What you are NOT asking about healthy eating but definitely should (especially if you are struggling with weight issues)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Are you struggling to lose weight?

Are you struggling to maintain your weight in spite of watching everything you eat and making sure it is healthy and wholesome?

Are you interested in going beyond healthy foods and the right “diet” to improve your health outcomes?

If you answered YES to any of these questions then this blog post is for you

These are some common health issues that my clients face. We address these as a part of complex chronic health conditions in my health coaching practice every single day. 

One of the questions that I get asked a lot at work and elsewhere is about which foods should one be eating or which particular “diet” they should be following. Since nutrition is a major part of my coaching practice, I discuss this in great details with my clients and come up with customised food plan solutions for each individual based on what their body needs at that time to heal. 

However, what I am most certainly NOT asked is about HOW they should be eating. We all know that the right type of foods makes a huge difference in our health outcomes but what we may not realise that it is equally important HOW we are eating and WHEN.

In this post, I have decided to share with you some of the key interventions that I introduce early in my coaching sessions regarding how we should all be eating in order to ensure maximum absorption of nutrients. This is often the missing piece in terms of seeing the health outcomes that my clients have been seeking for many years. This is particularly true for those who have been struggling to lose weight in spite of being focussed on eating healthy and wholesome foods. 

When hungry, just eat

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Except that many of us are struggling with knowing what to eat and when and have quite a complicated relationship with food. As infants and young children, we know intuitively what and how much to eat to satisfy our hunger. However, pretty soon as we start growing up food starts to serve many other purposes- to soothe, to distract, to entertain, to numb, to reward and even to punish. 

What was once a healthy, meaningful and simple relationship gets entangled in all sorts of thoughts and emotions many of which are not constructive.

Our simple cues of hunger and satisfaction get hijacked by our conditioning and our minds. Where we were once completely tuned in to our bodies and used our intuition to guide us to healthy eating habits and food choices, we struggle to do so once we become adults.

What we need to keep in mind here is that it is not constructive and fruitful to assign blame to people and situations that led us to this place. It is, however extremely empowering for us to realise that we have the power within ourselves to first become aware of this conditioning and then do what is necessary to change our habits and negative patterns that have become a way of life.

One bite (or sip) at a time

How many times have you sat down to eat your food while watching your favourite show or while doing something on your phone only to finish your food without any real recollection of the taste, smell and any real sense of satisfaction?

We have a cardinal rule in our house: no phones at the table. At all.

This applies to our guests and all the family members. With a 13 yo and an almost 10 yo it becomes extremely critical for my husband and me to portray what kind of habits we want them to develop while eating. It doesn't really matter how young or old our children may be, as parents we are most certainly  ROLE MODELS for our children and we need to lead by example.

The point I am making is this. Whether we are working on our own health issues or trying to inculcate good habits in our children, the process is really the same. And it all starts by developing awareness. And this does not need to extremely complicated. Start by taking a small step today.

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called."

A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

 

Do this: when you have your first cup of tea (or coffee) in the morning, take your time to really savour it. Take a few extra moments and notice the colour and the aroma of the tea. Feel the liquid in your mouth and throat as you take a small sip. Notice the warmth as it goes down your throat and allow it to fill your body with its warmth and flavour. Repeat this till the cup is empty. If possible, take a moment to thank the people and the process behind the cup of tea that you hold in your hand.

 

A mind (not food) journal  

You may already be aware of the concept of keeping a food journal or using some kind of tracker to track the number of calories or even the categories of foods you are consuming. This is usually quite common in most of the traditional “diets”, especially where weight loss is concerned.  

We eat to satisfy many types of hunger beyond the obvious physiological needs that we have as living beings. We eat to feed the hunger of our eyes, our hunger for aroma, for sensations and our minds.

We eat when we are....

Lonely

Sad

Heartbroken

However, you must understand that no matter how much food we put in our stomach, it can never satisfy or ease the emptiness in our hearts. This is where a mood journal can help you to understand why you eat. While doing this it is very important to use a compassionate and kind voice and not judge yourself for the choices that you are making right now as this process can become counterproductive otherwise. Remember, this is to help you to become more aware and in tune with your eating habits.

