Changing identity

“Ice cream not more than once per day”—a personal boundary that I wrote about recently. I wanted to delve more into the self-concept portion of that journey.

“I am an ice cream addict” is a statement that no longer applies to me.

Decreasing my ice cream consumption was my first step toward changing my eating habits.

Let me tell you what the experience was like.

At first, it was difficult not to eat so much because it had been so much a part of my regular, daily life. There was always at least one flavor in the freezer.

Bored? Ice cream! Whatever flavor was in the freezer got the job done.

Excited? Ice cream! There was always a friend around who would meet up for a celebratory cone or sundae.

Sad? Ice cream! As a non-drinker, ice cream was my alternative to drinking away my problems.

Hungry? Ice cream! Made a great milk replacement in cereal. Made a delicious sandwich with whatever cookies were on hand. Mixed up til soft, I could eat cookies and ice cream like chips and dip. And of course, fruit ice cream is healthy because it has fruit in it, right?

You get the picture.

I was used to it just being there whenever I wanted some.  And because I had it all the time, I wanted it all the time.

I learned quickly that the easiest way to stop eating it was to stop buying it. Once I didn’t keep it in the house, I’d have to go out to have any. (This is one place where being lazy has been an asset.)

As I adapted to it not being easily available, another more difficult challenge presented itself—and this was the part that surprised me.

It was an affront to my identity.

I loved ice cream. Everyone knew I loved ice cream—remember all of the friends who were celebrating and commiserating with me? It was part of who I was.

“No, thanks,” was the most difficult thing to say when invited to go get a cone. No?  What do you mean, no?

Fortunately, I wasn’t often verbally assaulted or teased by friends for not indulging. But it was still hard.

I was self-conscious. It just wasn’t me. It didn’t feel right.

It took more mental energy for me to change my definition of myself than it took for me to change my habit.

I’m sure there are people who don’t even attempt to break a bad habit because it’s so ingrained in their definition of self that stopping would feel like losing a part of themselves.

It took a long time, but now I’m fine with declining an ice cream invitation or suggesting an alternate activity. I have other things that define me now—and “healthy” is at the top of the list.

(Don’t get me wrong—if I am invited for ice cream and I think a cone will really hit the spot, I’ll go. It just doesn’t happen very often.)

How did all of this happen? A little bit at a time. 

First, I stopped keeping it in the house but would go out regularly, alone or with friends. And I stuck rigidly to my new rule: not more than once per day. (I didn’t limit portion size. A pint in one sitting was still fair game.)

Then, a day or two passed without going out, because I was busy or lazy.

Then a day or two passed without me thinking about it. (I needed to not reprimand myself for missing out on ice cream when I realized I hadn’t thought about it.)

The day or two turned into three or four.

I noticed a new challenge: the need to be OK with going three or four days. To stop thinking, “I haven’t had ice cream in three days! I need to go get some!” As if somehow, I needed to make up for lost time.

As I became less mentally dependent on ice cream, my desire to eat a whole pint or a 3-scoop sundae dwindled on its own. Today, not only is that not desirable, but I’ll be physically sick if I eat that much.

It took a year or two, but now, many years later, ice cream—and my psychological dependency on it—is no longer a problem for me.

If I can do it, so can you!

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