Why don’t people change their bad habits if all it takes is just a little will power?
Could the vampires of ‘True Blood’ fame really forsake their bad eating habits so to speak?
Well, just like for vampires, it’s a pretty complex issue – so first, what is a bad eating habit?
Bad eating habits are formed when we choose to eat things or quantities of food on a regular basis that we know will damage our health. Bad habits that are practiced regularly have staying power because they are ingrained in our subconscious, meaning we do them without “being completely aware” or using the conscious mind. The bad habit becomes the norm and it feels as if it is an unshakeable part of your lifestyle.
If you want to change on-going bad eating habits, then you have to change what goes on consciously and subconsciously. Having will power may work a few times, but eventually your subconscious gets the better of you and that’s one of many reasons why diets fail. Start by changing one of the notions you have about food, something you might think is an “ultimate” truth.
Let’s say you view yourself as a junk food lover. Is that true or do you just think it since junk food has always been a quick, reliable meal for a busy person on the run? Start by thinking you’re a person who loves a fast, convenient meal and maybe you won’t hit the first burger joint you see at lunch time and opt for a healthier choice, say soup and a homemade sandwich!
Another way to break a bad habit is to break the cycle or number of times you do it. Most self-help experts say that it takes 28 days to change a bad habit, so if you are able to stop that bad behavior for just 28 days, your subconscious automatically adopts the change.
Changing your environment is another extremely helpful tool on your quest to break bad eating habits. Stocking your fridge with the right foods, staying away from neighborhoods or areas that sell fast food, having healthy nibbles ready for your next snack attack, or even packing fruits and veggies for long car trips, can help you to realize that hunger can be sufficiently satisfied with healthy foods your body needs.
My Own Bad Eating Habits
During my teens and early 20’s, I had text book bad eating habits:
1. Eating too fast
2. Eating fast food on a regular basis
3. Eating desserts and candy every single day
How I Changed Them
1. Eating too fast is something I learned at the family dinner table. I broke the cycle or frequency of this habit by finding ways to slow down. Biologically, there are sensors in your stomach that tell the brain when it’s filled. If you eat too fast those sensors don’t have time to tell your mind that you are full and you end up overeating.
I figured out that if I put my fork down in between bites, engaged in the dinner conversation, or took small sips of water between bites, I would eat a lot slower, enjoy my food more, and not feel completely stuffed at the end of a meal. I still grapple with this bad eating habit, especially if I’m hungry before dining out. Having a small, light, low-cal snack like carrot, celery, or red pepper sticks, is the perfect solution. They won’t fill me up and spoil my dinner, but they are enough to keep my ravenous hunger in check.
2. Eating fast food on a regular basis. Changing my food environment was the best thing I ever did. I learned to cook fast, simple meals at home, on a regular basis, focusing on dishes that I craved. I was hooked when I figured out that my own cooking tasted a lot better than fast food and my waistline started shrinking. I also started packing lunch or dinner for long car trips, flights, and weekend getaways, to rid myself of travel indigestion!
3. Eating desserts and candy every single day. I used the 28-day method, without even knowing it. I made a pact with myself to stop the sweets for one month only, just too see what would happen. After one month, my sugar cravings had decreased dramatically – so I didn’t crave the candy anymore. I was shocked to learn that I shrank one whole dress size – who knew that an extra candy bar over the months could add that much to my waist?
Back To The Old Habit?
What happens if you make a mistake and return to the bad habit? It happens to everyone. If you’ve found yourself back to the old habit, the first step is to not judge yourself. Adding stress or feeling guilty about it will only add more pressure to the situation. Get right back to your healthy routine, as soon as you can. Don’t give yourself an excuse to quit. If you’re shooting for 28 days, start over with a fresh 28 day cycle.
Another way to fight the urge of the bad habit is to make happy associations with the new healthy habit. Let’s say you’re hooked on chocolate, eating a 240 calorie candy bar every day and you want to break that habit. You could always have a handful of fresh berries, or some other sweet fruit as your treat instead. After a few days your body and mind adjust to the substitution – just make sure that you are making the healthiest substution possible while keeping portion size in mind.