The mood journal can be written using the various prompts given below. 

Track the foods that you are eating for a month and write down how they affect your mind, body, thoughts, and feelings

What foods do you eat when you are sad or lonely? (make a list of foods)

When you feel like having a snack or a drink in between meals, what were your thoughts and feelings just before you decided to have one?

You may find that some patterns emerge as a common threat across different situations that help you to understand your eating habits. In time you may also learn to make healthy substitutions and find alternatives to take care of yourself without using food as a crutch. Sometimes overeating and mindless eating are just tips of the iceberg. Food is more easily obtainable and more socially acceptable than other types of addiction and since we must eat every day it can be really easy to become a slave to our need for food.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”

—Dalai Lama

The solution, however, is not to judge or criticise ourselves every time you overeat or eat foods that you know are not good for you. A very important part of changing your eating habits is to first change the way you talk to yourself. This is often the most difficult part of the journey for my clients. However, self compassion is indeed the way out to break free from the vicious cycle of overeating, self criticism and shame.

Given below are 5 steps that you can take today to practice self awareness and tap into your intuition to guide you to make healthier choices-

Sit down at the table for each and every meal including all snacks so that you can slow down every time you eat

Notice how you are eating- fast or slow? Mindlessly munching or enjoying each bite?

Stop multitasking and focus on the food in front of you (having a conversation with loved ones however, is not a distraction)

Notice how “hungry” you really are on a scale of 1 to 10 and try and eat accordingly

Bring into your awareness feelings of gratitude for those who were involved in bringing this food to your table (right from the farmer to the cook)

As you do this exercise you may notice your relationship with food changes over time. You may find that as you become more tuned in to your body, you start making healthier choices and start to develop healthy eating habits. You may also find that you are able to stop using food to satisfy your needs and are finally free to find other ways of soothing and taking care of yourself. Most importantly, you are able to let go of following a certain "diet" and start eating what is right for YOU. 

(However, in today’s modern world there are many external triggers and forces at play which are capable of drowning out these inner voices of wisdom and intuition. In the follow up post next week I focus on these external aspects of eating by redesigning our environment and putting in place some strategies that have been shown to work.)

Motivation, habits and willpower- what you need to know to change your life

Reading Time: 6 minutes

In my last post "5 steps that you can take today which will help you to start new, healthy habits this year", I had written about 5 steps that you can take to inculcate healthy habits in the new year. In this follow up post, I delve a bit deeper into what actually drives us to take action, create new habits and make changes in our lives. 

“At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

-Steven Pressfield

I have noticed that for many of us what drives us to take action is ultimately our suffering that finally becomes too much to ignore any longer. This is not to judge anyone for doing this since pretty much all of us tend to do this at some time or the other. We procrastinate till either a looming deadline or some other incentive comes along prompting us to take that much needed action.

However, this becomes a big issue only when it permeates every aspect of our decision making, becomes a habit and starts affecting our health, career and relationships. In fact, many chronic health issues could be prevented or at the very least managed much better if we knew how to motivate ourselves to take action on a consistent basis. In my coaching practice, a major part of my work as a Health Coach is to use motivational interviewing techniques with my clients. This is a client centred discussion using open ended questions which helps them uncover their own reasons to change while at the same time providing a safe, non judgemental and compassionate environment for them to do so.

The good thing is that we can learn to be self motivated and that self motivation is a skill which can be learned and developed through practice. However, it does require a certain degree of self awareness and self exploration. I have written several posts on this topic and you can read them here and here

"The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change"

-Carl Rogers

Take some time and reflect upon some changes that you know you need to make but are unable to find the energy or the motivation to do so. Given below are a few of questions that you may want to ask yourself at this point to gain more clarity in terms of uncovering your reasons for making these changes in your life.

(reflect on these questions and write them down in your journal)

What makes you think you need to change?

