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The Science of Breaking Bad Food Habits

The Science of Breaking Bad Food Habits

Heart Bowl Filled with Greens and Fruits
Change is hard. If you've ever tried to change a bad habit, you know firsthand just how difficult it can be to consistently make better choices without feeling like you're denying yourself the true pleasures in life.

Why are habits hard to break?

We're all hardwired to form habits. Behavior forms early on in our lives in order to make our lives easier, allow us to multi-task and save our mental energy for the bigger things. Without habits, every action would take deliberate thought and require your complete engagement, but thanks to our ability to form habits, we can all live productive lives.

Thousands of years ago, the habitual brain made it possible for us to survive, but today combined with the modern conveniences of the 21st century, this important life-saving adaptation can oftentimes do us more harm than good.

Our propensity to prefer life on autopilot helps us to navigate our homes, use a computer, read a book and more; it's also what's responsible for our poor judgment when it comes to snacking. And marketing companies know this.

It’s important to recognize that the foods you know and love (and are addicted to) have undergone billions of dollars of research to exploit your predisposition toward habit formation; to determine which flavor combinations get you to eat more; what packaging will sell best; even where your favorite foods are located in the supermarket isn't an accident.

With both evolution and clever marketing giants both working against us, it's no wonder so many of us struggle to lose the weight and keep it off.

Identifying the Components of Habits

Many of the habits we have around food, exercise or other lifestyle behaviors are comprised of three distinct ingredients:

To demonstrate, a habit surrounding food might look like this:
Cue: Hunger; however, it could also be boredom, stress, a certain time of day, the smell of food, hearing others talk about food, seeing a commercial and so on.
Behavior: eat food
Reward: Satiety, relaxation, comfort or nostalgia etc.

Sometimes we feel guilty or disgusted after we eat, but those are secondary feelings; the initial reward still exists. Furthermore, because our brains are so much more complex than a three-step system, it’s often times very difficult to differentiate reward from addiction, particularly when you pepper in clever marketing and early wiring that can occur in childhood or when you're exposed to trauma. All of these combined elements make breaking old habits challenging.

When we think about changing our habits, it's easy to quickly become overwhelmed or discouraged. That's because when most of us think about change, we first envision the end result. When we recognize just how different the end feels from where we currently are, we imagine that it could only be through an enormous effort that such a pivot could occur.

But the truth is, change is about the little things; you don't have to reinvent yourself to see change, you just have to change some of the small things you do (and think about) daily. This is where your habits are made and re-made.

One critical component of this process is to remain positive about yourself and the process. If you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk or you find yourself entertaining the idea of food restriction for punishment or food rewards for behaviors you’d like to see more of, stop. These are not healthy or sustainable mindsets.

Use what you know about habits to learn how to engage in better behaviors that you can still feel good about. For example, if you know you tend to use food after you encounter a stressful situation, be mindful of this fact. Since you likely won’t be able to avoid stress for the rest of your life, begin to explore other tactics for stress relief.

You don’t need to completely turn your life upside down for this; while practicing yoga, taking a run or simply enjoying a cup of tea may be very calming for some people, these stress-relieving techniques may be too far outside of the scope of what you’re used to. While they’re great long-term goals to keep in mind, if they’re too big of a leap, you’ll ultimately not get the same reward from them and feel like you’re denying yourself.

This will only lead you to mental and emotional fatigue - the opposite of what we’re shooting for.

Later on down the road, you might find that when you’re bored, you find that bird watching is very exciting and rewarding; you might find relief from stress in yoga; you may begin to associate snack-o-clock with a time when you automatically reach for an apple instead of the cookies. But today, you’re likely in a place where these are long-term goals.

So, rather than finding a whole new activity that brings you relaxation, comfort or excitement, let’s simply find a better food that offers the same rewards.

This is where many people have trouble because it's very difficult to find adequate replacements for the sweet and salty snacks you crave. We already know that a stick of celery will simply never be a comparison for Cheez-Its, but it can be equally difficult to find a specialty diet food replacement that really hits the spot.

At 1020 Wellness, we specialize in foods that look, feel and taste like the snacks and comfort meals you're used to. Our foods are designed to address your cravings so that when you eat them, you're satisfied and not looking for more.

Replacing a tasty snack with its most similar alternative is a great way to slowly move away from your old habits while losing weight and gaining confidence!

With high-protein and low-calorie options, you'll ultimately consume less without having to expend a ton of additional mental energy on food preparation. That means you can focus your efforts on conjunctive weight loss tactics such as exercising more, diving deeper into that self-help book you've been wanting to crack open and simply staying positive.

Check out our new blog for additional tips for breaking habits and weight loss.