Strategy for Change
Possibly more important than what you choose to do is the process of effectively making changes. Change like focus is another life skill that is not taught in school; if you are not good at this it will make adopting the Mediterranean Diet, losing weight, eliminating belly fat, and staying healthy very difficult.
The motivations I have seen from people joining our Mediterranean Diet group are: scary health condition, doctors’ orders, worsening health condition, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, want to look great, want to feel great, preparing for an upcoming event, and spouse or family pressure. Whatever prompted you to adopt the Mediterranean Diet, chances are you will need to leave your comfort zone and effectively change to make it stick.
Assuming that you have decided to embrace this Way of Eating (WOE), how you will make this change and stick with it. Most of us are not adept at change, and benefit from support and guidance through transformation. Some things are easy to say and tell others to do, but not to do yourself. While some may find what works best is “cold turkey”, the either or mentality makes it difficult to recover from failing. Habits usually take weeks or more to establish and it is very challenging particularly between 3 days and 10 days to break through the inevitable resistance. Slowly making changes may mean you won’t see results quickly enough to call it a victory. You have to determine what works best for you, and stick with it.
One thing that affects many of us is called moral licensing. An example of this behavior is using our limited will power to exercise for an hour straight burning 350 calories, and then rewarding ourselves with a fountain drink to slake our thirst. A Big Gulp soda with ice weighs in at 364 calories with no nutritional value. Most of us are conditioned to offset our sacrifice with rewards, and in most cases those rewards driven by what the body expects to feel, a rush of sugar, fat, or salt that provides comfort. Once becoming aware of this habit, I realized that I do this constantly. I find myself negotiating to do the hard things by promising myself the rewards of watching a TV show, eating or drinking sugary or carb foods. As with many other things just being aware of this habit helps,
You are not alone, self-help experts agree that willpower is limited. We are using willpower daily to get tasks done but it is a finite resource. Know that even if we conserve willpower and focus our energy, that alone is not enough to achieve our big goals and tackle changes like fully adopting the Mediterranean Diet. The solution then is habit creation, which over time transforms hard things into doable things by making them independent of our will power, essentially automating them.
One way I and others use to conserve will power while accomplishing goals is to change the mindset and self-identify differently. This can be as simple as declaring to yourself and those that matter that “I am not someone who eats meat or fast food, or drinks sodas.” This will be easy to do on day one and two, then more difficult during the following week. This may seem extreme but by eliminating unwanted habits you will reduce the stress of failing to make your commitments. If this is something you intend to follow through on then progressively eliminate this first thing, then move on to others. Another way to think of it is if asked the question, do you eat meat then the answer goes from “I can’t” previously to “I don’t”. This tactic is called progressive extremism.
Mindfulness and Behavioral Economics
What is behavioral economics and why is it part of a book about the Mediterranean Diet? The reason is that many people finding this book will be changing from their current WOE and lifestyle and to make it work and persist will need to do so effectively. I am going to share a few of the more recent advances in effectively changing behaviors that will make for an easier and more successful outcome. In a nutshell, Behavioral Economics recognizes typical human behavior and provides structures that make it easier to make the right choice. A well-known example of this is placing fruit prominently at the entrance of the school cafeteria while chips and other unhealthy snacks are placed near the end of the line. The results of a simple rearrangement are astounding, and you can do this for yourself. Stop for a moment and think of four or five ways you can do to immediately make it easier to make better choices of what to eat, and when. This might mean throwing out temptations like ice cream, having your favorite fruit on hand, keeping cold water in the fridge, cutting out that cup of sweet coffee or tea in the morning.
Another effective strategy for changing habits is the mindfulness skills of attentiveness and curiosity. Recognizing that some habit or craving was formed for a reason, and if it is not in your best interest the reason is probably no longer valid. Instead of swinging by the fast food window on your way home from work, you might stop and think about what it will do for you. Identify the trigger that is encouraging the habit; sugar craving, low blood sugar, convenience, costs, weariness, or other. Get curious about what would happen if you reflected on the craving instead of acting upon it, then went on to prepare and eat a healthy Mediterranean meal. Reflecting on the outcome while realizing that it takes only a matter of weeks to change the behavior or habit may help with the transition.
Recognizing those behaviors and habits allows us to control them and substitute healthier choices. Making healthier choices more convenient by preparing for your known moments of relapse and having something in place gives us a greater chance up resisting the gravity of old habits and successfully replacing them with new healthier desirable habits.
To your success!