There’s a saying, “You’re only as good as the company you keep.” And while I’d argue that that is absolutely true, especially when it comes to health and fitness goals, I’d argue that there’s something even more basic than that which may be sabotaging your success: Your habits.
The dictionary defines habit as “a regular or settled tendency or practice–especially one that is hard to give up.” Ehh. That’s kind of complicated. A habit is something you do on autopilot– without having to think about it. Do you have to ask yourself if you’re going to brush your teeth today? Hopefully, you made this a habit when you first started getting pearly whites!
Habits can absolutely work in your favor– which I’ll probably make a second post to address. But the short story is that they take away the need for your to argue with yourself about whether or not you are going to do something. I train my body 4-5 days a week. I follow a meal plan. I make sleep a priority. These are no longer conscious decisions for me, because I have good habits in place. I can save my brain power for other things– like making sure my shoes match (each other, not necessarily my clothes! One thing at a time here, people!)
But habits can also work against you. And I’d bet it’s happening a lot more often than you realize.
The other day, I got a bag of trail mix with my groceries. This is no problem– trail mix is legitimately on my meal plan. I pair a measured 1/4 cup with a pear (see what I did there?) for an afternoon snack. This particular day, I was putting my groceries away in stages–which meant that the trail mix was sitting on my counter. Every single time I walked by it, I wanted to grab a handful. I know better than this. I wasn’t hungry. It wasn’t time for a snack. But it became this battle that I was having a really hard time winning. Even worse, after it finally made it in to the pantry, because I’d spent so long thinking about it, I’d start thinking about it every time I passed the pantry.
What does this have to do with a habit? Everything.
Habit studying people will tell you that there are three parts to any habit: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The cue is the thing that sets your habit in motion. For example, let’s say you have a routine of brushing your teeth before bed. (Go you, adulting and everything!) When you start to feel tired, you start to do the things it takes to get ready for bed. That’s the cue. Maybe you put on your PJs and wash your face, then brush your teeth. That’s the routine. The reward is maybe that you feel nice and clean and settled before you tuck in for the night.
The same thing was true with my trail mix. I was 250 pounds and addicted to sugar. (Which is a very real and nasty sort of addiction! Sugar is everywhere!) That was my go-to stress food and comfort food and I’m bored food. I’ve created new and better patterns for myself that have helped me lose 100 pounds, but those triggers are still there. My brain still has that wiring that when it sees or tastes sugar, it wants sugar. So just seeing the sugary trail mix was a cue for me. But because I also have the routine of having the trail mix as part of my day, my body assumed it was a legit need. Because I eat the trail mix as I get ready to train my body, my body is used to the surge of energy that I get, and the feel good feelings of the chocolate.
Habits are a HUGE part of what drives you to eat things you don’t even really want, but can’t stop eating. They’re why, despite your best efforts to “do better tomorrow”, you can’t ever seem to gather up the gumption to actually do it.
Think for a second about all these food habits you might have. (Never mind all the other lifestyle habits you have that might be getting in your way– like sitting all the time, or plopping down on the couch after a long day.)
- Eating handfuls of chips and salsa while you wait on your Mexican food.
- Ordering a tub of popcorn at the movies.
- Getting a sugary coffee drink when you’re out running errands.
- Having a bed time snack.
- Needing an afternoon “pick me up”.
- Ordering dessert after a nice meal out.
- Eating ice cream on the couch with your sweetie.
- Having several rolls with dinner.
- Dumping cream and sugar into your coffee.
- Knocking a “few” back after work or winding down with a glass (or two!) of wine.
I could go on for days, but really only you know what your habits are– and which ones are really sabotaging your success. You’re gonna have to cozy up with yourself and figure out these previously unrecognizable habits, and start dealing with them one by one.
But while you’re in that process of cleaning up your habits, here’s something helpful. Take yourself off of autopilot. Consider this: every time you do something, you’re reinforcing a habit, which makes it harder and harder to break. I’ve tried what feels like a thousand tactics that weight loss experts have suggested when it comes to food: waiting 15 minutes before I indulge a craving, having a glass of water every time a craving hits, distracting myself, keeping my hands busy, and even taking pictures of food. It’s all been “ehhh”.
What has made the most sense to my Pudge brain, is asking myself if the thing I was about to do is something I’m ok with being a habit. Or sometimes, if the craving is really strong, I tell myself “You are NOT allowing this to become a habit!” And I’m diligent about it. Why? Because I really believe in food freedom, and if something is controlling me, there’s no freedom or joy in that.
Ready for better? Get a handle on your habits!