Choosing the right habits to target for change can make the difference between permanent success and repeated dieting frustration.
Everything we do and the choices we make about what to eat in a day are the result of our behaviors and habits. Behavior is anything you do; it includes your thoughts, what you say, and your actions. “Habit” is routine behavior that has been done so many times that is has become automatic. Habits are often subconscious and we can engage in them without being aware of what we are doing.
Automatic habits are wired into our brain’s nerve circuits. Scientists have found that the brain “rewires” these circuits when automatic habits are changed. The longer the new habit is practiced, the stronger and more active the new neural connections become. All it takes is repeated practice of a behavior to change the structure of your brain and this makes the habit stick.
It is important to realize this because successful and permanent diet change hinges on practice to change reflexive habits for good. We have control of our behaviors and habits and there is a process for changing them that works!
The problem with most New Year diet resolutions is that most people want to change or lose weight quick. But in reality this is not practical. Habit change takes time, involves repeated attempts, and often multiple “mini” bad habits need to be worked on. Although people can make big changes and lose weight quickly—rebound is usually fast. To help you get on the right track, start here:
Three essential steps to begin the permanent diet change and weight loss process:
- Begin by identifying key automatic bad eating habits that prevent you from losing weight or eating a sustainable diet. One of the best ways to do this is to start a diet journal. Write down everything you eat and drink in the day starting off with breakfast. Do this for several days. Then sit down and take a critical look at the journal. Identify your problem eating habits, for example skipped meals, poor food choices, or overeating.
- Second, analyze what it is about yourself that leads to these bad habits. Ask yourself, “Why do these habits exist?” Is it your self-defeating thoughts (for example: you tell yourself you have no time to prepare breakfast)? Is it an automatic response to unpleasant emotions like boredom, stress, or depression? Is it something in your environment— like having cherry pie on the countertop staring you in the face when you are famished?
- Now decide how you will change the habit. Make a goal for the next week. For example: “I will wake up 15 minutes earlier on workdays to eat breakfast”. The key is to start with small changes, make your goal realistic—one that you can accomplish. Practice it over and over again until it becomes your new habit. If the plan fails, find out why. Break it down into smaller steps. Take one day at a time. Although there is no magic bullet, we all have the power within ourselves to make permanent eating habit changes.