Tomorrow I will complete my month-long alternate day fasting (ADF) challenge. I intend to continue at least a few more weeks because I feel so good, but a month is worth pausing to celebrate. I fasted for 12 days this month! This week also marks a second month of being dairy free since non-dairy January rolled right into February. Fasting and going dairy-free both seemed like formidable challenges at the beginning, but it turned out that starting was the hardest part. This has me reflecting on what it takes to build successful habits and what it is about a one-month timeframe that works so well for me.
It turns out it isn’t necessarily about the timeframe. The internet is full of people stating that 21 days is the ideal window to form a habit, but the research is mixed, with habit formation taking longer than that for many. It’s individual. Interestingly, Harvard Business Review emphasizes the importance of building routines to support habits and I suspect that is why my challenges are so successful.
I didn’t plan it this way, but both my challenges had a foundation in routine. Fasting is literally a routine. I do it on specific days of the week and I’ve developed separate – enjoyable – routines that cue me those days are different. I may feel reluctant and grouchy when I first wake up, but once I have my black coffee and saltshaker out, I remember what’s going on and easily fall in line. When I went dairy free, I unintentionally (but luckily) planned it not to disrupt my routine. I got all the dairy out of the house and literally put alternatives exactly in their place. The almond milk went right where the heavy cream had been, so even on autopilot I was set up for success. A good routine creates the guardrails necessary to support a behavior becoming a habit and a month is a nice chunk of time to settle into a new or revised routine.
A month also gives you enough time to stumble into some sticky situations, which will test your commitment to your new routine and goal. Fasting is a sure-fire way to raise eyebrows and I tend to follow the Fight Club model… The first rule of Fasting Club is, don’t talk about fasting. The second rule of Fasting club is, don’t talk about fasting. I can count on one hand the people in my inner circle who know I fast and all of them also know about my challenges with lipedema and lymphedema.
A few weeks ago, I got together with my co-coworkers for an in-person farewell party on one of my designated fasting days. During planning, talk quickly and inevitably turned to food. As soon as I could interject into the conversation I simply said, “Food is actually really complicated for me, but I’d be happy to help plan a game or something else fun for us to do.” That’s all it took and, in my experience, once I say I have food restrictions people get a little uncomfortable and don’t pry too much further. If they do, remember you never owe anyone an explanation for why you aren’t eating something. For the farewell party I ended up buying a box of donuts (some people wanted those) and a jug of black coffee. No one said anything about me only drinking coffee and we had fun playing the game. Social situations often involve food, but don’t have to revolve around food. Ask for and plan for what you need in such situations to minimize surprises and set yourself up for success.
What helps you build routines and habits, Sturdy Readers? Do you plan to take on any new challenges in March? Drop me a note in the comments and be sure to sign up for updates to see what new challenge I take on next.