This article may be looked to achieve solution and to eradicate all habits in place. That is, a lot of people want to lose weight, but they focus on trying out different diets or trying to do crazy amounts of exercise. We find that changing your eating habits is the best route to getting to a healthy weight. It takes awhile to lose weight using this method because habit change is best when gradual, but we have found that it is the best way to achieve lasting health and weight change. Unfortunately, eating habits can be very tough to change because of a couple of reasons:
First, Eating is tied to emotional habits. Many of us turn to comfort food when we feel lonely or sad. We use food for relief when we’re tired or stressed. We turn to food when we need love or reward. It can be difficult to change eating habits when food is so tied up in emotional habits.
Second, Food environments are incredibly important and can be difficult to change. It’s hard to resist overeating if we are surrounded by tempting junk food or tempting restaurant food. We are biologically wired to want this food and our unconscious brains will override our best wishes to eat less or make healthier choices.
Third, Certain foods are fairly addictive. Sugar, fried foods, pastries or bread, fatty foods, salty snacks, chocolate, and caffeine can all be fairly addictive. Breaking addictions is possible but not always easy.
These problems are not easily solved but they are solvable. We will go into a few key ideas to help address them.
Gradual change rather than cold turkey is often the most effective choice. We suggest changing one small thing at a time. Eat some fruits instead of sweets in the afternoon. Add some vegetables to your meals. Eat whole grains instead of refined grains a little at a time. You can overcome a lot of the hurdles mentioned above by making small changes. It will take a long time to overhaul your entire diet, so have patience. But trying to make wholesale changes all at once is a good recipe for failure for most people.
When you rely on food for reward, comfort, love, stress relief, what happens when you just stop eating comfort foods? What would happen if you only ate vegetables and beans, as a hypothetical example? You would all of a sudden not have a way to address those emotional needs. So you need to gradually change your coping habits to something healthier. For example, you could use meditation or walking for stress relief, and having a warm bath or hot tea for comfort or reward. This takes a good amount of time, so don’t expect to switch suddenly to a healthier diet. Focus first on the coping mechanism while gradually making healthier changes. Self compassion and learning to love yourself are two incredible habits that are important when it comes to changing emotional eating.
Changing Your Food Environment
One of the most important changes you can make if you want to stop overeating, or to eat healthier food, is changing your food environment. Your food environment is what kind of food you have all around you, how convenient it is, how tempting it is. For example, one person might have a kitchen pantry and fridge filled with tempting snacks and desserts, fried foods and unhealthy microwave meals. And he or she might go out to eat a lot, and have lots of unhealthy (and tempting) snacks at the office. However, another person might have only whole foods at home, with carrots and apples for snacks, and only go out to eat at healthy restaurants. One food environment will inevitably lead to unhealthy choices, the other probably will not.
Slowly clear your house of unhealthy, tempting foods as you try to change your habits. You might need to get your family on board. Or avoid the kitchen as much as possible and have the unhealthy food out of sight, if tossing the unhealthy food is not possible.
Try to get your workplace to either have healthy snacks out in plain sight or hide the unhealthy snacks so they’re not as tempting.
Eat out less if possible and try to go to healthier restaurants. Have your healthy options picked before you get there and ask your friends/spouse to hold you to that pre-determined choice. If you have a hard time changing your food environment, do it slowly and try to get others in your life to help you.
Dealing with Food Cravings
We often have food addictions or cravings, such as chocolate or sugar or bread. Cutting them out cold turkey can be very difficult and often we will struggle with food cravings and even collapse in the face of the cravings. The answer is not to go cold turkey but to slowly reduce the amount you eat. For example, wean yourself from sugar a little at a time and try to eat whole fruit (not juices) whenever you have sugar cravings. Chocolate cravings can be met with some 80-85% dark chocolate, weaning yourself down to just a square or two per day. Salty snack cravings can be met with fresh-popped popcorn with just a little salt, or raw nuts with just a little salt added (not roasted pre-salted nuts). Or carrots and hummus, perhaps. Find healthier alternatives to meet your cravings, and slowly wean yourself from them.
One of the unhealthy habits that leads to overeating is mindless eating. Most of us do this: we watch something or read or talk while we’re eating, so that we barely notice the food that is going down our throats. This leads to a lack of awareness of fullness levels, of what kind of food we’re eating, of the taste and textures of the food.
In order to change mindless habits, we need to use mindfulness. Put away the book, the phone, the computer, and turn off the TV and any other distractions. Just sit with the food and pay attention as you eat. Notice each bite, chew it slowly, pay attention to textures and smells and sights and tastes. It is a meditation — come back to paying attention when your mind wanders. Eat slowly, put the fork down between bites, take a breath and a sip of water between bites.
You will notice your food more and perhaps enjoy it more as well. You will notice your fullness levels more and are less likely to overeat. As you start to appreciate tastes and textures of healthier foods you are trying to switch to, you might even start to like them more. Mindful eating is not a complete solution in itself, but can be a part of a mindful movement to healthier eating. Most people want to form the exercise habit, but have a hard time making it stick. That is because it is engineered wrong, with feedback that makes you not want to do it:
First, It is harder than doing things online so you would rather put it off and do the easier, more comfortable tasks.
