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

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Book 4/24 – Better Than Before

This is my final catch-up post of the books I’ve read this year. I’m currently reading book #5.

I’ve been a fan of Gretchen Rubin since I read her first book The Happiness Project in 2011. Her new book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, was released last year. I’d been following some of her posts about habits on her blog, as well as doing my own reading on habits (in particular the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which Gretchen recommends on her blog and is well worth a read if you’re interested in finding out more about habits). I was keen to see how Gretchen tackled this topic, so I finally got around to reading it last month.

2016 Book 4 - Better Than Before

I like Gretchen’s approach of testing her theories on herself and writing about what happened, and she continues to use this approach in this book. This personal experience means that things that worked for Gretchen aren’t going to work for everyone, and it’s interesting to see how this realisation dawns on her during her conversations with people she relates in the book.

The first part of the book looks at the differences between people and how these differences will impact how a person might go about forming a habit.

The conclusion that Gretchen draws at the end is that we can only build our habits on the foundation of our own nature, so a lot of the book is focused on figuring out our own preferences and how we can use them to form and stick to the habits we want to develop.

This resonates very strongly with me as I work towards accepting my own nature instead of fighting against it.

First up Gretchen considers what she calls the Four Tendencies, which go some way to explaining how people respond to expectations – both external (rules, externally imposed deadlines etc) and internal (set by ourselves). Upholders meet both inner expectations, Obligers meet outer expectations but resist inner expectations, Questioners will meet their own expectations but will question why they should meet external expectations, and Rebels resist both inner and outer expectations. Where you fit into this framework might influence how you form habits.

For example, I think I’m mostly an obliger. If something is due at work on a set date, I will make sure it’s done, but if I set myself a deadline I often struggle. If I have to be at the radio station by 8pm to start my show I will be there. If I want to get up at 5am to go for a walk, it’s hit and miss (especially on a weekend), but if I have to do it so I meet my step goal for Walk In Her Shoes that day, then I most certainly will do it.

The second part of the book looks at four strategies that help us to build and maintain habits. These are strategies that you’d find in many posts about how to form a good habit: monitoring what you do; building strong foundational habits (eating, sleeping, exercising and deluttering) that if you get right will make it easier to build other habits; scheduling time to do what you say you’ll do; and being accountable for doing it. (This is where the upholder/obliger/questioner/rebel tendencies come in.)

The next part looks at actually getting started in forming new habits, and the following (rather large) part examines ways to make it easier to stick to our desired habits. This includes a very necessary group of strategies to overcome temptation and what to do if you stumble and fall.

The final part of the book looks at how defining specifically what we want helps us to form and maintain habits, and how we see ourselves helps us behave in a certain way. For example, if I consider myself a person who doesn’t eat sugar, I don’t have to decide whether or not to have dessert. There’s no decision to be made.

While I can’t relate to everything in the book, and there are some key points about habits that I’ve picked up in other places that perhaps deserve more prominence, or aren’t covered here, I think it’s a great place to start if you’re looking for some direction around introducing habits you want to cultivate. The chapter on loopholes is particularly enlightening, because I think I found myself nodding in agreement at every single one of the loopholes Gretchen identifies.

“Begin now” is also a key point. Because future me won’t start a habit. There is no future me, only now me.

I enjoyed reading this book, and it’s added to the mountain of fascinating resources I’ve been building up about habit forming. I think it’s a really good practical guide. Recommended.