What if after trying dozens of times over 30 years to break an unhealthy habit it just disappeared on its own? What if the solution to food addiction isn’t what we think it is?
[**Note that I’ve also recorded this post in audio format. Click here to listen or download the MP3.]
I’m Alexandra Amor and this is my first blog post here at stopsufferingabout.com. I thought I’d share the story of breaking of one of my habits. In fact it’s one of my longest held bad food habits and I’ll get into the details of that in just a minute.
First, a bit of background.
StopSufferingAbout.com is a brand-new website that I’m starting based on my interest in exploring the understanding known as the Three Principles.
I first found out about the principles, which is also known as the Inside Out understanding, from a dear friend. She’d been talking about it for a couple of years before I finally started to pay attention in mid-2017. One of the first books I read about this understanding was Dr. Amy Johnson’s book, The Little Book of Big Change, which was revelatory for me. The book focuses on the ironic way change actually works and once I’d read the book and learned more about Dr. Amy Johnson I also joined her online course, called, not surprisingly, The Little School of Big Change in October 2017.
In the course and in the book Dr. Amy talks about how deep lasting change doesn’t begin with changing our behavior. Which is the complete opposite of how any of us who have ever approached trying to break a bad habit
Our whole understanding of the way that humans work has been turned on its head by this new paradigm of psychology that was introduced to the world by a man named Sydney Banks after he had an enlightenment experience in 1973. (This blog post isn’t about how the principles work or what they mean, so for that here’s a link to grab my free book Stop Suffering About Being Broken (Because You’re Not) which is a good introduction to this understanding.)
A Food Addict’s Journey
So just a bit of background about my personal journey with food addiction.
Like so many of us, I’ve used food as a comfort mechanism since my early 20s. And starting very shortly after I noticed that my attachment to comfort foods was probably not very healthy I started trying to fix that relationship.
Over the course of the next 30 years, I tried everything I could to fix that problem. Talk therapy, what I consider to be healthy diets like Weight Watchers, meditation, self-compassion, emotional freedom technique, cognitive behavioral therapy, you name it. Name a self-help book about food and I’ve probably read it and not only read it but memorized it and did all the exercises and applied all the external strategies to my life.
Nothing worked. None of it.
By the time I reached my very late 40s I had essentially given up on trying to find a solution. I had concluded that I must be broken, and unfixable, because given the amount of effort, energy, and money that I had put into trying to fix myself, and given that the results have been negligible, I’d decided that this was just a problem that couldn’t be solved. For 20 years I had thrown myself 100% into trying to change. I used to say that fixing myself was my full-time job and my actual job was just a side-hustle.
And yet, I was as broken as ever. All that effort wasted. So I gave up trying, which was actually kind of a relief.
Shortly thereafter I began to pay attention to what my friend was saying about this understanding, although she wasn’t talking about it specifically as it related to habits or addictions. But once I joined Amy Johnson’s Little School of Big Change I felt a returning sense of hope that just maybe this was something that might help me.
Amy’s approach was so radically different than anything else I’d heard before. And what I noticed right away was that listening to the course materials, listening to podcasts and YouTube videos, and reading other books about the principles, had the effect of calming me. And I reflected that every other strategy I’d tried in the past had only increased the amount of anxiety and stress that I felt about my eating habits. So the fact that I was feeling calmer was, to me, a good sign.
Dr. Amy uses the metaphor of an iceberg to describe the way that we normally approach trying to change.
If the behavior that we’re trying to change is represented by the iceberg, we innocently attack it from the top with a chisel and hammer in order to break the iceberg down. And of course, this turns out to be exhausting, frustrating, and ultimately not very effective.
Amy talks about how it’s possible instead to raise the temperature of the
Now one thing that this means is that there’s much less to do when we’re learning about this understanding. I for one was someone who kept waiting for instruction about my behavior, which is how the old paradigm approaches breaking our habits and addictions.
How many calories should I eat every day? What foods should eat? What foods are forbidden?
But what I learned as I explored this understanding of how humans really work, is that when we approach dealing with our habits using an inside-out understanding none of those behavioral changes apply.
What I also learned pretty early on was that because we’re trying to raise the metaphorical temperature of the water to melt that iceberg, the process can be slow. I found myself feeling impatient at times and wanting more immediate change.
Of course, that’s how our culture is set up these days. The world is at our fingertips and more than ever we have instant access to everything we could ever possibly want. So learning about this new paradigm had its frustrating moments, I’ll confess, but again, I found myself feeling less stressed and more comforted than I’d ever felt before with any other approach I’d taken. I learned to be patient and I noticed that I was really enjoying the journey learning about this understanding and listening to the other teachers that I found in addition to Dr. Amy, people like Michael Neil, Nicola Bird, Barbara Patterson and others.
