Tag Archives: challenge

The Mindset Challenge

Okay. So a lot about making healthy lifestyle changes depends on a changed mindset. This is probably the number one reason people give up–their mindsets about their different circumstances as a result of their (new and improved good) choices are plopped in the “negative” category. I talked about one way of trying to counter this negative mindset in a previous article.

While my previous post addressing this issue was mostly about maintaining an attitude of “plenty”, this post will be about the perception of challenge. How difficult is this change? This is where many people will chime in and say something along the lines of, “This is probably one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do!”

Okay. Let’s stop right there. This is the point when you need to stop for a bit and dig deep. Is it difficult? That’s the question that needs to be answered thoroughly for us to move forward successfully. There are also a number of questions that should branch from this main one–“In what way is this difficult?,” “Are there different degrees of challenge that depend on changeable factors?”

Here are my thoughts on this. First and foremost, unrealistic expectations are your worst enemy when it comes to challenges. When you go into a situation telling yourself, “I got this!” or “This is definitely something I will achieve!” in the wrong tone, you might just end up disappointing yourself. Too much confidence with little awareness of what the challenge entails is setting yourself up for failure (of course, too little confidence is no good either).

That being said, I want to emphasize this–a change like this is NOT EASY. Don’t let others make it seem like it comes naturally and easily for the “right kind of people”. What happens is this. In the beginning, you are doing awesome and you’re pumped to finally be making great changes. You’re speeding! You’re cruising! You’re in full force! But then, you start to experience some difficulties and hiccups along the way… and you look around you and see others who aren’t (keep in mind that this is an illusion, as at every given point, there are successes and failures happening simultaneously). Then you ask yourself, “What is wrong with me? Why can ____ do it, but I can’t?” At that point, you’ll throw in the towel, saying, “Ah, this isn’t me. This just isn’t in the cards for me.” If you paint something as being easier than it really is, you will not be equipped with the mindset, approach, and support you will need to face your challenges, and you will resort to a perception of isolation (e.g., “I’m the only one who can’t get this right!”) or a fixed mindset (e.g., “Other people seem to be able to do this more easily, but people like me can’t really do it right.”) Let me just re-emphasize the illusion concept. While you are experiencing struggles (which is okay and completely normal!), you look around and throw a laser focus at all the successes happening around you. While this could be inspiring in some situations, it could also lead you to think you are the only one not getting it or that you are not fit for this. Here is the truth about the illusion. When you observe a seemingly seamless stream of successes, you are really witnessing bits and pieces of people’s best. What person will post negative things that happen? Some do, but this isn’t the norm. What ends up surfacing is a bunch of half-truths. Struggle is a part of any big change, but for some reason, people don’t like sharing these experiences quite as much, if at all. When you come across these struggles, embrace them and realize they are not a sign of weakness or “unfittness”. Don’t think that in order to be successful, you can not hit any bumps in the road. The key is gathering your toolkit of support and strategies and figuring a way to get back on the road so you can move forward.

Finally, I wanted to end with this note. Making significant dietary changes is very difficult at first–but it actually ends up making your life easier! You have to first learn what things you can and can not have (I recommend you focus on what you can have). From that point, you realize you have eliminated a lot of options. Having too many options can actually make things overwhelming. In a way, being able to eliminate a lot of items ultimately saves you time and decision-making capacity. The most difficult and time-consuming part is figuring out what you can have. Once you have chosen the safe players, you know your go-to routine. You know exactly where to go in the store, which items to pick out, what foods to make. Dishes will start out simple (don’t expect gourmet dishes every night starting out). But in time, you will increase your repertoire of food options. Changing your diet in the context of lifestyle change is like any other skill or area of expertise you acquire. It takes patience, commitment, and lots of practice, but the effort will pay off in time.

Making Mistakes

Today, I ate oatmeal, frozen yogurt, a rice cake, a banana, two sushi rolls, and a huge plate of pad thai. Looking at that list, most people would say my food choices were pretty harmless today.