What will happen if you don’t change?

What will be different in your life if you do make these changes?

Waiting for the right moment

Too many of us wait for external circumstances to change before we make any changes. The “right time” or the “right moment” to take action somehow never seems to arrive and sadly we end up waiting till the end of their lives without taking that action. This kind of thought process is applicable to starting a new business, creating art, writing a book, creating a new habit or for that matter any other endeavour.

Intrinsic motivation is necessary for making sure that we take action on a consistent basis. This is because intrinsic motivation is based on personal values and self awareness that leads to enjoyment, satisfaction and interest in the action being taken. As you may have realised by now, this kind of self motivation is the difference between our feeling that “we have to” do something as opposed to our feeling that “we get to” do something. It is thus the difference between feeling forced, unsatisfied and unhappy in contrast to feeling satisfied, fulfilled and energised. 

Decision fatigue is real

We also tend to have a lot of faith in our willpower in creating new habits and achieving our goals. We wrongly believe that successful people have more of it than others. However, research now shows that willpower is like a muscle and gets used up and fatigued as we keep using it time and again. This has major implications for many of the decisions that we take on a regular basis and in particular those decisions which affect major parts of our life.

Knowing this, we can prioritise and schedule our most important work first thing in the day when our willpower is at its highest. We can also plan our day ahead and automate decisions that we take every single day- what to eat; what to wear; which project to work on first etc. This leaves us with enough willpower to put apply our minds to the work that is important for us. This is so important for productivity that I have written an entire post about it here. rather than leaving it to our willpower we can learn ways to prevent this from taking place.

This strategy is something that has enabled me to be productive as a mother, full time entrepreneur and a health coach. 

 Our environment matters

Our environment is another factor which can either undermine or support our decision to take action. While it is very easy to blame the environment when things go wrong we forget that the environment that we live in drives both our good and bad behaviours. We can thus learn how to design our environment so that it supports rather than undermine our efforts in making changes in our lives and then sustaining them. 

According to James Clear (an author, entrepreneur who writes about self improvement ) there are 3 main ways to do this. 

Automating good decisions so that we can overcome procrastination by making it easier for us to take action. For eg. scheduling and using a social media blocking app at certain times in the day to reduce procrastination and distractions

Making the cues of good habits stand out in our environment so that we are more likely to notice them and act on them. Eg. keeping our workout clothes and shoes right next to our bed so that it is the first thing we see when we wake up.

Subtracting the negative influences in our environment by making them invisible. For eg. I rarely get those foods at home which I do not want my children (and family) to consume since I know it is not good for our health. 

Clarity, not chance

Many of us are also not very clear about exactly what we will be doing in order to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves. For eg. if we are planning to eat a healthy diet, are we clear on the following?  What type of meals are we going to make? Salads or soups? Which days are we planning to have these? Every single day or on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays? Are we going to cook these meals or outsource them?

The more clarity we have on how we plan to implement a new habit or reach a goal the more likely it is that we will be able to achieve it. If it is not very obvious when and where we need to take action it becomes difficult for us to implement it. (In my last post I had shared with you 5 steps that you can take to start new habits, you can read it here)

And last but not least, I have also shared with you some steps to help you feel more motivated today

  • Setting realistic, specific goals for yourself
  • Assessing and being able to take the right level of risk
  • Developing a constant love of learning to acquire new skills and knowledge
  • Being committed to personal and professional growth as opposed to merely wishing something would happen
  • Learning to become resilient by accepting and dealing with failure and moving on 
  • Reminding yourself often of your “why”
  • Taking the time to rest and recharge regularly
  • Getting help when needed

The bottom line is that there is no ONE particular thing that you can do which will help you to make these changes. The decisions that we take and the choices that we make every single day matter much more than you think and have long term consequences. 

As the famed philosopher, Socrates had said "The secret to change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new."

5 steps that you can take today which will help you to start new, healthy habits this year

Reading Time: 8 minutes

A warm welcome to 2020! I hope you are as excited as I am about the new year. 

