Why do people have such a difficult time making dietary changes? Most people understand intuitively that we all need to be eating more fruits and vegetables. So why don’t we do it? I believe that we create negative thoughts and distortions of reality that keep us from moving forward. Our minds actually try to convince us of something that isn’t really true. These untruths block our ability to make good decisions. Essentially we employ an inner critic who sends us hurtful remarks and sabotages our efforts. I want to show you how your thoughts are like unkind voices that try to defeat you in your quest to become vegan or just eat in a more healthy way. Then I want to end by suggesting ways to be kind to yourself as you make the journey towards a healthier life.
Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions. Understanding how we use these distortions and counteracting them are the basis of “Cognitive Therapy.”
Some Cognitive Distortions you may have when making food choices
1. Food Filtering: As you are making strides to make better food choices you filter out all of the positive aspects of your diet or changes you have already made, that are good. Or you may focus on a single, unpleasant detail of your food experience and dwell on it exclusively. Ie; “I never have enough strength to turn down dessert.” Or “Food only tastes good when I put cheese on it.”
2. The Black or white diet; You might be tempted to say to yourself, “You are either a vegan or not a vegan.” “If you don’t eat a perfect diet you are a failure.” If your performance falls short of perfection you see yourself as a total failure. For example, “I’ve been eating healthfully all week but I just slipped and had 3 Oreos. I guess I’m a failure. I’ll just eat the whole bag.” Or “As long as I’m overweight I am not worth very much.” “If I can’t be completely vegan today, then why even try?”
3. Jumping to Conclusions about food. For example: “I just really hate eating salads. It’s like bunny food and I always feel hungry afterwards.” Or “It’s not possible to only eat whole plant foods. Or “If it’s green it’s going to taste terrible.” “I do not like them Sam-I-Am.” I think Dr. Seuss was really talking about spinach in his book, not eggs and ham. We learn as children to dislike certain foods. When we’re adults we no longer have to be held captive by the conclusions of a child. We can retrain our palates.
4. Diet control issues and blaming someone else for what you eat: When you feel controlled externally you become a helpless victim. Ie: “I can’t eat a healthy diet, my wife makes the most delicious, fattening foods. What am I supposed to do, hurt her feelings?” Or “My friends are always ordering pizza. It’s their fault that I’m overweight.” We, and only we, are in control of the substances that go into our mouths! It’s never, never, never, someone else’s fault. We are not victims when we are the person holding the fork.
5. Shoulds and shouldn’ts: You may believe that using this word will motivate you with guilt. However guilt is such a negative emotion that we can get lost in it and never move on. Ie. “I really should eat a green salad for lunch but these cold cuts in my fridge need some attention.” “My doctor tells me not to eat so much dairy. I shouldn’t be eating this ice cream right now. I’m just so weak.” These statements, made to ourselves, make us feel anger, frustration, and even shame and resentment, but not motivation.
6. The reward fallacy: When we have been working so hard we expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone was keeping score. We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come quickly enough. “I think I should have lost more weight by now!” “How come no one has noticed that I have been eating more vegetables?” “It’s time I rewarded myself with a hot fudge sundae.”
7. Emotional reasoning: “I feel fat and ugly.” “I feel weak and powerless.” “I feel like I can never make these changes.” Remember that just because you feel something, that doesn’t make it true. Do not reason with your emotions. Just allow yourself to feel them, acknowledge the emotion, and then move on.
8. Labeling: “I am fat and ugly.” I am weak and powerless or “I have no will power.” “I only like certain foods.” This kind of language is powerful. When you say it to yourself, you tend to believe it! You would never say these things about someone else to their face because you know that it would hurt them. Then you should not say them to yourself.
With some practice, all of us can learn to recognize these fallacies and other negative distortions. Through kindness we can stop the self-sabotage. In the book “Heart to Heart by Anna Guest-Jelley , the author says that we need to “focus on cultivating kindness, because we don’t heal ourselves with insults, judgment and body bashing. We heal ourselves—our bruised body image, our sinking self-worth—with compassion. Here are some ways from her book that we can practice kindness towards ourselves every day.
- Savoring your favorite (healthy) foods.
- Checking in with how you feel after eating those foods. “I feel so light and energetic.” “That salad made me feel really good.”
- Not making critical comments about your body in conversations with others. Or even better, making kind comments about yourself to others. “I have been working so hard on eating more healthfully.
- Journaling about what you need more and less of in your life.
- Celebrating your many physical gifts — the gifts of walking, talking, tasting, seeing, smelling, smiling, laughing. Reward yourself with healthy whole foods instead of ice cream, soda, or cookies.
- Stretching and moving your body every day.
- Not fixating on how much you weigh, and instead focusing on how you feel and the habits that make you happy.
- Being honest with yourself about difficult situations.
- Accepting a compliment about yourself instead of giving reasons why you don’t deserve it.
- Focusing on my own well-being and engaging in habits that nourish me from the inside out.
- Trying new things (like kale, and brussel sprouts)
Consider speaking to yourself with a gentle, soft, caring voice as if you were speaking to a child or the person you love most in the world. Making healthy lifestyle changes is a journey not a destination. The more kindness that you give to yourself, the more you will love yourself, and the more you will be able to move forward on your journey. You can rewrite your story and be the person you really want to be. Just use kind words…..they are so powerful…..