In Fine Fettle: Creating change one cup of coffee at a time

By Ammi Midstokke
Reader Health Columnist

“You could stop eating the butter mints on your secretary’s desk each day,” says Kenny. I roll my eyes at him. Really? The butter mints? My life will now have no purpose. He takes it a step further by suggesting I drink my coffee black.

I have run several marathons, survived divorce and veganism, even invited the suffering of burpees, but nothing has ever seemed as Machiavellian or cruel as leaving the cream out of my coffee. I decide Kenny is a sadist, but what can we expect from the owner of a CrossFit gym?

He’s also right. And he asks me a question that we too often fail to ask ourselves: Is it worth it? And what makes it worth it?

Ammi Midstokke.

There is a misleading expectation that, as a nutritionist, everything about my nutrition is optimal. I am here to dispel that myth. Sure, I eat well — but I eat a lot of really good food. And those damned butter mints that call to me with their siren song.

Like all other normal humans, I require some support and accountability. I usually get it from Kenny Markwardt (if anyone knows sports nutrition, it’s him), and sometimes I regret that but usually my body does not.

We all know what we shouldn’t be eating. What we seem to understand less is why we make choices that don’t support our goals. I would argue that we often fail to even ask ourselves what our goals are or to look beyond the smaller size of jeans. We want to be thinner, faster, stronger and attached to this idea or ideal, but do we pause to ask ourselves why?

Without that understanding, it is impossible for us to commit to change or make it sustainably. Here’s another little uncomfortable truth: Without making changes, we cannot expect change to happen. If I am committed to cream in my coffee and stealing mints every time I send a fax, well…

This is not only true for food. We seem to seldom address or consider our future selves beyond our hopes of next month or our next vacation. We are disconnected from who we imagine ourselves to be in five years. Or even one year. I urge you to pause and take a moment to envision what a version of you looks like, feels like, is doing in five years.

No really. Take a moment. I’ll still be here when you’re done.

How did it go? Is your five-year-older self still strong and vital? How old are your children? Are you eating more vegetables, developing in your chosen career, retired? Is that project in your yard finally done? Based on your current trajectory, did you get more or less healthy?

In doing this exercise myself, I realized two profound things:

1. I am not currently making the changes necessary to actually be the person I want to be in five years, and;

2. I am and entirely in control of my choices, thus empowered to be that person if I accept responsibility for number 1.

We often want to be the thing without doing the things it takes to get there. If we can accept that it is not worth it to us (I’m on the fence about cream in my coffee), then we can also be content with where we are now. That’s an okay option! It just requires honesty and acceptance.

Often we are discontent with where we are but have unrealistic expectations of how to get to where we want to be. I had a patient once who said, “I could never run a marathon, but I’ve always wanted to.”

“You’re right,” I said, “You can’t just go run a marathon. But you could train for one.” So that’s what she did. Then she ran a marathon too, just for kicks.

Real change and sustainable development in our lives, our bodies, even our personal growth, requires that we look ahead and set intention toward that future. It also requires that we re-evaluate our commitment to that future again and again. Sometimes our priorities will shift. We may pause to ask ourselves if they are shifting because we are choosing proactively or because our lack of commitment has made that future unachievable?

Pretty soon, Jan. 1 will roll around, and we’ll all be wallowing in the suffering of deprivation and thrill of turning a new leaf. Both of those things will likely die out by February.

Maybe this year you can change your approach. Maybe instead of wanting results now, you can look ahead one year or five and start making the small but tangible commitments toward those goals.

Maybe black coffee is just as delicious if we give it a chance. I won’t know if I don’t try.

Ammi Midstokke can be reached at [email protected]

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