So: you're trying intermittent fasting. Maybe you are a new intermittent faster, or maybe you've been doing it for awhile. Every day you manage to white-knuckle it to your eating window, but you wistfully look at people eating around you ALL. DAY. LONG. You smell their delicious lunches. (Funny how a Lean Cuisine can suddenly look appealing...) You see them drinking a coffee with fancy flavored creamer or even enjoying a frappi-diabetes-uccino, and you resent that THEY "get to" eat, drink, and be merry, while you are sitting there drinking your black coffee-bean water and counting the hours until you can break your fast. Sound familiar? I've been there, too. Fortunately, I no longer feel that way, and it is because I have completely changed my mindset.
You may or may not know that I am an elementary teacher, and this has been my profession for the past 27 years. As a teacher, one of the most important books that I ever read was a book called Mindset, written by Dr. Carol Dweck. The book is based on Dr. Dweck's research into the importance of a person's mindset. As an example, she found that when children feel like their success is related to hard work and perseverance, which she calls a "growth mindset," they are willing to take on challenges and persevere through difficulties. If, however, they are trapped in a "fixed mindset," they feel like their abilities are "fixed," and therefore they are unwilling to take risks or push through certain challenges. Based on her research, I completely changed the way I speak to children, and I have found that it has made a tremendous difference in my classroom. I no longer tell them they are "smart" or that they are "good" at something. Instead, I mention how hard they have worked to master a skill, or ask them to explain how they figured something out. When they are having trouble with something, I ask them to try and figure out why they are having that particular issue and then encourage them to make a plan to overcome the challenge. Because of this change, I have found that my students are more willing to take risks and they are also willing to fail. They understand that it takes hard work to do anything worthwhile, and while everyone has certain strengths and weaknesses, we are not stuck with our current abilities. Anything worth doing takes work, and we are all capable of growth. If you are interested in learning more about the research related to mindset, click here.
I have applied this research on the importance of mindset into my personal life, as well. We can get stuck in certain types of thinking that affect our lives in many ways. For example, I used to be trapped in a "diet" mindset. I felt like I was either "on" a diet, or I was "off" of it. I was either being "good" on my diet, or I was "cheating." And so I was always either losing weight, or I was gaining weight, depending on whether I was "on" or "off"; "good" or "bad." Can you relate to that? If you have as much dieting history as I do, I am sure you can.
When I first discovered intermittent fasting, I approached it with my typical diet mindset. I thought I would follow it until I got to my goal, and then I would figure out how to maintain my loss in a way that allowed me to "eat like a normal person" as much as possible. I viewed intermittent fasting as a temporary fix to a temporary problem. What I didn't realize is that the diet mindset was actually my PERMANENT problem, and that is the thing I needed to fix. And I needed to fix it PERMANENTLY. Only by losing the diet mindset could I finally lose the weight I also needed to lose. When I realized that intermittent fasting needed to be my lifestyle in order to maintain the 80+ pound loss, it made a tremendous difference. I wasn't going to stop intermittent fasting, and there was no end point at which time I could declare I was done. I had officially conquered the diet mindset, and it felt great. I will NEVER "diet" again!
I hope you have stuck with me, because this next section describes the most important mental shift of all. For a long part of the process, I was also stuck in the "can't" mindset. I "can't" eat until 5. I "can't" eat when everyone else is eating. I "can't" put stevia in my coffee. I was focused on deprivation, which is a carryover of my old diet mindset. Instead of enjoying the fasting time, I put my attention onto what I couldn't do. I have to admit: sometimes fasting during the day felt like torture that I had to tolerate until it was time to eat. I saw coworkers, friends, or family members eating breakfast and lunch and I felt disgruntled. Why couldn't I eat like everyone else? I deserved it!
If you're still stuck in the "can't" mindset, it's time to change that. You will NEVER enjoy the intermittent fasting lifestyle until you get rid of the "can't" mentality.
