When it comes to eating, we have strong habits. Some are good (“I always eat breakfast”), and some are not so good (“I always clean my plate”). Although many of our eating habits were established during childhood, it doesn’t mean it’s too late to change them. As it’s still early in the year, healthier eating (and healthier living) is still fresh in many people’s minds, and we want to help you achieve your healthy eating goals. But making sudden, radical changes to your eating habits often ends in failure, so we wanted to share a more gradual, and successful approach.
Before you make any actual changes, you need to take some time to reflect and identify your current eating habits. You could start by keeping a food diary for a few days, writing down everything you eat, the time of day you eat it and what you were feeling/doing before you ate. This will help you uncover your habits. For example, you might discover that you always seek a sweet snack to get you through your mid-afternoon energy slump. From that diary, you can follow these steps to identify what you want to change;
- Highlight the habits on your list that may be leading you to
overeat. Common issues are often:
- Eating to fast
- Always cleaning your plate
- Eating when you’re not hungry
- Eating while standing up (which leads to mindless and fast eating)
- Always eating dessert
- Skipping meals (mainly breakfast)
- Look at the unhealthy eating habits you’ve highlighted, and make sure you’ve identified all the triggers that cause you to engage in those habits. Now, you can pick a few you’d like to work on improving first. Don’t try to do too much at once, instead focus on a few things at a time, make them a habit, and then move onto the next changes.
- Create a list of ‘cues’ that trigger your unhealthy habits. You can usually spot these by looking at that food diary. To you end up eating when you’re stressed, or feeling down? Or when you’re in a certain place, or with certain people? Common triggers for eating when you’re not hungry include:
- Opening up the cabinet and seeing your favourite snack food
- Sitting at home watching television
- Before or after a stressful meeting or situation at work
- Coming home after work and having no idea what’s for dinner
- Having someone offer you a dish they made “just for you!”
- Walking past a candy dish on the counter
- Sitting in the break room beside the vending machine
- Seeing a plate of doughnuts at the morning staff meeting
- Swinging through your favourite drive-through every morning
- Feeling bored or tired and thinking food might offer a pick-me-up
Then circle the cues on your list that you face on a regular basis.
- Ask yourself if there is anything you can do to avoid the cue? Or if you can’t , is there something you could do differently that would be healthier? For example, could you bring healthier snacks or beverages with you to places you know will have unhealthy ones?
Now that you’ve identified your unhealthy habits, it’s time to replace them with healthy ones.
For example, you might realise during your reflection that you eat too fast when you eat alone. To replace this, you could make a commitment to share a lunch each week with a colleague, or have someone over for dinner one night a week. If that isn’t possible, you could practice putting your fork down in between bites, and only picking it up once you have chewed and swallowed your previous mouthful. Minimizing distractions is also a good technique for this – try to focus solely on eating your meal and don’t multitask by reading or watching the news.
Another common issue is eating out of boredom or anxiety. Here you would remove snack foods that are easy to binge on, and focus on eating when you’re truly hungry, instead of when you’re tired, anxious, or feeling an emotion besides hunger. Instead, when you feel those things, drink a glass of water (more often than not you are thirsty, not hungry) and find a non-eating activity to do – like a walk or a phone call with a friend.
Planning your meals ahead of time will also ensure you eat healthy, well-balanced meals, and allows you to shop for what you need, without adding any triggering foods along the way. There are hundreds of ways you can replace bad habits with good ones, and if you’re not sure what will work for you, talk to a professional or do some research on your options.
Once you’ve decided what your new healthy eating habits should look like, it’s time to make it stick. This is often the most difficult part of the change, and the reason most people fail new diets. Habits take time to develop, especially if they are changes to existing habits. So, for a while, you will need to put some energy into reinforcing these new, healthy habits. And be patient with yourself. No one can change overnight. Instead, when you find yourself engaging in an unhealthy habit, stop as quickly as possible and ask yourself:
- Why did I do this?
- When did I start doing this?
- What changes do I need to make?
Try not to berate yourself, or think that one mistake has ‘blown’ your efforts so far. Just accept it, try to learn from it and continue with the healthy habits you have set out. Over time, the slips will become less, and the healthy habits will become second nature for you. And above all – believe in yourself! Tell yourself you can do it, and odds are that you will.
Change is never easy, and sometimes you need a little help and support to get there. At The Surrey and Hampshire Wellbeing Clinic, we have a wide range of natural, holistic services that can support you in your journey, from the planning stages all the way through to guiding you through slip-ups and helping you understand how to achieve your goals. From weight loss and nutritional advice to help plan your healthier eating habits, to hypnotherapy to beat the unhealthy cravings, there is a support service for everyone. To find out more, just get in touch with us today.