Our habits decide what we eat, when we eat and how much we eat. Some habits are good like “I always eat breakfast” and some are obviously bad like “I just can’t stay away from chips”. Even though most of our eating habits are established during our childhood, it doesn’t mean we cannot change them. If you want to lose weight in a healthy way, you must first change your eating habits and adopt healthy ones.
However, you must refrain from making sudden, radical changes such as eating nothing as it can only lead to short term weight loss. Such drastic changes are neither healthy nor can provide success in the long run. Improving your eating habits permanently requires a steady, thoughtful approach in which you Reflect, Replace and lastly Reinforce.
Here’s how the process of Reflect, Replace and Reinforce work in correcting your eating habits and keep your weight in control:
- Start with creating a list of your eating habits –
the bad as well as the good ones. Keep a food diary for a few days. Write down in it everything you eat along with the time of the day you ate it.
It will help you uncover your habits. You may discover some of your unhealthy eating habits you have been following over years like seeking a
sweet snack to get through the afternoon energy slump.
- Check the list and highlight the habits that are leading you to overeat. The most common eating habits that lead to weight gain are:
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating too fast
- Eating while standing up
- Eating dessert most of the time
- Skipping meals
- Once you have marked the unhealthy eating habits, identify the triggering factors that compel you to engage in those habits. Pick a few that you would like to work on for improving. Experts advise selecting those habits that are easy to break as this will boost your confidence and prepare you for challenging yourself with more difficult ones. Pat yourself on the back for the unhealthy habits you have managed to get rid of. Recognizing success will encourage you to make more changes.
- Review your food diary and make a list of “cues” to become aware of where and when you were “tempted” to eat for a reason other than hunger.
Use this diary to note down what you were thinking or how you were feeling when you decided to eat, especially when you were eating when not hungry. Was it just stress or tiredness? Knowing yourself is the first step to improving yourself. Note your exact feeling at those times. Most often, you will discover an environmental “cue” that is encouraging impulsive eating in you.
- Know the common triggers that make you eat
when you are not hungry. Introspect and check which of these triggers are acting on you. Here is the list of factors that usually trigger impulsive eating:
- Sitting on a couch reading your favorite book
- Watching television
- Walking past a candy dish on the counter
- Coming home after a tiring day and having no idea what’s for dinner
- Opening up the kitchen cabinet to see your favorite snack
- After a stressful meeting
- Someone offering you a dish made “just for you”!
- Stopping at a fast food restaurant on the way
- Feeling bored and thinking food might offer a pick-me-up
- Circle the “situations” on this list that you face often. Think about other triggers outside this list that may be working on you to tempt you to eat unnecessarily. Think, “What can I do to avoid this situation?” This option works best for situations that involve only you. For example, if your trigger is stopping at a fast food restaurant on the way to work then choose a different route to avoid the situation.
- However, you can’t avoid all situations that trigger impulsive eating like staff meetings at work. Such situations must be tackled using thoughtful tactics. Evaluate your options. You can offer to take notes to distract your attention from food or can sit farther away from the food so it becomes less easy for you to grab something. You can plan ahead and eat a healthy snack before a stressful meeting.
- Replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones. If you realize that you eat too fast when you are alone, make a commitment to share your lunch with a colleague or invite a neighbor over for dinner. Other strategies include minimizing other distractions like watching the news during dinner or putting your fork down between bites. This will help you pay attention to how quickly and how much you are eating.
- Here are few more ideas that can help you replace unhealthy habits:
- Eat slowly. When you eat too quickly, you end up “cleaning your plate” without realizing when your hunger was satisfied.
- Eat only when you are truly hungry and not when you are anxious, tired or stressed. If you find yourself eating when experiencing an emotion other than hunger like boredom, find a non-eating activity to do like calling a friend.
- Plan your meals ahead of time to make sure you eat a healthy well-balanced meal.
- Habits take time to develop. Time and again reinforce your healthy habits and be patient with yourself. Keep in mind healthy habits do not happen overnight. If you find yourself engaging in an unhealthy habit, stop there and there and ask yourself: Why am I doing this? What other changes do I need to make? But, do not berate yourself by thinking that one mistake will blow a whole month’s worth of healthy habits. Have faith in yourself. Say, I can do it! It just takes time!
Slowly, you will be able to incorporate new healthy habits in your life. And with this, you will start feeling better and lighter as well as more confident about yourself!