Sometimes we get stuck in routines, or how we’ve just always done something and in doing so, we limit our progress, because it’s much easier for our brains to let us do what we’ve always done, than it is to interrupt the pattern and try something new. The problem with this is that it sometimes means we get stuck doing things that actually aren’t helping us move forward. We think they’re working just because they used to in the past or because it’s what we’re comfortable with. We also sometimes get really scared of doing things differently and this rigidity can keep us unwell.
I have an exercise that can help you loosen up the hold some of your habits have on you – especially if they’re not helping you get where you want to be. It’s taking inventory every few months of all the things that I’m doing (and not doing) in regards to food, body/body image and physical activity – and then adjusting when needed.
This has become one of the most important things I’ve done while rehabbing my own relationship with food. I frequently take inventory of what I’m doing in relation to it.
Doing an inventory like this is important for a few reasons:
- It prevents me from doing things that are dangerous or unhealthy (ex. regular bingeing or excessive restriction of calories).
- It limits how long I’ll spend doing something before I change direction due to ineffectiveness (ex. doing the same exercise for years).
- It keeps me honest with myself (lying to ourselves is common with overeaters/undereaters).
- It helps me move forward instead of getting stuck in an unhelpful place.
- It helps me break out of rigidity thinking and absolutes that keep me unwell.
So what do I mean by taking inventory?
Well, I sit down with a pen and notebook and answer a bunch of questions around my eating habits, my body image or composition concerns and my physical activity routines to assess what things are going well and I should keep doing and what things might need to be tossed out. I want to stress that there are no “right” answers to these questions – it’s really personal and totally normal for the answers to change over time. Your honesty and openness is what will make this the most helpful thing.
Here are the questions in my inventory:
- What motivates my decision to eat?
- How am I determining what and how much to eat? And is this working for me?
- Do I feel energized with the quantity and quality of food I’m eating?
- Am I eating foods that are both good sources of nutrition and enjoyable?
- What foods have I been eating too frequently?
- What foods am I not eating enough of?
- What foods am I eating that make my body feel great?
- What foods am I eating that make my body feel not so good?
- What changes with food can I make so that my body feels better and has more energy more often?
- Is the environment I choose to eat my meals in a benefit to my relationship with food? (rushed? relaxed? etc) Is there anything I can do to improve the environment that I eat in?
- How satisfied am I with my physical body (size, shape, composition etc)?
- What am I using to determine this level of satisfaction? (ex. scale, measurements, clothing etc). Does this tool feel like a positive or negative part of my routine?
- How satisfied am I with my body image?
- What actions am I taking that make me feel good about my body or think positive thoughts about it?
- What actions am I taking that make me feel badly about my body or think bad thoughts about it?
- What needs to change in order for me to live more harmoniously with my body?
- What do I love about my body today?
- What parts of my body could use more love and gentleness?
Exercise / Movement
- What is my motivation to exercise?
- What physical activity am I doing?
- What results am I after?
- Am I making progress towards those results?
- Does the movement / exercise I do make me feel powerful and energized? Or drained and exhausted in a bad way?
- Does my body “like” my physical activity of choice?
- Does the amount and type of exercise I’m doing fit in with my life and the type of life I want to have?
- Is my activity interfering with the life I want to have?
Other Questions to Wrap Up
- What tools, materials, thoughts and habits are serving me well at this time?
- What tools, materials, thoughts and habits are not serving me (or possibly harming or hindering my progress)?
- What have I been doing for months or years that will continue to make me feel good and reach my goals?
- What have I been doing for months or years that is not helping and may need to change, be adjusted or dropped completely?
- Are there any habits or actions that I’m doing that I feel like I need to hide from others? If so, does this feel like something that will help me heal my relationship with food or my body? If not, how can I change this action or get support to remove this obstacle?
- What changes do I want to make that feel scary or overwhelming?
- What changes do I want to make that I feel resistance towards making?
- What changes do I want to make that I am actually looking forward to?
- Where do I need support? And who could help provide that support?
- When will I do another inventory? Schedule it in your calendar and re-answer these questions for your current situation.
One final thing I wanted to share about doing this type of inventory is that chronic dieters, emotional eaters etc tend to get themselves stuck in a land of absolutes. You know what I’m talking about (I can’t eat full fat foods. I must exercise 10 hours a week. I must eat less than 1300 calories a day etc) and I want you to use this type of self-questioning to knock that stuff on it’s butt.
What I mean by that . . there are some people who believe people with a disordered eating history should never weigh themselves, or they should never count calories. There are others out there who think you should never eat bread, cake or anything else that we could label as “bad”. There are some who think you can’t desire changing your body and also have a healthy relationship with it. But none of these are always true for everyone who has ever struggled with their eating or body image. There are certainly people who have a rough relationship with food who can use a scale without going into a tailspin. And there are people who can count calories without being too obsessive. The key is knowing who YOU are and what makes you well or unwell and using that to guide you.
