Eating Habits - Develop Healthy Food Habits To
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.
Making sudden, radical changes to eating habits such
as eating nothing but cabbage soup, can lead to short term weight
loss. However, such radical changes are neither healthy nor a good
idea, and won't be successful in the long run. Permanently improving
your eating habits requires a thoughtful approach in which you Reflect,
Replace, and Reinforce.
- REFLECT on all of your specific eating habits, both
bad and good; and, your common triggers for unhealthy eating.
- REPLACE your unhealthy eating habits with healthier
- REINFORCE your new, healthier eating habits.
Reflect, Replace, Reinforce: A process for improving
your eating habits
Create a list of your eating habits. Keeping
a food diary for a few days, in which you write down everything
you eat and the time of day you ate it, will help you uncover your
habits. For example, you might discover that you always seek a sweet
snack to get you through the mid-afternoon energy slump. It's good
to note how you were feeling when you decided to eat, especially
if you were eating when not hungry. Were you tired? Stressed out?
Highlight the habits on your list that may
be leading you to overeat. Common eating habits that can lead to
weight gain are:
- Eating too fast
- Always cleaning your plate
- Eating when not hungry
- Eating while standing up (may lead to eating mindlessly or
- Always eating dessert
- Skipping meals (or maybe just breakfast)
Look at the unhealthy eating habits you've
highlighted. Be sure you've identified all the triggers that cause
you to engage in those habits. Identify a few you'd like to work
on improving first. Don't forget to pat yourself on the back for
the things you're doing right. Maybe you almost always eat fruit
for dessert, or you drink low-fat or fat-free milk. These are good
habits! Recognizing your successes will help encourage you to make
Create a list of "cues" by reviewing
your food diary to become more aware of when and where you're "triggered"
to eat for reasons other than hunger. Note how you are typically
feeling at those times. Often an environmental "cue",
or a particular emotional state, is what encourages eating for non-hunger
Common triggers for eating when not hungry are:
- Opening up the cabinet and seeing your favorite 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 favorite drive-through every morning.
- Feeling bored or tired and thinking food might offer a pick-me-up.
Circle the "cues" on your list that you face on
a daily or weekly basis. Going home for the Thanksgiving holiday
may be a trigger for you to overeat, and eventually, you want to
have a plan for as many eating cues as you can. But for now, focus
on the ones you face more often.
Ask yourself these questions for each "cue" you've
- Is there anything I can do to avoid the cue or situation? This
option works best for cues that don't involve others. For example,
could you choose a different route to work to avoid stopping at
a fast food restaurant on the way? Is there another place in the
break room where you can sit so you're not next to the vending
- For things I can't avoid, can I do something differently that
would be healthier? Obviously, you can't avoid all situations
that trigger your unhealthy eating habits, like staff meetings
at work. In these situations, evaluate your options. Could you
suggest or bring healthier snacks or beverages? Could you offer
to take notes to distract your attention? Could you sit farther
away from the food so it won't be as easy to grab something? Could
you plan ahead and eat a healthy snack before the meeting?
Replace unhealthy habits with new, healthy ones. For example,
in reflecting upon your eating habits, you may realize that you
eat too fast when you eat alone. So, make a commitment to share
a lunch each week with a colleague, or have a neighbor over for
dinner one night a week. Other strategies might include putting
your fork down between bites or minimizing other distractions (i.e.
watching the news during dinner) that might keep you from paying
attention to how quickly - and how much - you're eating.
Here are more ideas to help you replace unhealthy habits:
- Eat more slowly. If you eat too quickly, you may "clean
your plate" instead of paying attention to whether your hunger
- Eat only when you're truly hungry instead of when you are tired,
anxious, or feeling an emotion besides hunger. If you find yourself
eating when you are experiencing an emotion besides hunger, such
as boredom or anxiety, try to find a non-eating activity to do
instead. You may find a quick walk or phone call with a friend
helps you feel better.
- Plan meals ahead of time to ensure that you eat a healthy well-balanced
Reinforce your new, healthy habits and be patient with yourself.
Habits take time to develop. It doesn't happen overnight. When you
do find yourself engaging in an unhealthy habit, stop as quickly
as possible and ask yourself: Why do I do this? When did I start
doing this? What changes do I need to make? Be careful not to berate
yourself or think that one mistake "blows" a whole day's
worth of healthy habits. You can do it! It just takes one day at