Formalizing Meal Prep Sunday

A month or so I came across a subreddit called Meal Prep Sunday. It was exactly what you’d imagine - people were making all their meals for the week on Sunday in an effort to automate their eating routines.

I have repeatedly had problems with such automation. One reason involves what I described before in posts like “Syncing with Significant Others” - Lydia and I just have different eating times to our schedules, and if we are off, the likelihood of just cheating increases. The cheating is less about craving and more about convenience. It’s also just plain hard to stick to eating well.

The last three weekends we’ve been trying out meal preparation on Sundays. We bought a bunch of glass jars, we cut up all our vegetables (which is super easy now that we have a good food processor) and I make a stock. We only do lunches right now - either salads or soups - and that alone is working out fantastically.

I see this as a huge step forward in my eating. I can also see this fitting into a larger series of food habits progressing forward. To have a half step like this makes the thought of doing a Whole 30 Challenge almost like an afterthought rather than a true struggling challenge. It’s as though these counterintuitively small habits are foreordaining future successes (as described in “Towards an Identity Model of Habits: Part III”). 

This strategy is, to me, a different one compared to most normal habits, where I’m striving for the next level of mastery and automaticity. In this identity model it feels almost like the reverse - nail the small bits and whatever 30 challenge isn’t about enduring - it’s an afterthought, it’s finishing school, it’s icing on the cake. 

This is really important, especially for eating, which we don’t really think of as a skill that can be fully mastered. Until now I’ve usually thought of it as binary - either I’m not eating right or I am. Now it’s progressive, and I’ve never really seen that - I’ve heard of people talk about it like it should be implemented in small ways, but I’ve never seen the full progression, and that’s really important for people starting out, or people like me who are just horrible at it.

Meal Prep Sunday also marks the first real non-daily habit I’ve gone after. I’m formalizing it here in this post, and am very curious just how slow it will take to crystalize. It’s also a messy habit - it involves a bunch of routines, and I’m really curious if this is the proper way to encode it for maximum long term success.

Implementation Intention:
When I first get up on Sunday, I’ll work with Lydia to make a stock, go to the store to get veggies and proteins, and put the meals together.

Mental Contrasting:
-Positive: As I said before, I think this is a very solid half step towards mastering eating for life. This change in identity foreordains success with energy levels, general long term health, and weight loss.

-Stumbling Blocks:
Doing anything on Sunday can interfere with this habit. If I travel, there’s really no way to do this, though to be fair I’ll probably be eating out anyways. If I want to meet people up or do a day trip that involves weekends or just Sundays meal prep will be thrown into disarray. Compensating would really work well with getting up early. This just underscores that good habits have a tendency to support each other just as bad habits support each other, making it incredibly hard to make global behavioral identity shifts.

Secondly, there are a lot of behaviors here. The implementation intention isn’t really precise. What is the “if”? I’d say either when I get up, or after my weekend morning routine - so after I do my pantry check, water & bacon, and note down my sleep times, I do this. Ok, fine.

But what is the “then”? Do I go to the store, do I start chopping? Do I just get all my jars out?

Quantified Food Recording

Implementation Intention: Before I go to bed I will make tea and record what I ate for the day on MyNetDiary. So far I like this app better than the widely touted MyFitnessPal, though we’ll see how it goes.

Mental Contrasting: Positives include having a solid metric and gauge on what’s going into my body. As with pantry checking, food has been a thorn in my side for greater progression in this project and I’ve had to scrap it several times. This is a potential manner in which to nail it down and get on to more interesting things and get the body I want that’s capable of those interesting things.
Obstacles include not having my phone charge in order to record my food since it is at the end of the day. Does MyNetDiary have a web correlate? Another is meeting friends late, and coming back and wanting to crash. Travel is always a problem, but oddly enough it’s not the time - usually I get home early. It’s whether or not my phone is charged.

Step ups: Deciding on wether to go the caloric route or the clean route or both and decreasing calories or cleaning up my eating. Also a flash diet for specific difficult to control food items. Another potential is a timed carb cycle or other advanced food control practice.

I like this particular formulation in that it seems to both incorporate multiple buttresses for support and it lays the groundwork to support other behaviors.

For example, it incorporates the ritual of making tea. It’s at night before bed, so it starts a control for when to go to sleep, laying the groundwork for the back end of a bookend and a future early wakeup habit. It also curtails overindulging in late night drinks because I have to go home and do something.

Properly (Re)Implementing and Eating Habit

“What do you wanna eat?”
“Idunno, what do you wanna eat?”

