The Foodlife Journey
This time last year, I received an email from my friend, Shannon, wishing me and all of her friends a Happy New Year. No, she wasn’t absurdly late with her to-do list. She was making the point that- as a mother of school-aged kids- the time of the year when really senses newness is the beginning of the school year. She’s right, isn’t she?
Summer break begins a process of creative destruction. Your family is freed from servitude to the school year schedule. A three-month window of freedom presents itself. When school begins anew, the family constructs new routines, behaviors and expectations around the structure of the school schedule. The best of last year’s routines carry over from the previous year: we all get up at 7AM, homework is put in backpacks the night before, all kids read at least 30 minutes every night. Others might deserve a tweaking: the backpack never gets cleaned out, we don’t have any special place where we keep library books so we always lose them, and mommy never clears her desk of paperwork clutter so she never knows if there is some urgent piece of paper that has come home from school.
Almost all of us have some area of our foodlife we’d like to improve. We’re facing an opportunity that won’t be back for another year. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to elaborate on some of the most common changes that I know people want to make to their foodlives. I’ll save you any hocus-pocus self-improvement crap. Rather, I’ll try to give you relevant insights gleaned from my own struggles and those of the many people I’ve spoken with and taught over the past few years.
My primary qualification for my self-appointed title of “Foodlife Guru” is that, not so long ago, I was disorganized, overweight, and a terrible cook. I’m none of those things now. Well, I’m still a little disorganized. And I still have a muffin top in my low-rise jeans. And the pork chops I made the other day were dry, but… Oh well, “perfect” isn’t the goal.
So, yes- if I can do it, so can you. I’ve traded my struggles for understanding. I’ve got skills now, baby! My quality of life is so much greater now that I’ve developed these skills that I’m just kinda busting to share it with other people.
Here are the most important elements that I learned that helped me pull my foodlife together.
Know why you want to make a change. Make sure that it is a reason that really matters.
I’m just not vain enough to care whether or not I look better in my skinny jeans than the other moms at the soccer game. My motivation to lose weight, eat well, and exercise comes from a realization I had as the outcome of a little conversation with my then six-year-old eldest daughter.
The whole school had spent the year studying the country of Tanzania. At some point, a dad had come to Soph’s classroom and done a presentation about his experience climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. “Mom, some day could we climb Mount Kilimanjaro?”
“I’d love that,” I quickly replied.
“When?” she asked.
“Hmmm…” I started to do the math. “If we go as a family when Penelope is at least sixteen or so that would make me- oh no! I’ll be 50! I’ll need to stay in shape if I’m gonna pull that off!”
One of the reasons I had kids is to enjoy the experiences of life with them. As I slog through a life of doctor’s appointments, sports practice and temper tantrums, I look forward to what the future holds. If I don’t stay in good physical shape, I’ll be really limited in the kinds of experiences I can enjoy with them. That realization fostered in me a commitment to wellness that I pursue tenaciously.
Take control of your internal dialogue
Okay, this sounds like self-help mumbo jumbo. Here’s what I mean: every decision we make is guided by a little voice inside us. It’s often not saying anything interesting. “Don’t forget to make Sally brush her teeth. Go to school to drop off the medical forms. Wait, what did I go back upstairs to get again?” However, when you catch yourself doing stuff that’s self-defeating, ask yourself what you’re telling yourself about what you’re doing.
So you’ve got a fridge full of nice produce and a fresh chicken but you again find yourself dialing the local pizza delivery place. What are you telling yourself? “I want to make something with that stuff but it has been a tough day and I just don’t have the energy to cook a meal and have the kids refuse it.” What does the more rational side of you have to say about that?
This is where I learned the power of mantras. Mine tend to take the form of a question.
When I’m tempted to indulge in something tasty, even though I’m not really hungry: Would you rather eat that or be thin?
When I find myself reaching for the frozen cookie dough stash: Is this about hunger or are you self-medicating?
When I catch myself eating beyond my hunger: Are you using yourself as a human garbage can?
When I find myself feeling sorry for myself: Who lent you that tiara, princess?
If I have to ask the question, I always know the answer. Hold yourself accountable by being unfailingly honest with yourself. It actually works.
Set small, achievable goals
My friend and organizational mentor, Patty Wolf, and I were recently talking about the challenges of helping our clients make the breakthroughs that result in long-term change. Patty runs a professional organization business. A big part of her job is helping folks understand why they’re disorganized and helping them to build new habits and skills that keep them organized. When we moved to Hinsdale, Patty helped me move in. While the drawers don’t look exactly the way they did when she and her crew left, she left me with a whole bunch of wisdom in my brain that endures to this day.
We agreed that people only change when they come to despise the consequences of the choices they’ve been making. This results in a commitment to obtaining a better quality of existence. The danger, however, is impatience.
I’ve learned that taking the patient approach of making small changes- easiest first- results in much greater change in the long term. Patty told me that there’s a name for this approach: kaizen. It’s actually a Japanese concept generally used to describe an approach to corporate innovation. It’s all about looking for the obvious, easiest changes to make that will take you in a better direction. Its about doing that every day.
Moms fret that it isn’t enough to cook fresh meals only twice a week. They feel guilty or inconsistent that they don’t do it every night. Their frustration overwhelms them and they give up.
Maybe you need to lose weight so you foreswear all of your favorite junk foods. I know I don’t have to tell you how that’ll work out. Swear off candy, which you only indulge in occasionally. Or give up processed foods, which might feel less restrictive because you can eat more of it. Take on the challenges that don’t overwhelm you. Then, as you master each step, take the next one. “Lather. Rinse. Repeat.”
Make the changes positive and achievable. If they are worth giving up, the results will be positive and self-reinforcing. You can then move on to another incremental challenge.
Willpower is a flimsy prop. The pursuit of joy- fueled by motivation, commitment and honesty- is a foundation to build a life on.