How I hacked my bad Habit

The most difficult thing I find about sticking to a healthy diet isn't the food. It's all the crud around the food: the social stuff, the emotional stuff, the things we use it for that aren't strictly nutritive. For most of my adult-life I've been doing my best to eat well, but when I stop it's not because I need chocolate or hate kale, it's because of all that other stuff.

So this year I've decided to stop trying to address the food part. Instead I'm going to try to address the other part, and I started with lunch.

Lunch is fraught. The weekdays, when I'm at work, involve either going out with coworkers to places with enormous portions, or going alone to places with enormous portions. Either way, I end up with too much food and spending too much money, plus I get the whole "let's deal with the traffic leaving campus" stress. The social thing I absolutely can't opt out of, but fortunately all of us are trying to cut down on spending, so we've narrowed that to once a week. The problem, then, is what I do with myself for the remaining four days.

So I sat and thought about what it is I want out of lunch, besides food. I want to be undisturbed/off-duty/not findable by coworkers. I want to be able to read a book. I want to eat, yes, but most of all I want to get away from my office, which is a concrete closet with a door. There's no light. There's little air movement. It's dingy and stifling and annoying. And it's lonely: I rarely ever see another person. Given that one of the reasons I wanted a day job was to 'get out of the house where I never see anyone,' that's a huge negative.

Most of the time I leave, I leave not because I want to eat somewhere, but because I want to get away from my office.

So I did an experiment. I packed some food I really like to eat with coffee and walked to the library Starbucks, bought a cup of (inevitably bad) decaf and sat in a corner to read. I chose the library Starbucks rather than the bookstore coffee shop because it looks like every other Starbucks, which fools my brain into thinking I'm not on campus, and because it's busy; I get to see people without having to have prolonged interactions with them (unless I want to! Some days I do!). I also made sure I had a book that was really exciting me so I'd look forward to being 'away.' I spent half an hour there, which is about as long as I spend eating lunch out. Then I walked back and checked. Did I feel like I'd gotten out? Yes. Was I looking forward to doing it again tomorrow? Yes.

For one week, I made sure I packed a bit of food I liked that went well with coffee, and that I had an exciting book. After that, I started associating my trip to the library Starbucks with 'I can't wait to read!' and 'Ooh, I get to have fig cake!'

It's now been three weeks since I started this experiment, and I no longer want to go out to eat; I want to go have my bad coffee and good snack and read and watch all the students go by and feel the sunlight hit my eyes through the nice, big, library windows. What didn't work when I was trying to address the food part of the puzzle works now that I've addressed the emotional part. I am 'getting away' without having to leave, and this means I'm not overeating, overspending, or overusing the car. And since lunch was one of the biggest problems I was having, I feel like I solved a big part of the problem there.

Obviously, every part of life can't be hacked into better shapes, but I'm going to do my best to try with other bits that need fixing. So far, so good.

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