Change as a Process: Coming to a Low-Histamine Diet Gradually

Change isn’t an event; it’s a process. There is no moment when a monkey learns to skateboard; there’s a process.
— Chip & Dan Heath, Switch

I’ve made a lot of changes over the past two years, for instance: I go to bed at 9:30 after talking to my husband and reading, instead of 10:30 after doing chores straight through to bedtime; I see a chiropractor and acupuncturist every week; I do a 10-minute yoga routine most mornings; I changed my diet to be Autoimmune Protocol Compliant; and I keep the lights low in the evenings. Typically, I approach change cautiously at first. I’m skeptical, I read a lot about the proposed change, and then, when I’m convinced, I jump in with both feet.

In a book I recently read called Switch: How to change when change is hard by Chip and Dan Heath, they used some labels to discuss the mechanics of change which I liked. The Heath brothers say to envision The Rider, or your brain, as sitting atop The Elephant, or your emotions. The Rider tries to control The Elephant as much as possible, but of course The Elephant has a will of her own and won’t always do as The Rider says. Therefore, even when The Rider knows what changes she wants to make, she can’t always get The Elephant to go along. I find these terms useful for thinking about making changes, so to apply them to my situation: usually, once I convince my Rider (my brain) to make a change, then I usually can get my Elephant (my feelings) to go along with the changes no problem.

But, a few months, ago I thought that I might have Histamine Intolerance, and as I read more and more, I realized that the only way to know for sure was going to be to make drastic changes to my diet. Again.

I had already overhauled my diet to do the Autoimmune Protocol, and although that was a big success for me, I was very reluctant to make further changes. My Elephant did not want to go that way! But the more I read, the more convinced I was that Histamine Intolerance could explain my heretofore inexplicable symptoms. My Rider was now completely convinced that I need to make further dietary changes to test my hypothesis. But, my Elephant really did not want to change. To give up all grilled, roasted, browned foods; all dried herbs, vegetables, and teas; all pork products; all fermented foods (sauerkraut! vinegar!); and leftover meats, seemed beyond the realm of the possible.

The mere thought of giving up all of these things at once was too much for my Elephant. So instead I embarked on a process. I’d like to claim that it was well thought-out and planned, but in reality it wasn’t. The reality is that I was dragging my Elephant and so I started small. First no fermented anything (in the words of Chris Kresser, fermented foods are “kryptonite" to the histamine intolerant). Then no leftover meat: freeze extras to eat later. Next it was grilled meats: stay off them for a week, then try again — yep, terrible histamine symptoms — OK they are gone. Then I stopped eating any browned meats or vegetables - so no fried patties, or roasted anything. I went through every high and medium level histamine food or cooking process one-by-one and cut it out. Eventually, I even managed to remember to buy fresh herbs at the grocery store so that I wasn’t even using dried herbs. And that’s when I realized, “Hey, I’ve done it! I’ve gotten down to the low histamine diet.” And my Elephant had barely noticed.

What I had done was, in more of the words of Switch, to “shrink the change,” in other words I took the changes in small steps. And in doing so I managed to trick The Elephant into making the changes. Instead of waving big changes in The Elephant’s face, scaring her, and getting no where. I just slipped small changes under the radar. And of course as I noticed that with each change I was feeling better and better, that made it easier and easier to keep The Elephant going.

Although I do sometimes jump into changes quickly without having to drag my Elephant, looking back over all of the changes I have implemented in the last couple of years, what I see more of is the process of change. I see the slow and steady steps that have allowed me to go from doing chores until 10pm to having them done by 8pm, so I can get into bed by 9:30pm every night. I see how one acupuncture appointment, led me to think more about self care so that I now do several things each week to relax and look after myself. I see how by shrinking the change to one thing at a time, I was able to start a wave of change which has carried me on to more and more changes.

Right, now I find myself in another change situation: I am about to start my ADAPT Health Coach Training Course with the Kresser Institute, and it feels like a big change that cannot be shrunk, because I am going “back to work” after being home with my kids. I never intended to be a stay at home mom, and during the last 6 years I have often not enjoyed it — partly due to be sick and undiagnosed — but also due to the fact that I have always wanted to work, to get out there and make a difference in the world beyond my children. And yet as much as I’m thrilled to finally be on the brink of a new career, I find it hard to tear myself away from the promise of a relaxing summer with my kids: the beach, the swimming hole, afternoons at the library, concerts in the park.

I seem to have constant talks with other women over this tension between kids and work, and I am well aware that the best I can do it to strive for a balance that suits me and be happy with that. I know that I can not be there for my kids every moment, and still fulfill my own goals, desires, and dreams.

So I am trying to be prepared for the change. In this case the big emotional change will happen internally and can’t much be helped, but I find myself drawn to working on the practical changes that might help me “shrink the change,” or perhaps more accurately in the lingo of Switch, might help me to “shape the path,” which involves making it easy for one’s self and other people to go along with a change. In this case I am working on the small, practical details that can make the change smoother, less noticeable, less painful for all involved, and easier to implement. If it’s hard for my kids to have mommy working all morning, at least there is someone (the mother’s helper) fun to play with, and fun toys, and snacks at the ready. At least if I am working all morning, but can come down and take lunch out of the fridge/freezer I will not be frazzled by cooking, hungry kids, and dropping blood sugar. I figure at least if I “shape the path” by having food and fun prepared in advance this process of change will be easier for all.