Second, It is often requires an initial change of clothes, shoes, venue, activity, and mindset — as opposed to switching from writing to email to checking social media sites, which do not require much change at all. So there is a big initial hurdle.
Third, Many people feel better when they are finished working out than when they are actually doing it, so you are happier when it’s over. (Note: Not everyone feels this way — but those who enjoy exercise are not usually struggling to form the habit.)
So how do we overcome this problem? We address each of those problems by 1) making it easier and more enjoyable, 2) creating social reward for doing the habit, 3) reducing the initial hurdle of doing it.
Instead of saying that you need to work out for 30 minutes, try just 10. Or 5 minutes. And do not try to do anything too intense or difficult until you have the habit firmly established. By making the exercise habit short and easy, you are making it easier to switch from doing things online (for example) to the exercise. You are making it more comfortable instead of uncomfortable. And you are much more likely to think, “Sure, I can just bang out a quick 10-minute run” (or walk or set of pushups, etc.) instead of thinking, “Oh, I don’t have the time or energy for that right now, I’ll do it later.”
Just Get Started
Reduce the initial hurdle to get started by making it as easy as possible. Want to do strength exercises? Drop down near your desk and do some pushups or planks or squats or lunges. Want to run? Put your shoes near your bed, and when you wake up, just put on your shoes and step out the door. Don’t think about the entire exercise session (not even if it is only 10 minutes), but the first moment only. Make it as simple and easy to get going as you can, and then just do it.
Make It Social
If you exercise with a friend, it makes it more enjoyable — which means it is more rewarding and you are more likely to keep doing it. Go for a walk with a friend, get a gym or yoga partner, find a group to go running with. When you make it social, you are also much less likely to skip the workout, because you will have negative feedback for not doing the habit. When you do the workout with your friend, focus on enjoying the exercise and conversation. It will help you to keep coming back.
Lots of people try to tune out their workouts, and if listening to music or podcasts helps get you out the door, then keep doing it if it works. However, I prefer to try to stay mindful of the movement of my body when I work out, as much as I can. That includes running, walking/ hiking, lifting weights, cycling, doing yoga, or any other kind of workout. Why? Because it is an opportunity for me to pay attention and enjoy the moment, which is not something I often do when I am working or online. In that way, the workout becomes one of my cherished moments of being present, of getting away from my distractions, of appreciating the beauty of my body exerting itself and of everything around me. Instead of tuning out my body’s movement, I pay attention to the movement and have learned to love it.
A lot of people submitted their habit struggles in different forms: wanting to be more disciplined, more motivated, less of a procrastinator. In my mind, these are all very related, so I decided to address them together briefly in this chapter. Let us briefly look at each of these and their relationship to each other:
First, Discipline. Most people think of discipline as meaning “If I plan to work out and then do my important work tasks before email or social media, then I should stick to that plan.” So basically, it’s the opposite of procrastinating. If you are procrastinating, you’re not disciplined. Let’s look at procrastination, then.
Second, Procrastination. We put things off because of resistance, as we talked about in Part I of this book. We went into why we have resistance, and different ideas to overcome it. If we can find ways to overcome resistance with work tasks (and habits), we will procrastinate less and be more disciplined.
Third, Motivation. This is what gets us over the resistance — if our motivation is greater than our resistance, we can stop procrastinating and be more disciplined.
As you can see, all three are essential the same problem stated in different ways: we face resistance, which causes us to procrastinate, but if we can find strong enough motivation, we can overcome it and develop better discipline. Let us briefly look at ideas for all three.
What is strong enough motivation to overcome the resistance that has been beating you all these years? Only you can answer that. You will have to experiment to see what works best. But here are some ideas:
First, Pain: If you have been struggling with various problems because of procrastination/discipline issues, then not wanting to hurt yourself in these ways can be a good motivator. Notice your pain and stress and tell yourself that you really want to stop making yourself struggle so much.
Second, Love for yourself: If you want to have a healthier, more productive, more peaceful, happier life, then perhaps you will find motivation in that to overcome your resistance.
Third, Love for others: If there is something you want to create that will help others, if your work will make the lives of other people better, if exercising might inspire your loved ones to become healthier … then this can be very strong motivation to push through resistance.
Fourth, Social motivation: If you tell others about the change you want to make, for example, you might be motivated to look good in their eyes, or not embarrass yourself. If you do the activity with others, that can motivate you to show up and do your best. Often being able to share your successes with others can be good motivation, and competitions or fun challenges can also help us push through resistance.
Fifth, Accountability: This is specific a form of social motivation — you say you are going to do something, you promise to report back regularly, and ask people to hold you to it. You might set consequences for yourself to make it even stronger.
These are some of the better motivators, in my experience, though you might be able to find others that work better for you, or some variations on the above. The key is to think about these motivations regularly, and keep them at the front of your mind as you make decisions about your day and as you face resistance.
