Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grain-Free Day 24: A Habit is Born

A little light bulb went off in my head this weekend about my grain-free challenge.  I don't think about it anymore.  The fact that I gave up complex carbohydrates for 30 days doesn't register in my daily consciousness.  When I make a veggie omelet I automatically crack an extra egg or two in place of whole wheat toast.  I pack two to three servings of vegetables and three protein sources in my lunch every day.  If I'm hungry for a snack, I robotically check the fruit bowl and see what kinds of nuts are in the pantry. 

What amazes me the most is that I don't miss grains at all.  I don't sulk over my eggs and wish there was a piece of toast on the plate.  I don't think "I could really go for some pasta for dinner tonight".  There have been little to no temptations either.  No unplanned calls for pizza delivery in a moment of weakness and no grabbing a granola bar because it's more convenient.  Even when a certain someone (aka my husband) literally waved a tortilla chip directly under my nose, I respectfully declined.

Holy crap, I formed a habit, haven't I?!

In the first few days, grains were on the forefront of my mind from every bite I took to every hunger pain that hit.  It took careful and consistent planning to be 100 percent compliant.  But eventually, it somehow slipped away from my conscious awareness and the autopilot kicked in.  This got me thinking.  What exactly did I do to create this habit?  A quick encounter with Google revealed some common characteristics:

Make a commitment
I chose to test drive this grain-free notion for 30 days.  Why that long?  Well, I planned to start on April 1 and there are 30 days in April.  It takes 21 days to make a habit.  And you should give your body at least four weeks to respond to change.  I could go on and on but the point is, set a realistic time frame and stick it out.  No exceptions.

Be consistent
I have honestly been 100 percent compliant since the start.  It helps that I've had ample practice in eating grain-free.  Eating is something we do every day, and usually six meals a day for me, so there has been plenty of opportunity for action.  When trying to build a new habit, I would recommend 90 percent consistency.  Let's say your goal was to eat whole foods with every meal and you eat five times a day.  That's 35 meals per week so to be 90 percent compliant you could splurge on 3.5 of those.  You could strive for more or less than that, but be honest with yourself.  Doing something well half the time is only doing something well half the time.

Replace lost needs
I was definitely hungry the first week until I found my groove.  That's because I made the mistake of not substituting grains with anything else.  I had removed them from my diet completely.  Eventually I caught on, adding in larger portions of protein, vegetables, fruit, and fat sources.  I even discovered some new favorite foods such as chicken sausage, plain avocados, and beets.  Problem solved.  It is important not to look at habit-building as a negative experience.  If you are eliminating something, replace it with something positive to stay balanced.

Eliminate temptation
Because I started this immediately after returning from vacation, my refrigerator and pantry were a blank slate.  I made sure not to purchase any foods that did not fit the protocol so I wouldn't be tempted during a spontaneous meltdown.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I had one Kashi dark chocolate oatmeal cookie left (my favorite) which I debated saving for a Day 31 celebration.  However, by that time it would probably be stale and every time I opened the cabinet it would be staring me in the face.  In the garbage it went.  Clear the pathway for success.  There will be enough to deal with from both the emotional and logical sides of the brain.  Don't involve situational obstacles on top of it.

Track progress
I did the whole nine yards with measurements on Day 1.  On Day 15 I re-measured and there will be one final round at the conclusion.  How am I supposed to know if anything worked otherwise?  Biometrics like I did are great indicators as are more simple measures like making check marks on a calendar for compliant days.  There should be some objective way to measure the outcome which will determine whether or not to continue with the method.

Create accountability
I put it out there on the internet that I was going grain-free for 30 days.  It doesn't get much more accountable than that.  My family and friends were also made aware, whether they cared or not.  Bringing others on board gives you someone to answer to, someone to keep you honest.  It's easy to have convincing internal conversations with yourself to justify breaking a habit.  The external conversations aren't always as lenient.

All six of these practices helped activate my cruise control.  While it certainly isn't an exhaustive list of methods, it's a good start.  Creating new habits are hard, especially in the beginning.  Few people honor the commitment, but those who do are usually happy they did.

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