Dealing with a slip up

The target I set myself (having healthy lunch every day this week) isn’t exactly an onerous one. However, just six days in and I’ve managed not to meet it.

Yesterday I was a bit hungover from an excellent Friday night of pints, pints, wine and pints, so I had a Magnum for breakfast (it’s one of your five a day, right?). Then for lunch my fella and I went to the awesome local Persian place for a late (and large) lamb stew lunch, mopped up with copious amounts of flatbread. Then dinner consisted of more beer, and leftover takeaway pizza from the night before. A sum total of zero healthy meals.


So how am I going to deal with this?

Well, my usual tactics for dealing with failure involve wallowing in self-hatred, starving myself as much as possible, then giving in and binging on all the junk food EVER while watching crappy detective series for hours on end. Now, even I can see that this isn’t an amazingly good example of how to react to a setback. So this time, I’m going to do something different.

I’m not going to react to it at all.

That’s it. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. I’m just going to carry on as if it never happened.

david tennant

That’s right. If I react to every little setback – and casting my mind back to previous attempts to control my behaviour, there will be loads – by beating myself up, I’ll make precisely no progress. If I try to ‘make up’ for not meeting a target by being harder on myself the next day, I’ll get overwhelmed and stop enjoying the process of slow change. So I’ll just mark down in my calendar that I didn’t meet the target and the circumstances surrounding me not meeting it, and then carry on as if nothing happened.

Then if a pattern starts to emerge – maybe everytime I get drunk on a Friday night, or go out with friends on a Saturday, I’ll be unable to meet my target – I can look at how to deal with this. Perhaps I’ll need to make or buy some meals so they’re ready in the fridge to be warmed up in the morning. Maybe I’ll need to ban the corner shop from stocking Magnums (practical!). But for now I’ve missed one healthy meal, there is no pattern, so I’m not going to cry over it or second guess myself.

The nice change here is that, despite doing something that didn’t fit the plan yesterday, I don’t feel awful today because I’m not blaming myself for it. Which means I’ve gone right back into cooking my healthy meal for today without a sniffle. (Today was lamb stew, and it was pretty bloody tasty.)

Not beating yourself up: turns out, it feels pretty good.

batman thumbs

Nerd Health

The word ‘nerd’ gets bandied about rather too much for my liking. These days you only have to find the Big Bang Theory witty, post up a couple of memes from IFL Science or read a Ben Goldacre book to be able to self-identify as a nerd. (Also, just for clarity, if you like the Big Bang Theory, you are wrong. Sorry.)

Oh just SOD OFF. The only reason anyone thinks you're funny is you have a laugh track.
Oh just SOD OFF. The only reason anyone thinks you’re funny is you have a laugh track.

I’m not a nerd in the traditional science-y sense at all, more in that I find odd things deeply pleasurable. One of these things is the act of making and sticking to timetables.

I’m reasonably disorganised in most other ways, so the fact that I really like following schedules was a bit of a surprise when I found it out.

The revelation occurred when I was training for the London Marathon last year (an uncharacteristically sporty endeavour which has landed me with knee pain forever more). When I started on my 16 week training plan I was focused on the big race day and the lovely medal (which I did eventually get). However, as my training progressed I found myself liking it more and more, and specifically the act of following the training plan.

When you have a plan set out ahead of you it makes your progress very easy to see. You tick off the runs (or training sessions, classes, whatever) and you can see where you started, where you have got to, and your target to aim for. By the end of my marathon training, the much coveted medal was very much an afterthought.

At the risk of spouting tired homilies, it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination.

So that’s what I decided to do for my gradual healthy eating journey. I got my geek on and made a timetable. Here’s some of it.

Ooh, I do love a nice bit of Excel.
Ooh, I do love a nice bit of Excel.

The green boxes indicate where I should eat a healthy meal, the blue ones where I don’t have to worry about what I eat. (As you can see, I’m not busting a gut yet, effort-wise.) I’ve got a column for notes to show when I’ve met my target for the day (plus a little smiley face) or if I haven’t managed to meet it, and why. And as you can see, progress is made, slowly but surely.

I think a correct amount of structure is what’s missing from most traditional healthy eating advice. Either a diet is too structured, requiring you to cut out all manner of foods from the word ‘Go’ and not allow any aspect of the real world to encroach on your ability to follow it; or there is no structure at all, and you’re merely supposed to follow very vague advice like, ‘Just eat less and move more’ without any indication of how this should be accomplished.

What I’m hoping is my new method will provide the best of both worlds – clear progress without being off-puttingly restrictive. A gentle, gradual change to habits.

Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. (Speaking of which, I’ve had my healthy meal for the day. I reckon it’s pudding time…)


It begins…

Have you ever decided you wanted to make a massive change in your life, thrown yourself into it, then given up after a month? Could be a diet, exercise plan, quitting smoking, learning a new skill, meditating, volunteering… Whatever.

Most people will do this at least sometime in their life. New Year’s Day is many people’s battleground. Feeling wretched after a month of gorging ourselves on turkey, Christmas Pudding and booze, we make resolutions to turn over a new leaf, visit the gym at least 3 times a week, live on grilled chicken and steamed veg… Blah blah blah. All that rubbish.

And then what happens? Our newly-painted virtue masks slip, we stumble into Chicken Cottage after 12 pints of lovely amber ale, stuff endless fried chicken in our faces, then wake up the next morning and decide that we can’t face the treadmill today. Or ever.

And then next year comes round and we do it all again.

I’m Hel. That’s me on the dinosaur. I like dinosaurs.

I’ve been stuck in this perpetual cycle of try-stumble-fail for years. And despite years of doing the same things and it not working I’ve never managed to take the leap of logic that says if you’ve done it 50 times and it hasn’t worked, it’s probably not going to work on time number 51 either.

So now I’ve decided to try something different. I’m still going to try and change the things I think need changing in my life. But rather than being the hare, I’m going the way of the tortoise. Even slower than the tortoise.

My rate of progress is going to be that of the saguaro cactus. Really, really, really slow.

Sting-and-Trudi-whatshername-having-creepy-month-long-tantric-sex slow.

I’m going to tackle my diet first, because I go through horrendous cycles all the time of binge-starve-binge-starve-binge while being deeply unhappy.

For the first week the only rule I have is that I have to eat healthy lunch, of around 500 calories per meal with tons of veg in it, every day.

That’s it. No rules about only having 1,500 calories a day, or cutting out chocolate or biscuits or booze. Nope. Just healthy lunch every day. Then next week I’ll add in a healthy breakfast. And the week after maybe one more.

And if I mess up? That’s ok. I’ll just forget about it and have healthy lunch the next day.

The idea isn’t to be eating virtuously tomorrow, or next week, or next month. The idea is to be eating reasonably healthily this time next year.

Slow change. Seems a bit too bloody sensible for me, to be honest.