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Habits

I have been saying for weeks that I am pushing myself to walk until it eventually becomes a habit, and that I do not have to push myself to do it. I have been saying for years that I need to break my unhealthy relationship with food, and establish good eating habits. I have gotten into the habit of writing in my weight loss journal on a daily basis, even on days when I have nothing new (or good) to report.

So much of our lives are dictated by habits. Someone who does not plan their time well might be habitually late. You might be in the habit of showering on a certain schedule; people who do not eat well might make it a habit of picking unhealthy restaurants or food choices at the supermarket.

A habit is not necessarily good or bad. It is defined (by Oxford Languages, per Bing Dictionary) as a regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. It is not the same as a schedule or routine. I do not take my dog for a walk twice or thrice daily out of habit, I do so out of necessity. To wit: When Princess Sophie is not with me, I do not go for a walk in the morning. I do not log on to Zoom to start teaching on days when I am not contracted to do so.

There are good habits (I am in the habit of brushing my teeth in the morning when I wake up and in the evening before bed). There are bad habits (of which I have too many to pick just one as an example). There are habits that are neither good nor bad, they are just how we do things. I am in the habit of shaking a sweetener pack before tearing it open. Why? It is something that I do. Frankly, I remember watching my father doing it when I was a kid, and I picked it up from him. Would bad things happen if I opened a packet of sweetener without shaking it? Unlikely… but it is a habit, and I do it every single time.

Habits around food are extremely common, and again, can be good or bad. Why do many people eat their salads before, or after, or alongside their main course? It is a habit, based on cultural norms of the country in which they were raised. Some people say a prayer before eating, which might be out of habit, or from a deep-rooted belief that their food is a gift from G-d, and that they should be grateful.

Some people always take a second helping of… whatever. If you were to ask them, they might answer that they are still hungry, or that it was so good that they wanted more. Oftentimes it is simply because they are used to taking seconds. It is a habit. In some cases that might be a good thing, but more often it is not.

I do not know a fat person, and likely neither do you, who was taught healthy food choices as a child. I do not mean that they did not learn about the five basic food groups – we all learned at least some form of nutrition in school – I mean ingrained education, their day-to-day meals. If you are taught about smart choices for ten minutes in a class one day, but are given huge meals of deep-fried this and creamed that and everything is drowning in gravy every night, then that is the habit you will learn. It is not an easy one to break.

I have said for months that I want my good eating to be habitual, and my fitness walking to be a habit. So far, I know that neither has happened. Have I ever exercised on a daily basis? Of course I have… for years on end. Have I ever eaten well? Sure, and I have lost a lot of weight a couple of times to prove it. Yet it is so hard to make those habitual. Falling into my old routines is easy… like smoking cigarettes, it is easy to start, but hard to quit.

Do you see the difference between those? Exercise is a hard habit to get into, and an easy one to fall out of. Eating well is a hard habit to get into, and an easy one to fall out of. Overeating is an easy habit to fall into, and a hard one to fall out of. Smoking cigarettes is an easy habit to get into, and a hard one to fall out of.

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This seems to me to be an unfair reality, but it is a reality nonetheless. I wish it were the opposite, where good habits were easy to establish and hard to break, but it is not the case. That is why we must be extra vigilant, once we are in a good habit, to stick to it. I do not have the answer to that… and so far, I have not heard of a good one. I know people who put entries into their daily diary to go for a walk, and I hope that works for them… but it has never worked for me, at least not for the long term. A daily reminder to do something makes it a scheduled task or routine… but not a habit.

Good habits are hard to get into and bad habits are hard to break. We may not like it, but it is a fact of life, and one that, if we wish to control our own habits, we will need to find a way to work at every day of our lives… until our good habits are so truly ingrained into us that we do them without thinking… and until we have so truly broken our bad habits that it would never occur to us to repeat them.

With regard to food, I have gotten into the habit of buying only the foods that I know are allowed on my weight management program. Some people would point out that I seem to eat rather monotonously, but that is what I need to do to lose weight, and so I do not veer too far from my chicken or fish with a salad for lunch. I do not keep pasta and creamy sauces or fattening salad dressings in the house because it would be too easy to say ‘You know what? I do not feel like eating chicken today.’ It took some time, but when I go to the supermarket, I buy what I need, and I do not go looking for things that would be tasty but harmful to my weight loss plan. It is now a habit more than a routine, and I am grateful for it.

When I decided to lose weight seriously, one of the hardest habits to break was eating at restaurants. That was one of the main reasons it took until January 20th to really start, and not January 1st as I had originally intended. Eating out is a bad habit, and therefore a difficult one to break. Sticking to my meal-replacements program was a very good habit to get into… and it did not come easy.

Some religious leaders will tell you that the devil is always there to tempt you, and it is only your strong belief in G-d that keeps you from sinning. I do not believe in those concepts in the Christian sense, but I do believe that we all have good voices and bad voices in our heads. The good voices encourage us to do the right thing – and we usually know that is, whether it be helping a neighbour or eating healthy. The bad voices are shouting at us to succumb to temptation, to be selfish and to eat whatever we want. While the bad voices might be shouting, it is our responsibility to ourselves to tune them out and to listen to the good voices and to do the right thing, whether that be by others or by ourselves.

Doing the right thing is not always the easy thing… but it is always the right thing. Our diet habits can be good or they can be bad, and it is the decisions that we make that will determine our paths… and eventually our waist size.

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