My daily calls with patients focus on devising individual plans to change unhealthy habits. Change is hard for most people because habits have been formed over decades. My job is to listen to each person’s story to understand their lifestyle habits and help them create a plan for success that will suit the individual. With kidney stone pain at the forefront of their mind, motivation is already there, and motivation is one of the first feelings people must have to change.
After motivation and commitment, what is the most crucial feeling you must possess to change? In my opinion (I have no data to back this up), it’s kindness. Kindness for yourself is necessary to change and KEEP a healthier lifestyle.
When you start the Kidney Stone Diet, there will be a long learning curve. This is true when we make any change—don’t let diet culture fool you into thinking change is easy. One of the reasons I sleep like a baby at night is that I am brutally honest about this fact. Change is hard; it takes months to educate yourself on what needs to be done and then to start doing it. Mistakes will get made along the way, but when mistakes happen, we need to curb negative self-talk.
I want you to manage your expectations and be realistic about what this journey will be like. When we understand the job we are tackling, we can be much kinder and more patient with ourselves when we go off the rails here and there. And by the way, falling and making mistakes is the ONLY way we learn and grow.
Here are some of the things my patients tell me they say to themselves when they eat one unhealthy meal while practicing the kidney stone diet.
I am hopeless that I can do this.
I always fail at diets.
I have no control over my actions.
I am so ashamed.
I am too old to change.
What is wrong with me?
I feel so out of control.
I have no willpower.
I have no discipline.
I know what I should do, but I don’t do it.
I hate myself when I overeat.
I hate myself when I choose the wrong food.
I feel terrible when I eat something I shouldn’t.
My mother has monitored my food since I was 4, and I can still hear her voice in my head calling me names. She isn’t even alive anymore.
I am disgusting.
I could go on. The things my students and patients tell themselves always break my heart. And this talk is prevalent throughout my day!
We talk about these things during the accountability calls in the Kidney Stone Prevention Course. Change is not just about asking how much oxalate is in avocados (19 for a medium one); it requires in-depth work on WHY you choose unhealthy food regularly. It’s complicated. It requires you to start changing the way you talk to yourself. Kindness fosters change, not shame.
I work hard to help reframe how people think about food. After all, it is only food, my friend. But between our culture telling us how we should look, and what we might have grown up with, it’s hard not to feel guilty about not meeting everyone’s standards.
Here is what I know for sure. While working on the things I need to work on to better myself, using kindness to get me through the learning curve is more useful than being mean to myself. And remember, I’m a believer in tough love to get me and you through at times, but never shame or meanness. Being cruel to ourselves only makes us sink deeper into bad choices. If food is used for comfort, it can create a vicious cycle.
Stop thinking of food as good or bad. We judge ourselves based on what we eat. I made a bad food choice; therefore, I am bad. This is not the case. All food is an energy source. Some may lack the nutrients your body needs, but occasionally you might want a damn piece of cake. Have it. Be kind to yourself and enjoy the cake. And then, with the next meal choice, get back on track. No stones or weight come on with this protocol.
I want to say one more thing to you today. I know that some of your habits, like negative self-talk, you’ve had your entire life. You will not change this habit or any habit overnight. I do NOT expect that from you. You will practice noticing how you speak to yourself and self-correct when necessary. Practice until you get pretty good at not shaming yourself over a hot dog anymore. I have watched thousands of people throughout my career stop using negative self-talk. You can change this habit too. I believe in YOU!
When we give ourselves grace and compassion, long-term change is within our reach, and life is just a whole lot better. It won’t happen overnight, this will take practice, but I can’t tell you how much happier you will be.
Your friend and advocate,