Today we’re going to talk about why knowledge and willpower aren’t the answers to get you unstuck. Especially around food. Food is a very loaded topic in our society. People don’t like to be told what to do here in America (you can see what is happening with masks and guns for examples). Ok, but that’s an episode for another day!
Let’s look at food. We love our food. We love our food to be completely decadent. And our very survival has depended on it, so our brain has evolved to love fat, salt, and sugar. That’s what kept us going when we were in survival mode. Those foods trigger parts of our brain that release certain reward chemicals- the feel good chemicals. The brain wants those chemicals to be released. We have a temporary release of those chemicals which means we feel good for a period of time. And then the feel good goes away, and we want more. Or things get tough, and we know it makes us feel good. So we lean on those foods.
Our brain is happy, but what about the body?
Many of these foods are chemically processed, which is not natural, and our brain still gets the hit, but the body reacts differently. The body reacts with something called inflammation. Now Inflammation can be a good thing: you twist your ankle and the body responds with swelling and inflammation to help protect it. As the ankle heals, the swelling decreases.
Chronic inflammation is a reaction to something that is continually ingested that the body sees as an enemy, and keeps it on high alert constantly. When you are eating something that your body is intolerant of, or that inflammatory (sugar for example), it creates inflammation throughout the body (not just in one area). This leads to aches, pains, brain fog, fatigue, and even some of our more debilitating diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and Alzheimer’s. All have been linked to chronic inflammation. It also blocks immunity, which is particularly important in the time of COVID.
Depending on the symptoms, I often recommend an anti-inflammatory diet for my clients. It means limiting typical inflammatory products: gluten, sugar, soy, alcohol, dairy, meat, caffeine, corn, and tree nuts.
As I mentioned in Episode 11, the case study, that particularly client saw a lot of the change. Here’s the thing: it’s a simple diet, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. Let me give you an example.
The person who edits my podcast really struggled even listening to my podcast about the case study on inflammation because it hit really close to home. She said:
“I’ve been sick for about ten years now, with it accelerating rather intensely after [my daughter’s] birth three years ago. I know I need to change what I eat and am still in both resistance and mourning about that – it is cosmically unfair that I should have to give up all the things I enjoy eating.”
This is such a great example of what many of my clients say, and precisely the reason many people fail with the elimination diet I recommend for food allergies. First of all, there’s a huge resistance to it! Of course there is: all of those foods taste good! For many of us, inflammatory foods are connected with feelings of comfort, safety, celebration, and of course, feeling good.
Knowing that you are intolerant of foods isn’t enough.
Having the knowledge that those foods make you feel bad isn’t enough. In fact, this is why many people who just try to change their diet without support usually struggle. There is something else that is very important to changing your diet- the mental wellness body. Here’s why:
Wanting those sugary, fatty foods and not being able to have them creates a continuous dichotomy in the brain. I know they feel good (temporarily) and I know i also feel like crap. Now to be honest, some people don’t have the connection of the two. They feel like crap, but they don’t know it’s the food that is causing the pain. Why would something that tastes so good be connected to feeling so bad?
Let’s say that you have the knowledge. You’ve taken a food intolerance test or you previously completed an elimination diet and know you feel better without the foods you love. You decide you’ve had enough and you want to feel better. You leave it up to willpower. “I WILL NOT EAT THOSE FOODS!”
You can feel the energy there, right? Hunkering down, forcing, denying. Whew. Not the energy that helps with change. By the way, we do the same thing with exercise when we say “I WILL EXERCISE EVERY DAY.”
What typically happens? It works for a while, yes. You start off strong. You are committed! This time will be different! You are ready! At first, you do well. You might even be excited to be thinking about how THIS TIME it is going to be different! This time you are going to feel better!
And then you see a commercial of your restaurant. Your friends ask you to have a physically distant wine and cheese picnic. Your partner or spouse buys ice cream at the store. Now you have a temptation. and maybe even friends saying “What’s this one time going to hurt? You can’t avoid wine FOREVER can you?”
