I have to tell you that there’s really nothing more powerful in my life right now than the habit of creating habits. Whether those habits create a new pattern or break down an old one, it’s become something I put quite a bit of thought into and that I practice every day.
But before I knew how to put intention behind creating habits, I spent a lifetime building up habits unintentionally: habits of communication, food, sex, and more. Some of these habits have served me well but most of them have got to go.
On today’s hit list? Food.
I grew up eating as much as possible and not stopping until I felt full. I would usually end up overeating and that slowly became the only way that I would feel satisfied from a meal. It wasn’t uncommon to hear me referred to as a “bottomless pit” or a “garbage disposal” and I would be lying if I said there wasn’t some sense of self-satisfaction at being recognized for something – even if it was overeating.
But let’s take a step back and talk about eating – what’s it all about anyways? Well this is how our stomach and brain work: when you blood sugar starts getting low and your stomach is empty you start feeling hungry. The tumbly starts to rumbly and the only thing that will fix that is either A) putting something in your stomach or B) raising your blood sugar level.
I separate these two out because I think it’s important to note that you can trick your hunger into going away by drinking water so that your stomach fills. It’s only once that water is processed and your blood sugar is still below a certain threshold that you’ll start feeling hungry again. (That tip works a treat for when you’re fasting.)
When you actually put food in your stomach and it gets digested your blood sugar starts going up and you won’t feel hungry until it goes below the “I’m hungry” threshold again.
But here’s the thing: there’s a pretty wide gap between when you’re not hungry and when you’re full.
Did you know that airlines won’t actually fill an airplane’s fuel tank to full every single time? Rather they put enough fuel to get to the destination plus some for safety. The reason is that they don’t want to add the weight of the fuel they don’t need because that will cause the plane to be heavier and therefore to use more fuel.
The same thing happens to me when i eat past when I’m not hungry and all the way until I feel full. I start feeling heavier – like i have more to carry around. Rather than eating enough to get to my destination I’ve eaten so much that the fuel itself is costing me in efficiency and happiness and more.
Fuel is all that food really is. Imagine there’s a fire in your body that’s keeping you going and making everything work. That fire starts to die down so you add fuel in the form of logs and kindling.
But what if you loaded down that campfire with every singe thing you could find? You wouldn’t necessarily create a bigger fire – there’s a ratio beyond which you end up smothering the flame instead. If you’re just starting a fire you don’t add a whole tree to it after you get a few sparks because the fire needs oxygen to start.
The same thing goes if your fire is established but is getting low. You can accidentally put out a fire by adding too much fuel or adding it incorrectly.
By the way, the quality of fuel is an easy analogy here. Have you ever loaded a bunch of crap into a fire? Wrappers, styrofoam, plastic … anything like that? Well if you have you know what I know – it just makes a bunch of toxic smoke and noxious fumes. If your food is low quality you’re doing the same to the fire in your body and getting the same results.
Right now I feel like I eat too much for what i need. I’m gassing up my tank for a flight from New York to Hong Kong when I’m only going to Westchester. That changes starting today.
This is my goal: I will find a balance in feeding my body that feels good for it. I will find the point where I’m giving myself nourishment with the right kind (and quality) of fuel and only giving myself enough for it to be used up before my next meal. I will run lean and build a sustainable and healthy fire in my body.
Here’s how I’m going to build this habit. I’m going to start by putting a hard cap on how much I eat at any given time. I will observe how long that food lasts me and then gradually increase the amount of food until it consistently gets me to just before my next meal.
I will be very mindful about what I’m eating and journal the type of food and the amount. I will not be super specific – I know there are tools for that and I’m not interested. Rather I want to have a rough idea so that I’m paying attention to what I eat and I’m able to determine the types of foods that hold me over and feel the best.
Every time I finish a meal I’m going to check in with my body on how it’s feeling and try to really remember that feeling. That way when I get to the point where I feel like I’ve pretty much figured out the right amount of food I can memorize that feeling and always be looking for it when I’m eating.
Over the last few months I’ve gotten really good at building up habits and I know I can build this one up as well.
I know that I can retrain my body and brain to know what “full” feels like and that is what I will do over the next 110 days. I will re-learn how to eat. I will give my body what it wants and needs instead of smothering my fire with a forest of fuel. Less ash and smoke, more trees for rope swings. Everybody wins.