Eating is important. Food gives our bodies the energy we need to function. For many people, changing eating habits is very difficult.
You may have practiced some habits so long, you may not even realize that they are unhealthy; or they simply have become part of your lifestyle, and you do them without much thought.
A food journal is a good way to become aware of your eating habits. Keep a food journal for 1 week. Write down what you eat, how much, and what time of day you ate it. Also write down what else you were doing and how you were feeling, such as being hungry, stressed, tired, or bored. For example, maybe you were at work and were bored, and so you got a snack from a vending machine down the hall from your desk.
At the end of the week, review your journal and look at your eating habits. Try to decide which habits you want to change. Remember small steps to change lead to more long-term changes. Try not to overwhelm yourself with too many goals.
Also, congratulate yourself for the healthy habits you do have. Many people focus on their poor habits and then become distressed and overwhelmed. Don’ t judge your behaviors. Setting goals to change them is the best way to make new habits permanent.
A few good habits would be:
Think about what triggers, or prompts, may be causing some of your eating habits. Is there something in your environment, such as a vending machine down the hall, that makes you eat when you are not hungry or choose an unhealthy snack? Does the way you feel make you want to eat?
Look at your journal and circle the common triggers. Some of them might be:
Start by focusing on the one or two triggers that occurred the most often during your week. Is there something you could do to avoid these triggers?
Some ways to avoid triggers are:
For example, you may have decided that snacking on candy toward the end of your workday as a pick-me-up is something you want to change. You could replace this habit with, a cup of herbal tea (mint can be refreshing) and eating a small handful of almonds. Or you could eat fruit and yogurt. Most people do get hungry mid-afternoon, about 3 - 4 hours after lunch. Planting to have a healthy snack ready is a great way to help you make this a permanent habit
Some other ideas for replacing unhealthy habits with healthy ones are:
Eat only when you are hungry.
Plan your meals. This reduces the chance you will buy foods you did not plan to buy (impulse buying) or eat at fast-food restaurants. Planning dinners at the beginning of the week helps you prepare healthy, well-balanced meals in the evening.
Control your portion sizes. It is hard to eat only a few chips when the whole bag is in front of you. So put a few chips into a bowl, then put the bag away. Do that with other foods as well.
Get rid of unhealthy foods.
Once you have changed one or two old unhealthy habits, try changing one or two more.
It may take a while before you can turn your unhealthy habits into new, healthy ones. Remember, it took you a while to form your habits, and it may take just as long to change them. Do not give up.
If you start an old habit again, think about why you went back to it and replace it again with a new habit. Most importantly, keep trying. One slip does not mean the whole day is ruined, and it does not mean you are a failure. You can do it!
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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