoes.

20140512-06 Walking

7 of 12 – Macquarie Street late afternoon. I want to know that little box on top of that building is.

20140512-07 Macquarie Street

8 of 12 – Pretty autumn colour.

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9 of 12 – It’s getting darker a lot earlier now.

20140512-09A Moon over Hobart

10 of 12 – Juniordwarf’s current thing on the way home is to stop in the ABC Shop and look at the Ben & Holly books.

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11 of 12 – Jack’s back!

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12 of 12 – Every time one of the Diggers Club catalogues arrive in the mail I feel very miserable that I’ve done nothing in the garden recently.

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