09/26/2012 06:00 pm ET Updated Nov 26, 2012

How to Fall Off the Wagon Consciously

Almost without exception, we all know what will and will not help us reach our goals. I've never met a patient who enjoyed feeling fatigued, being overweight, having acne or enduring stomach pains. I've also found that most patients know what changes they need to make to address these issues. Why, then, is it so hard to do what we know is right?

I think it's because of the powerful nature of circumstances and the unconscious ways that those circumstances "get" us. This exploration is meant to provide the opportunity to slow things down, and perhaps will help you to gain more control over those circumstances that cause us to do things that are not in our best interests.

Okay, so let's face it. It can be difficult to make a lasting change. I've found that it takes about two years to make a change that sticks. As we all know, life happens unexpectedly. In those two years, a million things may occur that can cause us to "fall off the wagon." Because of the time frame needed to make a lasting change, it's extremely helpful to know your own triggers.

Often, triggers are things that make you feel different, deprived, alone, needy, sad, depressed, angry or powerless. One of the most difficult triggers to overcome is food! Food triggers are all over the place and in most cases, food can symbolize life, love and belonging. Changing the way we eat can be one of the most difficult things to do.

My goal for each patient is that they understand what triggers them to fall off the wagon and to be able to recognize the very moment a trigger occurs. Being conscious is the number one gift you can give yourself in the quest to make a new habit stick.

And regarding that wagon, the goal is to keep you on the wagon, not off. What if, instead of being at the mercy of your triggers, you had them firmly in hand? What if, instead of feeling deprived and then sabotaging your hard-won efforts, you were in the driver's seat on this one?

Most people know how long they can go on a new program before they will deviate. For some, it's 24 hours; for others, it's two weeks. Knowing what I call your "set point" will go a long way toward giving you a modicum of control. If you can anticipate when and why you might feel tempted or like you may lose control, you'll be afforded an opportunity to own that moment. Choose it. Be conscious. Falling off the wagon doesn't need to be traumatic, lengthy, hugely detrimental or even permanent.

And it doesn't need to be something that happens to you. Recognizing your triggers, navigating them powerfully, and using those moments as opportunities to be conscious and choose the times you go off of the wagon may help you lengthen the time you're on the wagon.

When I began my sugar-free program two years ago, I never could have imagined that it would get easier. Really? No toast with my eggs? No dessert at birthday parties? But I promise you that if you practice your new habit for long enough, you just may find it becomes your new way of life. I can also vouch that it does, indeed, get easier.

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