Moderation and Changing Behavior

I am an irregular reader of Tara Parker-Pope's NY Times Wellness blog. On December 22nd, she wrote about ways to make holiday food treats more healthful, including how to make lower fat latkes. This apparently angered a great deal of people, based upon the comments and on the article she posted on December 23rd. People wailed about how horrible it was that they were now not being allowed to gorge themselves and that eating very badly for a few days of the year isn't very bad at all. TPP pointed out that
While it’s true that eating any food in moderation is fine, the track record of most Americans is that we don’t eat in moderation, and the holiday season is typically a time of gluttony.
Given that most people say they eat in moderation and the majority of Americans are also overweight, it may be safe to say that what is generally considered "moderate" is probably, on an objective level, not terribly moderate at all. We've adjusted what is considered "normal" in terms of food intake and exercise levels so that the balance results in a higher body mass than is healthy. (I think we've also adjusted what is considered "normal" body mass too, given that the majority of Americans are overweight to obese, so the minority who are actually at an appropriate weight or body mass are often labeled "too skinny".)

Though I try to always eat things in moderation, I do have my weaknesses. It is difficult for me to not nibble at cookie dough when I'm baking. Oddly enough, it is much easier for me to resist the baked cookies. I also have trouble eating just part of a frozen pizza. My solution to these weaknesses is to indulge them very rarely and to time them so that they do not coincide with any other indulgence. I also ask myself if I'm willing to accept potential setbacks or delays in my health/fitness goals in order to eat whatever it is that I'm considering eating. That's often an excellent reminder for me to make healthier food decisions.

Changing Behavior
Of course, one of the barriers to establishing a different setpoint for "moderation" is behavior change. I suspect that behavior change is just about the most difficult thing a person can do, depending upon the behavior to be changed. I think at least some behavior changes can be made easier by a simple change in attitude. When people find out that I'm vegetarian and very close to having a vegan diet, they ask me how I can stand to give up eating all that food. I don't think I'm giving up much at all. To be vegetarian, I am only giving up eating meat, poultry, fish and shellfish. That is *four* things I am giving up. If I were to become vegan, I would also give up honey, dairy products and eggs, which brings the grand total to seven. I still get to eat pasta, dozens of fruits, dozens of vegetables, plus nuts, seeds and buds. I choose to focus on the plethora of things I can and do eat. This makes not eating meat, poultry, fish and shellfish no burden to me at all.

I also decided, when I went vegetarian, that what I would accomplish with this change was more important to me than keeping my previous eating habits. I want to keep my bloodwork values at the low end of "normal" and well within the "low risk" categories. I would rather not follow the local trend and have a cardiac catheterization by age 50 (which is considered "normal" and expected here). I also don't want to ever be on hypertension, diabetes or cholesterol medications. Controlling these things with medication doesn't seem to necessarily result in reduction of risk for heart disease and other complications, not to mention the side effects of the medications themselves. Personally, I would rather just not have those conditions. So now I exercise 5+ days a week and eat a low-fat vegetarian diet with few animal products at all.

With every New Year, there are always a plethora of magazine, newspaper and blog articles all about change and how to not only start it, but maintain it. Certainly new years are a big event, often cause for introspection, and traditionally a time for incorporating change, but I don't think that change should only wait until there is some big event or day. Every day is the start of a new year. Change is just a matter of deciding that you are going to do something different and then sticking to it. The part that makes it hard is to consistently practice the new behavior until it becomes a habit. If you fall back into the old behavior by default, just be more mindful of your actions and choose the new behavior next time. Repeat as needed until the new behavior is the default behavior. I read somewhere that it takes 28 days to establish a new habit, but it seems to take me longer to get into a habit than that and only a few days to fall out of a habit.

Thought for the Day:
I am not bored. I am merely between activities/actions for the moment. I have decided that I'm going to avoid the statement/complaint "I'm bored". Whenever I feel uninterested in everything around me, I tend to whine and complain about supposedly having nothing to do when I'm really just not interested in getting off my behind and starting something that would be interesting if I'd just do it. It seems rather silly to waste time being miserable, so I'm not going to do it any longer.


KWT said…
May I recommend the mantra we use with our (not so) little one to try and substitute his behavior: "No Whining, Yes Happy."

We have realized that so many little ones learn "no" so early because it comes up all the time. We're constantly trying to limit his behavior to protect him. But the converse "yes" rarely comes up. So, we actively try and make "yes" opportunities for our son. Check back with us in about 20 years and I'll let you know how it worked out.:)
Ruby Louise said…
I like it!! I've got a new sticky note on my monitor now. Thanks!!

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