When it comes to eating, we all have deep-rooted habits. Some are good (“I always have my breakfast”) and others are not so good (“I always leave the plate clean”). Although many eating habits acquired from childhood, does not mean it is too late to change them.
Sudden and radical changes in eating habits, such as not eating more than cabbage soup, can lead to short-term weight loss. But these exaggerated changes are not healthy or good and will not help in the long term. To improve eating habits permanently, you need a focus on Reflect, Replace and Reinforce.
- REFLECT on all your eating habits, both good and bad, as well as the things that trigger you to eat unhealthy.
- REPLACE your unhealthy eating habits with healthier ones.
- REINFORCE your new eating habits.
Reflect, replace and reinforce: A process to improve your eating habits
- Make a list of your eating habits. Maintaining a “food diary” for a few days where you write down everything you eat and the time you do it will help you discover your habits. For example, you may realize that you always want something sweet when you feel a drop in your energy in the middle of the afternoon. Use menu planning (in English)[PDF-34KB] to elaborate the list. It is good to write down how you felt when you decided to eat, especially if you were not hungry. Were you tired or stressed?
- Underline the habits on the list that are causing you to eat more than necessary. Eating habits that can often lead to weight gain are:
- Eat very fast
- Eat everything that is served on the plate
- Eat when you are not hungry
- Eat standing (you can make it eat without thinking about what you eat or very quickly)
- Always eat dessert
- Skip meals (or just breakfast)
- Review the unhealthy eating habits you have highlighted. Be sure to identify all the factors that trigger those habits. Identify some of the ones you will try to change first. Do not stop congratulating yourself on the things you do well. Maybe you almost always eat fruit for dessert or drink low-fat or defatted milk. These are good habits! By recognizing your accomplishments you will feel motivated to make more changes.
- Make a list of “triggers” by checking your food diary will be more aware of where and when “trigger” factors arise to eat without being hungry. Write down how you usually feel on those occasions. Often an environmental “trigger” or a particular mood is what drives us to eat without being hungry. Common triggers that drive people to eat when they’re not hungry:
- Open a drawer and find your favorite snack.
- Sit at home to watch TV.
- Before or after a meeting or a stressful situation at work.
- Get home from work and have no idea what you are going to eat.
- Someone offer you a dish that he made “just for you”!
- Pass in front of a sweet dish on a counter.
- Sit in the workroom near the vending machine for treats or snacks.
- See a plate of donuts in the morning during a work meeting.
- Spend all the mornings at the window of your favorite fast food restaurant.
- Feeling bored or tired and thinking that eating something will boost your spirits.
- Circle the “triggers” on the list you face on a daily or weekly basis . Gathering with your family on Thanksgiving Day can be a “trigger” factor for overeating. It would be good to have a plan ready to counteract these factors. But for now, focus on the ones you have most often.
- Ask yourself the following for each “trigger” factor that you marked in a circle:
- Is there anything I can do to avoid this trigger or this situation? This option works best with some triggers that are independent of others. For example, could you take a different path to work to avoid stopping at your favorite fast food restaurant? Is there another place in the workroom where you can sit that is not near the vending machine?
- Of the things that I can not avoid, can I do something different that is healthier? Obviously, you can not avoid all situations that trigger unhealthy eating habits, such as work meetings. In these circumstances, evaluate your options. Could you suggest or bring healthy snacks and drinks? Could you offer to take notes to distract your attention from those snacks? Could you sit further away from the food so that it is not easy for you to grab something? Could I eat a healthy snack before the meeting?
- Replace unhealthy habits with new healthy habits . For example: when reflecting on your eating habits, you may realize that you eat too fast when you are alone. To counteract this, agree to have lunch every week with a co-worker or invite a neighbor to dinner one night a week. Other strategies may be to place the cutlery on the plate between bites or minimize other distractions (such as watching the news at dinner) with which we can not pay attention to the time it takes to eat or the amount of food.
Here are more ideas to replace unhealthy habits:
- Eat more slowly. If you eat very fast, you may end up eating all the food on the plate without realizing that it has already been filled.
- Eat only when you are really hungry, instead of eating because you are tired, anxious or in any other mood. If you realize that you are not eating hungry but because you feel bored or distressed, start doing something else that does not involve eating. You may feel better with a quick walk or by calling a friend.
- Plan meals ahead of time to make sure they are healthy and well-balanced.
- Reinforce your new healthy habits and be patient with yourself . Habits are formed over time, they are not adopted overnight. When you see that you are practicing a habit that is not healthy, stop quickly and ask yourself: Why am I doing this? When did I start doing it? What do I need to change? Do not be too hard on yourself or think that a mistake will ruin a whole day of healthy habits. You can achieve it! You can do it one day at a time!