Salt and Crunch
Before I get to the meat of this story about breaking my addiction to pop (or soda, as my American friends say), let me share another smaller thing that happened early on in this journey.
Sometimes in the evenings after supper but before bed, I felt a craving for some sort of snack food. A habit that I’d got into to satisfy that craving was eating potato chips, which of course are the ultimate in awesome snack food. They’re crunchy, they’re salty, they’re full of flavor. That’s why we love them!
It bothered me that I had this habit, but it wasn’t a daily one and I had other, more pressing food habits closer to the top of the list of things I’d like to change.
Then one day I suddenly realized that I hadn’t had one of my evening munchie sessions with potato chips in quite some time. And the crazy thing was, I couldn’t even remember how long it had been since I had done that. I suspect it was probably a couple of months but it might’ve been as long as four or five months before I noticed that the change had occurred.
When I finally realized what had happened I was really pleased. It was the beginning of me thinking maybe there is something to this inside-out approach to life.
For the first time I had experienced change that was so effortless, I didn’t even notice it occurring.
One of my deepest most ingrained bad food habits started when I was in university. To comfort myself, and no doubt to get a bit of a caffeine and sugar rush, I started having a can of pop every day at lunch.
The soda that I had was the full sugar, full caffeine version. I was never tempted by diet versions of soda especially given the negative effects of aspartame. And of course, I felt quite guilty about this habit. However, as I’m not a coffee or tea drinker, I would often justify it to myself saying that it was my version of having a cup of coffee, but at the same time, I didn’t like how unhealthy the habit was. I knew it was bad for my weight. I knew it was bad for my teeth. I didn’t like anything about it.
From my early 20s to this past month, when I was 51 (and a half), I’d quit that habit more times than I can count. I was the embodiment of the sarcastic expression, ‘Quitting is easy. I’ve done it a million times.’
One of the things that really bothered me about this habit was that if I was ever staying with friends who don’t keep pop in their house, I would have to find a way to have a pop at some point around midday, otherwise, I’d get a terrible caffeine withdrawal headache. It felt like my dirty shame. I felt like the person who has to sneak outside behind the garage and have a cigarette in secret.
One of the things I learned from the innumerable number of times that I quit drinking pop at lunch was that funny paradox that occurs when we try to quit a habit by first controlling our behavior. When I forbade myself from drinking pop at lunch, what I created was a feeling of tension that is so common to those of us who have tried to break habits in our lives. When we cut ourselves off from a habit that is serving a purpose, in my case to soothe and comfort me, tension is immediately created.
Suddenly the thing that we’ve stopped doing becomes this enormous force in our lives, calling to us, occupying far too much space in our minds, and the only way to break that tension is to take part in the behavior we told ourselves we wouldn’t take part in. Anytime I quit drinking pop at lunch that tension would take over my life. Sure I could use my willpower to stop participating in the behavior for a few days, sometimes as long as a couple of weeks at a time. But the behavior would always return because there would be days when my willpower would be at a low ebb because I’d had a bad day or I was feeling tired or whatever the excuse was.
As any dieter or smoker knows, the relief that comes when we finally give in and pick up the habit again was extraordinary. I’m sure if you’ve ever tried to quit a food habit, or any kind of habit you intimately understand this cycle of willpower and failing and self-loathing.
Signs of Hope
By mid-2018 I’d been reading books and listening to podcasts about the Three Principles for about a year. I had noticed a decrease in what had been pretty constant anxiety, but other than the potato chip change, my eating habits were still the same. I endeavored not to despair, though, because I had grasped that this understanding about life was different than anything else I’d tried and I somehow knew I wasn’t going to get results from a new paradigm like the Principles by using old paradigm
Around this time, I noticed that I was willing to switch from having a full size can of pop every day at lunch (355 mL or 12 fl oz) to having a mini can
Things stayed that way for about six months. Every few days I would get my little six-pack of mini pop cans from the grocery store and keep them in my fridge, and every day I would take one out and have it with my lunch.
Change Without Stress
And then one day in January 2019 I went into my local grocery store, grabbed a plastic basket from the front of the store, and walked around, dropping in the things I needed, as you do. The last aisle I usually hit before I went to the cash register was the aisle with bottled water, energy drinks, and soda pop. And normally I would automatically, the same way I buy any of my regular staples like almond milk or lettuce or dark chocolate, pick up a six-pack of the mini cans of pop and add those to my basket as well.
But on this day I stood in front of the shelf where my preferred brand of soda was and went to reach for the six-pack and something extraordinary happened.
