This blog isn’t going to be what you think. I’m not going to tell you about the antioxidant benefits of raw cacao or how you can connect with the divine from the stimulating effects of the oh so awe-some South American plant.
No. I could have replaced the word chocolate with wine or cheese or ice-cream or any of our favourite foods that we know too much of actually makes our body unhappy, yet we really enjoy eating them anyway.
Ok, so what’s the give? And how in the world can this be part of a “health” regime?
Learning then Doing
Over the past year I’ve been working with a lot of people to develop healthy yogi lifestyle habits. This is really a two part process — education and then implementation.
The first step towards health is simply to learn about these healthy lifestyle habits like eating a plant based diet, getting good sleep, meditating, breathing better, moving our bodies and learning how to stay pure in our thoughts and actions.
The second step (or many steps really), is figuring out how to actually make this knowledge a consistent part of our life. In other words, how do we actually stick to all of these wonderful practices that keep us healthy and happy and vibrant?
The Guilt of Imperfection Stops Us
One thing I see over and over again is such an enthusiasm from students to change habits and a deep desire for better health that it leads many of them to strict obsession with every little thing they do, and then often when they don’t follow the “health rules” perfectly they beat themselves up and feel guilty. Sound familiar? I know I’ve done this many a time!
Not only is this guilt actually detrimental to our health, but habit science research shows that a majority of the time it causes people to give up on their attempts to improve and change their habits.
On the other hand, the research shows that people who make slow, gradual changes with some room for leeway actually stick to their health regimes. In the end, even if they didn’t go hard core from the start, these people get healthier and happier and actually stay that way because the guilt of not being perfect doesn’t crush their motivation (or depress them).
The 80/20 rule
On our Bali yoga detox retreats and in the yoga lifestyle programs that I teach, I simply encourage everyone to commit to making what ever change they’re focusing on 5 out of 7 days of week. And that has a massive impact on our lives!
What I want to point out is that the other two days of the week — when we eat chocolate or drink a glass of wine or stay up late — aren’t a mistake to feel guilty about. Rather, they are a conscious decisions that are part of creating a SUSTAINABLE health regime.
Knowing that we’re likely to give up completely if we don’t allow for this kind of leeway, means consciously allowing for those two days but committing to the others, is a REAL commitment to a healthy lifestyle — not just a fad diet or detox. And when we make lifestyle change things start to get really good in our body, mind and life.
So, I enjoy my chocolate 2 out of 7 days, in other words on occasion. Even on the retreats we live by this rule, providing the special occasion raw desert on the last night. And we really enjoy it! We savour it and experience it and in that way it also become so so much better than if we eat it every day.
The key is remaining conscious about our actions. When I catch myself feeling like I need chocolate every day, or smashing a bar of chocolate without even really tasting it — that’s when I know there’s a problem that I need to work with.
We’re not using this as an excuse. We’re committing to our 5 out of 7 days, and being conscious about the other two. When those two days start too become 3 or 4 we need to reassess in totally honesty with ourselves.
One other thing I’ve noticed, and many people have also shared with me, is that when I’m completely restricting myself (i.e. I can never have chocolate or sugar ever again), and when I do finally crack and go for some (which is pretty much inevitable) then I don’t eat it consciously with deep appreciation. The restrictive mentality actually triggers my unhealthy eating habits.
This was a huge insight for me. One big thing we work with in my programs are our triggers. When I realised that hard core restriction actually trigger my bad habits, I started taking the 80/20 rules or 5 out of 7 nights idea very seriously.
Take time right now to think about how you need to make leeway in your life so that your intentions for health and growth — whether about food, meditation, exercise or self care — are truly sustainable. Do you really want that health? And if so, you have to commit to sustainability, and let go of quick fix, extreme fads.
Share with the community some of your ideas about how to make a health regime sustainable.