Mindful Diet: Changing Diet Habits
Post written by Leo Babauta.
Changing habits is never as simple a task as we think, because our old habits have built up over the years and are often firmly entrenched.
Eating habits are among the most complicated, because they come with a host of different habits that are attached to them, such as:
- Eating because of stress, anger, sadness, fear, the need for comfort, etc.
- Addictions to sweets, salt, fried foods, etc.
- Social eating habits (drinking with buddies, eating lunch with clients, pizza parties, eating certain kinds of meals with family, birthday parties, etc.).
- Eating convenience food or ordering in because we’re tired at the end of the day.
- Eating at certain times of the day, not because we’re hungry, but out of habit.
- Watching TV or reading while we eat, instead of paying attention to the food or our hunger.
- Cleaning our plate (or the bucket of popcorn, etc.).
- Drinking grande lattes because we need the pick-me-up.
And so on.
Knowing that there are layers upon layers of eating habits to change, how do we even get started?
The answer is: as simply as possible.
The Mechanism of Changing Eating Habits
To change an eating habit, here are the steps:
- Pick one habit at a time. Doing more than one is very difficult, and spreads your focus so that it is difficult to maintain the habits for very long. Choose just one to give yourself the best possible chance of sticking with it.
- Start small. Just a simple 5-minute habit is the best way to start. Trying to do too much is the best way to fail.
- Pick a trigger. A habit is something that you automatically do (or have the urge to do) after another event (the trigger). So if you normally shower after eating breakfast, then breakfast is the trigger for the habit of showering. Try to think of what you might do each day that can trigger your new habit. If you normally eat breakfast, that can be your trigger for making yogurt & fruit (your new habit). If you normally have chips as a snack after your 2 pm class (the trigger), you can eat fruit and nuts (new habit) after that class instead.
- Create accountability. You might use a blog, Facebook, a forum, or your friends and family as your accountability group.
- Do the habit every time the trigger happens. Ideally, you start with a once-a-day trigger and habit. Create visual reminders so you don’t forget to do the new habit after the trigger. When the trigger happens, do the habit. Report on this success (or failure, if you don’t do it) to your accountability group. Track your success each day so that you can see how many straight days you’ve done the habit. Try to do it consistently for a month.
Getting Started with Diet Habits
I recommend starting with a mindful eating habit, as we’re doing in The Mindful Diet course. Why? Because it helps you to identify emotional triggers that you might want to change, one at a time, in your future habit changes. Mindful eating also helps you to enjoy the taste of healthy food more, and thereby to make it easier to change the food you enjoy from unhealthy to healthy.
- Start small. Just one meal a day. Even just 2-3 minutes of mindful eating is fine at first.
- Notice triggers. What made you want to eat? Is it that you’re hungry? Are you stressed or bored or tired or sad or needing comfort or a reward? What foods do you eat after these kinds of triggers? Make a note of them.
- Try healthy foods. Try eating more veggies, or drinking water or tea instead of sweeter drinks. Try quinoa instead of grains, or nuts instead of sweet or salty snacks. Introduce these healthy foods gradually, and savor the taste as you do.
- Enjoy the habit. Really try to focus on the peace of your new mindful ritual. Enjoy the sensations of mindful eating. Take pleasure in this habit, so that you look forward to it each day.