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Mindful Bytes: Changing What Feels Good

This is a continuation of my post on Canadian Connect that attempted to re-frame what we’re doing on this health journey.

In it I talked about how I never really connected my food behaviours/habits to the unhappiness of obesity. It was the opposite actually, I connected my enjoyment of food and those corresponding habits directly TO happiness.

Healthy people don’t have some special skill or love of salad, they’ve just built different habits than I have, and they know that living healthy feels amazing.

I don’t think most people break free of that phase of resisting the habits they love. Those habits seem too essential to our happiness to consider changing them, but bare truth? Those habits are the roots of a life so unsatisfying that we were all pushed to join wellness programs or read incredibly long blog posts (🙄).

So if you’re looking for a boost going into the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas/Hanukkah) don’t think of this journey as losing weight or getting healthy or even improving wellness.

Think if it as changing what feels good.

Look, I’m never going to NOT love salty snacks or ice cream, but before all my mindset and habit changes, the only way I thought I could be happy was keeping certain habits I thought were essential to my identity. Gaining weight during the holidays and special occasions, “enjoying myself” on weekends. Basically keeping food as my prerequisite to happiness. I was able to lose 70 lbs with that mindset, but couldn’t keep it off. And when I restarted my health journey in 2018 I kept thinking, “if I could just get back to that 70 lbs lost I’ll be on the right track”.

Which was pretty ignorant. Part of the struggle of this journey is deconstructing how we see ourselves and what we’re really doing. That “if I could just get back” mindset is rooted in thinking of this struggle as a weight problem. Just let me get to 70 lbs lost again and I’ll be fine. The weight caused problems, for sure, but it’s an outcome not “the” problem. A consequence of what’s really wrong. I lost the weight but had the same habits, I just used discipline to drop weight. That’s not sustainable for me, my habits will outlast my willpower every time. It’s why changing habits is so critical, I can’t sustain a healthy life without it being habitual.

Having no adult memory of living a truly healthy life meant I had no reference of happiness past a bag of salt and vinegar chips. And to clarify, my life with my family is and always has been amazing and happy, I’m talking about physical happiness, that internal happiness with how you feel. When I’m in the pocket (a term I use for when I’ve been doing it all really consistently: healthy mindset, food, sleep, exercise) I wake up in the morning with so much energy and optimism and confidence. It is an astonishing feeling. But, being brutally honest I feel almost as good when I’m having my first of 4 or 5 plates of Chinese food at a buffet.

They both feel amazing, however if the only one you’ve experienced is the Chinese food, it’s nearly impossible to know the other even exists. You just have to trust that the process will get you there.

As someone who was 361 lbs, I promise you that you couldn’t love a Chinese buffet more than me, so trust me when I say waking up ready to crush the day is better. It’s just hard to get there especially when your focus is on losing weight.

That’s why seeing a wellness journey as changing what feels good can be so transformative.

Losing weight, to me, is eating rice cakes on a Tuesday while counting the days until that special occasion where you’re going to “enjoy yourself”. Basically earning that overindulgence by “being good”, but it’s all temporary and hyper focused on the scale.

Changing what feels good allows for indulgence, but it’s planned with purpose, not as a reward. For Hedy and I, our one indulgent meal a week was usually saved for times where we didn’t control the menu. That meant eating healthy food on most special occasions (special occasion definition = 45% of the year). It meant seeing what an amusement park or a movie feels like when food isn’t part of the entertainment. Witnessing the positive changes in mood, energy, anxiety, confidence that a healthy lifestyle creates. It means looking at habits more than the scale. Planning food around feeling healthy vs. finding a way to fit in chocolate daily.

To be crystal clear, indulgence is part of a normal healthy life, but changing what feels good requires more than just eating well during the week. It needs different patterns of eating, so different that it feels like a different way of life instead of a toned down version of the life you’re already leading.

Also, there’s plenty of people that balance regular daily indulgence while living healthy, but my obsessive personality responds much better to consistently giving it something else to obsess over. Morning walks, eating healthy food until you’re comfortably full, witnessing much less bloating and inflammation from a new lifestyle. My little obsessive personality can affix itself to any and all of those instead of food if I give it a chance.

Changing what feels good needs a deep dive into mindset and significant planning to avoid falling back into old eating patterns. But the payoff is life changing. It results in so much positive change and less effort to maintain that change. You end up ordering salad when you’re out with friends because that’s just what you do now. It’s not a fight or negotiation. It’s just another Friday night with this new mindset.

I hope this brings a little clarity and maybe some unique goal setting to this holiday season. Changing what felt good brought me to a place I had never been. And now I never want to leave.

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