by Coach Lindsay Zemba Leigh
Unhealthy habits. We all have them.
Do you ever find yourself snacking at night when you’re not hungry? Or immediately reaching for sweets after dinner even though you’re full? Or turning towards sugary snacks for a mid-day pick up? Or going all day with not much to eat and being ravenous by dinner?
Part of healthier eating requires that we make new habits that better support our goals. That sentence is easier to type than to do! Even though we know these unhealthy habits are not good for us, why don’t we stop?
Over time, we may have justified or rationalized the choices we make. But, if we change the script in our heads to one that justifies making better choices to reach our goals, we CAN start to change unhealthy habits.
Unhealthy habits can often be a reaction to stress from things like overworking, being in quarantine, or fatigue from not getting enough sleep, so be compassionate with yourself when making these changes! They won’t happen quickly, and it will take time to adjust our choices. Strive for progress – not perfection.
Here are some steps you can take to start changing the unhealthy habits (adapted from psychologytoday.com):
1. Identify and make a list of the habits that you would like to change, and also list reasons why you want to change them.
2. Figure out how the habits are serving you and what you’re getting from them. Are you getting a pick me up from the mid-afternoon sugar? Comfort from the post-dinner sweets? Stress relief from overeating?
3. Choose something to replace the unhealthy habit. Instead of stress eating you could go for a walk, read a book, meditate, take deep breaths, etc. Instead of reaching for sweets for a mid-afternoon pick me up you could take a 10 minute power nap, meditate, get more sleep at night, have some green tea, or have a healthy, nutrient-packed snack like apple with peanut butter. When you choose the healthier alternatives, commend yourself and celebrate!
4. Remove triggers that lead you to make choices in line with old habits. For example, if you can’t keep ice cream in your house without overeating it, then keep it out of your house for now until you feel secure in your new habit. If you tend to overeat at particular restaurants, avoid those for now.
5. Visualization works and if you do it regularly, you can retrain your brain. Spend some time everyday picturing yourself with your new habits and achieving your goals.
6. “Flip the script” is something we often tell our athletes to do during training and racing but it can apply to your other goals as well. Be conscious of negative self talk and judgement which will keep you stuck in your negative patterns. Reframe and replace the negative chatter with positive affirmations. So, when you say something like “I feel fat” or “I can’t stop eating these chips!” replace it with “I’m healthier than yesterday” or “I choose foods that serve my body well.”
7. Take small steps if you need to. For instance, if you want to eat more vegetables and fruit, start by adding just one extra serving per day for a week, and increase from there. You’ll start reinforcing your new habit even if you can’t go all in right away.
8. You’ll slip sometimes, and that is 100% ok. You are human and habits will take time to change. Love and respect yourself and get right back on track after the falter.
9. Habits can take several weeks to change, so be patient with the process and continue reworking the script in your brain. You got this!
Need help with your daily nutrition and hydration needs? Consider our Nutrition Coaching, with a 10-week program to help you dial in your needs to optimal performance and health.