In this new year, we get yet another chance to

be curious and explore all that life has to offer us

make a new beginning 

make things right 

celebrate our achievements

learn from our mistakes

learn to let go of what no longer serves us

 

Opportunities or challenges?

There will be many happy and enjoyable moments this year but at the same time, there will also be many others which are difficult and challenging. Many of these difficult moments will actually be opportunities masquerading as challenges. The point is not “if and when” these will show up but whether you and I will be well prepared to greet these situations with the right frame of mind. Either way you may be all set to start this year on the right note and incorporate some healthy habits in your life that are long lasting. 

In this article and the next, I discuss some steps that you can take to create healthy habits, motivate yourself right from the beginning and BECOME the person you need to be in order to sustain those changes in your life. There are many books and articles on these and other related topics and I have been greatly inspired by them. I have tried my best to encapsulate the core essence of these amazing resources in these blog posts as well as draw from my own experience as well as that of my clients in my health coaching practice.

Habits and outcomes- the connection

In fact, you may already be working on or at the very least be thinking about some kind of goals, resolutions, healthy habits that you would like to build upon in your life. While I am not an expert on these topics, as a coach I guide my coaching clients to incorporate and sustain healthy habits as they work on their health and wellness goals. The main objective to bring about some form of transformation in the areas of their life that they are struggling with. As my clients start moving towards their goals, they soon realise that it is indeed our habits which determine the outcomes in our life both good AND bad.

As Aristotle had said

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit"  

In my last post, I had touched upon some key reasons why many of us never end up taking any action in spite of having the best of intentions. In this post, I go one step further and give you some action steps to help you remove as much friction as possible and make it easy for you to make changes that you need to in your life.

Let go of the controls

Before we can get started however, there is something that we all need to come to terms with. The reality is that we have much less control over the outcomes of the efforts that we put in than we think we do. In other words, inspite of putting in our best efforts we may not get the results that we want and some times, things can also go wrong. Ignoring this reality and trying to control ALL the outcomes all the time can be both tiring AND frustrating. 

Yet, this is exactly how we approach most of our goals- with an extremely tight and clenched fist. Rather than focus on our efforts and our response to a situation we end up focusing on things beyond our control. However, the truth is, some times it is only when we let go of the controls that we actually start seeing the results that we want in our life. 

There is a lovely story that illustrates this point in a book that I read recently called “The Inside Out Revolution” by Michael Neill. Robert C. Kausen, a teacher and consultant had shared this story with the author many years ago. 

The story goes like this....

“He was telling me about a friend of his from high school who was training for his pilot's license. 

During his first solo flight, he lost control of his Piper Cub “trainer plane” high above the ground.  The more he tried to bring the plane back under his control, the more wildly it spun, and his conversation with the tower went something like this:

Pilot: “Mayday! Mayday! I've lost control of the plane—please advise!”

Tower: “Take your hands and feet off the controls—I repeat, take your hands and feet off the controls!”

Imagine yourself for a moment as that young pilot. You are spinning wildly out of control, clearly heading for a devastating crash, and the person who’s supposed to be looking out for your safety and well-being is telling you to let go of the controls of the plane.

Is he insane?  Does he have some kind of a personal vendetta against you that you don't know about?

Pilot: “Negative, Tower—repeat, I have lost control of the plane!  I'm trying everything I know to do to bring it back under control but I can't do it!  Please, just tell me what to do!”

Tower: “This is a matter of life and death—Take your hands and feet off the controls—do it NOW!”

What the young pilot didn’t know (and the air traffic controller clearly did) is that trainer planes have a self-righting mechanism built into them.  When you let go of the controls, the plane levels itself out. Once the plane is back on an even keel, the pilot can take over again and steer the plane back to safety—which is exactly what happened in the case of Robert’s young friend.

So how does this apply to us?”

 

As Martin Luther King Jr had said

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step”. 

