Drowning in Rules

The Dark Side of Experimenting For Your Health

Okay, for those of you out there like me, you may have learned a lot about the power of personal choices on your health. You might enjoy testing them out and playing with them in your life (intermittent fasting, eating more vegetables, getting more insoluble fiber, using probiotics, using prebiotics, reducing alcohol, reducing sugar, …) and you can feel the benefit those choices make. Overtime, you naturally adapted the majority of these into your life.  The way you eat is radically different than it was 10 years ago. Yet, it’s filled with anxiety. You have so many RULES about what to eat and not eat, drink and not drink, and when.  Lifestyle choices have amazing power and impact into our vitality and well-being, but they can also have a dark side.  The dark side of feeling burdened by all the rules, and feeling like you are never doing ‘good enough’.  “If you tried harder, you’d feel even better!”  The perfectionist in me feels like I should always be doing more.

Let’s face it, there is SO much health advice out there. Much of it conflicting. We are all trying – but I’m tired!

The problem (and reward) with running a self-health experiment is that you learn something.  We removed something from our diet and discovered we felt better.  We added something new into the mix and found we had more vitality.  However, once we learn something, we humans like to create “rules”.  Rules that shalt not ever be broken.  Else, we feel guilt.  We *make* ourselves feel guilt as a punishment, because we think that will make our resolve stronger next time.  And, it does. When we know we will feel mentally anguished afterward, then we want to save ourselves that suffering later.  We enforce the behavior of feeling guilty because it DOES have a temporary effect on us being stronger to not indulge in that thing that we’ve sworn not to.

But, this only lasts for so long.  Eventually, we cave. Eventually, we resist and resent all the rules. Then we feel inadequate and weak.

The problem is not that we caved.  Life is not supposed to be all perfect.  The problem is the rules to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong – rules help when you are actively working to break a pattern.  Patterns (our behaviors and choices) are auto-tape-recorded by our subconscious.  To break these worn recordings, we need to consciously focus on new patterns until they don’t feel so unfamiliar.  But, once we GET to that point – it is time to remove the “rule”.

“…the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.”

Captain Barbossa, https://youtu.be/k9ojK9Q_ARE?t=30

We scientists like to follow rules forever if something has been proven as ‘better’.

Take fasting.  If I have experimented with intermittent fasting, I have learned that it is good for my body. I’ve learned it helps me lose weight, and more importantly, I have learned that I actually feel better when I do it.  However, then I have a Rule that I can’t eat till 10:00 a.m.   Just because this may be generally beneficial, that doesn’t mean it is more beneficial when applied 100%.  Where does ‘listening to your body’ come in?  I feel guilty if I eat before 10:00.  Mind you, the Rule helped while I was testing it out.  I had strongly enforced patterns that told me to be hungry earlier than that – and breaking those was not going to feel normal or natural at first.  I *needed* the Rule to get past the resistance we experience in response to trying something “different”.   However, you can kind of tell when something is feeling more normal – when that fear and anxiety subsides.

Then, it is time to remove the Rule and start listening to your body based on that new information.  Okay, I learned that sometimes it feels BETTER to go longer without eating.  I’ll pay attention to more queues to question if I’m really hungry or not, if my body really wants fuel or not.  I’ll drink two glasses of water first.  Then, if it goes away, I will have forgotten the urge and moved on with my day.  If the urge to eat comes back after that, then I’ll go ahead and eat something, regardless of the hour.

Sometimes, I’ll want to eat at 8:30 or 9.  I’ll drink a hot lemon tea, and then a glass of water (as I’m thirsty, I mean – I don’t mean pound them).  Just that I aim to drink those FIRST, then I’m completely “free” to eat or not eat.  Sometimes I eat. Other times I forget again until 11:00 am.

The point is that this is true for most of our health “Rules”.  Whether it is moving towards drinking less alcohol, or eating less sugar, or eating whole foods.  We have an amazing power to find out what choices are best for us to thrive – and then to make those choices on regular basis.  Making Rules helps us try out new patterns and sustain them long enough to allow our natural resistance to the scary unknown to subside …

But the dark side is that after that we end up drowning in Rules. I know I was drowning.  I had nothing but Rules – and you know how draining rules can be. Rules stress you out because you feel looming failure.  And what do you want to do when you feel stressed out? uh, drink wine and eat chocolate!  Dropping Rules isn’t quitting, and it is certainly not failure.  It’s time to start using all I’ve learned about positive lifestyle choices in conjunction with listening to my authentic body and human experience.

Some Rules are important to keep as rules. For me, allergens are on that list. I don’t mess with gluten and dairy, ever. Because I know what is at stake and the long-term histamine battle that would result and I don’t want to do that to my body. But when it comes to fasting, or taking my vitamins, or eating primarily vegetables, or avoiding carbs, or whatever … all these things are more like “guidelines” – the end of my world will not come if I take a break, and it is time to drop that rigidity because holding beliefs as absolutes that don’t need to be absolutes is exhausting.

What about you?  Do you have a Rule that you hold too rigidly for the consequences?  It probably is something you know is good for you, but do you have to beat yourself up and ridicule yourself if you occasionally choose differently?  Can you perhaps allow yourself a little gray area, and treat it more as a guideline than a Rule?  Remember, stress and worry can be bad for our health too, so when we worry too much about being healthy, it can be counterproductive. 😊

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