Are You Aware of Your Habits?
By Abbe Breiter, MS RD LDN
How do we get a habit…practice, practice, practice. In other words, repetition of behaviors leads to a habit. Therefore wouldn’t it seem easy that in order to break a habit, we would just practice the reverse? We learn to eat and use food for a wide variety of reasons other than to satisfy our hunger and nutritional needs, and this is a major source of the difficulty. Some people use food to either distract themselves from or help themselves cope with boredom, depression, anxiety, frustration, anger or other difficult feelings. Some may use food as a primary source of pleasure and gratification, as a reward, a social buffer or substitute for something else. Sometimes a person's self-concept or other beliefs about themselves are significantly related to their eating and weight. These are just a few of the many psychological variables that can be involved in a weight control problem.
You don’t have to keep struggling, you don't have to use strong willpower, you don’t need to strictly follow a rigorous diet, and you don’t need to deprive yourself. All you need is a lot of awareness and a little self-discipline. You will need a lot of awareness because behavior is a result of many interacting variables, especially eating behavior. There are many factors and issues contributing to your eating, the more that you become aware of and manage, the easier it will become to control your eating.
- The first step is to pay attention and become consciously aware of your habits. How are you using food, what are you getting from it, what is the purpose of your eating? Turn off the autopilot and stop the unconscious eating. If you are not aware of the issues, you cannot do anything about them, and you become out of control. So pay attention and become aware of the many ways you use food.
- Become aware of other behaviors and other means of obtaining the same function. For example, if you are aware that you use food to help you deal with boredom, become aware of several other ways or things you could do to cope with boredom. Don't just tell yourself you are not going to eat when bored, put the emphasis on what you can do when bored. Stop using food to satisfy your psychological and interpersonal needs.
- The conditioned cravings and eating. You can condition or teach yourself to feel hungry or have a craving when you are not really hungry, just like Pavlov conditioned his dogs to salivate to the ringing of a bell. If you develop a habit of eating while you are doing another behavior, you will develop a conditioned craving or desire to eat whenever you do that behavior, even if you have recently had a meal and are not really hungry. Examples include snacking while watching television, or when you first get home from work. A conditioned reaction that is not reinforced weakens, and soon you will be able to do that behavior without a craving.
- Pay attention and be aware of the internal cues, external cues and triggers that influence you to start and stop eating. Follow your internal cues that alert you when your stomach is empty and you feel hungry, or when you need the energy boost from food. Stay aware and when you have met the need and have eaten enough, stop eating. Feelings and emotions can be confused with internal cues to eat, but they are different and should be handled differently.
- When you are eating, attend to your eating. Do not dilute your awareness of your eating behavior by paying attention to something else. If you do you will likely be guided by external cues and will over eat. Pay attention to your eating and the sensations and tastes of the food. By practicing these concepts, you will become aware of yourhabits.