When I decided to go gluten free, I didn’t think it would be easy. Pasta, beer, bagels. I seriously loved eating wheat. I knew that if I allowed myself to make a choice - to eat gluten or not to eat it - I’d inevitably wind up eating it. Even if I made an a priori decision to limit my intake, each time I was confronted with gluten, I’d have to decide: to eat it or not to.

I didn’t want to have to make that decision every time. I didn’t want to challenge and flex my willpower muscle at every meal. I didn’t want the stress of deciding if eating a bagel today was worth not having cookies tomorrow. So I made the decision once, and only once: for the next 60 - 90 days, I would not eat gluten. When I asked myself whether to eat gluten or not, the answer was always no.

Just Saying No to gluten worked surprisingly well for me. I haven’t intentionally eaten it since September 1st. But going cold turkey doesn’t always work, so I’ve been thinking about why it worked for gluten, and why it hasn’t worked for other things, like hitting the snooze button in the morning.

Here are a few reasons I suspect it worked for gluten:

  • I was convinced that I would only see improvement if I stopped eating gluten all together (moderation wouldn’t cut it).
  • I only had to do it for 60 - 90 days.
  • I treated myself to as much ice cream or chocolate as I wanted.
  • I told friends I was doing it.
  • I cooked more gluten free food I liked, and tried new foods out at restaurants.
  • I could see improvement when I started tracking myself.

The first bullet point seems to carry the most weight (to me) to prevent and discourage cheating. No amount of gluten was okay, so eating gluten was only cheating myself. The other bullet points helped ease me into it, but I had to believe it would work in the first place.

With bad habits people might have (hitting the snooze button, smoking, binge drinking, not brushing teeth or flossing), moderation may seem “good enough.” And most of the time it probably is. How do we decide what’s “good enough” when it comes to our behavior? Does someone have to hit the “rock bottom” of their bad habit to be motivated to eliminate it completely?

I’m hoping to begin to answer some of these questions as I take my next swing at behavior change.