Sugar and I have a long and touchy history.
But I’d rather not go into the sordid (and chocolate-stained) details. So instead, here’s an abbreviated summary of the cycle that has been repeating since my teen years:
- I tell myself (sternly) that I need to eat less sugary food.
- I successfully purge my diet of sweets, for a time….
In future posts I’d like to delve into a discussion of (un)healthy eating and (un)healthy body image, and of the damages done by the sugar industry. But, important as these broader issues certainly are, for now I just want to tune out the context and focus on this basic problem in my own life: that I eat more sugar than is healthy for me. As they say, “change begins with you”, so I’m going to try to find a solution that sticks in my own day-to-day life.
The approach I’m going to take is informed by a small selection of social science / psychology literature I’ve read related to behavioural change. I’ll try to reference these books when I get into specifics.
Identifying my Goal
My first big decision here is how intense I want my goal to be. Because of my past failures, I want this goal to be very long term – life-long, even – so it’s important for me to choose wisely. I know already that I can’t and wouldn’t want to cut all forms of sugar out of my diet completely because there are a lot of fresh, whole foods – fruits, vegetables – that contain naturally occurring sugars.
And I don’t even want to go so far as to entirely avoid refined, added sugars. I want to be able to enjoy a campfire-toasted s’more on the rare occasion that I go camping, or to have a reasonable slice of cake at a family birthday party. The problem is when I can’t stop myself from digging into the ice cream carton throughout the day, or I continually have just “one more” piece of chocolate until I can barely taste or enjoy it anymore.
(Many moments of consideration later….)
My long-term goal is this:
To eat sugary foods in mindful moderation and, when I decide to buy chocolate, ice cream or other sweets, to buy only fair-trade products.
I’m going to address the second part of the goal first. My decision to buy only fair-trade products is informed by my current knowledge of the harms of the sugar and chocolate industries. Bonus: these are often more expensive products, which will make me think twice about buying large quantities. And I was also deliberate about specifying that I will only buy fair-trade, as opposed to only eating fair-trade. I don’t want to be a stickler when it comes to accepting something served to me by a gracious friend or family member.
The first part of the goal, to eat in mindful moderation, is much less specific than I had originally intended to make it. But maybe that’s where I’ve failed in the past. Maybe if I set a very specific goal (e.g. up to 3 pieces of fair-trade dark chocolate per day, no other sweets) it becomes nothing more than a set of rules. It becomes something outside of myself – an external restriction. Plus (spoiler), one of the things I’ve learned about behaviour change is that stopping to think about something is a powerful tool against temptation.
When I specify exactly what I can and can’t eat, I take away some of that thought process in the moment when I need it most (when I’m about to reach for my stash of chocolate). Whereas, with this more flexible goal, I’m giving myself an opportunity to reflect on whether something fits my own personal definition of “moderation” at that point in time. That’s what I mean by “mindful” in this case: slow, deliberate, considerate. So, whether I decide to eat something or not, it’s not going to feel like I’m forcing myself to follow an external rule, it will feel like my own free will. And that’s exactly what it is.
I’ll be back with a new post on Monday to let you know how things are going for me. I plan to write more about my motivation for making this change in my life. All the best to you in your own pursuits. May you find freedom and joy in making even the smallest positive changes.