And in that moment the brain begins…
“It’s just one cookie/glass of wine/small bowl of ice cream” “You deserve it” “It’s a party/picnic/celebration”
The brain comes up with all the reasons why this time is different..and you cave. Now the battle has just gotten a little more fierce, because the mind has found your weak spot! Whatever it is: friends/parties/stress – it will use that excuse again and again.
That’s willpower. You can hold up that really heavy bounder for a while, but eventually using just willpower is just not sustainable. If we go back to the energy of tightly holding, it is not sustainable or strong! Having a slight bend in the knee is more stable, more sustainable.
If knowledge is not enough (you know you are intolerant of those foods, you might even know that you don’t feel good after you eat them), and willpower isn’t enough, then how do you change your diet when you want to feel better? How do you find progress when knowledge and willpower aren’t the answers?
First step is to work with the mind
I usually teach my clients mindfulness first because in mindfulness you are aware of what is going on in your body, mind, and emotions. Awareness practice is just noticing what is happening in the present moment, without judgement.
Let’s say I’ve had a tough day-:a deadline has been moved earlier, or my kids have been arguing all day. I’m juggling working at home, and balancing digital learning for my kids. Not an easy feat. It’s the end of the day, and I notice that I’m heading straight for the cookies. At first I might wake up after eating 5 cookies. So I notice and ask what I notice: I’m having a hard day. I feel a heaviness in my chest. I want to eat all the cookies. I have eaten all the cookies. I feel sad, and now there is a voice in my head telling me what it means about me that I ate all the cookies! The more I watch, the earlier I can catch it, and eventually, I might hear what the conversation is in my head BEFORE I go to eat the cookies.
This first step of noticing without changing anything is soooo important. It is the power fuel to change. Notice what is happening, get really clear on what the voices are saying in your head, the sensations in the body, and the emotions present. All of this is happening without judgment, because if the critical voice in your head then beats you up for eating the cookie, then it begins the cycle of not wanting to look. And that is exactly what the critical mind wants!
The next step is to clear energetic and emotional components that may be limiting our ability to change.
There are usually younger versions of us that need support, energy that can be cleared, and even sometimes soul essences that can be returned. This depends on what the connection is for you: is it the Emotional, Energetic, or Spiritual wellness body – or maybe all three. Maybe you need to grieve the loss of loved one, or perhaps there is a connection to an entity that preventing you from changing. There are so many possibilities here, which is why a session can be helpful.
The third step is self-compassion. Here is a part of you that is really struggling. You are not feeling well, or having a hard day, or just life in general is tough (especially right now!) This is your opportunity to be kind to yourself, and if you haven’t, go back and listen to episode 12 about self-compassion. Kindness is not the cookie! Kindness is ‘what would love do?’
Compassion is not giving your kids cookies for breakfast. That’s not good for them. But you might find foods for them that they love and that are enjoyable, but that don’t lead them to feeling horrible.
This leads us to the fourth step: adding in good things. It is so hard to change when it is all about deprivation, and it’s so hard when knowledge and willpower aren’t the answers.
To change, add in new things that you enjoy and love. I was talking with my dad the other day and he is not a big fan of vegetables, and he told me he thought he hated broccoli, but it’s because he’s had steamed broccoli. He made roasted broccoli with sesame seeds and he actually liked it!
The final step is removing foods (and for some people they do this in conjunction with the third step, adding and removing simultaneously). It helps when my clients hear this is temporary. The elimination diet is a test of sorts – you want to try it for 2-3 weeks and see how you feel. Keep a journal of what you are noticing, or if you are working with me, we’ll be keeping in touch every few days so I know how you are feeling, and see what is coming up on the different levels of Wellness Bodies.
This is why the Centered Wellness Framework works so well. If you just try and take away everything that you love, of course you are going to rebel! If you take away your coping mechanisms, of course life is going to be too hard to deal with. You need new coping strategies, you need the foundation to make the change that will help you feel better so you life can not only be more sustainable, but you can sleep more, feel better and be vibrant.
If this is something you are struggling with, I invite you to set up a time to chat. My Vibrant Health program is set up to help you shift using these steps and move you forward into health and wellness.