The Hot Mess of Lifestyle Change

DH = Dear husband

Vegan panic-eating

An unexpected thing has happened since our household embarked on plant-based eating a month ago: I gained weight. Ever since we started our vegan experiment, I’ve been panic-eating. Why the panic? With no meat, fish, eggs, or dairy to stick to my bones, I’m afraid I’ll get hungry. Why this fear of hunger? When I need food, I don’t just get hungry; I get hangry – and it’s not pretty. So lots of proactive eating to avoid the hanger of hunger these days.

Before going plant-based, this panic didn’t happen. There was always a quick snack at hand – either at home in the fridge or pantry, or at work in my lunch bag. In weak moments, there was easy access to the cafeteria and vending machine too. Getting food to eat was a no-brainer. Now each meal takes planning, grocery shopping for strange new ingredients, focused prep-time. Quick snacks are rarely at hand.

So when there’s food in front of me, my instinct says, “Eat as much as you can while you have the chance!”

Scarcity mindset

Despite the fact that we in North America today are surrounded by ridiculous amounts of food, I’m feeling the scarcity of readily available plant-based options. I’m sure it’s a temporary feeling – one that will lessen as we learn more recipes and become more expert at prepping snacks and meals.

I would have guessed that a scarcity mindset would lead me to portion out our labour-intensive meals carefully. If there’s a true limit to the food going around, isn’t it more rational to make it last as long as possible? Yes, but who said anything about rationality? Especially when hanger is in the balance?

When frugality is perceived as scarcity

When DH and I started our journey out of debt, we decided to include in our budget discretionary allowances for each of us. Our respective discretionary accounts cover some essential items that have a broad range of price-points – like shampoo and clothing – as well as non-essentials like movie tickets and restaurant meals. We each get a generous monthly amount – $600.

I have no idea how much I spent on discretionary purchases each month before we started to attack our debt. What I do know is this: I always blew my discretionary allowance once it was defined – once it had limits. I’ve written so often about the frustration of not being able to get a grip on my discretionary spending. Now, I think I understand it. I’ve had a scarcity mindset about my money.

Panic-spending

It’s a bit embarrassing to recognize that I perceive such a generous monthly allowance as “scarce”. Of course it’s enough – more than enough. In the same way, although I’m feeling the limits of what I can eat, experienced vegans will claim there’s nothing scarce about a plant-based diet. Grains, nuts, vegetables, fruits, legumes … There’s more than enough.

It’s a matter of habit and mindset adjustment. When you’re used to eating anything and you suddenly limit your diet, it’s easy to fall prey to perceived scarcity, and to react with panic-eating. And when you’re used to spending however much money on whatever purchase and you suddenly define the amount in that money supply, it’s easy to feel limited, and to react with panic-spending. “Buy now while you still can!”

Learning curves involved in lifestyle change are complicated! In this one personal case – one of many – our simple budget plan for discretionary spending ended up triggering a panic I wasn’t expecting, didn’t identify, and couldn’t overcome until I painstaking worked through it. Ugh!

Seamless lifestyle change? No!

Lifestyle changes are not seamless. But sometimes they’re presented that way. We’ve all seen commercials featuring beautifully slim, healthy, happy people who explain their don’t-you-just-want-to-be-like-me awesomeness by making casual claims like, “I started to exercise for 30 minutes every day, and I always have a  _________________  (insert name of food product) on hand to give me the energy I need … (pause long enough for a simpering smile) without giving me the calories I don’t want.”

Sometimes financial advice is presented in the same “This-is-seamless” way:

  • Prepare a budget to live below your means.
  • Never carry a credit card balance.
  • Don’t buy things until you’ve saved up for them.
  • Buy on sale.
  • Pay off your debts.
  • Buy a house only if you can pay off the mortgage in 15 years spending no more than 25% of your monthly take-home pay.
  • Set aside ____% (10? 20? 30?) to invest in your retirement.

Learning-curve-mess-tolerance

Simple, right? Maybe in bullet points. But NOT easy when applied to the messiness of real life. For most people – especially those of us who have lived for years without any financial plan at all, there are multiple learning curves involved. And each one involves insecurity-riddled intention, frustrating inefficiency, and discouraging lapses in willpower. Again, ugh!

