While everyone is different, we all have something in common: we humans are creatures of habit.
Think about what you had for breakfast this morning, what you do right before bed or even how you park your vehicle…odds are, there is little variation.
As much as we would like to claim intentionality behind our decisions, most of what we do every day is simply the same thing we’ve done day in and day out living on autopilot doing and what’s familiar and comfortable. I’ll prove it: Put your toothbrush somewhere different tonight and see if that doesn’t cause some internal tension!
Similarly, we all have habits when it comes to eating, from eating times, to particular or special foods, to routines, to social factors. The good news is that while habits are very difficult to break, they also can be very easy to make.
It seems people are much more likely to succeed by replacing a bad habit with a better one, than simply trying to quit cold turkey. Here are some of the most common food habits exhibited by people with diabetes and tips for changing them.
1. Skipping Breakfast
We all have our excuses: “I don’t have enough time,” “I’m not hungry,” “I’m not much of a breakfast person.” Might I suggest the reason you’re not much of a breakfast person is because you keep skipping breakfast?? While we’re not entirely sure why, we see over and over again that people who consume a healthy breakfast are more likely to achieve more stable blood glucose control and a healthy weight.
Tip: Plan your breakfast the night before being sure to include a source of protein and healthy fat. This can be as simple as a delicious veggie egg scramble, egg “muffin” cups, or a quick smoothie.
2. Eating On the Go
It seems that when we are distracted or busy, it is much more difficult to judge whether we’ve eaten the right food or made the right choice. A recent study actually showed an increased satiety (feeling of fullness) when participants took some time to express thankfulness for the foods they were eating and considered where their food had come from.
Tip: Start a new habit of sitting down at a table to eat meals, put down your utensil between bites, and contemplate the wonderful flavors, tastes, and textures of what you are eating. Challenge yourself to see how long you can make a meal last!
While our physical activity level has plummeted over recent decades, our portion sizes have more than doubled in the past 20 years and restaurant sizes have quadrupled since 1950.
Our culture places a high value on quantity and relatively low value on quality when it comes to food. We eat way more than we should.
Tip: Check the size of your plate, glasses and utensils. Start using 7”/ 18 cm or at the most 9”/ 23 cm plates and narrow glasses. When eating out, put ½ the meal in a to-go container before you even start eating. Measure foods individually and put away all leftovers before eating to avoid temptation to go back for seconds.
4. Eating without a Plan
Most people don’t know what they’re going to eat for lunch by mid-morning, much less what they will eat for the rest of the week!
If you don’t have a plan, you will simply default to patterns you’ve followed in the past or go along with whatever everyone else is doing (often poor choices such as fast food).
Tip: Find a weekly meal planning tool or service (like our VIP Meal Plans Members Club) that works for you and plan out your meals several days to a week in advance. Use this to make your shopping list and then stick to it!
5. Indulging in Comfort Foods
Childhood memories of celebratory feasts, family gatherings with everyone’s favorite dessert. Whether it’s macaroni and cheese, rich chocolate cake, or deep dish pizza, we all have those “fantasy foods” that just seem to creep into the forefront of our minds.
These can be super-challenging to break because there is a strong association with a positive experience. It turns out when when we eat certain foods during emotionally vulnerable times, our brain will link them together (the same is true of negative experiences–think of the last thing you ate when you got really sick…chances are, it doesn’t sound so good for a while).
Tip: Try to remember that the wonderful thoughts of the wonderful food are more strongly tied to the wonderful experience than the food itself. Remember that taste buds are adaptable and what tasted so good when you were a child doesn’t have the same magical feel. Begin redefining your ‘comfort foods’ making efforts to surround yourself with healthy options during times you tend to be emotionally vulnerable.
Despite the common assumption that it takes 21 days to break a habit, it seems there is no real science to determine how long it will take any given individual to re-code his/her thinking and actions.
However, it is the case that the more you make consistent healthy choices, the more this starts to become your default pattern.
The old saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” only holds true if the old dog is stubborn and obstinate. Two years ago, I got a puppy and I can assure you it was a challenge to train her, but she is now very healthy, well-behaved, and a joy to be around.
Change is hard for everyone, old or young. But it is also possible if you have an open mind, a willing heart, and an eager attitude.
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Jimmy D Jones
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Emily - Dietitian (MS, RD)
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