I want us to throw all the “shoulds”, absolutes and inflexible ideas out the window. I think that kind of rigidity is part of what keeps us unwell. If we’re so attached to an idea or habit that we are unwilling to let it go even if it’s not working for us, we’re never going to get out of our own way. Answering these questions honestly and giving yourself permission to adjust or change where needed can be incredibly freeing.
I once thought that I had to count calories in order to lose weight. Then when I realized doing that never taught me to eat properly and I decided that not counting calories was the way to go. And that was working for awhile too. I went through a phase where I had to weigh myself every day, otherwise I would kind of turn a blind eye to how much I was eating and I’d gain and gain. Weighing myself let me adjust my behavior before it go out of control. Then I went through a period when I tucked the scale away and let how my clothes fit be a better indicator. For awhile I was using measurements. These days, my weight or specific size is not something I monitor closely. I’ve come to decide that it’s healthier for me to think less about that stuff and more about how I’m caring for myself, regardless of my body size. As far as fitness goes, for years it was about burning as many calories as I could, then it was being as consistent as I could be, right now it’s about getting and feeling as strong as I can be.
What feels good? What doesn’t make me feel obsessive? These things change over time.
I am always evolving and I am not afraid of changing. I’m trying to not be so dogmatic about this journey. It can be challenging, for sure! Sometimes I feel like something is the total truth, the bible, and I want to share – “I have the answer folks!!!” But really, that answer is usually only the right answer for right then – for that period of my life. I try to remind my clients that same thing, that it’s ok to change it up. If you’ve been eating oatmeal every morning for 5 years and find yourself wanting to binge at the end of the day, maybe the oatmeal gets to take a vacation.
We are ever-changing, growing and evolving beings. And it’s important to honor that in our daily choices as we work our way to healthier and happier bodies, minds and souls.
Please don’t be too rigid about what’s working for you or “what you’ve always done”.
It’s ok to change it. In fact, it may be revolutionary for your body to change it!
It’s ok to let it go.
It’s ok to try something you previously thought was silly or too hard or wrong.
It’s ok to change your mind.
It’s ok to readjust.
Lastly, in case it’s helpful, I want to share a couple of examples of my most recent inventory changes. I am always trying to break my own rigidity and habits and staying open to changing to what works for right now.
Example 1. For years I drank black coffee during the week and had cream & sugar on the weekends as a treat. Well somewhere along the last year or so of working from home, I had started to do cream and sugar all week long in my coffee. I noticed my allergies were creeping up on me and the daily dairy was probably the culprit (it kills my asthma!). I went back to drinking black during the week just last week and my lungs already feel better. I adjusted even though cream and sugar sure tastes good – it wasn’t giving me the results I’m after!
Example 2. For the last 4 months I’ve been getting plenty of exercise each week – probably 6 days a week of barre, weight lifting, walking, HIIT, biking etc. I’m getting plenty of heart pumping exercise and feeling great! But what I realized during my last inventory was that by working from home, I’m way way more sedentary that I want to be. I don’t have a huge building to walk through like I used to when I worked for another company. Other than trips to the bathroom or kitchen, I’m sitting on my bum in my office most of the day. In some ways, it makes me more tired! Because of that, I’ve been adding just 20-30 minutes of a casual walk outside a few days a week and it’s really helping my energy throughout the day. Plus it’s great to get a little sunlight and get off the computer. Yes I’m getting plenty of conditioning exercise but my daily movement was limited otherwise and it’s important to change that. Human bodies were made to move!
Example 3. I usually don’t eat wheat which works for me most of the time . . . but Sunday I had brunch with family and some old family friends and John ordered a donut with a caramel bourbon sauce. It smelled amazing and caramel is one of my favorite things. I ate some of that donut. And it was delicious. And it’s ok.
I’m not a bad person for eating something I normally don’t eat and my world isn’t going to explode for having it. There’s no morality in food.
I am fluid. I am malleable. I am pliant. I shift. I fluctuate. And you can too.
One of the largest benefits I see to taking regular inventory of your habits around food and body stuff is that it becomes much easier to let go of the rigid thinking that keeps us trapped in unhealthy habits. It forces us to question why we’re doing that stuff in the first place and when you see it on paper, it’s a lot harder to ignore. When we can’t bear to let go of a habit, when doing something differently brings up a lot of resistance or stress, it’s sometimes a sign that it’s no longer a healthy thing for us to do. Only you can really determine what is right for you! Try this exercise and let me know if you find it helpful!