I could take the assumed pass… or I could be completely honest with myself. I guess I’ll choose honesty. Here it goes…

It started out all wrong, from the very first bite. Minutes after eating my first delicious, warm bite of oatmeal, I started feeling light-headed… and before long, my gut started feeling clogged and queasy. My gut was so discontent, it squealed and rumbled in protest. Before I knew it, I was curled up in bed, under the blankets, with a full-blown head-ache and stomach pain. The worst part is this though. I knew this about oatmeal. I knew oatmeal had no intention of providing me with digestive comfort. In fact, I knew it would most likely leave me in pain. I have known this since 2009.

Back then, I had just stumbled upon food intolerances and avidly started using pulse tests to see how I reacted to certain foods. I vividly remember waking up one morning and lazily preparing to test a suspected culprit I had in mind. I sat sleepily at the kitchen table and tested my resting pulse (~75 b.p.m.) with a hot bowl of oatmeal in front of me. Soon enough, I was spooning the wholesome grains into my mouth, slowly and cautiously… feeling and waiting. At first, I felt that “warm” heavy feeling that would always languidly wash over me, a feeling I have always passed off as “comfort” and “nourishment”. But then I did my first pulse test at 5 minutes–my pulse had raced to a whopping 117 b.p.m., resting! I was floored! Alas, even with the evidence to support the sad news, I have been in denial for years. I did take some time off from my old, oaty friend. But, I keep coming back to give it chances, even after continuous confirmations that we just weren’t meant to be. I just keep hoping that someday that might change. So far, it hasn’t.

Oatmeal
Friend or foe? Even when you dress it up oh-so-healthy, the truth still speaks through your gut.

As if breakfast woes weren’t disappointing enough, I begged my significant other for some frozen yogurt at Menchie’s. I tried to justify my decision by thinking “live cultures” in my head and by getting the “no sugar added” Grasshopper with only fruit toppings. But I knew better. And all that rice in the sushi rolls? Followed immediately by super saucy rice noodles, eggs, and scallions? Oh, what on Earth was I thinking?

I can tell you exactly what I was thinking. I was at the point of intense craving and desperation. The reason this began was because of poor planning on my part. A trip to the grocery store for AIP/low-FODMAP foods was overdue. And I overbooked myself, time-wise. I made time to go grocery shopping this morning, but instead of having time to eat the food I bought, I had to rush to an appointment with a rice cake and banana. Needless to say, that was not so satisfying. I was hungry. Very hungry.

Mistakes happen. But I have two thoughts I’m grappling with. How can I get back on track after such crushing failure? And how can I prevent things like this from happening again? I think I’ve already answered the second question, I just need to work on actually implementing it (it’s all about planning!)

As for getting back on track after failure… I believe I need to forgive myself and just pick myself up, dust myself off, wait for the aches and pains to subside, and move forward from here.

I keep coming across stories of people who have “lived without grains for 5 years,” or “don’t miss milk at all,” among other things. I don’t know how people get to this point where they no longer feel the desire to eat foods they once loved. How could I get to that point? Can I? And if so, how can I balance my schedule in a way that will help me plan so I can prevent caving in like I did today? I am working on the later question. As for the first, I don’t know if that goal is ultimately what I want to attain. I want to feel and be healthy. That is my main goal. And if I can attain that while still including more foods in my diet, by all means, I’m for that!

Luckily, a lot of GI diets are not ones that eliminate most foods forever. Some foods may have to be banned forever to prevent flare-ups, but for the most part, foods can be re-introduced in moderation after a certain amount of time has passed. For me, setting a 2-week goal is reasonable and reminds me that this period of restrictive eating is not forever. Sure, I will still have to control what I eat as I reintroduce foods, but it eases my mind to know I won’t have to choose from 10 foods to eat for the rest of my life. Focusing on the idea that I can only choose very few foods to eat for the rest of my days makes me want to splurge on all the things I want now and just give all this healthy-eating stuff up.

