Why is a bad habit so hard to break? It’s because they are deeply embedded into our brains, by constant repetition.

Your brain constantly stores behaviour and when you do that behaviour over and over and over, it will eventually become part of your subconscious mind.

Where you are in your life today, is essentially a result of your habits. Over the past few years it has become clear that food addiction is an important health issue. Weight can affect a person’s self-esteem. Excess weight is highly visible and evokes powerful reactions from people in society. 

Your weight is a result of your habits.  Not many people can stomach this phrase.

But if you’re one of those that need to lose weight, this should excite you. Because it means YOU are in control and can do something about it.

What is a habit?

According to an online dictionary, a habit is a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up. 

A habit is a routine of behaviour that is repeated regularly and tends to occur subconsciously.

The American Journal of Psychology defines a “habit, from the standpoint of psychology, [as] a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience.” 

In this 12-minute lesson that is part of my Food Addiction Program, I explain the link between events, thoughts and emotions and how it eventually becomes a habit.

How do you develop a habit?

Every habit follows a clear pattern of behaviour.  James Clear describes the science of how habits work, through his Habit Loop. 

There are 4 steps to creating a successful (or unsuccessful) habit:

Step 1 – The Trigger

First there is a trigger. The cue triggers your brain to initiate a certain behaviour. The trigger can be emotional – wanting to eat a piece of cake.  Other times it can be situational and driven by your environment – you pick up your phone first thing in the morning when you wake up because the phone is next to your bed.

Most of the times a trigger is a combination of both.   

Your life has been shaped by thousands of events ever since you were born.  During all these events, you’ve attached thoughts and emotions to some of these events.  Based on the emotions and feelings you’ve attached; it will trigger a behaviour.  When you do that behaviour often enough, it will become part of your subconscious mind where it will be stored as a memory. 

A trigger will predict an award based on your previous experiences. Based on the previous reward, it will trigger your brain to initiate a certain behaviour.  And this is all still happening in your subconscious mind. 

Your mind is constantly looking for hints of where rewards are in you internal and external environment. 

Step 2 – The Craving 

If our brains identify a cue or a trigger that we’re close to a reward, it will lead to a craving.  Cravings is what gives you the motivation to act.  What you crave, is not the habit itself, but you crave the feeling of the reward.  You are not motivated by the actual eating of a piece of cake.

You know it’s not good for you. You are motivated by the way it’s going to make you feel. The rush of energy through your body and the taste of creamy chocolate icing on your tongue. Craving a piece of cake now?  I’ve just proofed this point to you. 

Cravings differ from people to people.  Any piece of information could trigger a craving.  Triggers are meaningless, unless they’re being interpreted.  It’s your thoughts, feelings and emotions that transforms a cue into a craving.

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Step 3 – The Response 

This is the actual habit you perform, the thing you do, the action you take. One important aspect to remember is that a habit can only occur if you’re capable of doing it. 

Step 4 – The Reward 

This is the end goal of your habit or behaviour. 

Remember, the only reason why you will act on a trigger, is because your brain is seeking out the reward at the end of the habit loop. 

We want rewards for two reasons. 

1) It satisfies us – even if it’s just for a moment, it will make you feel content and relieved from a craving.

2) It teaches us – It teaches what actions are worth remembering in the future. As mentioned in one of the earlier lessons, your brain is continuously looking for actions that makes you feel good and gives pleasure. 

Rewards close the feedback loop and completes the entire habit cycle.

In summary: 

The trigger is about noticing the reward.

The craving is about wanting the reward.

The response is getting the reward.

What makes a good or a bad habit?

Good and bad habits are settled and regular.  There’s no difference between how they are formed.  You use the same amount of emotional energy to create them.

The difference between them is that effective habits (good) are often painful in the moment, but they provide compound benefits later. 

Bad habits interrupt your life and prevent you from accomplishing your goals.  They can severely jeopardize your health and they waste your time and energy.

How to break a bad habit

Most habits are caused by two things:

Stress and boredom. 

Most of the time habits are a way of dealing with stress and boredom. Sometimes, stress and boredom you experience in your day-to-day life, is caused by deeper beliefs or emotions. 

Recognizing the causes of your bad habits, is a crucial first step to overcome them.

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Identify the triggers

Trigger control involve learning what social and environmental triggers seem to encourage your eating.  In my case, I’ve learned that brushing my teeth with a certain type of toothpaste, was a trigger for my late-night cravings.

Staying away from temptations is a lot easier than you think.  If you must remove yourself from a situation or environment, then you should do it. Use your strength to remove the triggers from your life, as appose to trying to fight them the whole time.

Unfortunately, people can also cause temptation.  And most times it will come from friends and family.  You get what we call food pushers.  A food pusher is a person who will lead you to unplanned eating.

They are constantly whining in your ears to just ‘take a bite’ wanting to change diet support into diet sabotage.  You must have an open discussion with them about your goals. And if they do not support you, they’re probably not the right friends for you.

Break the chain somewhere in the Habit Loop

If the behaviour is insufficient in any of the 4 stages of the Habit Loop, it will not become a habit.

Eliminate the trigger and your habit will never start. Plan ahead so that your cupboards and refrigerator are stocked with healthy food.

Reduce the craving and you won’t experience enough motivation to act. Caving in is all too easy when you are comfortable where you are.

Make the behaviour difficult and you won’t be able to do it.

And if the reward fails to satisfy you, you will have no reason to do it again.

Consider getting support

If you’ve done the best you could, and you are still struggling., consider seeking professional support.  I offer personal health and lifestyle coaching where I provide steady support and accountability for your journey.

While all habits are not created in the same way, the main goal remains the same.  You want to take charge of your emotions and feelings, so that you can be more proactive, rather than reactive.

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Self Monitoring

Self-monitoring refers to the observing and recording of certain actions and behaviour. The goal of self-monitoring is to identify triggers and increase self-awareness on certain actions and rewards.  Some commonly used self-monitoring techniques include:

Food diaries

Self-weighing

Apps for fasting, abstaining from sugar, food addiction apps

Other metabolic devices like smart watches.

Tracking and monitoring these actions and outcomes is only meaningful if the information is reviewed and adjusted or act upon accordingly.  You can journal about a bad habit as much as you want, but if you don’t act upon it, nothing will change.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has proven to be effective in weight loss programs that apply this strategy.  In our Food Addiction course, we use CBT group therapy to tackle behaviour changes. And from my personal experience, my CBT clients are losing weight at the same rate than my clients who are on an eating plan.

CBT is a type of psychological therapy that is used to treat many different problems, ranging from anxiety to weight loss. Since many of the food addiction behaviours are rooted in childhood events, this proofs to be an effective therapy for individuals who needs to learn coping skills and improving their self-esteem.

You can also sign-up for private virtual CBT sessions where I will help you identify health and lifestyle goals, help you to understand your relationship with food and incorporate healthy habits into your lifestyle.

Conclusion

It’s important to become more aware of your eating habits and recognize that eating, is so much more than just meeting your nutritional needs.

Changing your habits takes time, effort, and a great deal of discipline, but the rewards could last you a lifetime.

To make the necessary changes, you must think differently, dismiss self-destructive thoughts and behaviours, and replace them with positive behaviours that help you gain self-control over certain areas of your life.

Let’s become more aware of who we are, in order to know where we want to go.

Chat again soon,

Petrolene