You have decided that it is time to change. Contemplation has brought you to the point where enough is enough; you are committed to making changes in your life. Hold on, admit it, there is a little ambivalence, you are not totally sure you can do this, but you are ready to try.
Research shows that it is best to do a little planning, even develop a scheme for action, be clear in your mind what to expect and how to succeed. Before jumping into the raw food world, be prepared. Your consciousness is raised, you are emotionally involved, now you must remove any ambivalence so that your commitment will be firm.
You are at the intersection of contemplation and action. Plan how you will succeed. Read more books on raw food. Find out the pitfalls, explore interesting recipe books, stock up on delicious raw foods and spices. But most of all, be certain of your commitment.
As I said before, change is hard, very hard. If it were easy, everyone would be living wonderful lives—and most people are not. The most important concept and idea that you must get into your head is this—make eating healthily the most important thing in your life. Make change a priority. Think about all of the benefits and let them motivate you. Nothing is more important than your health, and making this change comes first.
Some of the steps of preparation and commitment involve going public (tell people your intentions). Nothing helps commitment like stepping out on a limb and exposing yourself. Prepare yourself mentally. I am a big fan of meditation and relaxation practices.
“It doesn't work to leap a twenty-foot chasm in two ten-foot jumps.”
Probably more than anything, I believe reading books provides more information about how to develop a plan of action than anything else. Just reading this book will make a major difference in your chances of success. Closely related to this are online articles and online discussion groups. I highly endorse the yahoo group rawfood. (Rawfood – Raw Food for Health and Happiness)
We have stopped denying that we have a problem with the foods we eat. We have learned that consuming more raw foods will make us and the planet healthier. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired. We have a plan to change what and how we eat. We are ready for action.
In the action stage we actually change our behavior. We change our surroundings and make the move. This is where we really have to be ready for problems. But, by having educated yourself about the stages of change, you will be better prepared to deal with the inevitable setbacks and frustrations.
“In order to change we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Remember, the action stage is only one stage in the process of changing and benefiting from a raw food diet. Also, our actions are only part of the process; we continue to change our levels of awareness, we involve our emotions, our thoughts, our self-images. Change is a cyclical means of becoming someone new.
The fact that you are aware of the dangers inherent in trying to change does not guarantee that you will be successful. In fact, I can guarantee that you will curse the day that you ever heard about raw foods. So, beware of taking the action step lightly, change costs; there is no easy way to improve your diet. That being said, here are several more processes that will help.
Countering is simply substituting healthy responses for poor behavior. It is also the most important tool in your change process toolbox. It does no good to give up eating animals and cooking most of your food if you do not have something to replace those behaviors. Countering is finding substitutes and healthy replacements. Here are a few countering techniques:
1. Relaxation and yoga, meditation and prayer.
2. Exercise. This is the most important thing you can do to succeed.
3. Active diversion. Find something else to do: read, walk, make love, etc.
4. Counterthinking. Change your way of thinking. Get positive.
5. Assertiveness. Don’t let other people keep you in your old way of eating.
Who would think that meditation and prayer would play a part in changing behavior? Certainly all of the people who have been helped by the 12-Step Programs. I am not sure what comes first, eating healthfully or a new interest in spirituality. Either way, the two seem to go hand in hand. Eating more raw food has improved my meditation practice and my meditation practice has helped me improve my eating habits. Maybe both help me to see things more clearly. Whatever it is, there seems to be a symbiotic relationship going on between these two aspects of my life.
Meditation is also an aid in counterthinking, as it gives you the tools to eliminate negative thoughts and replace them with positive. It is all about becoming more self-aware of who we are and what we are doing.
Exercise is essential to good health—physical and mental. (By the way, if trying to change your behavior makes you despair, research shows that vigorous exercise is the one thing that can be guaranteed to cure your depression.) I run five miles every morning before breakfast. I would not think of not running. I cannot imagine being healthy without a serious exercise program. Make it a top priority in your life.
Active diversion is simple: keep yourself busy, make your life interesting—otherwise you will eat poorly out of boredom. Watching television is not a good choice here.
Assertiveness is simply taking charge of your own life and not letting others get in the way. External pressures have a way of helping us to slip back into our old ways. I am sure that at first you will give in, but after a few times of being frustrated by the results, you will let your emotions give you the strength you need to assert what you want.
Countering is an internal process; environmental control is external. Do you want to eat healthy food? Throw out the chips; remove all the food that you have chosen not to eat from your house. Replace the old recipe books with new ones on raw uncooking.