My whole being went, ‘Meh’.
I was startled and honestly a bit confused. The logical part of my brain couldn’t really grasp what was happening. I stood in front of the shelves filled with cans of soda with what was undoubtedly a stupid look on my face.
Until this moment, this daily pop habit had been a need. It felt essential to my well-being. But now, suddenly and without warning, that feeling of need had disappeared.
That couldn’t be right, my brain said, so I checked in with my body’s reaction once more and sure enough, it did the same thing. I wasn’t at all interested in buying the soda pop. It’s funny to look back at this moment because I wasn’t elated. I was more confused than anything else. This was an entirely new experience that had not happened to me before. Until this moment, my attachment to having a can of pop every day at lunch was ferocious. Despite hating the habit it felt so ingrained that it was almost part of my definition of myself.
And yet, I couldn’t deny I was feeling something new, standing there in front of the shelves of pop. After a few more seconds, I decided to trust the feeling. I turned and walked up to the checkout desk without the six-pack, paid for my groceries, and left the store.
Not So Fast
The next day when it came time to have my lunch, I was hopeful that that same feeling of being disinterested in pop would be there. But to my
This was entirely new territory for me and it was actually fun to explore what was going on. I tried to be patient with myself and simply notice what was happening and not beat myself up for not having the same feeling I’d had the day before.
The next day the same thing happened. Lunchtime rolled around and my brain was making up excuses about why not having a pop at lunch could wait until another day. So back to the corner store I went.
Finally, on the third day, I caught on to what was happening. That instruction from my brain was simply old wiring. We’ve all learned a little bit about neural plasticity and about the way our neural pathways are like the grooves in a record. Once the needle gets into that groove (a habit) it can be challenging to pull it out. So I realized on Day Three that all that was happening was that this was simply the series of neurons that were firing that
The Nature of Thought
Importantly, and more to the point of our story, is that because I’d been studying this inside-out understanding for about 18 months at this point, I knew that the nature of thought is that it is temporary. Thought, like everything in life, is energy. And the very nature of energy is that it wants to move. When we hold our thoughts lightly, they are able to move through us more easily than when we become attached to them and make lots of meaning out of them.
And so on Day Three when I heard my brain bringing up excuses about why I should once again have a can of pop at lunch, I remembered about the fluid nature of thought. I knew that if I didn’t attach to that instruction from my brain, it would soon be replaced by another thought. And sure enough, as soon as I started making my lunch I was thinking about other things and when I sat down to eat I didn’t miss having a pop at all. Not even a tiny bit.
Perhaps most interestingly, of all the tension that I’d always experienced in the past that I spoke about earlier in this
For the next 7 to 10 days, the thought would come to me every day that I should have a pop at lunch and my brain would make up an excuse about why that was necessary – it’s raining, it’s cold, I’ve had a hard morning. Those neural pathways did whatever they could to try to get me back into the same habit. But again every day once I started making my lunch all that noise went away. And then after about 7 to 10 days that noise was gone. The needle had moved to a new groove in the record and now it doesn’t even occur to me to want to have a pop at lunch time.
After 30 years, no exaggeration, one of my most ingrained habits has lifted without me using any willpower.
No battle of wills between me and this food item.
No ‘rules’ to obey, followed by ‘cheating’.
Just peace and contentment and natural change.
If this hadn’t happened to me personally I don’t know that I would have believed it was possible.
There are a few different reasons I wanted to write this blog post. One was to mark this occasion for myself. It’s very exciting to me that after 30 years of searching for healing around my relationship with food, that beginning to explore this understanding has changed things in such an effortless way.
Also, I wanted to share my story as a specific example of one habit that was so deeply
I’ve had many other shifts since I started exploring the Three Principles but so many of them are internal and difficult to explain or express in a way that would have an impact on someone else. Things like how my anxiety has dramatically reduced. Things like how my relationship with money and financial anxiety has dramatically changed as well. (I’m actually writing a book about that because it’s such a profound and dramatic change and I really want to share that with others in the hope that they might find some relief from financial anxiety as well.) But I thought at this moment, with this brand-new website, that this would be an ideal story to share.
We’ve all been taught that ‘change isn’t easy’. But what if that isn’t true?
What if we are innately whole and healthy and healed? And that access to that wholeness is always within reach?
When I first started to learn about this understanding I heard other people say things like this and hoped that it could be true. Now that I’ve had the Soda Pop Experience I know it to be true. And for this, I am truly grateful.
[Iceberg image courtesy Ray Laskey and Unsplash. Chocolate tarts photo courtesy Pille-Riin Priske and Unsplash. Grocery