Breaking the habit

It’s always a nice feeling when you realise you’ve changed a habit that you’ve been struggling with.

This happened to me yesterday. I was sitting in the cinema with my friend Tiffany about to watch That Sugar Film. We’d just purchased some chocolate treats from Koko Black (after having veggie-filled Vietnamese soups for lunch at that place in Westfield Indooroopilly – holy moly, they were good!) and after having 4 dark chocolate covered hazelnuts, I realised I didn’t want anymore. I happily folded the bag of chocolates and put them in my bag. I wasn’t doing it out of punishment or to hide it from myself, I was simply very satisfied by the few morsels that I’d had and didn’t want to have anymore. That was it. Had a really said “no” to more chocolate?

Maybe this doesn’t seem like a big thing to you (or perhaps you imagine that as a nutritionist, I naturally have some strange self-control that other humans long for), but yesterday was a HUGE turning point for me. Three years ago (exactly to the day, actually) I was in the midst of depression, anxiety and insomnia, when I received the news that my Aunty Mae-Mae had passed away after her cancer returned. Of course, the grief of this exacerbated my mental health conditions, and I found myself literally gorging on up to two family sized blocks of chocolate most nights in order to cope with the way that I was feeling. I usually got through my assignments with a couple of packets of dark chocolate Tim Tams and copious cups of earl grey tea (my Aunty’s favourite) and I was eating dark chocolate with the manic fervour of Augustus Gloop and the chocolate river in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

Augustus Gloop from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, scoffs some sweets, then is pushed through the tube of chocolate from the chocolate river

This period of my life lasted just over a year and a half, and eating chocolate in that way was a very hard habit to break. I was addicted to the endorphin rush that came with chomping down as much chocolate as I could, and addicted to the sugar. I put on weight, had constant acne on my chin, and reached for the good stuff as soon as life got hard. The actual mechanical motion of chewing the chocolate was as much a part of the stress relief as the chocolate flavour itself, as was the feeling of fullness, and the relief – sweet relief – was instant.

I feel like there are a few factors at play that helped me get to the turning point of yesterday:

– Lately I have been ill. I’ve contracted a few viruses and been working with no real schedule and four different jobs where the hours are constantly changing. I spent a lot of my summer over-indulging in alcohol and made lazy decisions about my health from time-to-time, causing poor immunity, fatigue, acne that wouldn’t heal and exacerbations in my depression and anxiety. It was a big reminder to look after myself, so I cut out the foods I knew were affecting my health, invested in a yoga class membership, prescribed myself supplements to replenish the nutrients my body needed and consulted a naturopath for another perspective on my health. In short, I put myself first and learnt (again) to find the health balance my body needs so that I can get the most out of my days.

– Since I can’t eat most dairy, I’ve managed to instinctively feel queezy at the idea of eating those foods, especially the sweet ones, by reminding myself that that’s the way I feel if I do eat them. It really is an effective deterrent, because its hard to eat something when the idea of it makes you feel ill. Over the years, the foods that have this effect on me have expanded to a lot of sweet foods too. While I occasionally eat sweet foods, the ones that are super sweet are not appealing to me now, opting for savoury, sour or bitter flavours instead.

– My friends are starting to make healthier choices, which means we get to influence each other and build one another up. As of two days ago, the third Nutribullet in my household was purchased (none belong to me), and all of my housemates have been buying more and more fresh produce for themselves. The movie I went to, That Sugar Film (it is BRILLIANT, FYI. It made me laugh and cry, and it’s so easy to understand the sciencey bits – you should watch it too!), was with a friend I’ve known for years who has recently been making leaps and bounds with her lifestyle changes and has a refreshing excitement about health – because it is so new to her. When we catch up, we make an effort to have healthy or active dates together every time. This gives us a chance to discuss our own wellness journeys with one another and inspire each other’s healthy choices while having our all important girl-time, and it’s truly lovely.

– When we bought our chocolate, we opted for quality rather than quantity, so not only was it pricey (which I find, makes me appreciate and savour it automatically), the flavour of the chocolate had much more depth and was much more satisfying. I chose the bag of dark chocolate roasted hazelnuts (about $8), that were rolled in cocoa for extra bitterness. This made it so much easier to enjoy a small amount because sweetness wasn’t the first flavour I tasted. In fact, it wasn’t an obvious flavour in the chocolate either. But my goodness, it was delicious!

I’m incredibly proud of myself for this, and while there may be set-backs in the future, I am in a position where I can confidently say that they are no longer something that I let unravel all the other positive changes that I make. Even if it takes a few weeks, I bounce back. And it gets easier every time. I don’t berate myself, get the guilts, or “should” all over myself, I just enjoy it for what it was, learn from my mistakes (after all, that’s why we make them) and make healthy choices when I’m ready to.

A friendly reminder – eg. “You know you want to wash your make up off before you go to bed Mira, it wont take as long as you think”, “You set your alarm for 5.30, what the heck else are you going to do if you don’t just go to yoga?”, “The tap is only 5m away, get up and fill your bloody drink bottle!” – is sometimes needed to get myself into gear (I’m a lazy little turd when I want to be) but overall things get easier the more you try, and I feel like yesterday is proof of that.

So I hope that whatever you’re struggling with, you keep trying new ways to overcome it, because even if it takes years to get to a place where you feel confident about those choices, any positive step can make a difference. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be you, and there is no one on this Earth that knows how to do that the way that you do.

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