How to kick an unhealthy eating habit to the curb

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Are you overeating and regretting it afterwards? Eating too many snacks after dinner? Skipping breakfast because you're out of time in the morning? Do you constantly Google- Do I eat too much?

You're not alone. There are many unhealthy eating habits and patterns that we get into over time. They usually don't start overnight, but they can be hard to shake.

The first thing to recognize is that shaming and blaming yourself isn't going to get rid of that habit.

How do you feel when you think these thoughts?

  • I should be able to stop eating after dinner.

  • I should be able to feed myself breakfast in the morning before I leave for work.

  • I should stop eating these unhealthy snacks.

Feeling guilty? Or some other negative emotion?

Feeling guilty doesn't make us want to take the actions we want to take. It usually makes us want to run away from the problem or hide it.

Too often my coaching clients think they can "should" their way out of a habit or into a new one. It doesn't work.

What does work is generating inspiration and determination.

Those feelings come from different thoughts, like:

  • I know I can change this eating habit.

  • I can do anything I set my mind to.

  • I can figure this process out, step by step.

  • Many other people have done this before me.

  • I'm looking forward to figuring out a healthy eating habit.

The key is to find the thoughts that work best for you. They have to ring true and generate positive feelings for you.

Then you'll be able to take the actions you want to take.

You'll look back at your food tracking diaries to see what patterns are emerging.

Maybe you notice that every work day at 3:00 PM you wander over to the vending machine. Seeing that pattern allows you make a shift.

Then you can say, "Instead of going to the vending machine, I'm going to pack a healthy snack the night before." Try it. See if it works for you. If it doesn't, readjust. Small tweaks can make all the difference. They add up very quickly.

You might also notice a pattern of eating more at night. A lot of people trying to lose weight can stick to their breakfast and lunch plans, but struggle in the evenings. Recognizing that's a normal human pattern is important. It's called ego depletion.

As the day goes on, our decision making abilities get fatigued. It isn't something to beat yourself up about. It's something to recognize and adapt to (see how to conquer self-control).

You'll also be able to question the thoughts you believe to be true.

If you say something like, "I need dessert after dinner," you can question that. Is it true that you need dessert? Or has it become such a habit, that you aren't even sure if you need to do it? Try a night without it. See what happens. How do you feel afterwards?

Another common thought is, "Eating this cookie will help relieve my stress." We think eating makes us feel better. Eating as a reaction to a feeling isn't a strategy that works for us long-term. It's a way to buffer away our true feelings.

If you're feeling stressed, the key is to allow the feeling of stress. It won't last very long when you actually allow the feeling. You can even start to shift with statements like, "I'm feeling stressed, which does not mean I need a cookie." Try it, see if it works for you. Write down what you notice.

As you do start to change your eating habits, build in rewards.

If you've figured out a habit you want to change and make a plan to change it, what reward will you get? We all thrive on a reward system. If you avoid the vending machine for an entire week, is there something else you want to spend that money on? Is there an experience you can gift yourself (e.g., pedicure)? Create a system for yourself to succeed and something to look forward to in the future.

And don't try to change all the habits at once.

Many of us dive head first into 5-10 new habits all at once. We also have a knack for doing it right when everything else is stressful. The semester is ending, there's a work deadline looming. So we take on "healthy eating habits" like it isn't going to be too much at once. Habit building takes time. Give yourself grace and compassion in the process. Write yourself a permission slip to work on one healthy eating habit at a time.

Extra inspiration:

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