Lately, my right ankle has been giving me a little trouble. It’s been somewhat “clicky” joint for pretty much my whole life, but in the past few weeks, one of my tendons has felt like it’s catching, and it’s pretty painful. I mostly only notice it when I bend my ankle as far as it goes, but it doesn’t really bother me when I’m running or walking.
Basic logic would suggest that if it hurts to flex my ankle so far, I should stop doing that. However, my illogical, fidgety, compulsive brain won’t quit. Curiosity and perseveration lead me to “check on the pain” every hour or two, flexing my ankle as far as I can to see if it still hurts. (It does.) For some reason, I have this persistent idea that if I keep doing the thing that is clearly hurting me, eventually it will help me instead.
We do the same thing with dieting. Most of us would agree that diets don’t work, and yet we continue to believe that manipulating our eating patterns with extensive food rules will somehow help us in the long run. We believe that eating less of certain foods (or eating less in general) will help us lose weight, but doing so almost always leads us to eventually overeat. In response to the overeating, we then decide to make further diet changes, even though those changes are what caused the problem in the first place! Time after time, the diet backfires and ends up causing us more harm than good.
I think that as a whole, we need to rewind a little bit, back to what I call Clinical Medicine 101: if it hurts, don’t do it. But of course, this is easier said than done.
Flexing my ankle hurts me. Yet I can’t seem to quit. Dieting hurts us, yet we struggle to quit. The only way to solve either of these problems is by gently and persistently keeping our attention on the fact that our subconscious minds are stuck on doing something harmful, and if we let down our guard we will probably end up resuming our maladaptive behaviors once again.
I’ve received comments on my Instagram and blog about why I’m so adamant about identifying the various different diet behaviors in our culture. “Why can’t we just focus on ourselves?” You might wonder. The reason is because when we aren’t careful, when we don’t pay attention, when we let down our guard, the sneaky lies that initially caused our problem creep back in without us knowing. This is why it’s so important to put a name to bad behaviors, label them appropriately and then protect ourselves against them. Causally cutting back on carbs a little bit? Yup, it’s a diet. Whole 30? Yup, it’s a diet. The whole idea of “lifestyle” is really just a less uncool name for a diet. Paleo, gluten-free, DASH, Mediterranean, low-carb, keto, beach body, BBG, Atkins, dairy-free…all of them are diets. If we aren’t honest with ourselves about this, we’re going to fall prey to the exact situations we were trying to avoid. If we don’t identify and label diets as diets, we are going to run into problems.
My challenge for you this week is to think about which areas of your life you know are hurting you, but you can’t seem to quit. Then, make a plan for improving your life so you can turn away from your harmful habits and cultivate healthy ones instead!