Many times clients will ask me how they can change their habits so they could eat healthier. I was able to change my eating habits over the years from fast food & sugar to eating mostly whole vegetables and protein during the day. To get to this point it took a lot of research, trial and error, and reading books from those that succeeded before me.
We use habits to avoid timely and stressful decision making as well as to conserve willpower. Habits involve 3 things; a cue, the habit itself and reinforcement. An example of a cue would be when I used to get to the office in the morning I’d go to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. I found that milk products can make me tired, coffee adds acid to the stomach which makes me feel hungrier and caffeine can make me anxious so I wanted to change the habit of having caffeinated coffee in the morning. In order to change a habit, change one part of the cycle of cue, habit and reinforcement. To change all 3 might be too much of a shock to the system and you may resist the change because the mind may perceive it to be too much change at once. In this case, the cue was I got to work and wanted to get my cup of coffee. While I kept the cue and reinforcement, I changed the habit from getting coffee to getting mint tea, which was caffeine free and milk free. The other change to habit I could do is getting decaf with soy milk. Then the reinforcement was the enjoyment of my cup of hot beverage. You can use this strategy to slowly change your unwanted habits to more desired ones. Make sure that what you do exchange your habit to is acceptable to you, such as I like mint tea but not everyone does. Make sure that your reinforcement is still acceptable to you otherwise the change may not last long.
If you want to eat when you get home every night, change one thing about that process, such as peanuts instead of chips. If you eat cookies at midnight, change it to popcorn instead of cookies. Whatever the change is make sure that it is acceptable to you so that the change is not too drastic and try to do them one at a time instead of changing all your unwanted habits at once. Sometimes you may transition from one food to another. For instance, I wanted to change from having so many burgers and fries to more salad. To change right to salad with no “bridge” from burgers would be difficult, so what I did was I would put everything but the bun on salad, preferably spinach as spinach is a diuretic (lose water weight) and an appetite suppressant. Then over time you will get used to the idea that burger salads, cheesesteak salad or even pizza salads (remove the topping and put on spinach) can be as satisfying for lunch or dinner. Then you can transition from there to salads with less cheese or more healthy protein (chicken, fish, vegan alternatives) once you are comfortable with the new routine.
It may take some time to change every habit you want to change but it is possible. The key is to be kind to yourself, understand the psychology such as change one thing at a time to avoid resistance, know what is an acceptable alternative for you and give it the time you need. You may have been reinforcing some of these habits for decades, like eating once you came home from school turned into eating when you came home from work. You may need more than a day or two to change a habit that has been reinforced over the years.
Some fast notes:
- Eat spinach, apples or applesauce with no added sugar, pineapple and green beans as they are diuretics (lose water weight) and are appetite suppressants. They have more fiber to slow the digestive process. They make you feel more full.
- Increasing hot water or tea intake during the day will help you to feel satiated and get more water in your body.
- If you just downed a whole bag of chips and want more, really what you are is thirsty. Take two pints of water “like a pill”, in other words drink them quickly rather than sip. This will help you to feel full and restore your “sanity”. Same thing after alcohol.
- Salt, fat and sugar can create a reaction where your brain and stomach stop telling you that you are full (where did that bag of chips go?). If you ever detox fully from these items you will know what I mean, your satiety can be restored and you feel full eating less whole food. Over time try to reduce these and be aware that chips and sweets have an affect on your brain that cause you to crave them more and remove your satiety. Same goes for artificial sugars. It helps to be aware so you can make better choices in the future.
Best of luck!
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Good reads: “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, “Willpower” by Roy Baumeister, John Tierney, “The end of overeating. Taking control of the insatiable american appetite.” by Kessler, M.D. David