I wrote an earlier post about loving yourself. You can argue that allowing yourself to eat treats you crave is showing yourself love. But think about the parents that force their kids to eat healthy, study hard in school, follow safety rules, etc. And then think about parents that let their kids do whatever they want. Are the parents that give into their kids’ wants showing their kids more love than the parents who are strict and force their kids to make more thoughtful decisions about their futures? Of course, a kid always appreciates a treat here and there. But providing structure for your growing (and inexperienced) child so that s/he thrives completely is a decision you have to make as a parent. Think of your mind as the parent of your body. A body in an addictive state isn’t always going to know what’s best… On the other hand, a mind armed with knowledge and reason is fit to make the best long-term decisions for the future.

Fear & Freedom

Fear and freedom go hand-in-hand… in that with fear, there is no real freedom. There are many scenarios I could apply this to, ranging from career pursuits and social justice. But of course, my focus within this blog is health-related issues, namely nutrition. Being on a GI elimination diet and knowing the symptoms you could develop as a result of eating the wrong thing can generate a lot of fear. Not having a firm idea of what could cause symptoms adds onto that original fear. You may have a handful of “clean” foods you can eat, but the rest of the foods out there kind of seem like a vast, dangerous wilderness that one may hesitate to explore.

While diets like AIP and FODMAP attempt to provide a protective structure within their diets, the truth is, anything on those lists could be disturbing to you in particular. For example, tomatoes are considered safe under the FODMAP diet, but I have a high intolerance to tomatoes, as confirmed by blood tests. Another example unconfirmed by official tests, but experienced intuitively, is the stomach pain and cramps I feel after eating brown rice. Based on what others have claimed, I “know” that perhaps something besides the brown rice is causing the pain; first-hand, experiential trends over time, however, discount that possibility in my own mind. Either way, experiencing unexpected symptoms due to consuming a reportedly safe food is really awful. It’s like horrid deception, really. Fear of the unknown, especially if the unknown is perceived as good but could possibly be a facade hiding all things bad, can really make a person want to throw in the towel and just give up.

My previous posts have talked about how avoiding offending foods is a way of loving yourself enough to make sacrifices now for the benefit of the future. However, I did not really mention instances in which the result is unknown. Of course if we know for a fact that certain foods cause us pain, we should avoid those foods at all costs. But if there are foods that are unconfirmed, it can be easy to shy away from giving them a try. That is the fear lurking, and that fear will zap your freedom if you allow it to do that.

Allow me to make a cheesy romantic love analogy. Most people you meet on a first date will be shiny and perfect. We all know from experience and/or observation, though, that a good number of those “shiny, perfect” people will end up showing their true, dark colors soon enough. But because there are fake people out there, should you just quit dating altogether? Are all people fake? Although some [jaded] people may be inclined to say yes to both questions, the answer really is no. Because amidst all the bad ones are good ones that will affect your life positively. Discovering “keepers” are worth the temporary discomfort of trial and error.

The best way to get rid of fear is to gain power and reduce risk. Have you heard the saying that knowledge is power? Of course you have. Well, in this case, it certainly is. Knowing more about a particular food (or date, if you want to refer back to the dating analogy!) could potentially reduce the risks associated with trial and error. The more you know before-hand, the less room there could be for error. If there is a dish you have in mind that you want, read about it, ask other GI foodies about it, research each and every ingredient that is in the food in question. If it turns out to be safe, great! If not, ask yourself, “Is there a way I could change this to turn an unsafe food into a safe one?” You could possibly drop ingredients or substitute them. Sure it’s all pretty time-consuming initially and requires a little leg-work, but that’s a small price to pay in exchange for long-term peace of mind with the potential for more stable food options. So take a deep breath and give it a try. Elimination diets are meant to eliminate, but they’re also meant to confirm inclusiveness.

The Plenty Approach

I was initially going to name this post “The Deficit Approach”, but I’m pushing myself to not default to the negative side of things. So I chose to emphasize the opposite.

