Everyone loves the idea of deciding to embrace a new habit and having it stick right away. From starting a new exercise routine to deciding to kick meat to the curb. The tough part of implementing new habits is the curve balls and cravings that we don’t see coming.
Healthy eating is a habit just like anything else. It takes learning, discipline, and a certain amount of grace to make the habit stick. No one is born knowing exactly what foods will work for their bodies. Societal norms, whole foods accessibility, and your brain (yes, your brain) are all unique factors that impact how you eat and why you eat that way.
In this article, we’re going to talk about how habits are formed and why they can be so difficult to break and implement. Let’s dive in.
How eating habits are formed
From the moment we are born until we are old enough to work or use the stove, our parents make food choices for us. We watched what they ate, what they liked, what they wrinkled their noses at, and for a long time, we followed those dietary patterns, too.
If your parents were never the type to cook vegetables, never ate anything green, and preferred to eat things ready-made or that came from the freezer section, it’s more likely that you will also eat the same way. This is your normal.
Next door, Susan’s parents are vegetarians who cook every meal and grow a lot of their own produce. If you visited Susie, you would probably not be a fan of whatever her parents whip up for lunch. Where are the chicken nuggets and frozen pizza? Why is there broccoli on this plate? Ew.
Your location matters
While your parents influence what you eat from a very young age, so does your location. We’re not talking about French cuisine versus American. We’re talking about food accessibility. In some places, it’s very expensive and difficult to get fresh produce. If you live in one of these places, your diet would probably consist of a lot of meat, or again, frozen food and ready-made meals.
If you live in a jungle where fruit trees are easily abundant, you’d be more likely to eat a diet that consists mainly of fruits. They’re easy to access, cheap, and you don’t have to stalk an animal for hours to eat it.
The topic of how eating habits are formed is a lengthy and detailed, albeit interesting, one. If you want to learn more about it, we recommend you read Determining Factors and Critical Periods in the Formation of Eating Habits: Results from the Habeat Project
How to develop a new eating habit
Picture a river. It took millions of years for that river to form. Millions of years of running water slowly smoothing the rocks, slowly eroding new paths, branching off into small canals, until a river was formed. Think of your eating habits like that river. It took many years of conditioning to get you where you are today, and that can’t be undone overnight.
A new habit is formed in much the same way that a beaver’s dam is built. One small stick or change at a time, consistently implemented over the course of a couple of months. For example, if you are trying to eliminate added sugars from your diet but you are used to eating pop-tarts for breakfast, a bakery blueberry muffin with your lunch, and a bag of candy after dinner, completely eliminating all sugar in one fell swoop is a sandcastle built on a paper foundation.
Instead of eliminating all added sugar overnight, try making small changes over time. Switch out those pop tarts for toast with almond butter and strawberries. Work on that small change for a couple of weeks, then swap your lunchtime muffin for a piece of fruit. Implement that change for a couple of weeks, then tackle your post-dinner habit.
This helps your new change stick because it feels sustainable. These small changes have a big impact in the long run, and you’ll have a better chance of success if you embrace walking before you run.
Embrace being uncomfortable
When you begin changing your eating habits for healthier ones, you’ll experience a short withdrawal period. You may feel sleepy at three o’clock because your body craves that sugar high. You may feel a little lightheaded the first week that you eliminate meat, or you might have cravings so strong, that you feel like you’re on an episode of Intervention. Take a deep breath; this is normal, and it will pass.
The simple truth is that no one wants to be unhealthy. We all want to live a long healthy life and make the best food choices for ourselves. Change isn’t easy but it is possible. It’s up to you to embrace being uncomfortable for the sake of being healthy.
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