But I’m so glad that DH and I have tolerated our learning curves through the nearly 6 years of financial makeover that we’ve gone through to date. The most beautiful message that I can offer about our experience is that although it’s been messy, we’ve covered step after step after step towards the finish line. It’s hard to believe, but our journey out of all debt will be completed in just 6 more months!

Embrace the hot mess of change!

So let your life-change journey be messy! Tolerate whatever learning curve hits you with the full force of its  unexpected personal awkwardness and complexity. Whether you’re moving towards better health, better finances, better career, better relationships, there are tried-and-true ways of getting there. And while they look neat and tidy in their presentation form, they’ll be a hot mess when you apply them. That’s OK! Messiness never stopped anyone from getting to a desired destination. In fact, I’d say you won’t get anywhere worth going without it.


Have you ever made a real lifestyle change? Was it seamless? Or messy? Your comments are welcome.


 

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12 CommentsLeave a comment

  • First of all, kudos to you to giving this a go! For me, even switching to be a vegetarian would be really hard, let alone vegan! I’m only speaking for me. I don’t think changes are as easy and some people would lead you to believe. It’s sort of like those stories where people quit their jobs and suddenly life is all rainbows and ponies. I feel like there is more to the truth than that. I think there is a huge adjustment period with moments of chaos thrown in there.

    • Sometimes there’s more than mere moments of chaos thrown in there. Just take a look at my kitchen 🙂 I think that the “seamless” presentation of big changes just ends up discouraging people. If we accept that it’s going to be messy, we’re less likely to give up. Thanks, Tonya!

  • Messy for sure. I believe that all part of the learning curve, trial, and error. We’ve experienced many bumps in the road, some big, and some small. We do our best to learn and make adjustments for the future. Each time improving, even if its ever so slightly. Looking forward to the end of the debt journey for you and the family, and the beginning of a whole new one!!

    • Aw, thanks Brian! That is a generous sentiment:) It can be hard to believe, when you’re in the midst of the “many bumps” that the road is actually leading somewhere, But it is!

  • *pause after howling with laughter* Better to ask if I’ve ever had a lifestyle change that was NOT messy! 🙂 (No. Not one.)

    Actually, the least messy change was this recent cut-off of Dad. That’s *not* a good commentary on my changes. But you know what? I think my changes stick because they’re so dang painful! I was reflecting on this abhorrence of pain as an effective tool. PiC has gotten into the habit of forgetting things too much: keys, wallet, credit cards, JB’s lunch. I remember a time when I kept forgetting things too until I decided that fixing my forgettings was too painful so after each one, I’d make myself think of a good way to stop doing that. It works!

    • I was just talking to a friend about that very concept this afternoon. If it’s not messy, it’s a superficial change at best. Real change takes real mess – and all that is “dang painful” about it. (And if your least messy change was your recent cut-off of your dad, that really does tell me a lot about your changes. Ay caramba!)

    • Sorry for the wait, Kay. I don’t like to miss a week. I hit some kind of a wall last week and just couldn’t do blogging – so I let myself not do it. Sometimes, I think the end of last year catches me off guard. Now I’m off work for the March Break, and the rest is good medicine:) As for “self-discipline”, I promise that if you could try some of these delicious meals we’re making, you’d understand how we do it.

  • I feel for you Ruth – my kitchen looked like that too with my failed attempt at becoming vegan; but you are hanging in there and soon your effort will get easier. Just like your debt reduction effort.

    My big lifestyle change was becoming debt free nearly three years ago and I am still going strong today. During that time period I also changed my eating habits (gave up carbs) and lost weight too. I thought I had both problems licked, but once I started eating carbs again the weight came back. I guess the key to real change is sticking with what works.

    • 3 years of debt-freedom! I’m encouraged to hear that. Occasionally, I read articles warning against going back into debt – apparently it happens a lot. But you are proof that it doesn’t need to go that way. Our vegan effort is not for weight loss, but I am surprised that I’ve actually gained. As for sticking with what works, you’re clearly doing that with your finances. For food, I don’t know about life without carbs …

  • I think that when making any sort of lifestyle change, a seamless transition is just not realistic. It reminds me of soon-to-be first time moms and how some of them think their lives will still be the same and they can still do their same activities, etc… and that they will just “fit the baby in” to THEIR schedule. Um no…that’s not that works!

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