Banish bad habits for good

Most of us are creatures of habit. We buy the same foods, make the same recipes, stick to the same routines.  The trouble is much of this behaviour stands in the way of us losing weight or getting fit. So today, Nikki explains the fast fixes to help you banish bad eating habits for good.

One of the main reasons a person breaks a diet, fails to stick to new lifestyle plan or allows a fitness regime to fall at the first hurdle, is automatic, ingrained, learned behaviour.

These routines of ours have become stronger than any new practice we try to incorporate into our lives and as a result, they dominate the way we act and think, overriding all good intentions.

In short, even when we want to change, old habits die hard.

Tackle the problem head on

It is my belief that you need to take a three-pronged approach to tackling bad eating and exercise habits:

  • Being aware of the bad habits you want to fix.
  • Working out why these habits exist.
  • Making a plan to slowly change your bad eating and exercise habits into healthier new ones.

Here we look at the most damaging habits people have and how to fix them:

The mindless muncher

What you do: Eat in front of the television.

The problem: Research suggests people who eat in front of the TV take in 20% to 60% more than those who are focused on their meal.

The fix: Work out which situations trigger mindless eating for you, then consciously make an effort to eat only when you’re fully engaged. If you absolutely must watch TV, dole out a single serving before you sit down on the couch. If you are a snacker, chose low calorie options like chopped veg, popcorn or rice crackers.

The emotional eater

What you do: Your calorie consumption relates to your mood.

The problem: It may be soothing in the moment, but feeding your fears and frustrations can be detrimental to your health. Many of us put food in our mouths as a coping mechanism and a number of studies confirm that emotions, both positive and negative, can cause people to eat more than they should.

The Fix: Find a new stress-buster. Choose any activity you like as long as it keeps you out of the kitchen. Take a walk, go to the cinema or see a friend.

The weekend binger

What you do: You are good all week and then have a huge blow out on Saturday and Sunday.

The problem: What is the point of all your hard work if you undo it all in two days of madness?  And trust me, if you go wild on the weekend, it really doesn’t matter if you stuck to lettuce for the five days beforehand. Many weekend bingers drink excessively or over-eat to compensate for what they don’t do on weekdays.

The fix: Socialising around food and drink tends to takes place on weekends so it pays to have a plan up your sleeve. You could try having a glass of milk or a healthy snack before you go out to prevent overeating or offer to be designated driver so you can’t drink. And don’t restrict yourself so severely Monday through Friday that the weekend feels like your only time for indulgence.

The junk food queen

What you do: All your food seems to come out of a carton, tin, package or paper bag.

The problem: You know junk food doesn’t help your waistline, but the effect may be worse than you think. Several animal studies have found that rat’s brains find high-fat, high-sugar foods to be addictive – much like cocaine or heroin. Another study found that eating comfort food actually triggers feelings of happiness in humans.

The Fix: The solution isn’t to eliminate your favorite indulgences from your diet – that will only make you crave them more. The key is to identify what you really want, and indulge in your favorite foods in moderation as special treats, not every day.

The “grab, gulp and go” guzzler

What you do: You eat on the run – driving, walking, shopping, talking on the phone.

The problem: You’re probably not paying much attention to what’s going into your mouth. This can leave you dissatisfied and unsure of what you ate.

The fix: Build time to eat into your day. When you have no option but to dine while dashing, be prepared with a few healthy choices, such as nuts and dried fruit.

The speed eater

What you do: You eat really quickly.

The problem: Gulping food may set you up for stomach troubles because you take in excess air, which can lead to bloating. You also might not be chewing well and saliva begins to break food down. Finally, speed-eating doesn’t give the brain time to catch up to the stomach; it needs at least 20 minutes to get the message that your stomach is full. The fix: Try to slow down. Avoid finger foods, and instead choose items you have to put on a plate and eat with utensils. Pause often, and drink water throughout meals.

The breakfast skipper

What you do: You never allow time for a morning meal.

The problem: When you skip meals, your metabolism begins to slow. Without morning fuel, chances are, you’ll just overeat later.

The Fix: Get your healthy breakfast foods ready to go the night before. If you’re rushed, try easy items such as whole fruit, yogurt, homemade cereal bars, and protein shakes or smoothies.

The sugar addict

What you do: You can’t get through the day without something sweet to eat.

The problem: Yes, sugar gives you energy. But with it comes a post-sugar slump which will make you feel dreadful.  A sugary snack is usually empty calories, providing few of the nutrients you need.

The fix: You don’t have to go off the sweet stuff completely – just find some good substitutions now and then. Dried fruit or a protein shake or bar is a good place to start.

In a nutshell

It’s not just willpower, or a lack thereof, that makes us overeat and gain weight.

Bad habits – like dashing out the door some mornings without breakfast, or munching chips in front of your favorite TV show –  are also largely to blame.

Now breaking bad habits is no piece of cake.

It takes focus and determination, especially when it comes to a favorite food or mildly addictive substance like chocolate. But it can be done.

The key to conquering them is working out what they are and why you do them. Then take little steps to changing the way you behave so that it starts to become second nature.

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