On average it takes 66 days to establish a new habit, depending on how difficult your task is. Studies show that changing a habit is good for your brain, because it forces it to work differently. Some habits become part of you, such as taking the same route to work each day; others seem to require daily resolve. For example, I floss my teeth every night (well, almost every night), and I’ve been doing that for more than a year. In reality, I have established the habit of remembering to floss, but each night I still have to resolve to take action to get it done.
Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing–that’s why we recommend it daily.” Okay, that may sound silly, but the truth is that nothing is going to change without continual work and effort. Accepting that fate may be the key to understanding and fighting our food demons.
In Mika Brzezinski’s book, “Obsessed,” she claims that obsession and constant vigilance over food will forever be a part of her. It is something she is learning to live with. Her co-author friend, Diane, laments, “Dieting is the most active sport I have ever engaged in. If practice made perfect, I’d be as thin as a ghost.”
I don’t know about you, but I find it easier to live by hard-and-fast rules, more so than mushy self-promises to do better. Rules relieve me of having to make a decision every time I am faced with temptation. It works great until I break the rule, and then all my resolve flies out the window! Then I berate myself until I can establish a new rule to live by. All that negative self-talk cannot be mentally healthy! Is the trick to never break the rule, or is it to allow ourselves some slack to break it very occasionally? And if we do cut ourselves some slack, do we need a second rule to govern how much?
In my adult life, I have managed to have fairly good control over my weight–though most people don’t realize I go up and down 15 pounds every few years. While I have changed lots of eating habits permanently, I have certainly not eradicated my obsession with food and diet, which is probably the source of the aforementioned weight swing. Those crazy signals to eat, just because something is there or because I can get away with it, are my daily struggle. There must be a way to retrain our brains to treat food differently. Wouldn’t it be great to be free of the obsession?
So, which is it? Do we need more resolve, or is it a matter of developing new habits?