Knowledge And Behavior Are Two Different Things

Let me share with you this insightful conversation I once had with a stranger. We were both at an airport, having some time on our hands before we could board our airplanes. She goes, ‘we all know we shouldn’t be hogging on potato chips. But I do! As a dietitian, do you also feel like it sometimes, and more importantly, how do you deal with it?’

Here’s my confession: I love deep-fried food, I always have. Chips, banana fritters made the Indian way, Onion and Cashew Pakodas (haven’t heard ..? go look up!) don’t even get me started. I can hog on these any time of the day or night, but I don’t.

Until my mid-twenties, I just ate whatever my heart yearned for, so long as it was vegetarian. Around this point, I took a course to learn what it meant to be a counselor. And my mentor said two things – first, to be helpful to others and understand them, one needs to understand oneself. The second one was, writing is a handy tool to look inwards.

So, I got into the habit of keeping a journal. It was a no holds barred kind of writing. It would have all areas of my life running into each other in a way it made sense ONLY to me! From this, I’ve dug out four findings of myself over the years, that helps to this day, in managing my ways with many things, definitely around food.

  1. Am somewhat lazy
  2. Love simplicity
  3. Need routines
  4. Am highly motivated to do the right thing

Laziness is an admirable trait to have if you want to eat healthily. It is laziness that drives me to cook a one-pot meal in a pressure cooker versus deep frying fritters, standing the entire time in front of a hot stove, making it. Rather than fight laziness, I’ve found ways to use it to my advantage creatively. For instance, we keep cookies or other treats in the top cupboard, above the refrigerator, in our house. And for extra discouragement, I’ve put our water filter over the step-stool! It takes me a good fifteen minutes PLUS back-breaking hard work to get to that damn thing that I rarely ever eat what’s up there!! Storing it out of reach is such a foolproof method for me, you have to try to see what I mean.

And if you combined this love for simplicity with laziness, you can get more uses out of the combo. Like, eating salad becomes a breeze. Especially if you’re the kind who has trouble getting started with a veggie dish but eventually love that you decided upon it. Or you may come up with new ways of substituting elaborate meals that take only a fraction of the time. 

For example, Medjool date stuffed with nuts makes for a very satisfying dessert. We were served this at a party recently, and it vanished off the plate in just minutes. Nobody thought it was stupid or blah! The hostess here definitely came across as someone who embraces her simplicity. We have another couple in our friend circle. And in their house, breakfast for the warmer half of the year is always fruit. Just plain fruit – a bowl of berries or sliced melons or a banana or some fruit.

How rattling it is if I have to figure out a schedule for the basic stuff daily—not happening! Mondays and Thursdays, I walk with friends – it is all fixed – time, duration, where we meet, everything. Three days a week, we eat some dishes made of greens. Then, our Indian ritual of skipping the elaborate cooked meal on the Ekadashi. Many of us have and like our routines, but it is vital to understand that they are not set in stone. If there are some habits you had as part of your routine that isn’t serving you well, they can be changed. Practices do fall off with me too, and I put them back from time to time. Recently I’ve re-introduced the sprouts into my routine.

When you are highly driven to do the right thing, even slight support from people in your lives can do wonders. And it is even better when we can articulate how we’d like to be supported and delegate. For example, you can ask them to encourage (or discourage) at the right times. Last evening, I wanted to munch on something very badly. My husband was his usual generous self to get up and bring some goodies on a plate. Then I went ‘oh, my mouth is all too sweet, and now I want some savories.’

I’ll pause right here. This is where endless sweet-savories-sweet craziness can use some help.

On my own, I tend to forget to get mindful. I am all caught up about the party in my mouth, and little else matters. But! If there is a well-meaning person that can recognize the craziness on your behalf and help you get aware, it can be averted.

Over time, I’ve come to a point where I need only a slight help and not a lot. If we’ve company, then my husband says a blank-faced” huh??” and pretends not to have understood me. It’s enough to redirect me to whatever activity on hand. If we’re by ourselves, he may suggest that I fetch it for myself.

Going back to the story, he quipped just in time ‘sure, just bring it’ – I took the cue and decided to focus on the movie instead! The tricky part here was to see that he was helping me and, therefore, not get sour about him. Was it purely my motivation to do the right thing, it’s difficult to say for a fact. But in combination with my laziness, it sure worked in my favor.

One month after that airport lounge chat, my new friend, facebook-ed to say she had figured out one useful finding of herself: how she likes four of everything. She went by the number four as if on an autopilot – four spoons of oil, four cookies with tea, four servings at meals! Next, she decided to pre-cut all the cookies in the jar to a half. She switched the spoon next to the oil jar to a smaller one. And when she baked a pizza next time, she first packed away one half and only served the other, cut into four wedges. She noticed she did not even miss it. And it was a treat to have more left for tomorrow’s lunch, without also trying! I remembered her saying she was a leading Actuary in her town, and it all made sense of how she had expertly drawn these conclusions.

So, why am I sharing all this with you?

Here’s why – I’d like you to understand one thing deeply – we don’t get healthy by reading a book or getting a master’s degree in health sciences. All this adds to your knowledge base. It’s like saying, I’ve got bags of food loaded in my pantry. But it does NOT mean your hunger is satiated. Right? You have to put in some effort to translate that knowledge to real action steps, which comes down to what we do in tiny increments day after day.

It would help if you took the time to observe yourself for these traits and quirks that drive your behavior to modify them in a way that works for you. It is like acknowledging the motorist tendency to speed at particular points and putting a speed breaker in place. Only you are responsible for installing your behavioral controls for certain things in life.

Did you find this useful? Share about one behavior that you’ve happily retained or modified, and what was your tool to achieve that?




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