Nutrition habits are, in my opinion, the hardest ones to change. If you meet us now, you might assume that we’ve both always been hyper-athletic. I know that for me, my least favorite origin story is hearing about how someone played a lot of sports in their youth. That’s because it’s so far from my own story that I find it hard to relate to that person. Ditto when I hear, “I just eat food for the nutrition,” or, “I don’t really like junk food.”
I could write a full book about how my habits shifted over the years, but there’s one that’s a particularly illustrative one that still haunts me: My extremely unhealthy former obsession with Mountain Dew.
I’ll pause while you laugh about that.
That’s right, this ultra-running Ironman was a two-liter per day kind of girl growing up, with what could legitimately be described as an addiction. I remember throwing an honest-to-god temper tantrum in my pre-teen years because we were out of it at home. (OK, I still throw temper tantrums when I’m hangry.)
Even when Peter and I started dating, while I had cut WAY back, I still would—don’t judge—sneak out to have a can of soda in my truck reading a book while visiting him when I needed some time to myself. Yep, it was that serious.
So, how did I get over it?
It was a freaking PROCESS.
I started drinking water
Seriously, how is this a thing I wasn’t doing? The fact is, I grew up without really being a water-drinker. Like, ever. Not at home, not in restaurants, not at school. I didn’t really like it. (Likely due to the fact that I drank so much sugary soda.) But in my early 20s, when I got into training, there came a point where it was really the only option. That and, as a broke college kid, there was only so much I could spend on soda. Still, it wasn’t until junior year or so when I was able to cut down to two cans a day. (Holy crap, typing that feels ridiculous.) But drinking water helped with that.
Moral of the habit change story: Add something in before considering taking something out. It’s easier to cut down on chocolate when you’re full from eating an extra serving of (tasty, cooked in a delicious spice/oil pairing) of broccoli.
I didn’t go cold turkey
For some people-and with super unhealthy habits—this might work. For me, I tried a few times and was miserable. So rather than doing that again, in my mid-20s when I decided it was a ludicrous habit for a grown woman to have, I realized I am not good at totally quitting something because then I think about it ALL THE TIME. Cutting back left the door open, so I didn’t think as much about it and gradually, I stopped noticing.
Moral of the habit change story: Figure out what quitting style works for you
I noticed how I felt
Caffeine only perks you up for so long—the sugar crashes and sugar highs calmed down as I started cutting back and it felt so much better to be even-keeled all day. And I admit, I also felt better about actually enjoying other treats, like cookies, without feeling bad about my total sugar/caloric intake being so high.
Moral of the habit change story: The same might apply to you, if you’re trying to cut back on something super sugary. Or you might notice that cutting back on nighttime dessert means sleeping better or waking up and not feeling queasy.
I avoided triggers
Places that have fountain soda are kind of my kryptonite. Strange, but true. And while now I will occasionally indulge (more on that in a sec), when I was first trying to cut down, I tried to avoid going to anywhere that had soda available and easy to order. Road trips were particularly tough, so I would always bring a massive cooler loaded with water bottles and bring a thermos of coffee (or two) to get me through without venturing into a convenience store or fast food place.
Moral of the habit change story: Figure out when you tend to go down whatever unhealthy food habit rabbit hole you have, and avoid that for a while. (Easily done right now if you normally splurge when out to eat!)
I enjoy when I have one
I do still occasionally have a soda: I’ll stand by the fact that there’s nothing like a cold can of Coke after a hard long run. But the funny thing is that since I started cutting back seven years ago, the urge has faded significantly. Right now, for instance, I actually have a can of Mountain Dew in our fridge (my mom got it for me and left it in the van when we got home from Spain as a ‘comfort food’ treat). And for 6 weeks—including two 2.5+ hour runs—it’s sat there. It doesn’t feel like it’s taunting me anymore, it just feels like sometime, I’ll pick it up and enjoy it, and it’s going to be fine.
Moral of the habit change story: You can change your habits, I promise.
OK, so if you want to get started in a really mild way, may I suggest out healthy habit guide? It’s free, simple, and has 7 days of tiny things you can do to make your life a little bit healthier so you can train more effectively.
Why publish this? Because I want to make sure that people realize that change is possible, and that we’re not magically super-healthy humans who’ve never eaten junk food in our lives. I still love eating cookies and chocolate and will occasionally have a soda. I don’t think you have to be a ‘perfect’ eater. But I do think that most of us can get better at fueling our bodies appropriately for the work we’re asking of them.
I hope talking this through makes it easier to think about how you can actually get to a point where you can change your own food habits—if I can do it, trust me, anyone can!Before you go, get subscribed for a twice-monthly set of tips, tricks + outdoor motivation!