When it comes to breaking habits, are you more of a tortoise or a hare? A tortoise–slow and steady–would be more likely to opt for gradual, moderate change. A hare, on the other hand, is more likely to take the fastest possible steps. When it comes to changing habits, I, for better or for worse, have always been a hare.
I challenged myself this year to temporarily give up caffeine and alcohol. I do not drink either caffeine or alcohol excessively, however, I thought that it would be an interesting experiment for myself to see what it would feel like to be totally “clean.” In almost four weeks, I have broken the caffeine rule only once and the alcohol rule in a small way (a few sips once and a while, but never a full glass).
Self-imposed rules can be helpful in achieving one’s goals; however, they can also affect us psychologically. Now that I have initiated a self-imposed prohibition, I feel like I am a “bad person” for breaking my own arbitrary rules. All-or-nothing rules often fail because they do not allow us to adapt to our realities. I’ll take juice cleanses as an example of this. During these cleanses, drinkers will consume only smoothies and juices at certain intervals through the day. Juice cleanses and other forms of crash dieting surely take a psychological toll. I just finished reading a book of essays in which the author described how she wanted to decline an interesting and exciting party invitation because the food at the party would surely make her break her cleanse. She felt shame at the thought of breaking her diet even though she already made very good progress in her goals.
If our goal is weight loss, then a 100% liquid-based diet will not be sustainable in the long term. In the case of weight loss, we need to be able to diet in the way that we want to live. If we drink only juice for two weeks and return to our old diets, then we are sure to regain the weight. However, if we choose to make more moderate changes to our diets then we will see slower progress towards our goals, however, we will also be better able to maintain our new forms.
For me, deep down, I know that I gave up caffeine and alcohol, because I want to decrease my intake of each substance. However, instead of going about this goal in a moderate way, I chose to eliminate both substances from my life. Because I like caffeine and alcohol, I am positive that my prohibition will not last forever. However, because I chose to abstain rather than to indulge less-frequently, there is a chance that, like a crash diet, my morning tea routine and night out drink habit will pick right back up.
I think the lesson that I learned is that if we want to live in a certain way then we must “live the changes” that we want to see. If we want to drink less alcohol then we should continue to drink alcohol, but less frequently, rather than temporarily banishing it from our lives. Similarly, if we want to maintain a lower body weight then we should adjust our diets to what we can reasonably live with rather than temporarily subsisting on juice.
Breaking habits can be a challenge, however, forming new ones is a fulfilling goal. Whether it is food, drinks, or whatever, Dear Reader, sustainable habits come in moderation.