Here is one example of how I have changed my self-talk. I no longer tell myself that I deserve to eat just because everyone else is eating. No, I tell myself that I deserve to be slim and healthy! Once I made that particular mind-shift, I was able to watch others eat without feeling the least bit disgruntled. I am able to cook breakfast for my family and not even have one moment where I feel like I should be eating along with them. Whenever you start to feel like you deserve to eat something, remember that what you really deserve is to be slim and healthy.
What about the "can't" mindset? How do you conquer that particular feeling? Try reading or re-reading the benefits of intermittent fasting. Remember: it's not all about weight loss (though we aren't mad about that particular benefit, are we?) No, it's about having vibrant health! You have discovered the fountain of youth! To remind yourself of some of these amazing health benefits, re-read my blog post called "2017: The Year of Intermittent Fasting", and pay close attention to the section on autophagy.
It's not that you "can't" eat frequently; it's that you CHOOSE NOT TO! You now know it's better for your body to not be in a fed state constantly. You are CHOOSING to give your body a long period each day to take care of cellular housekeeping; one side effect happens to be that you will eventually lose your excess fat and then you'll be at your ideal weight forever. WIN-WIN, PEOPLE! Where's the deprivation there? I certainly didn't feel deprived last month when I bought a pair of size 0 jeans at The Loft (thanks, vanity sizing!) When you view fasting through the lens of health and longevity, you realize that you are only depriving yourself of the diseases related to the over-consumption of food and constant insulin release. I am actually pretty excited to deprive myself of those health problems!
Would you like to know one other way to help lose your "can't" mindset? For me, it's every single time I make a choice to extend my eating window and eat early in the day. I did that very thing on Tuesday of this week. It was a teacher workday, and all teachers know that the most exciting days of the year are the days when we get to LEAVE SCHOOL AND GO TO A RESTAURANT. Like a REAL PERSON. With ADULTS. Teachers of the world know what I mean--there's just something exciting about driving away from that school building in the MIDDLE OF THE DAY with your teacher friends.
So, what's a teacher to do? I decided that since I was sitting there in my smallest jeans, I might as well enjoy a great lunch. After all, this is a lifestyle, not a prison sentence. I can eat lunch if I want to. So I did! Then, after lunch, we had cake at a faculty meeting. Then, I spent the rest of the workday in a funk, feeling like I needed to take a nap. What's fun about that?!?!?!? Nothing at all, in fact. I was grumpy, I was tired, and I also suddenly felt like I wanted to snack for the rest of the day. Apparently this is a lesson that I have to learn over and over again. I have never once been glad that I ate lunch on the teacher workday. I guess I still have some work to do on my "special occasion" mindset. A teacher workday isn't really a special occasion, is it?
The good news is that I remembered this lesson yesterday when my husband wanted to take me out to lunch. Once I had first given him the stank-eye (because, HELLO? When is the last time you saw me eat lunch, and you may remember that I wrote a book about why?!?!?) I was able to convince him to Delay, Don't Deny, and we had a lovely meal...at 3:30 pm. (Turns out we had to go before 4 to get the "lunch special." My sweet husband wanted to save money by eating lunch at the restaurant instead of dinner. Bless.) It was a gorgeous day and we ate outside. I called it "dinner" and it was fantastic.
So, are you ready to change your mindset? Once you make these important mental shifts, you learn to appreciate the fasting time every bit as much as you appreciate the delicious foods that you eat in your eating window.
Oh, and understand that my personal mental shifts didn't happen overnight. Give it time. Most importantly, work on changing your self-talk, so that you can shift your mindset for good. I promise that life is better on the other side!
Gin Stephens lives in Augusta, Georgia, where she has been following an intermittent fasting lifestyle since 2014. In addition to writing the book Delay, Don't Deny, Gin is co-host of The Intermittent Fasting Podcast, along with fellow intermittent faster and author, Melanie Avalon. Check out www.ifpodcast.com or search for The Intermittent Fasting Podcast on iTunes.