If You're Struggling to Make Healthy Change, Crowding Out is For You

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If somebody tells you to eliminate dessert, quit smoking, or cut down on junk food, what is your reaction? I know when someone tells me to stop doing something, I want to do it more. It makes me more aware of whatever I am missing. As a result, I move forward in trepidation towards health, even though I know certain changes will serve me in the long run. Why? Because I am focusing on what I can’t have, or what I can’t do instead of the positive things I am adding in. Unfortunately, this is the advice many people receive when they begin their health journey: “no sweets, no drinking, no cheese, no carbs, no junk food, no soda…” Correct me if I’m wrong, but each one of those recommendations kind of sounds like “you’re not allowed to have any fun.” Ugh, how awful is that? I know that’s not the kind of life I want to lead. I am all about fun, and I am also all about living a radiant and healthy life. Despite what you’ve been told, these lifestyles are not mutually exclusive! You CAN have both!

Enter “Crowding Out.” Along with Primary Food, and Bio-Individuality, “Crowding Out” is a core concept they teach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. It is a concept that emphasizes adding in healthy activities, habits, and food, until the things you want to decrease or eliminate are naturally Crowded Out of your life! This allows you to focus on what you are gaining, rather than what you are losing. The amazing quality of Crowding Out, is you can apply it to virtually anything in your life that you want to adjust. It can include what’s on your plate, habits like social media and smoking, or even certain products you use like artificial makeup or plastic.   

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In my life, I am currently working on Crowding Out dairy and gluten products. While I cut out dairy a few years ago for health reasons, I decided to add it back into my life when I moved to Italy. I mean, who could blame me right? With all the delicious cheese and gelato, I couldn’t resist. As for wheat products, I don’t eat a lot of pasta back home, but again I’m in friggin Italy, I couldn’t NOT eat pasta or bread. Well, low and behold my plan to add these foods back into my life completely backfired and I ended up with some severe intestinal issues. They got so bad, that at one point I was waking up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. When my doctor suggested the cause was due to eating dairy and gluten, I was so disappointed. I thought “how the hell can I do this while I am in Italy? The entire country is made out of pasta and cheese!” The first few weeks, I was extremely upset. I had to decline going out for pizza with friends, and found myself craving mozzarella, gelato, and tortellini. I was focusing on everything I was missing out on. But then, I remembered the concept of Crowding Out!

I reminded myself that I needed to be focusing on what great things I could add into my life instead of what I had to eliminate.

I started visiting new farmers markets, created a gluten-free dessert board on Pinterest, visited unique restaurants, and found some great natural food stores near me that I never even knew existed! It gave me a reason to go out of my way to explore the possibilities I had access to. I realized that my earlier sentiment about Italy only having cheese and pasta was totally incorrect. It is FULL of unique fruits and vegetables, and has a growing health food sector. Now I feel myself getting excited about trying new recipes, feel motivated to cook for friends instead of eating out, and am learning to cook new types of food like grass-fed beef, and fish. I am also learning that this new shift in my diet is opening more opportunities to communicate with locals, and expand my Italian vocabulary because I have to ask about everything! I get to use my curiosity, socialize, have fun experimenting, and I am encouraged to plan ahead for my meals instead of just eating what’s convenient. Applying the concept of Crowding Out, I have eliminated dairy 100%, and am still working on Crowding Out gluten. The pain in my intestine has decreased significantly, and I have hope that with cutting out gluten 100%, my pain will disappear completely.

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Making changes can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. If you apply the concept of Crowding Out, you can make healthy changes slowly and in a way that best serves you! Remember, whenever you make a conscious healthy choice, you are adding so much to your life - possibly even extra years of living! So don’t wait, because you deserve to live the most radiant, healthy and fun life possible!

Here are 15 ideas of crowding out you can implement in your life. Choose your favorite one to start this week!

1.    Buy one new vegetable or fruit each time you shop for food.

2.     Experiment with healthy substitutes for common food irritants. Some that I like to use are raw cashews for cheese, flax seeds for egg, maca powder for caffeine, frozen mashed banana for ice cream, stevia for sugar, almond-coconut milk for milk, and Portobello mushrooms for meat.

3.     Try new spices to flavor your food instead of salt, sugar, or cheese. Some staples in my kitchen include: curry, turmeric, paprika, oregano, basil, thyme, cumin, and cinnamon.

4.     Drink a glass of water for every glass of soda, or alcohol.

5.     Create a Pinterest board for your new lifestyle, full of recipes and ideas that serve you. Try one new pin each week!

6.     Every time you finish a food in your pantry that doesn’t serve you, replace it with its healthy alternative. For instance, you could get sweet potato chips instead of regular potato chips, mixed nuts instead of cookies, dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, dried fruit instead of gummies, and kombucha instead of soda!

7.     Making healthy changes can sometimes feel isolating, but when you include people you love it can make it a fun experience for everyone! Invite friends to a new restaurant in your area that accommodates your new dietary changes, or invite them over for dinner!

8.     Every time you finish a “toxic” beauty product, swap it for an organic natural one instead of swapping everything at once.

9.     Same as above, but with cleaning products.

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10.  Start to read when you want to go on social media. See how long you can read for before reaching for your computer or phone.

11.  For every hour of TV, get up and do five minutes of stretching or exercise.

12.  Go for a walk around your office before reaching for that afternoon candy bar.

13.  If you are trying to get rid of smoking or drinking but like their anxiety reducing, social benefits, try out a new exercise class, or invite a friend to go on an evening walk.

14.  Pick up an activity that involves your hands to practice when you feel nervous and want to eat unhealthily, smoke or drink. This could be coloring, painting your nails, knitting, or embroidery.

15.   If you have a tendency to look at your phone too much before going to bed and it’s getting in the way of your sleep, test out some new night time routines like journaling, reading, meditation, or stretching.

Remember, everyone has their own timeline for change, so go slow and be patient with yourself! When you honor your own timeline of change, instead of submitting to an externally enforced timeline, you are setting yourself up for a long-lasting, sustainable lifestyle, rather than drastic, short-term change. For maximum benefit, you may even want to apply this positive habit building method in combination with Crowding Out! Most importantly, engage your curiosity, and have fun!  

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Now, I want to hear from you! What habit, food, or activity are you trying to crowd out? What method listed above will you use to create a healthier lifestyle? Share in the comments below!

P.S. If you loved this post, or know someone who could really use it, please share! You could really help someone out!