The Way Forward
Those who eat too much or eat too little, who sleep too much or sleep too little, will not succeed in meditation. But those who are temperate in eating and sleeping, work and recreation, will come to the end of sorrow through meditation. ~ Bhagavad Gita
Picture this: you're staring at a heavenly scented cinnamon bun, dripping with gooey white icing, at a kiosk in the shopping mall. You're tired from last minute shopping during the holiday season, and want a quick pick-me-up. Although you've promised yourself to cut out sweets because sugar is so bad for you, how do you resist that delicious piece of fragrant gooeyness?
Well, exactly. How do you resist? All my life I’ve struggled with eating – how much to eat, when to eat, what to eat. Some people wonder at this, as they look at me and say, “hey, you’re slim, you can’t possibly have any eating issues!” However, the truth often lies under the surface of what seems obvious. I was bulimic in my late teens and stopped only when I began to worry that this practice might eventually cause permanent damage to my health. I studied nutrition and got my undergraduate degree in that subject at university, and still struggled. Over time, with practice, I’ve learned to discern when my body is truly hungry. I’ve learned when I need to eat and when I’m just eating to be sociable.
Even up to the present day, however, I can still find myself in situations where I completely lose control and munch away well beyond the point where my body is comfortable or I’m happy.
I’ve just returned from an 18-day vacation where there was so much food at every buffet that my willpower melted away like a puddle of butter on a hot sidewalk. I gained only three pounds, but the slightness of that gain may have been due to my getting a cold halfway through vacation and eating only soup and toast for several days.
The advent of Thanksgiving heralds the beginning of several months of what can feel like nonstop eating and drinking, enough to test the willpower of any but the most stalwart among us.
Thanks to some sage advice from Kelly McGonigal in her book, The Willpower Instinct, however, there's hope if you want to make it through the upcoming holiday season and not have to lose pounds to get into your favourite pair of pants come January.
Here are some things to consider, according to Professor McGonigal, who is a health psychologist and researcher at Stanford University.
Willpower is like a muscle, and is stronger in the morning. You have only so much of it, and if you spend it on one thing you will have less for something else.
There are five ways to increase your willpower – what Prof. McGonigal calls “small changes with big effects.”
1. Train your willpower physiology. This includes:
b. Understand your common humanity – we all have failures.
c. Give yourself encouragement instead of criticism.
3. Make friends with your future self.
Here is a simple way to apply this:
For the past week, I’ve been practising “surfing the urge.” Every time I have an impulse to reach for food – breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks – I notice the impulse, stop, and take six slow breaths. Then, sometimes I will eat, and sometimes I’ll forego it. In that time, I’ve lost the three pounds I gained over my holidays. And can reach for my favourite jeans instead.
If you’re ready to increase your willpower, I invite you to try this willpower challenge. For the next week, each time you want to reach for a snack, notice the impulse, stop and take six slow breaths. Notice if the urge changes. And then make a conscious choice – not one based on habit or impulse – to eat or not to eat.
If you're keen to learn more, discover fascinating facts about your digestion and how to live healthfully and enjoy it, join Milka Milicevic, Holistic Nutritionist and me for a fun afternoon to Stoke Your Inner Fire on Sunday, November 12 from 1-4 pm. It's an afternoon of discovery, to:
Check out Milka’s blog post on digestion here. Space is limited for this workshop and there are only three spots left, so register early!
And now, I’d love to hear from you. What are your willpower challenges? If you had the willpower, what would you like to accomplish?
I look forward to meeting you on the mat!
Donna offers a holistic perspective on the relationship and healing of physical and emotional pain.