Cheryl desperately wanted to lose weight, but her love affair with soda—specifically Coke—got in the way of achieving that goal. She entered my office like a penitent sinner kneeling in a confessional booth. “I know I need to give up coke,” she sighed. I’ll never lose weight if I continue to drink six cans a day. I can’t go on like this.”
Although I also was concerned about her drinking that much soda in a day, I didn’t state the obvious. The fact is, Coke meant something to her, and even though it wasn’t good for her body to be flooded with almost 240 grams of sugar from soda, quitting it cold turkey could leave her feeling like she lost her best friend. (Eating or drinking for comfort is a real thing, people). Ignoring the obvious, I responded, “I wonder if you would feel better if you added some water to your diet?”
Dejected, she blurted, “I knew you’d tell me to stop drinking coke and start drinking water!” Her voice cracked as she imagined the worst.
“No. What I’m suggesting is that you add water on top of your soda consumption. I know you love your Coke, so let’s just try to get something in you that is not so sugary and caffeinated. If you have a can of Coke, would you consider having some water before or after you drink it?”
Cheryl double-blinked, trying to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. “You mean I don’t need to stop having Coke? All I have to do is drink some water?” I barely had time to respond, “Yes,” before she started pumping her fists in victory. Little did she know, there was a method to my madness.
I knew from experience that most people find that adding food into their diet is far easier than cutting things out. Given a choice to either cut chocolate out or add fruit in, most people choose to add a banana every time. (I mean, who actually wants to cut out chocolate?). Psychologically, adding food in is a much easier step to take. Many people find that once the pressure to give something up is off, they can focus their energy on taking positive steps toward improved health. That certainly was the case for Cheryl. When she returned to my office the next week, Cheryl reported that she was indeed drinking more water. “Before I pop open a can, I have a small glass of water first.” She went on, “The weird thing is that I rarely finish the entire can of Coke anymore. I’m wasting a lot, so I plan to change to 2-liter bottles instead of cans. This way, I can pour what I need—just a small glass. Oh, and one more thing: I seem to actually feel better having water inside me. Weird.” Tee-hee 😁. My master plan was succeeding! Because the pressure to give up a favorite food was off, Cheryl’s body was in a position to accurately assess how she felt by drinking more water. She not only found that she was more alert and energized, but she actually started to crave water.
When we take the pressure off of ourselves to make changes by doing the most challenging thing we can think of—like giving up a favorite food or drink—we give ourselves the time and space to do what is possible. If we aim to add something in, we are more likely to succeed than if we try to cut something out. Concentrating on what we need more of—water, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, or non-meat sources of protein—will build success and health at the same time. When we begin to notice that we truly feel better by doing what we’re doing, the change becomes permanent. Remember what happened to Cheryl? Her body started to demand water because, by gosh, she felt better drinking that than she did Coke. (Go figure!) By the end of the month, Cheryl had completely stopped drinking soda. She did keep a few cans in her pantry in case she felt like one, but after some time, she found that she couldn’t tolerate the sugary infusion any longer. Cheryl’s body came to the realization that Coke was not her friend. Cheryl knew she could have a Coke if she wanted one, but she was set free from feeling compelled to do so.
“…you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32)
What is your diet currently lacking? Maybe like Cheryl, you rarely drink water. Consider adding a small glass of water to your day by having one before you drink your first coffee or other beverage. Notice how your body feels when you consistently do that. I’m not promising that you will give up coffee (and generally, there’s no need to), but you may notice that your body responds to the water as a shriveled-up plant does. Ultimately, the outcome—feeling better—is what drives the habit, not some rule that you decided to follow. This, my friend, is what fuels permanent change.
If you already are a water drinker and need some ideas of what you might add to your diet to improve your health and well-being, consider the following:
- Vegetables: Statistics indicate that only 1 in 10 people eat enough fruit and vegetables. (See link here)
- Whole grains: whole grain bread and cereals, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, oats
- Legumes: dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, soybeans, peanuts
- Dairy: milk, lactose-free milk, yogurt, cheese (or fortified soy milk to increase calcium intake)
- Planned snacks: an afternoon snack can boost your energy and help prevent overeating at dinner.
I just got off a call with four young students in London who interviewed me about how diet can affect one’s physical and mental health. When the topic turned to food addictions, I explained that people who overly focus on cutting out foods can sometimes set themselves up for obsessive thinking about that food. The kids immediately understood this concept. One of the girls shared that every time she tries to give up sweets, she kind of gets obsessed with them. She blurted out, “Sweets are everywhere!! It drives me crazy.” Indeed 🙄. How about we agree to focus our attention on what we can eat more of to improve our health for a change? I bet that, like Cheryl, you will (“weirdly”) start craving more of the good stuff.