I have a confession to make. I once nursed quite an infatuation with Dr Pepper, but I cut it out of my diet a year and a half ago. Originally, the separation left quite a hole. During the early days after the break-up, I noticed the absence of sweet cherry fizz in my life as acutely as I notice the missing period after the "Dr" title. (Seriously, where is the period? My inner grammarian cringes at this omission.)
Jealousy used to surface when I saw others with a cold Dr Pepper. I'd remember the good times we once had together. I'd glamorized how full of life and energy the good doctor made me feel. In moments of weakness -- late nights, dull afternoons -- I contemplated going back, whispering to myself just this once.
But I held firm. As more time passed, my cravings diminished. I could tolerate being in the same room with another person holding a Dr Pepper without obsessively staring or longing. As weeks turned into months, I felt downright Taylor Swift-y about it. I made a declaration: Dr Pepper, we are never, ever, ever getting back together.
And that's where I stayed: living a resolute Dr Pepper-less lifestyle for over a year.
But then there was last week. On a day when I felt especially deprived of sleep and burdened with a heavy workload, I was given a coupon for a free Dr Pepper. It was the worst possible alchemy. I realized that I was flirting with danger by keeping the coupon instead of immediately trashing it, and as expected, the temptation proved too great to resist.
I won't lie: it was wonderful. I savored every drop as it went down. I still enjoy a Dr Pepper fling, apparently.
But here's where I differ from my past self: I didn't wallow this time around. I didn't throw my hands up in the air, exaggerating that I had ruined everything by falling off the wagon. I simply moved on. I filled my water bottle the next day and got back on track. This reminded me of three premises for better health:
1) Little actions lead to larger habits. I like to pretend that my small dietary choices, good or bad, don't have actual consequences. It's just a Dr Pepper, I rationalize. It's just a milkshake, and I deserve a milkshake after this week. It's just an entire box of Girl Scout cookies, and Thin Mints only come out once a year. It's just one apple, and does one apple really help that much? But these small choices, when repeated, can form habits, and habits, when entrenched, have impact.
2) Don't let one bad choice derail you. Although repeated small choices do lead to habits, I've found that it helps when I give myself grace. A bad choice doesn't mean that I'm entirely undone. Sure, I broke my year-long Dr Pepper-free streak, but I didn't buy a whole case and drown my sorrows with more Dr Pepper to numb my regret. I can chalk it up to a bad day (or week) and move on.
3) Make one better choice each day. When I think about my diet or exercise restrictively -- mulling over what I shouldn't do or shouldn't have -- I grow more fixated on those things. Instead, I've found that it's helpful to get so busy doing the right thing that I don't have time to do the wrong thing. (This is good for life in general, not just health.) If I concentrate on one simple premise -- Robin, just make one better choice today -- I'm more prone to take the steps rather than the elevator, or eat a little more broccoli instead of a little more pasta, or skip on a second scoop of ice cream.
This repeated choice to do "one better thing" each day leads directly back to my first tip. My little healthy actions lead to larger healthy habits. Those larger healthy habits, in turn, ensure that my bad choices are more of a rarity than the norm.
I'm sure I'll drink more Dr Pepper in the future, and since I'm being honest, you should know that I still hold a more romantic view of sweet tea than I ought. And if you hand me a theater-sized box of Dots, it would be gone in a day. And don't get me started on freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
But I'm working on it. For me, one better choice each day means I carry a water bottle at all times. After all, I simply don't have enough room for sugary drinks when I'm downing two or three 32-ounce Nalgenes of water each day.
If you've every struggled like I have, I hope these tips help you make one good choice today. (Just one. You've got this.) And even better, I hope that today's good choice will help to kickstart a good habit tomorrow.
Ever kick a bad habit? Have any tips for us? Leave a comment: we're all ears!
Dr Pepper image adapted from cyclonebill.