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My Food Autobiography and the Stages of Change

This is not a post about dieting.  If you are looking for the quick fix for the upcoming wedding, reunion or beach vacation, move on to the next page on Google's list.

Before life so rudely interrupted, I was doing a New Year's series on the Stages of Change.  Since then I have rewritten my profile, reflecting on change as a theme.  I don't particularly care for change, but I am fascinated by how people manage to pull it off.  And I am astounded that at age 54 I changed a basic health practice, that being my eating habits, and have maintained that practice for six years.

Let me repeat.  This is not about dieting.  Who wants to DIE-t?  This is about changing the pathways inside your brain, retraining it, creating new synaptic connections that serve you better than the ruts (automatic reflexes) your thoughts and behaviors now travel.

Not in one leap.  One step at a time.

Here is the map.

My food autobiography begins with pre-contemplation.

Standard American Diet (SAD)

So yeah, I grew up on the Standard American Diet (SAD), the poverty version.  Bread was white, cheap, and served at every meal.  One serving of veggies a day, by which I mean peas, corn or green beans from a can.  Fish came from a can, too -- tuna, except for fish sticks which were served on alternative weeks in the school cafeteria, mac and cheese on the other week.  Cheese came in a box.  One serving of fruit a day on school days, unless a cookie substituted for the apple or banana.

The poverty version (1950s and 60s) did have a couple health benefits.  We couldn't afford Lucky Charms, so we ate oatmeal.  We loaded it with brown sugar and butter, but it was oatmeal.  Meat came in small quantities.  We ate beans.  Some years, a LOT of beans.  Pop and candy were rare treats.  Ditto fast food.  God, I loved Kentucky Fried Chicken! -- And still do, except now I notice that it makes me sick.


Sure, I noticed I was chubby.  I was a teenager in the 60s.  Remember Twiggy?  But that was a weight problem, not a food problem.

I didn't diet much.  Oh, some gimmick came through every now and then, no carb, grapefruit, those little chocolate chews that were supposed to curb your appetite.  But every time I tried, I became obsessed with food and gained weight.

Can I get an Amen?

Every now and then some life style change intervened.  I developed an anxiety disorder in seminary, and was afraid both of being found in the kitchen and of restaurants.  That was weird.  I got into racket ball, briefly.  I moved to a small town where I walked to work and biked around town.  So there were a few ups and downs through the decades.  Mostly ups.

As time went by, I did like a greater variety of foods.  And I no longer ate peas from a can or cheese from a box (except mac and cheese from a box.)

Pre-Contemplation Thoughts

Notice the thoughts:
  • I weigh too much.
  • Diets fail.
  • I will always be chubby.

And yet,
  • There isn't enough.

Again notice, I didn't even have the goal in mind.  I wasn't thinking about making a healthy change.  I wasn't thinking about health.

Changing Pre-Contemplation Thoughts

Yet, against the omnipresent (and effective!) Dorito ads, the scent of cinnamon rolls wafting from grocery store air vents, the Would you like fries with that? messages that surround us, there is a counter narrative that pokes through, story after story after story of the consequences of eating the foods that advertise in the very magazines and television shows that carry the stories.  Sugar, fat, excess meat, processed foods are killing us.  Without intending to, you and I have been getting an education about the consequences of our poor eating habits.

At some point, it starts to sink in.

That doesn't mean we do anything about it.  But we start to think about it.

Some new thoughts:
  • I am eating myself sick.
  • I know better.
  • I fail whenever I try to change.


So all that mash-up of fear, observation and self-loathing is on one side.

A healthy life is on the other.  You don't get from one side to the other on New Year's Day.  I never did.

Congratulate yourself if you have reached this stage.  And you have reached this stage, if your reading this post is any evidence.  You have already begun to change.

The bad news: people can spend years in the contemplation stage.  I spent decades here.  People can die in the contemplation stage.  Most do.

The good news: having reached this stage, I became open to receiving more information.  I looked for it.  I started reflecting on my thoughts and feelings, which opened the opportunity to change them.

Contemplation Thoughts

  • I know my eating habits are not healthy
  • I don't know if I can change.
  • I haven't made up my mind whether to try.
  • I am willing to learn more.

I was not there yet.  It's like, I started to look up and down that canyon to find an easier way across.

Next up, changing contemplation thoughts and moving on to Preparation.

No New Year's Resolutions - Change Your Life December 29, 2011 -- Overweight is a major health issue, the largest contributing factor to early death for people who have mental illness.
The Stages of Change and Weight Loss January 3, 2012 -- How do you change a habit?
Changing Food Habits -- Contemplation and Preparation March 15, 2012 -- Reviews The End of Overeating by David Kessler and introduces the brain science of the sugar/salt/fat trifecta.
Dopamine -- Can't Live Without It March 23, 2012 -- The brain science behind habit formation and an experiment to try.
Relapse/Maintenance -- Stages of Change May 24, 2012 -- Review and finishing up the series.

Stages of Change graphic was created by Todd Atkins, who placed it in the public domain
photo of Glen Canyon by Sascha BrückJeff Kubina used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
photo of empty soup bowl by strawberry fields and used the Creative Commons Attribution Generic license.
photo of dandelion by 4028mdk09used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


  1. This article is timely for me. I have been contemplating the idea of 'change' and trying to write about it but with struggle. Your diagram presented a new approach I have not seen before. You have given me something to think about and I can't wait for the next installment in your series!


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