Establishing behaviors that last

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March 28, 2012 by marieelia

One of the inspirations for this journal, and one resource that I’ve found to be extremely helpful, is Rita Madden’s podcast “Food, Faith, and Fasting.” She is an Orthodox Christian and a nutritionist, and she believes that one role informs the other. Her primary intended audience is Orthodox Christians, but I think that non-Orthodox and even non-Christians will find her program helpful. I believe that emotional health is an important component to overall health, and I often correspond her Orthodox doctrine to my spiritual beliefs. I also find the stories and teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers to be very relevant to modern life–at least, the kind of life I’d like to live–so I think this program is fantastic.

I am still working my way through all of the podcasts, and recently listened to “Establishing Behaviors That Last” (October 12, 2011). In this session, Rita gives this quote from St. Isaac of Nineveh: “A small but always persistent discipline is a great force, for a soft drop falling persistently hollows out hard rock.” This is the guiding spirit behind the idea of turning challenges into disciplines, breaking down large goals into smaller goals. The idea is that, if your goal is “Get healthy,” you have a destination in mind but no map. You have to figure out what changes in discipline will facilitate that larger goal. If you have problems with digestion, maybe you try an elimination diet to determine what is negatively affecting you so that you can go on to make changes. If unmanaged stress is preventing your body from processing food or resting properly, you need to examine outlets for relieving that stress.

She also gives us another teaching from St.Isaac of Nineveh: “If you compel your body when it is weak to labors that exceed its strength you will instill darkness into your soul.” This, again, speaks directly to realistic goal setting. My partner and I spent a year–a year!–to make changes to our diet and approach to food just to eliminate wheat and gluten. That’s a huge change, and it takes time. Now we are working on other goals (eliminating sugar, cutting down on dairy (Oh, the cheese)). If you task yourself with a huge, tentacled monster of a challenge, you will undoubtedly give up under the pressure. And being healthy should be positive, and fun, and delicious. Eating good food that your body loves should make you feel brighter. If you’re bitter about “giving up” foods, then maybe take a different or slower approach. (I know that my own struggle with caffeine is a long, long road, and I’ve only been dallying around the entrance to that road, deciding when to start.)

So I think it’s important to really think hard about which disciplines to undertake, and when. I’m looking forward to listening to the next session, “Handling Relapse,” because it’s also important to see behavior change as a process, not an on-off switch. The more realistic the goal, the likelier you are to reach it. So why not set yourself up to do well?

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