Healthy habits: Don’t allow exceptions to be your rule

“We are what we repeatedly do.” — Aristotle

It’s hard trying to break old habits of eating unhealthy foods and form new ones to eat healthier foods isn’t it? Our body and our taste buds are used to the sugary, fatty, and let’s face it, yummy foods we always ate and – now that our metabolism is just trudging instead of racing along – are now expanding our waistlines, clogging our arteries, raising our blood pressure, and wreaking all other kinds of havoc on our bodies. So, diet after diet, we try to change things up, get our bodies to accept some healthier habits right? But then we confuse our bodies with exceptions: a cheat meal that stretches into a day, that carries over to the next day, and the next until we just give up and we’re right back where we started.

But it is possible to form healthier habits, as long as we don’t allow too many restrictions or exceptions to be a lifetime rule.

Me, skinny-mini, seven years ago, age 50, after running my first 5k.

In 2012 when I was 50 years old, I started a 30-day challenge to become a vegan. Well, knowing my mind – that if I thought of it as just for 30 days, I’d be salivating at the thought of devouring some dairy on the 31st day – I chose to dive right in to the vegan nutritional lifestyle. No meat, dairy, eggs or anything made with animal parts (mayonnaise, lard, Hostess Ho-Ho’s, breads made with egg, etc.) I even took it a step further and rarely cooked with oil, or ate any vegan-friendly foods that were high in fat: avocado, nuts. Peanut butter was my only exception but I allowed it in moderation for the protein … okay, okay because I absolutely LOVE peanut butter. 🙂

I cleared my mind all of all my former food faves: mayonnaise, Chinese food, dairy cheese, eggs, pancakes, Doritos, veggie burger/fried egg/pancake combos uggghhhh 🙂 so good. I stuck to my new healthier eating habits for three years. But good nutrition is about balance and I had none. I lost weight, but I had NO exceptions to my rule – well, except peanut butter 🙂 – and I think that was my downfall when I found myself caring for a Jewish patient in his household where homemade goodies are readily available.

Complements of my former Orthodox Jewish client, I made this loaf of challah, and many more once I learned how. And if you’ve ever smelled home-made, just-out-of-the-oven bread, then you know just how hard it was to resist eating slice, after slice, after slice .

Fast forward to today, 2019, trying to undo the consequences of allowing four years of bad nutritional habits to ruin my former gains. In simple terms: allowing exceptions to become my rule and ruin the good habits I’d formed.

  • It’s just one homemade cookie: I’d stopped eating cookies years before but told myself because this is homemade it’s okay.
  • One slice of challah: Challah (a Jewish bread) is loaded with eggs, oil and sugar. But I figured that accepting an offer of challah here or there, even though it’s not vegan, wouldn’t mess up my program too much.
  • A small slice of potato kugel: More eggs, and oil – ’nuff said.

In his book, Habit, psychologist and philosopher William James declared that we should “Never suffer an exception to occur til[l] the new habit is securely rooted in your life.” Now I believe that he’s referring to the act of forming the initial habit, (eating healthier for me), which I had done and lived for a few years, but I’m going to take it a step further and apply it to my lifetime eating habits. I’ve seen firsthand in my own experiences how exceptions can become the rule even after living with a successfully formed habit for a few years.

If I take that lifetime exception rule and apply it to the poor nutritional decisions I made four years ago it would go something like this: One homemade cookie? Yes thank you – for today. Tomorrow? No thank you. The next day? No thank you. The day after that? No thank you.

See, I’m not saying that if you love cookies, then you can NEVER EVER have another cookie again as long as you live. But if eating healthy is the habit that you want to be a lifetime endeavor, being mindful of how many times you allow yourself to have that cookie will keep old habits from rising back up to take control again.

And trust me, they’re there.

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