Oftentimes while on a “restrictive” diet (they even call it restrictive!), you feel powerless and deprived. You feel disadvantaged and unlucky. In educational psychology, there is a phenomenon called the “deficit mindset”. With this kind of thinking, people define themselves through their weaknesses and disadvantages and not through their strengths and advantages. When on a GI diet, you’ll be surrounded by so many delicious foods that are horrible for your health. When you choose not to eat something that is detrimental to your health, you can either say, “I am missing out on something so delicious,” or you could say, “I am doing something wonderful for my health by not eating this.” Guess which one highlights the deficit mindset. It’s pretty obvious which one highlights disadvantages versus advantages. This internal dialogue is crucial to your success with lifestyle adjustments.

I’m not going to be unrealistically chipper about this. It’s hard, and sometimes you really want to break down. I know how hard it is to pass down a delicious bowl of mint chip ice cream or a simmering dish of buttery garlic scampi (especially if it’s free!) But once that initial gut (no pun intended) response has passed, the key is to really bask in your strength and will-power… and to celebrate all of the steps you are taking in your healing process! It’s easy to feel like you have no control when  your are on a GI diet, but in reality, you are in more control than most people are!

The Balance Dream

This morning I realized something. It wasn’t something that had just appeared in my head out of nowhere. Instead, it was a manifestation of bits and pieces that have been floating in and out of my head for the past eight years. Even before that, my body has been telling me that something about the way I was living was not right. These feelings are a medley of physical, emotional, mental, and circumstantial negativity and disarray that I’ve packaged up and carried with me for more than two decades… not only are the packages outweighing my strength, but I am becoming weaker from the on-going wear and tear.

What is it that I realized in particular? First, let me explain the idea behind this blog.

The Balance Dream is about taking a step back to really think about the changes I need to make in my life through restructuring and balance. Positive changes are good, but with no balance, there is no sustainability. In the past, I have attempted grand overhauls that were challenging and unsustainable… and the overhauls that actually were sustainable would quickly crush a not-so strong foundation under the pressure of life’s happenings, both internally and externally. The changes were difficult. The harder life got, the less it mattered that I was, deep-down, truly capable of sustaining good changes in my lifestyle. At the end of the day, it wasn’t the grand concepts I struggled with putting into action, but the mundane intricacies of day-to-day life and its routines and structures. Many routines and structures that exist in our society are counter-productive in terms of maintaining balance. Working within a relatively restrictive framework (e.g., long work days, limited accessibility to nutritious foods, over-accessibility of unhealthy foods, over-acceptance of drugs as cures, etc.), especially one that almost counters your goals and needs, is much more challenging than complete freedom of structure.

Today, I realized I have been going about these positive lifestyle changes the wrong way. I started many life changes so that I could love myself more (i.e., to have clearer skin, to lose weight, to have a better body, to get bigger breasts, to feel energetic enough for life, etc.) In truth, I need to already love myself to make these types of changes work. Think about it–the best relationships are ones that stand strong despite the daily challenges. Two people should not enter relationships conditionally (“If you make my life _____, I will love you) but unconditionally (“I love you no matter what”). The former, when faced with challenges, will sink under pressure… the later will stand strong. This applies to the challenges I face with lifestyle changes. I should not think “If I can have a better body, I will love myself more”, but instead, “I love myself no matter what and want what is best for myself.” In the former, I will likely falter when faced with challenges because I will not love myself enough to justify enduring obstacles for my long-term benefit. In the later, I will love myself enough to push myself through challenges because I am worth it.

The sad reality is that I don’t love myself as much as I should. I am still grappling with my insecurities that have over-packaged themselves and latched onto me for most of my life. This borderline disenchantment with myself makes it hard to justify challenges that are difficult to get through; after-all, why go through all of that effort for someone you don’t really love? I need to love myself enough to make it through the challenges I will face when living my new lifestyle. When I can’t enjoy foods everyone else around me can, I will love myself enough to enjoy and be grateful for what I can have that will nourish my body. When I am faced with decisions that will be good for my status, career, and financial growth but bad for my health, I will love myself enough to walk away… meaning I will love myself more than I love other people’s perceptions of me. To love myself enough to put my well-being first is the core aspect I must build in order to make my dream of balance a reality.