The moment of doing a task or habit arrives, and you feel resistance to actually doing that … and without thinking about it, you put it off. You avoid the discomfort of the task or habit, and try not to even think about it. The solution is to be more mindful, and pause at the moment of resistance and urge to procrastinate. Do not just put it off, but face the resistance. This is a key habit to change, if you want to beat procrastination and be more disciplined. At this moment, you should think about your deeper motivation. What will move you to push through the resistance and do what you know you want to do? Do not skip this step — think deeply about it, and be moved by it. At the same time, you want to lower the resistance by making the habit or the task as small as possible. Just focus on getting started, and perhaps even tell yourself you just need to do a couple minutes of the task or habit. Take the smallest first step, and resistance isn’t too great. Finally, remove distractions and other options as much as you can, so you do not have anything that is easier than pushing through the resistance and doing this small, easy task.
If you want to be more disciplined, it is a habit that you can strengthen. You have to truly want it, and find a deeper motivation for it. Commit yourself to developing the habit of discipline. Then start small. Just pick one small thing to be disciplined about, and focus on that for at least a couple weeks, instead of trying to be disciplined with every single thing in your life at once. Like any muscle, the discipline muscle is best if you start easy and only gradually increase as your muscle gets stronger. Pick something easy. Perhaps just do a 5-sentence journal every morning. Or put your clothes in the hamper for a month. Do 10 pushups every morning. Not all of these, just one! As you work on this discipline muscle, follow the ideas above about motivation and beating procrastination, so you do not fall for those traps. Finally, discipline has been proven to be lower when you’re tired and stressed. So perhaps a good discipline area is getting more sleep, and then meditating or doing something else to lower your stress levels!
This is my favorite habit, and the one I think is most important — not only because it helps with all other habits, but because it can eventually lead to greater happiness and contentment in life. However, for many people, sticking to a regularly meditation habit can be a struggle. And others want to remember to be more mindful throughout the day, which can be a challenge as well. Let us talk briefly about each.
Daily Meditation Habit
What makes this habit difficult to stick with? First, most people do not actually enjoy the habit — it can be frustrating or boring, or fill you with uncertainty, if you feel like you are doing it wrong. Second, we were often in a rush to do the next thing we need to do (check email, take care of work tasks, respond to messages), and so sitting there doing nothing can make us feel anxious to get up and move on. These are actually really good things to learn to deal with, because they are the same mental habits we have in all other activities, but we just don’t often notice them. How can we deal with frustration, boredom, uncertainty, the need to rush and do the next task? By noticing the feelings but not automatically following the urges they result in. By returning to the moment and practicing with it.
Once we realize this, meditation can then be a place where we practice with accepting the moment and whatever arises. This is a practice that helps us in all areas of life, and when we realize this, then we can see meditation as a rewarding activity. Lower the discomfort level by starting really small — even just two minutes of meditation the first week. Then five minutes for a couple weeks after that. Then 7 or 8 minutes. Then 10. Do not be in a rush to increase, just be patient and keep doing it daily. Have a spot you meditate, and try to do it first thing in the morning, before you get caught in the rush of the day. Have a reminder that you will definitely see when you first awake. Report to others each day after you do the habit. Do not let yourself skip it, just get your butt on the cushion and get started. Smile as you do so.
Forgetting to Be Mindful
If you have a meditation habit but want to carry the practice to the rest of your day, then you need to remember to be mindful. Some tips:(1) Make at least one meal a mindful eating practice, (2) Have your exercise be a mindful practice as well, (3) Journal about being mindful all day, so you can review how you have done and look for ways to make improvements, (4) Put reminders all around you — on your phone’s lock screen, on your computer’s wallpaper, physical reminders on your desk or near your bed, (5) Use a computer reminder to remind you to be mindful of your surroundings every 20 or 25 minutes or so while you are online, (6) Have certain cues remind you to check in and practice mindfulness: entering a room, getting in your car, looking at someone’s face, putting on your clothes, getting in the shower, etc, and (7) Do all of these one at a time, practicing with that singular focus for at least a few days before adding another. Do not be in a rush to add more practices or cues.
A common goal is to want to wake earlier, to get more done, feel less rushed in the morning, and enjoy a lovely quiet time of the day. And lots of people want to get to sleep earlier, which is obviously a linked habit.
When I started this blog, I had formed the habit of waking early, and enjoyed that for years. These days I do not get up super early most days (between 6:30-7am lately) but I did learn a lot about forming this habit. Going to sleep earlier is something I have struggled with for years, as I often have insomnia, but I do have some thoughts on this as well. However, my general and most important tip is this: change your sleep habits gradually. Most people who want to wake at 6 am (for example) will just try to set their alarm for 6am and then struggle to get up. They also will struggle to get to sleep early enough. And that is because sleep patterns are hard to change. We have sleep rhythms that are not easily shifted. So change gradually — just go to bed 10 minutes earlier and wake 10 minutes earlier at first, then after a few days, adjust another 10 minutes, and so on. Eventually you will get to your new wake time, but you will give yourself time to adjust.