Nutrition counseling for every body

Controlled crash

Photo credit D. Sharon Pruitt/Flickr

I went cross country skiing for the first time yesterday up at Bogus Basin. (Is there anything better than the smell of evergreen trees in cold, fresh air?) At one point during my ski I climbed off the main trail, up a hill and around two bends to see if a different trail might be groomed for us to use. Alas, it was not. And so I pointed my skis downhill, back to where I had started.

I took the first turn slowly, then gained some speed and cleared the second one. So far, so good! With the main trail fast approaching, though, I thought about the steep bank on the other side. Would I be able to stop by myself in time? Without giving it any thought, I sat down on my right side, slid on my hip and elbow, and came to a halt a good twenty feet away danger. In other words, I crashed. On purpose.

Some people change when they see the light, others when they feel the heat.

Caroline Schoeder

My husband chuckled and shook his head. “Why’d you do that? Your skis have metal edges! You had plenty of time to stop yourself.” Hmm. Good question. Why did I make myself crash? I knew my husband was right. Actually, I had more than metal edges. I also had years of experience working in my favor, plus months of pre-season training. I just couldn’t remember any of that in a crucial moment.

Yesterday’s experience got me thinking about other kinds of controlled crashes. How many of us have ever set our intentions on a new way of eating or exercising, only to cause a crash soon after? It’s like we tell ourselves, “Here we go again. I really want to change, but it’s never worked before. Who am I to think it will be any different this time?” And with that cheery thought in mind, we set about looking for ways to crash and burn: “It’s cold outside, and there’s no humanly way possible for me to get any kind of exercise whatsoever.” “Look at this huge birthday cake in the break room! My co-workers will ostracize me forever if I don’t eat a piece right now now and take home all the leftovers.”

I’ve noticed that controlled crashes tend to have that dramatic, all-or-nothing quality about them. The choice is to either run a marathon or sit on the couch. Eat a dozen donuts or forgo all sugar. Wolf down a burger and fries or nibble on a bunch of  kale. Lie down on the icy snow and bruise half of your body (ahem), or use your equipment, experience, and training to swoosh gracefully down the hill.

It’s easy to analyze a crash after it’s already happened, of course. The trick is preventing it in the first place! Some ideas:

…the emotions that we have right now, the negativity and the positivity, are what we actually need. It is just as if we looked around to find out what would be the greatest wealth that we could possibly possess in order to lead to a decent, good, completely fulfilling, energetic, inspired life, and found it right here.

Pema Chödrön

  • Anticipate where the crash may happen, and make a plan. Let’s say that you may have a goal to eat vegetables twice a day because you’re trying to lower your blood pressure. Past experience tells you that if you don’t eat vegetables at lunchtime, you’ll probably skip them at dinner. And once you miss one day of eating vegetables, you’ll probably give up on the goal for the rest of the week. Meanwhile, vegetable start rotting in the refrigerator and you start fuming about wasting food and money, so you vow to stop buying vegetables at the store (which, incidentally, makes it really hard to eat vegetables). It’s a chain reaction of crashes that started with just one little meal. This type of situation is begging for a Plan B. How about this: “My goal is to eat vegetables at lunch and dinner so I can take care of my heart. I know there will be times when I don’t achieve this goal for whatever reason. Rather than get upset about imperfection, I’ll remind myself to eat a vegetable at the very next meal.”
  • Take a pause, especially in tricky situations. A few seconds and some deep breaths go a long way towards preventing a crash. While you’re breathing and calming your mind and body, see if you can recall your strengths. Maybe you have the gift of a lesson learned from a previous crash or two. You might have a friend standing nearby, cheering you on. Perhaps you have grit and determination, a heart full of compassion, or a sense of humor. When you remember that you have all of these wonderful things at your fingertips, you’ll naturally pull yourself back from the brink of a crash.
  • Practice! “Arrgh! I totally forgot about that broccoli salad that I had stashed in the refrigerator at work. Why can’t I ever remember to eat a healthy lunch? Well, this day is shot.” Pause. Deep breathHumor. “Wait a second. Am I getting riled up about broccoli? If my mom could just see me now! Ha!” Compassion. “When my boss called me to that last-minute meeting at noon, it’s no wonder that vegetables were the last thing on my mind. This kind of thing is just going to happen sometimes. No big deal.” Plan B. “I’ll call my office and leave myself a voice mail reminder to eat the broccoli tomorrow. And for dinner tonight, I’ll eat some extra roasted carrots.”