5 Ways to Make Changing Eating Habits Easy
Before you dig into making changes in your eating habits, there are some ways to lessen factors that are going against you and going to make it harder to change your behavior. I want to increase the odds of your new positive behavior sticking with you long-term.
I am going to assume the new behavior is something you really want to happen in your life. This isn’t something your significant other has dropped hints at, or your doctor has repeatedly told you to do at your annual physical, or your felt a twinge of guilt when listening to a good friend and how great she is doing with her new workout routine. This is something you want for you.
Sadly, odds are stacked against us when we go to change our habits. Behavior change is tricky and add to that the crazy, mind boggling schedules and stress many of us have on our plates.
There is hope and there are a large number of people that are successful. These people don’t hire personal trainers or sink a lot of money into fancy programs. There are some very affordable and doable things you can do to stack the odds in your favor.
1. Commit Publicly
It is easy to make excuses for jumping ship after getting underway with a new habit. I hear “I’m tired”, “I don’t have time” , “I have too much on my plate right now” , “It will be better if I just wait until ____ happens” , “I am just going to fail again.” Well, to prevent these excuses from creeping in and overtaking your motivation, put it out there in a public way what you are going to do or what you are working on. This is part of fully committing to something.
Tell family and friends and coworkers what your new desired behavior is. Post it in a tweet or on Facebook. You may well inspire someone else that needed a little push to make a change themselves too. I know if I make a public announcement of something, I am going to follow through. Most of us are wired that way. Look at what has pushed you in the past. Did having someone to be accountable to help? If so, this will help give you an extra nudge to make the new habit happen.
Once it is out there people will come to support you too. Another good reason to do this.
2. Take Care of the Monkey Mind
Do you have monkeys in your mind that clamor for attention? And the chatter and negative talk can get louder at the most inopportune times. The voices in your head can sabotage your desire to change your habits. The talk in your head often creates exaggerations that are easy for us to believe: “Skip making a meal this time, just grab the bag of chips, it won’t really matter.” “You were so good today, a little splurge is fine. You deserve this.” “I can just start over tomorrow, live a little now.” Or “You failed before, what makes you think you are going to do any different this time?” Do any of these sound familiar?
Ignoring doesn’t work. Remember, what you resist persists. Meditation is an easy great way of quieting your mind. I meditate at least once a day and some days twice. You can focus on your breath or find a mantra to repeat during the meditation. My favorite mantra is “joy (in breath), gratitude (out breath).”
The other strategy involves asking yourself if there is a secondary gain going on. Are there any “benefits” you’re getting from staying stuck where you are and not making the new behavior habit? Do you fear you won’t be able to eat delicious food? So the negative chatter is keeping you from making the change so you can eat the way you always have been? Or do you fear changing your friends, where you eat lunch? Do you fear failure?
Be compassionate and speak kindly from your heart when you hear these things in your mind. Having fears is normal. Just don’t let your actions be overtaken by fear. Become a good mental debater that roots for you and moves you forward towards where you want to be.
3. Write Them Down and Make Them Visible
I have my new behaviors next to my bed. I have about 15 minutes every morning before the first child in the house gets up. After that I am being pulled in different directions until 9:30pm at night (and some times later). So distraction is a real possibility in my day and I know yours too.
With all the noise in your life, you only have minutes here and there to set yourself up for success with your behaviors. Be sure your new behaviors are written down where you can see them. It is all about focusing your energy. The more often you see those behaviors you badly want, the more often you will guide yourself back to making progress towards them. Eventually the new behaviors will become habit, but until they are, you want to make it easy to refocus yourself towards success.
4. Develop a Mantra
No, this is not just for yogis. Mantras have been shown to be very effective for mental strength. A mantra is a verbal statement that reinforces a positive mindset. To create your own, come up with a statement that really resonates with you or find a famous quote to repeat out loud first thing in the morning and then throughout the day. Here are some eating habit mantras I like:
- I love my body and take good care of it.
- I eat food to nourish and connect with my body and mind.
- I love myself and want to invest in myself including my health.
- I accept myself completely today.
- I am enough.
- “The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years.” ~ Deepak Chopra
- “Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.” ~ Gail Devers
- “A strong woman knows she has strength for the journey, but a woman of strength knows that it is within the journey she will find her strength.” ~ CJ Lewis
- “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” ~ Maya Angelou
- “Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a different way to stand.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
- “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” ~ Christopher Reeve
5. Make New Habits Tiny
This is my favorite and has been backed up with research. Most of us don’t have lives that support making large behavior changes, at least lasting changes. The reality is most of us lead extremely busy and overwhelming lives. We authentically want to make positive changes in our lives, but the chances of it happening are close to the lottery odds unless we take either the motivation or the ease of the new behavior (time, effort, skill, money) way down. Making the new habit tiny, not small, but tiny, means it takes less effort or skill to do.
So in the middle of your day, you want to eat more vegetables, you have one child home sick with you, you are backlogged on reports due for work, and the dog just went too long before being let out. Is it easier to eat one bite of a ready to go vegetable like a baby carrot or prepare and eat a whole serving of roasted Brussels sprouts? Yes, the bite of baby carrots. I realize that is not your end behavior goal, you want to eat more vegetables, maybe 4 servings or 5. But the habit you want to start now is eating more vegetables, focus on that and finding success with it. You need to get the habit started and rooted in your day so it is automatic. Once you don’t have to think about eating one bite of vegetables in the middle of your day, it just happens, then you can grow it to a bigger habit.
This is how you take a new behavior you really want to happen in your life to a new habit that is automatic and lasts for a long time.
I use this method for changing habits. It is called the Tiny Habits method. It is researched and taught by BJ Fogg with the Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab. Him and his sister teach a course for certification where I learned it and now apply it in my own life, in my kids’ lives and with my clients. The Tiny Habits Method uses tiny, specific habits to create big changes in behavior that are easy to be successful at.