Things that are good for you aren’t always fun. Sometimes they take a bit of effort. The goal might be worthwhile, but the path there isn’t so enticing. So even when you start with the best of intentions, you might fall off the wagon and then it is really hard to get back on. I know it, I’ve been there. But I’ve learned some ways to make it so much easier to get back on that good habit and make it stick.
Last year I worked with a nutritionist while I was going through chemo to keep my body as strong and resilient as possible. Early on, she suggested I stop eating sugar, to which I said something like, “Not likely.” But I did reduce how much I was eating, and then after surgery and a couple rounds of winter viruses (thank you preschool kids), I went for a couple of weeks without it and I couldn’t believe how different I felt. I slept better. I didn’t have blood sugar highs and lows, and no energy dip in the late afternoon. My joints stopped aching. I got over the next cold amazingly fast. After the first week or so, I even stopped craving it.
I was convinced, finally, that this was a habit I wanted to embrace. At the beginning of December last year I decided sugar was out of my diet. By January, I was eating it again. In February, I quit again, and except for a few days of lax attention and a few specific treats (a birthday cupcake and a piece of pie at my brother’s wedding), I’ve been clear of sugar for almost 4 months.
They say it takes 21 days to build a habit, and I’m well past the 21-day mark. But sugar is a hard one. It is everywhere, it tastes great, and it is in most of my favorite foods (hello cookies). But I’m determined this is a permanent change I want to make in my life, so I’m getting quite practiced at getting square with this habit again every time I slip up. I can’t eat one cupcake and then say, “Oh, well, I might as well have a cookie now, too.” I have to say, “Wow, that was yummy. But that was enough.” And then I have to actually stick to it.
How? Here are some tips that have helped me restart my no-sugar habit.
Release the shame
You are not a bad person because you didn’t keep to your goal. But we do tend to beat ourselves up in this situation. Is that helpful? No. Let go of your self-judgement and be kind to yourself. Healthy habits are hard, give yourself some grace.
Review the failure
What caused you to stop doing what you said you would do? Was this an unusual situation, or a challenge you are going to face on a regular basis? Were you trying to take on too much at once? In what ways can you support yourself better if you face this challenge again?
In my case, I had to get all the sweet snacks out of my house and make sure I had plenty of sugar-alternative sweeteners at home and in my bag when I’m out and about. I also found a few no-sugar sweet treats so when I’m craving something sweet there’s something I can eat that is guilt-free.
Review your goal
Why do you want to adopt this habit? Is the goal still something you want? Is there a different path to it? Is this the right time for you to make this change? Do you need to start smaller? Get clear on what it is you hope to gain by making this change and keep your eyes on that prize. If you have any doubts, they will undermine your ability to keep to it when you face challenges.
It is often easier to make a healthy change when we are doing it with others. Find a walking or running group, take a class with a friend, find an accountability buddy to check in with each day or week to help keep you on track. Your people want the best for you – if they see you’re are trying to do something to make your life and body healthier, they’ll be eager to support you!
It is tempting when you’ve let a habit go for a while, to set a future date to begin again. “Well, I already ate one cookie, I might as well have another…” Don’t do that! In every moment, you have an opportunity to begin again. Don’t start tomorrow or next week, start right now.
But also, give yourself time. It does take a while to make a habit a part of your life. Use these steps to get back up if you get knocked down, and before you know it, that healthy habit will just be what you do. Won’t that feel good?