This was the first year that I committed to giving something up for Lent. Once the 40 days were over I began thinking about how I could continue to use 40 day fasts to improve different areas of my life.
Now if you’ve read my past blogs you know that I am not a fan of adopting diet plans that involve complete deprivation. While totally eliminating certain foods can be a contributing factor in achieving positive results, I find more often than not when faced with total deprivation it becomes more of a test of your willpower than learning appropriate portions. That said, a controlled fast may offer you a great opportunity to learn more about your controlling your cravings or managing your time.
Let me share with you my 3 (or 4) step plan for controlled fasts…
Please note that the information included in this blog entry is specifically targeted at modifying a single behavior. If you are interested in doing a complete fast that involves removing entire food groups or food all together there are a number of serious considerations and you should consult with your doctor prior to beginning a fast.
The first step is taking some time to acknowledge unhealthy habits. I encourage you to think of this from both angles because modifying behavior isn’t always about removing something.
Make a list of those things you do too frequently and those that you don’t do frequently enough. Here’s two sample lists to give you an idea…
- Eating candy
- Drinking soda
- Going to bed too late
- Drinking water
I discovered that I was developing an unhealthy craving for candy. During the Lenten season jelly beans were abound and what started as 1 or 2 was turning into handfuls at a time. Not good. So the day after Easter began my ‘candy fast.’
The next step is to remove the temptation. It sounds easy enough but in reality this can be difficult. For me, I have 3 children who had just received Easter baskets filled with candy so locking the house down from candy wasn’t an option.
Since I couldn’t physically remove the temptation I moved the candy dish. I cleaned out a junk drawer in our kitchen and moved all of the candy from its previous home on the counter into that drawer. Did I know it was there? Of course. But without the candy sitting on the counter it was no longer a consistent temptation every time I was in the kitchen.
So find a way to release yourself from the temptation. If you are trying to refrain from Starbucks maybe you will have to adjust your route a little so you aren’t tempted each time you drive by, or maybe you are trying to refrain from watching too much television so put the remote up and away so it’s not as easy to turn it on and surf the channels. There are plenty of ways you can ‘remove’ the temptation so be creative.
Now if it’s a behavior that you don’t do frequently enough find ways to make it part of your daily schedule. Let’s say you want to spend more time reading. Instead of waiting until right before bedtime when you are already exhausted, select a time during the day to sit and read. You may want to only start with a 10-minute commitment and then build on it each week. Or if you find that nighttime is the best for reading make sure you head to bed earlier. This will help you to get in your reading time before your lids get heavy and you have to read the same sentence over and over again.
Step three is where willpower comes into play and I’ll be honest with you willpower sometimes just isn’t enough so you need to find a replacement for the behavior you are trying to avoid.
My cravings weren’t necessarily rooted in desire for ‘candy,’ but more that I wanted something sweet. For me that’s fixed easy enough with a piece of fruit. But what if you are trying to give up drinking soda and you rely on that caffeine? Try unsweetened tea instead and add only enough sweetener to make it palatable to you.
This approach is also effective when trying to increase the frequency of a behavior. For instance, let’s say you don’t drink enough water. So grab yourself a cool refillable BPA-free water bottle and set it on your desk. Instead of heading to the coffee pot to refill your mug throughout the day drink your water. Or if you are trying to eat more vegetables eat them first off of your plate rather than leaving them for last when you have already filled up on your protein.
Whatever the behavior is you can find a healthy substitute that allows you to either replace the behavior or increase the frequency. After the fast you may actually find you like the substitute better.
Replacement is slightly different when you think about behaviors that require time. Any modification that requires an adjustment in the use of your time will also require you to identify ‘wasted’ pockets of time during your day that can be better used to accomplish the tasks. Just as with the removal of the behavior, scheduling and planning is integral in your ability to replace wasted time with productive habits.
Reintroduction (if appropriate)
Not everything should be reintroduced back into your life. If it is a habit that is harmful to your health like smoking or staying up too late or driving too fast the controlled fasting period should be seen as the first phase of eliminating the behavior all together. You may need to continue to work through the removal and replacement phases for years in order to gain control over the behavior.
But if you have elected to fast from something like candy it may not be necessary for you to give it up for the rest of your life. Believe me, I’m not willing to go my remaining years and never have another jelly bean. However, when I do reintroduce them back into my diet I will need to consider portions as well as my other options.
When you reintroduce something I would suggest you ask yourself the following questions:
- How bad do I really want it? (scale of 1 to 10)
- Knowing all of the options I have to choose from do I still need it or can I be satisfied with a better option?
- Is it really worth it? What is it going to take for me to ‘work it off’?
- Do I have control over my desire for the item? Will having a little only make me want more?
Certainly there are a number of other questions that you can and should ask yourself. The key is to introduce the item slowly and to truly think about your desire for the item, your ability to control the craving and your continued will to keep your desires in check.
So what’s on your list?