You have intentions to eat well, and most of the time you act in line with them, but there are blips
We’ve all been there. You set out with the best of intentions to eat healthily, make mindful choices and embrace a balanced diet.
Yet once in a while you find yourself straying from your path, your intentions temporarily gone.
It’s easy to dismiss these instances as isolated blips in your eating intentions, but what if there’s more to the story?
In this blog we’ll explore the subtle art of recognising when those seemingly isolated blips in your eating intentions are actually part of a larger pattern.
What if the same blip keeps happening?
Some blips just keep showing up, Groundhog-Day-style.
If you tend to see the thing that sends you off track (intense periods of stress for example) as an unfortunate but incidental issue to sticking to your intentions around healthy eating, you might end up hoping that the thing won’t happen again soon, so you can keep on track.
But if the thing is woven in to how your life is right now, that could mean that you put effort into healthy eating, then get overwhelmed and unable to keep health in mind.
Jelena has struggled to manage her weight despite abundant knowledge about what foods and what eating patterns work for her. She has a successful business which has gone from strength to strength. The growth of her business means periods of intense demands from work, alongside regular ongoing support for her father who lives in a nursing home locally.
What frustrates her is that she manages the many demands on her time, energy and focus whilst work is ticking along. And despite being so busy, she eats well.
But when big new contracts come in, her mental bandwidth quickly reaches capacity and her eating reverts to an old pattern where eating routine is erratic and she turns to snatching microwave meals and takeaways where she can. Her weight goes up and she feels out of control.
After a week or two things calm down and she settles back in to her ‘healthier’ routine. She feels more on top of things and her weight eases back down.
Jelena had hoped for a clear run to focus on healthy eating
Jelena explained to me that she always intends to stick to her healthy eating plans when stress hits.
But each time, she finds herself thrown off track and back to square one. In the past she has tried different weight loss diets to see if that helped, but she noticed that the same thing happened whatever diet she was on.
When you have a recurring blip, it’s not a new diet you need. It’s a way of addressing the issue behind the blip
When you pan out and see the larger pattern, something important can shift.
Instead of disheartening cycles of hoping the blip won’t come, then being caught semi-unawares, I’ll show you how to turn towards what’s happening with curiosity, compassion and clarity.
- My first suggestion relates to how you think about the blips.
I suggest that you shift to thinking about your eating in a way that incorporates the blip phases. Looking at the overall arc of your eating, over a few weeks or months, how many blip phases are happening?
- Are these blips related to anything going on in your life at the time?
- Are these life-influences an integral part of the way your life is right now?
- Are these life-influences to do with stress, emotional distress or physical demands on you? Or something else?
Thinking in this way, notice whether your repeated blips are actually part of your overall eating pattern. If so, this can help with changing perspective as you’ll see.
- My second suggestion relates to how you perceive the overall pattern
I suggest that you shift to thinking about your eating in a way that anticipates blips.
- Expecting blips can be helpful – instead of hoping that the blips are behind you and crossing your fingers, anticipate that your eating will be affected next time you have a blip.
- This way you don’t panic and you’ll find it easier to get straight back on track when the blip has passed.
With this new mindset of incorporating blips into how you see your overall eating patterns, and expecting them, let’s look at what your options are.
Your possible ways forward
- The first option is to accept that the pattern is here to stay for now. This is perhaps most useful if you don’t have much wriggle room in your life right now. With that, accept that your eating will go into ‘blip mode’ or ‘stress mode’ for periods of time. This will probably mean that your weight will be different than if you didn’t have those periods, and it might mean that your weight goes up and down depending on whether you’re in blip mode or non-blip mode. You can decide that this is how things are for now, if the mental and physical cost of trying to manage your weight outweighs any temporary benefits of trying to change.
- A second option is to decide to address the issue that is causing the blip. This means identifying what the issue is. Is it work stress, or excessive mental load, or conflict with a family member? Notice here that you are treating the issue as specific, and approaching it as you would any other specific issue around eating. To address it, you’ll need to allocate resources to it and work out if you need to recruit help with it.
- The third option is to plot a middle way. Accept the current pattern (like option 1) but whilst you do that, hold to a specific intention during blip phases. Such as sticking to a regular eating routine, or opting for a healthy snack if you crave something when you’re not hungry. Decide what health focus you want to be able to maintain during your blips and make this modest in size so you’re not adding extra stress. As your blip phase kicks in, notice that you’re entering it, perhaps thinking of it as turbulence, or like being in a storm. Focus on keeping the particular health focus during the storm, and despite the turbulence, keep your one modest healthy eating intention going. Maybe put a reminder to yourself somewhere you’ll easily see it, like, “whilst I’m in this stormy period I’m going to make sure I have three meals a day”. This will help to keep your healthy eating awareness in mind and away from the “on-diet/off-diet” mindset that hasn’t been working for you.
The value of being realistic with yourself
I’ve emphasised the value of thinking about regular blips as part of a pattern in your overall eating, rather than repeated ‘failures’ to stick to your eating plans. This is realistic, and it’s compassionate.
It helps you set goals and intentions that you do have the mental bandwidth for.
Whatever you’re doing, you’re doing your best. Adopting a self-compassionate stance is all the rage in psychology now. Because it’s more effective in helping to bring about change than harsh self-judgement ever was.
Photo by Amy Shamblen for Unsplash