I wanted to talk a bit about patterns this week. Patterns of behavior are usually learned, not innate, and can take a while to take hold.
As a baby, you learned patterns of language by mimicking and copying until eventually you made your own words and phrases. As a kid, you learn how to act and behave through trial and error: in school, at home, with your friends. You don’t grow up automatically understanding that you must say “please” and “thank you” or where to put your homework when you unpack your backpack in the classroom.
We learn social patterns, how to drive a car, how to study for a midterm, how to give and receive gifts. We are taught how to cook by watching and then helping our parents until the patterns become ingrained.
Patterns become a part of the tapestry of our days so much that we forget the work involved in the process.
I am currently teaching my kids a pattern on how to snack after school. How to eat the rainbow on their plates, to include a protein, a healthy fat, a carb and a fruit or veggie. I show them how to read labels to look for sugar grams, make a list for a recipe, shop for the ingredients, and put everything away when they get home.
Patterns become a part of the tapestry of our days so much that we forget the work involved in the process. When we learn patterns, our frontal cortexes are engaged: our powers of concentration, forming new neural pathways, and repetition fire up until we “get it.” Once this happens, we can’t imagine not knowing.
Unlearning patterns of eating is a tricky process. It can be discouraging, starting to understand that how you ate at 20, 30, 40 does not work for your metabolism right now. For those of us who were children/teenagers in the 80s, learning that eating “fat free” didn’t deliver on the promise of “thin” can be disheartening. We were programmed to believe something so deeply that it can be daunting to unlearn it.
Daunting, yet incredibly empowering.
Once you start to understand macronutrients and eating for your particular biochemistry, the hard work begins. We begin to deprogram our brains with knowledge that makes sense to how our bodies feel now – not at the moment years before when the first patterns formed. At the same time we deprogram, we learn new ways of thinking about food and our bodies.
Our brains love to hold onto established patterns and resist the shift we towards eating a new way. We feel better, and get excited by less inflammation and bloating or brain fog. But our brain patterns and memories can sabotage our newfound knowledge, because food is so much more than just nutrition.
Don’t forget the hard work you are doing in deprogramming a set of patterns and learning new ones. Take heart knowing that when you “mess up” on a diet, you are still doing great work. Creating a new nutrition plan deserves success and celebration as much as it does discipline and dedication.
If you have a craving, know that your body is sending you a signal. If you indulge the craving, do it mindfully and then notice how you feel afterwards. Be easy on yourself. If you choose to replace the craving with something that aligns with your new eating pattern, celebrate the win.
We encourage eating for life rather than “dieting” at Protea. Understanding the process in creating a new pattern not only keeps you from going crazy with “fails,” but also helps you stay the course.
It can be a delicate balance, but an encouraging one, as you eat for your body now rather than who you were before, or based on what popular culture tells you. Diet books are tools, but only one part of the pattern you make for yourself.
We believe in the body’s wisdom and the power of your brain to create a successful nutrition pattern that allows you to thrive. One step, one meal, one day at a time.