When we change our surroundings, we make it easier to change our actions. I find that if I have only healthy food in the house, I eat healthy food. If I eliminate junk food, at night if I have a craving for something processed and sugary, I will not get in my car to go out and buy something. Instead, if all I have is fruit, and if I’m really hungry and not just bored, I’ll eat that instead.
It is not cheating to modify your environment, it is smart planning. Why rely on willpower? Avoidance is perfectly acceptable when you are trying to change. If you were giving up alcohol would you keep beer in the refrigerator? Avoidance is not limited to objects; you can avoid people and places, too.
In the beginning we are really excited about raw foods and the changes in how we feel now that we are eating more healthily. It is an exciting time. We may be motivated by fear; we’ve had a health scare. We may be encouraged because we are losing weight fast. We might be experiencing renewed energy. Whatever it is, we are emotionally charged.
But the war is not won yet. We are only halfway there. To make change permanent we have to understand that this is a long-term effort. The changes we have made to our lifestyle need to be sustained, and it takes time for them to be firmly established. We need to build on what we started with.
First, realize that you will still be vulnerable. Habits take time to become ingrained. If you slip, do not beat yourself up, just start over again tomorrow.
Second, don’t forget to use the processes that got you here in the first place. Use all the strategies from contemplation to action. Keep up with the exercise, meeting with like-minded people, read, join a yahoo raw foods group, go to a festival or retreat.
Third, keep controlling your environment. Avoid people, places, and things that will make it easier to fall back into poor eating habits. This is not a sign of weakness, but one of intelligence.
Lastly, remind yourself every day, as I do, that this is the most important thing you can do for yourself. Health, energy, and fitness have to be worked at, they do not just happen. Let your mind help you. Cultivate consciousness.
Slips, Relapses, and Recycling
It is going to happen, you might as well be prepared. Most importantly, do not feel guilty, do not let others make you feel guilty; do not become discouraged. You have no idea how many times I have given in to my cravings. Do I feel bad? No. I looked at each slip as information, as a lesson in what was not working. The next day I tried something different. I have always had the attitude that my life is an experiment in living—healthy eating is no different. The only failure is to quit.
It certainly helps to think about what happened when you do slip up. Think about what you could have done differently. Learn from your mistakes. Understand that while trial and error will eventually get you there, it is not a very efficient way to change. Better to utilize the wisdom of those who have already made the change. That is why I am always reading what others have written about raw food. Besides learning new ideas, it is extremely motivating.
You should also understand that change, radical change as in becoming a raw food person, is more difficult than you expect in the beginning. You have a whole lifetime of being brainwashed to overcome. Willpower is not enough, you will need all of the processes discussed above and you will need them over and over again.
A word on termination—don’t worry about it. There will come a day when you do not have to think about how you are eating. It will be effortless. I do not know this in the world of raw food, but I do know it from changing other behaviors. Looking back on the changes that I have made in my life I can see the various stages and processes. I went through them without being aware of what I was doing—imagine how much easier it will be when we have a ready-made outline of the course ahead of time.
Change is not just a mechanical “do this and this will result” kind of thing. In other words, change is not a science, it is an art. Even more than that, change has a spiritual dimension—it is about personal growth and transformation. When the food that you eat causes less suffering for animals, less destruction of the planet, and more energy and health for you, it is not just your body that benefits. You will become a different person. I think your soul, the essence of who you are, will shine more and you and others will become aware of that.
I did my doctoral dissertation on personal transformation. After a year of research, writing, and reflecting, I discovered a few things about the process of change in human beings. Personal transformation is messy, it is mysterious, and it is multi-dimensional. As much as we like to think we are in control of our lives—we are not.
I found that while we cannot control the processes and events of our lives, we can chose to cooperate with them. We can surrender to the flow of life and the evolutionary forces at work on this planet. Change is chaotic and mysterious, paradoxical and transformational. But there are things that we can do, having more to do with attitude than with action.
We can learn to quiet our minds and become more aware—more aware of what is going on, on a deeper level. We can ask ourselves what is it that we are meant to be learning through this experience. We can surrender to the events and circumstances of our lives, changing what we can, accepting what we can’t. We can learn through our suffering. Pain is a wonderful motivator. I find that when I am in pain, I really try harder to be self-aware. All of this points to life and our life experiences as what really changes us. Are we really running our own lives?
The spiritual aspect of change is extremely significant.
“For most gulls, it is not flying that matters, but eating.
For this gull, though, it was not eating that mattered, but flight.”
-Richard Bach, from "Jonathan Livingston Seagull"
For Additional Reading on Change:
Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. Prochaska, James O., Norcross, John C., and Diclemente, Carlo C. (1994). Harper Collins.