Humans are creatures of habit by nature. Many of us tend to frequent the same restaurants over and over, eat the same foods day in and day out, and even sit in the same spot on the couch every night. We bite our nails, we twirl our hair, we do things just because that’s the way we’ve always done them. Sometimes (many times) we even eat out of pure habit, regardless of hunger.
I do it. We’ve all done it. And as we all know very well, habits are hard to break.
I’m a generally health conscious person, but I am also very vulnerable to the power of habit, comfort, and routine. Although I know that dessert is an indulgence, not meant to be enjoyed every single day, sometimes I find myself falling into a pattern of just that: eating dessert every single night just because it’s become a habit to have something sweet following dinner. And it doesn’t have to be a big dessert, sometimes I just don’t feel satisfied after dinner without a taste of something sweet.
But I know that’s ridiculous. Dessert is not meant to be eaten every night, it is meant to be a treat, an indulgence. And when I feel as though I’m not satisfied without the taste of something sweet, I know that 9 times out of 10, it’s all in my head. More than likely, I’ve eaten enough for dinner (and most likely it’s been a very good dinner)! That feeling of wanting more really just stems out of habit. If I’ve had something sweet after dinner for the past 4 nights, you know exactly what I’m going to want after dinner tonight. The body and brain becomes conditioned to what we feed it on a regular basis. Regular dessert eating leads to the body/brain expecting that additional treat after dinner, even when it’s not necessary.
I’m not saying that we always have to be saying “no” to ourselves. Dessert is ok! I’m someone who really believes in indulgences, but also understanding that ideally, they should not be an every day norm (you know, everything in moderation, blah blah blah). So saying yes sometimes is perfectly fine, and of course dessert is not something that you only eat when it’s “necessary” (because really, I’m not sure it’s ever really necessary, except when cupcakes are involved).
But if you are a habitual person like myself, sometimes you have to say no before you can say yes.
What do I mean by this?
If you are trying to lose body fat, we all know that exercise plays a large part in reaching that goal, but nutrition actually plays an even bigger role. We’ve all heard the saying that you can’t out-train a bad diet, and it’s absolutely true. So if you have fallen into the habit of consuming sweets and desserts every single day (or over snacking at the office, or always buying a donut with your coffee, whatever your habit may be), it’s going to be awfully difficult for you to reach your fat loss goals, no matter how many miles you log on the treadmill or time you spend slinging iron.
So while I don’t think it’s necessary for someone to cut certain things out of their diet permanently (unless you have a medical reason to do so), sometimes you do need to go a certain amount of time without your triggers in order to break that habitual cycle. Take, for example, my dessert cravings: if I find that I’ve fallen into a habit of having sweets after dinner every single night, I will set myself 1 week where I can not have dessert. At all. One week is not a long time to go without something, but for me it’s enough time to reset my brain so that I’m no longer craving sweets every single night, and after that week I can go back to having dessert when I truly want it, knowing that I’m not eating strictly out of habit.
For me, it’s all about breaking the mental cycle. If I avoid the office candy for a week, I stop craving it even when it’s in my face all day. If I avoid salty snacks in the afternoon for a week, I stop craving that mindless munch-craving in the middle of the day. It can be difficult to abstain during that week of “no”, but it’s worth it in the long run. And it’s only a week! Habits are easy to fall into and difficult to break, but with a little bit of self control for a limited amount of time, I’m pretty sure that we can all break the cycles of mindless habitual eating.
For some it may take more than 1 week, and some people may feel like they’re going off the deep end without these habitual foods after just a few days. But giving something like this a try may be a little easier than you expect, and may bring you better results than you expect as well. Bonus! Just try to keep it simple, and don’t try to cut out all of the “bad things” from your diet at once. Pick one thing an break your habit cycle, then move on to the next. Baby steps are the key to long term success, especially when it comes to reducing cravings and habitual eating patterns.
I want to reiterate the fact that I am not a believer or supporter of severe food restriction, and that is not what I am suggesting here. I’m simply saying that while indulgences and treats can be a part of any healthy lifestyle, sometimes you need to say no before you allow yourself to say yes. Especially if fat loss is one of your goals.
What are your strategies for breaking unhealthy habits? What’s your biggest dietary vice?