There are two basic approaches to change: love and fear. We can see the difference through the example of the desire many of us share of wanting to eat healthier.
We might go for the dramatic, do-or-die approach. In come the fear-based sticks for motivation from increased risk of heart attack to wanting to avoid how we feel judged in public for being heavier than we used to be. Fear is a powerful trigger and is effective in motivating short term behavior change.
First step: we make a list (written or in our head) of forbidden foods and make a VOW to not eat those. Perhaps a forever vow like “I will never eat chocolate again”. I’ve done that. Foods that contain the unhealthy trifecta of sweet/fat/salty generally make this list. Sweets like chocolate and ice cream top that list for many people. Some are more attracted to the salty side.
Next: we “succeed” for some period of time in avoiding these foods. We begin to feel and look better. We have more energy. Then life intervenes. We go on vacation or splurge at a holiday meal. Someone we love gets sick. A bully at work starts in on us. We have a “slip”, fall off the wagon and spiral into shame and self-loathing for breaking our vow. Or we obsess, feeling deprived not being able to eat foods on the “forbidden” list. We might even find ourselves rebelling against ourselves! “No one is going to tell ME what to do!”
We all know intuitively and it is backed by science that fear doesn’t bring long-lasting transformation.
What if we apply love and kindness and approach it from the “adding in” instead of white-knuckling it through deprivation? What would that look like? Could we trust ourselves? Will it work if we’re not pushing ourselves?
First step: we do consider what foods improve our health and what foods are unhealthy. We know this. We set an intention to increase our consumption of healthy foods and minimize eating junk and over-eating. It might look like having a salad more often or going to the market for fresh veggies. We might have a shake with avocado, blueberries and protein powder in the morning instead of a pastry. We could have a bowl of ice cream instead of a pint.
Next: we focus on what we’re doing well. There is no forbidden foods list, there is no wagon to fall off. There is an intention we’ve set to be kind to our bodies and to nourish them with good food more of the time. We understand this as a direction, not a pass/fail. We practice mindfulness. When we notice harsh or judgmental thoughts about what we’ve eaten, we intervene and stop the spiral. We may have a set of (impossible) standards in our head and judge ourselves without mercy when we fail to live up to them. When we notice, we take this as a cue or reminder to extend kindness and compassion to ourselves.
Our focus is health, not avoiding “bad” foods. We might add relaxation or meditation practices. Make an effort to get out walking in nature. Hang out with friends we enjoy. Do some Inquiry to put our weight into perspective and release habits of self-judgment. As our overall health improves, we’re not so attracted to foods on “the list”.
We can apply this philosophy to any transformation. Set a strong intention, sure. Make a resolve. Then focus on the positive, what you are doing well. So often when we look at our week, we forget entirely about the 20 healthy meals and judge ourselves for the 7 cookies we had one night.
Add more veggies. Give yourself a break and let go of the “list”. Focus on the positive and on your intention to move in the right direction. Relax. Enjoy your food and your life.