You were doing so well!

Sticking to your resolutions and starting to see results. Increased energy. Reduced symptoms.

And then…


Maybe it was the holidays, traveling or just a really stressful week.

You fell off. And it’s been hard to get back on.

What happened?


Brenda Zimmerman coined the term ‘snapback’ for our tendency to revert to old patterns when we are trying to change.

Let’s borrow a model from ecology to look at what happens:

An equilibrium is a state.

It could be a state of illness. A state of health. Or a state of enlightenment.

The idea is that there are multiple potential equilibrium states in any complex system.

And you are a complex system~.

Pretend the orange marble is you. And the purple equilibrium is your current reality (whatever that may be).

Other equilibria (red! green!) are possible. But how do you get there?

Tipping Points

Tipping Points are places where a system switches from one equilibrium state to another.

From illness to health (or the other way round).

The system itself could be a forest, a social movement, an economy, a family or a person.

But for now let’s consider a person-sized system. You.

Any time you have successfully made a change, there was a build-up of events that eventually enabled the transformation. Modifications in behaviour, attitude and environment accumulated until the new equilibrium was reached. And sustained.

Your New Equilibrium States

When you embark on a healing protocol the system you are focusing on is you. Specifically, your heath.

If you decided to go on the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP), we might depict your potential equilibrium states like this:

Let’s say the orange marble is still you. What will it take to get you up to the tipping point and onto the AIP?

The answer will be different for each of us.

If you have been fully living a healing protocol lifestyle in the past, you can recall the events that led to the point where you were in equilibrium on the protocol: you knew what you were doing there and were confident you’d still be doing it tomorrow.

Likewise, if you’ve fallen off of a healing protocol, you probably reached a point where all it took was one last thing to tip you back to your SAD (Standard American Diet) old ways.

Maybe it went like this: You just got home. You were tired. And hungry. It was dinner time. You were missing your old comfort foods and you didn’t have anything prepared. Or defrosted. You still had 13 things to do before you could go to bed. Your kid had been whining for over an hour. And then the credit card company called to remind you that you’ve missed 2 minimum payments…

And that was your tipping point. The phone call.

You turned right around and took your kid out to a crappy restaurant.

How many events does it take to reach a tipping point?

That depends on the depth of your current equilibrium.

In this model, the depth of each equilibrium state depicts the amount of energy required to tip from one state to another.

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Take the Assessment

If you’ve been in your current equilibrium for a long time, it is likely that the trench for that state is pretty darn deep.

As in, you’re probably pretty entrenched.

And if your desired state will require significant behaviour change and will disrupt your established patterns of self-soothing by removing your comfort foods, chances are the trench for that that new equilibrium will be pretty shallow. At first.

We might depict the potential equilibrium states for a new AIPer like so:

The coloured marbles could represent members of the AIP community at any given time.

Remember that the depth of each equilibrium trench indicates how much energy it will take to tip from one state to another.

So, when you are starting out on the AIP, your AIP equilibrium is just a slight depression, and there is literally a slippery slope between your desired state (the AIP) and your SAD old ways.

In other words, it doesn’t take much energy to pitch you out of your new equilibrium and snap you back to the old one.

And because healing your gut and reducing systemic inflammation takes time, you aren’t just going to jauntily roll downhill the other way to find an equilibrium of health as soon as you find your AIP groove.

You are going to have to put energy into your change to stay in the AIP equilibrium and then put effort into your AIP lifestyle before you can get up to the next tipping point that will get you over to an equilibrium state of health.

Of course, this is a simplification.

Because you are a complex system.

First, you can expect to reach a series of equilibrium points of increasing health on the AIP. They might look like a row of speedbumps:

Second, the healing process is always non-linear.

In addition to the AIP, your body is still responding to your environment and to decades (probably) of having been in other equilibrium states.

And creative destruction is occurring in the systems that affect you all the time..

All you really have control over is your choices.

If you choose a healing protocol lifestyle, your goal will be to deepen the trench of that new equilibrium, so you will be less likely to snapback and more likely to tip over into the cascading states of health on the other side.

Deepening the Healing Equilibrium

  • Prepare your environment: Create an environment that supports your new equilibrium. Stash healing food at work. Keep triggers out of the house. Create functional (and beautiful) space for food prep. Build batch cooking into your routine. Set yourself up for success.
  • Go for leverage: Whenever you are attempting system change, think in terms of the least effort for the most impact. Apply the ‘effort:impact’ formula whenever you allocate resources (your time and attention are both resources). Remember that a healing protocol is about more than just food. The lifestyle elements of the protocol (sleep & stress management) are very high leverage.
  • Disrupt your routine: Your routine may be keeping you habituated toward your SAD old equilibrium. Re-organize your patterns. Walk a different route. Go to bed early. If you develop habits around your new equilibrium, you’ll start entrenching what you want and reduce the lure of what you don’t.
  • Know your triggers: Certain family members. Times of year. Aisles in the grocery store. Whatever they are: know them. If you can’t avoid them, prepare for them, mindfully.
  • Practice Mindfulness: Be fully here, right now. And have compassion for yourself.
  • Build a support network: if you don’t yet have a crew that is rooting for you in person, find one online.
  • Perseverance: If you fall off, get right back on. Falling off of your Healing Protocol doesn’t have to mean you’ve reverted to an old equilibrium. If you immediately return to your protocol, you may have set yourself back (in effect, steepened the slope to reach the tipping point to Health), but you are still in your new equilibrium. It’s still your new normal. Some of us need to rock back and forth a bit before we settle in. In ecology, if a system starts rapidly vacillating between states, it’s an indication that a tipping point is near…
  • Harm Reduction: If you do snapback, practice harm reduction. You don’t have to roll right back to the bottom of the SAD equilibrium. Instead, carve yourself a niche along the slope, by choosing what will harm you the least and enable you to get back to the tipping point to your Healing Protocol with the smallest effort.

    • Have faith (and confront the facts): By practicing the Stockdale Paradox, have absolute faith in the healing process, while simultaneously truly understanding the reality of your situation.
    • Troubleshoot: Still having trouble maintaining your new equilibrium? Do a Force Field Analysis. And may the Force be with you.

Originally published on the Paleo Mom's blog.

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