And so the conversation goes. I number of studies have shown that decision making of any kind tends to drain willpower. It’s called Decision Fatigue and John Tierney (who co-wrote THE book on Willpower with Roy Baumeister, “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength”  has an excellent article on it in the New York Times:

“Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?”

Personally I have lately found this to be incredibly true. It just exhausted me because it would continue on and on, and it was a daily occurrence. So my current attempt at re-implementation an eating plan isn’t so much about getting eating down - it was about preventing this fatigue.

When I first started recording my “good eating” habit it was almost 2 years ago when I was in Brazil. I had, almost by happenstance, started eating really well. Why not record it? 

A couple of reasons. I never actually did any of the techniques that encourage automaticity. No TinyHabit, no mental contrasting or implementation intention. And although it lasted for quite a while, it inevitably imploded. Automaticity just wasn’t occurring.

This really came to my attention with my rowing habit which continues to have amazing automaticity. I believe this is because of a very precise if-then protocol. When looking at the two habits side by side it makes complete sense that eating wasn’t happening. The initial formation of my eating habit had failure built into it.

Here’s what my plan looks like so far:
1. I have an eating schedule. I know exactly what I’m going to eat on which day so I don’t have to make any decisions. 
2. The first meal of the day is bookended and based on a habit chain. I have my morning chain of habits. As soon as I’m done with my meditation, I eat no matter if I’m hungry or not. That’s my implementation intention.
3. My first meal is what I consider “clean” - that’s my TinyHabit.
4. All meals are a combination of cooking and take out. Another element of my TinyHabit
5. The greatest pitfall of eating clean is, for me, having stuff to cook. I also have grocery trips scheduled. This is a part of my mental contrasting.
6. Mastering the automaticity of that first meal is my first shelf. Trying to figure out a set if-then protocol for my second meal is a challenge - it appears to be a floating habit - sometime after my chain of habits, yet far before sleep…I’m currently at a loss on how to anchor an implementation intention, but that would be my second step. My third would be to make that second eating time utterly clean. My third would be to schedule clean refeeds. All of this is my plan to push for mastery. It also sets up what actions are defined as success.

I’ve only been doing this for a few days and haven’t started recording it. I think of it as a test run. I have several other questions I need to hammer out - how does this react to travel? I haven’t yet gotten into a routine of going to the grocery store automatically - should this be separately recorded? What about eating for the sheer pleasure - is this too strict? I definitely want to include exceptions for special meals - a connoisseurship card.

However, I already feel this immense sense of relief not having to go through the rigamarole of deciding. 

Dynamic Meditation Revisited Part III- Implementation Intention & Mental Contrasting

The first step is Implementation Intention. This is kind’ve weird because it’s not a discrete task - rather it’s one that needs to be performed in life. But hey, why not apply it to something I’m really nervous with? Is that good or bad? I don’t know, but let’s try it

Implementation Intention:
I will perform 20 minutes of dynamic meditation at the beginning of the day when I do my first real task - my work habit on weekdays, and my writing on weekdays. I will start by putting up a word file to record things on the side of my computer screen to list out when the emotions arise and what I do to counter them. I will record this on my blog as well.

Mental Contrasting:
1. What positive changes can occur in my life if the habit is fully a part of my daily routine?

If dynamic meditation is a part of my daily routine I will be able to not be ripping myself up to accomplish my goals like I have been recently, and do so constantly in my life. So much energy gets wasted on just trying to maintain, and doing so has me barely able to do anything during a day. To be able to recover that would be amazing.

I want to be someone like Ari from Entourage, who is never ever really broken, like Vince, where every day, positive or negative is all good. I want to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who always looked forward despite overwhelming odds. For him, being weird was a positive - not being at the cool kids table wasn’t something to feel beaten up over - it meant he got to create his own damn table.

I want this so that I can accomplish all my wildest dreams without feeling ripped a part in thinking that I’m not accomplishing anything at all. I want this so I can accomplish all my goals, this project, and beyond. I want to be a force to be reckoned with, unshakeable, to uproot all this negativity from out of myself. I live a life that is fantastic, that people would kill for, and there’s no point in living it without enjoying it fully.

2. What could go wrong in forming this habit?

I could not do other habits - writing or work - that could cause me to therefore not do my 20 minutes of dynamic meditation. I could feel lazy and not want to get started on it. I could get bogged down on what the correct perfect formation of this habit is instead of just STARTING. I could forget to not write down my list of arising emotion in that 20 minutes - I got lazy about it last time around and it resulted in fewer and fewer results. I could not have access to my computer and not have a pen and pad to jot all this down - or just be too busy and forget to bring it with me, like when I’m traveling. I could abandon the habit in my breaking points or in the quarter mark period, where sustaining the habit becomes difficult to endure.