Thursday, March 21, 2013

Reader Advice Day: Getting Back on the Plant-based Wagon after a Hard Fall

an all-time favorite image

I'm so excited to be back again this week with a second installment of Reader Advice Day! Here's a question that came in this morning, but to be honest with you, I have been itching to discuss this topic with you for the past week. Funny how that happens.

Here's the e-mail that came in:

"Hi there!

I have been a fan of your blog for some time now. I love the reader advice and hope you can help me too.

Over a year ago I had 30 lbs of pregnancy weight to lose. After reading all the books (Furhman, Esselstyn, etc) and watching the films (Hungry for Change, Forks over Knives) I went plant strong. I loved it. Became an expert at cooking the food, exercised daily, felt and looked amazing, lost the weight. I blogged about it and wanted to spread the word to everyone I knew. For 5 months. Then slowly, a cookie here, some seafood, and bam...back to cheeseburger and chips. Now I've been back to the SAD diet longer than I was plant-strong.

The problem is, I can't seem back to get back to my plant-strong lifestyle. I do it for a few days, then the old food creeps in. I don't have the motivation and enthusiasm I did the first time. I am rereading the books and re-watching the films, but it is almost like my brain is telling me 'what's the point because you'll only end up back where you started anyway.' Why, when while being plant-strong I felt and looked amazing AND I loved the food, am I resisting so hard? So, my question is - how do you motivate yourself to start and stay plant strong?"

My thoughts? I have never gone too far off of the wagon, but many times I have gone to places where I don't like what I am doing and how I am eating. And I wondered the same thing you are--how do people stay motivated and make the best choices over and over? 

I also totally understand the initial excitement about a new way of eating, and that carries a lot of us through a certain amount of time. But then we wear down, our old patterns begin to emerge, and over time, we can be right back to where we started.

I believe your challenge is a psychological one. Although I am not a psychologist, I have read my fair share of books on the topic of overeating, emotional eating and my new favorite term, "conditioned hypereating." I wonder if you have ever read the books The End of Overeating by Dr. David A. Kessler, The Beck Diet Solution by Dr. Judith S. Beck or The Pleasure Trap by Douglas J. Lisle? No one book is a magic bullet, but  piece different parts of the story together from difference sources and eventually, I promise you, you will get there. But you cannot give up. No matter what.

Here's a list of my current methods for keeping motivated:

(1) Stay public about it.

Keep blogging--being public about your struggle is really, really painful sometimes, but at least for me, provides me with a bottom that I cannot fall through for total fear of embarrassment. Not only am I public about my plant-based eating online, but in my personal life at home. All of my friends, family, co-workers and even acquaintances seem to know about Healthy Girl's Kitchen. Whenever I start to fall off of the wagon, I am pulled back in by my own horror at the thought of failing at this publicly.

(2) Stay honest about it.

To yourself, to others. Don't act like it's not happening and it's no big deal. It is a big deal. Your health and your happiness depend on you working this stuff out.

(3) Forgive yourself immediately your mistakes.

I could probably write a whole book on this one subject alone. I have a feeling that many of us here would type themselves some version of perfectionist. You have to let that go when it comes to food, because it will be the undoing of you. The worst is when you use a food mistake, or two, or three, as an excuse to then eat whatever is in front of you (a bender) for however long. This will never work in the long run. You must give this up today. Promise yourself that from here forward, when you make a mistake, you will acknowledge it and then tell yourself that you are letting it go. From that moment on, you are back on your plan.

(4) Keep the romance alive.

It will take a fair share of your energy, but I recommend continuing to read books you have not read (the old ones and the new ones) on plant-based diets and emotional eating. There is never a lack of good reading material. There are also a ton of engaging movies to enjoy, blogs to subscribe to, video clips to watch, etc. It really is a constant stream of exciting information. When immersing yourself in this world, it's a lot harder to ignore the facts about junk food. There's practically something new to get excited about every single day.

(5) Learn exactly why you are making the choices you are making.

Knowledge really is power. If you really understand what is going on in your brain that makes it extremely difficult to walk by the cookie, you are half way to success. I simply cannot recommend the book The End of Overeating enough. Even after reading The Pleasure Trap, which is wonderful, I simply did not have that ah ha moment like I did with The End of Overeating. And the other half of that equation is . . .

(6) Learn precise strategies for making the best decisions you can about what you eat.

Healthy eating does not happen in the year 2013 by magic. It takes careful planning and a lot of hard work. For the most part, we all need to cook our healthy food. And we all need to be able to say "no" to unhealthy food over and over and over and, well, you get the point. Junk is everywhere today. How are you going to pass it by? You've got to have strategies. For me, I found The Beck Diet Solution to be mind blowing and filled with incredible strategies, but again, it wasn't until the final piece of that puzzle was uncovered in The End of Overeating that I finally feel like I understand exactly what I am doing.

(7) Make the time and space you need in your life to prepare healthy food.

Without healthy food around, you are never going to stay on a plant-based diet. It just won't happen. So shopping and cooking have to be really high on your priority list. Carve out one or two dedicated cooking sessions a week and guard those appointments with your kitchen.

(8) Say goodbye to any trigger food in your own home.

One who suffers from food addiction is defenseless against our particular trigger foods. It's hard to say "no" to these foods when we are outside of our homes, but totally impossible when that food is within our house. If you don't agree with me, or you don't know what I am talking about, then you are NOT a food addict. Thank your lucky stars and move on. But if this sounds like you, get out the garbage bag and fill it with the high fat, high salt, high sugar crap that's in your pantry, fridge and freezer. Throw it all away and don't feel guilty about it. It's garbage in a trash can or garbage in your body. Where would you rather it be? 

Realize that these trigger foods have a funny way of sneaking back in your house, so be prepared to do this a few times a year from now until, well, you're six feet under. Because that's how long you will be a food addict. There is no getting rid of this addiction, so learn to make the best of it now or you will look back on your life and have too many regrets, not to mention expensive and painful diseases.

And you? How do you stay on the wagon? Are you having an easy time with this or a difficult one? What strategies do you employ? Were there things that worked for some time and then just stopped working? To leave a comment/view the comments, please click on the title of this post (the orange text above).

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