BRING IT TO BARB Answering your questions on mental health, relationships and life issues

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Dear Barb,
So, the old saying you are what you eat is probably very true. I see that you write a lot of articles about diet and eating healthy. I recently transitioned to what I’m hoping will become a very healthy diet and my question is this. If you are what you eat how long does it take your body to make the transformation from a poor diet to a good diet, from a high sugar diet to a low sugar diet.
I love your articles and I hope I get one of your free books.

Signed:
A big transitioning fan

Dear Transitioning fan,
I am delighted that you read my column and you’ve probably noticed that many questions are about diet and health. It is a big concern for most people, and it should be.
Bad diet and eating habits only last for short term but unfortunately catch up with us as we age and our metabolism slows down, even for the most active or high energy athlete.
Simply lacking Vitamin B12 will cause symptoms such as depression and extreme fatigue. I would suggest you make an effort to include a multiple vitamin as a backup to add to any plan to insure you’re getting good nutrients and micronutrients every day.
Vitamin B-12 and all the B vitamins play an important role in digestion. Without B vitamins you can’t convert carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes, rice) to sugar so your body is able to use them for energy. It also helps metabolize proteins and fats. This doesn’t mean you should take large doses of vitamin B-12 in hopes of boosting your metabolism. But you can see how just one component missing can affect everything else in your body. A few foods packed with Vitamin B-12 are eggs, chicken, salmon, swiss cheese, beef liver, turkey, lamb, beans and most leafy green vegetables.
How long does it take to switch from eating badly to eating healthy? It will take as long as you are willing to practice it until it becomes normal and without any conscious thought.
A typical example of that would be if you were talking on the phone when you suddenly realized you were really hungry at home and began slicing an apple to snack on without any conscious thought. Compare that with reaching for a bag of potato chips or worse without any thought. To make a transition to eating differently and removing sugar from your life you must:
1. Want different
2. Choose different
3. Do different.
It really boils down to one big factor- delayed gratification. It’s shifting away from what feels normal or comfortable or tasty to you. It now requires expanding your food options and choices that have never been explored before.
The slower and more aware you are of every aspect of this change in your new eating habits, the more successful you will be in becoming the new you!
The Marshmallow Test is a perfect example of your endeavor. The world’s leading expert on self-control, Walter Mischel did this well-known test. A child is presented with a marshmallow and given a choice: Eat this one marshmallow now or wait and enjoy two later. What will she do? And what are the implications for her behavior later in life?
Walter Mischel discovered when he revisited his marshmallow-test subjects as adolescents, that teenagers who had waited longer for the marshmallows as preschoolers were more likely to score higher on the SAT, and their parents were more likely to rate them as having a greater ability to plan, handle stress, respond to reason, exhibit self-control in frustrating situations and concentrate without becoming distracted.
They later tracked down 59 subjects, now in their 40s, who had participated in the marshmallow experiments as children. The researchers tested those subjects’ willpower strength with a laboratory task known to demonstrate self-control in adults. Amazingly, the subjects’ willpower differences had largely held up over four decades. In general, children who were not successful at resisting the marshmallow all those years ago performed poorly on the self-control task as adults.
Delaying gratification is critical for a successful life and a healthier lifestyle and a greater sense of self-worth. It’s just a mind thing and it takes practice.
Willpower is something called a “hot-and-cool” system. The cool system is cognitive in nature. It’s essentially a thinking system, providing rational about sensations, feelings, actions and goals — reminding yourself, for instance, why you shouldn’t eat the marshmallow. While the cool system is reflective, the hot system is impulsive and emotional. The hot system is responsible for quick, kneejerk responses to certain triggers — such as popping the marshmallow into your mouth without considering the long-term implications. If this framework were a cartoon, the cool system would be the angel on your shoulder and the hot system, the devil.
Expect to fail, but don’t set yourself up for failure. If you are purchasing sweets without thinking at an event you’re attending or ordering at a restaurant, out of habit for what you want to eat instead of what you need to eat; this only shifts the blame right back on you. It’s not your birthday every day so stop living your life and eating like it is! It’s not a celebration if it happens every day either! One salad yesterday doesn’t give you permission to order a hot fudge sundae because it’s (fill in the excuse) day!
Change your thinking and your actions will follow. Slow results or quick it’s entirely up to you. Remember, you move in the direction of your most dominant thought. What you focus on eating is what you’ll eat. Your body will follow your brain and what you tell it. For example: One cookie in the morning means no more cookies the rest of the day. Set boundaries and stick to them.
The push and pull of temptation is real. The payoff or reward must be worth it. Remind yourself often why you are resisting and begin charting in a journal everything you eat every day. This helps identify your triggers. You can’t change a problem if you don’t identify a problem.
You can see how critical it is to teach self-discipline and self-control in our eating at a very young age. You can also see how easy it is to fall away as adults due to all the temptations available to enjoy and the lack of practiced willpower. You can do this transition fan!

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at BarbRockrocks@yahoo.com.

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