You will soon realise that taking the first step and building momentum is key to getting started. No matter how small that step is, it is important to get going in the right direction. It is very common for many of us to simply constantly attain the knowledge required but fail to take any action whatsoever. And as time goes by, they lose confidence and fail to act upon the opportunities that come their way.

Here are a few action steps for you to get started

1. Take an inventory of your current habit system

You already have a system in place which may or may not be working for you. If your system is designed to produce negative, self limiting beliefs and self defeating patterns in your life, you need to become aware of it. It is time to take a good hard look at where you are in your life right now. As the habits expert James Clear says “You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems”. 

This means that you need to ask yourself these questions

Which of your current habits is standing in your way of reaching your goals? 

Which new, healthy habits will allow you to make the changes you would like to see?

 

2. Start small

Research shows that it is beneficial and effective to start small if we want to be successful at long term behaviour changes. It is indeed necessary to start with small steps which will require as less willpower as possible and is relatively easy and painless for you. Many of us are under the misconception that people who are able to achieve their goals and sustain healthy habits have much more willpower than they have. But this could not be further from the truth. It is not willpower but the small, incremental changes that we make every single day leading to small regular improvements counts in the long run.  

It is the same for you- whether you would like to lose weight, build a new business, write a book or anything else for that matter. Indeed, small changes made over long periods of time (think 2, 5, 10 or 20 years) have a compounding effect and have a huge impact and the same is equally true for bad habits

So as you read this, ask yourself, What is that one small step that you will take today, tomorrow and every single day after that will help you move towards a goal that you have set for yourself?

Some examples of this are “working out 3 times a week for 30 min”, “going for a walk even if for 15 minutes every day”, “having healthy meals every day”

3. Build new habits by stacking them on habits that you already have

It is much easier for us to stick to new habits when we connect them to a habit that we already have. This idea is called habit stacking. As human beings, we all decide what to do next based on what we did just finished doing. Habit stacking simply takes allows you to take advantage of this aspect of human behaviour. 

In real life it could look like this. You could incorporate a routine of stillness or meditation in the morning by saying “ I am going to sit down for 10 min in silence every day after I have finished brushing my teeth”. By linking it to a current habit that is already well engrained in your life, you make it easier to incorporate and sustain new habit.

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work

-Stephen King

4. Design your habits for success

The quote from Stephen King is one of my favourites. It means that we do NOT leave it to chance to see if we can stick to a new habit. On the contrary, we design our environment to set us up for success by leaving obvious visual cues and drawing our attention to certain habits.

In my own life, I incorporated a new habit of oil pulling (the process of cleansing your mouth with cold pressed coconut oil for dental health and hygiene) by simply keeping a small bottle of coconut oil right next to my toothbrush and toothpaste in the bathroom. By having visual cues like this in your surroundings you can dramatically increase the chances of sustaining a new habit. Indeed, many people I know leave their workout clothes and shoes right next to their bed so that they can see them when they get up in the morning.

Ask yourself this question- What is a visual cue that you can use as a trigger to remind you of new habit that you would like to sustain in your life?

5. “Celebrate the small wins”

And last but not the least, ensure that you take out time to celebrate the progress that you are making on a regular basis. We are often so focused on our goals and the end result that we forget to take the time to celebrate what we have achieved irrespective of how big or small it may be. Many of the changes that we are seeking will take time and it is important to find some way to measure and celebrate our progress to keep us going.

One easy way of doing this is to get an empty glass jar and deposit a single bean (or any other small item like a pebble, dried peas etc) every time you take an action and/or complete a task you had set out to do to. This makes your progress visual and gives you the impetus to keep you going. Indeed, I use a variation of this in my coaching practice by asking my clients before each and every session this question

“What are you celebrating this week?”

In the end, the objective of setting goals and working on healthy habits is NOT to change ourselves or "fix" ourselves. It is simply to remove the obstacles that stand in our way of reaching our true potential and fulfil our dreams. You will find that as you change the way (or the system) you move towards your goals and not just the goals themselves, you start seeing results that are long lasting and meaningful.

(My next post will cover this aspect in more details; watch out for it next week!)