We eat to survive — but often times, we also find ourselves eating the foods we eat out of habit. Whether it is a special holiday, an event we are attending or even just a friendly catch-up with friends that is centered on going out to your favorite restaurant, it may feel difficult to watch what you eat when those habits feel like the normal course of action.
What is the explanation for these habitual eating patterns? “We have been taught, through our unique experiences in life, to associate food with certain emotions or habits, but for some people, these triggers can lead to unfavorable behaviors,” says Eliza Kingsford, MA, LPC, NCC, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in weight management, eating disorders and body image.
There are numerous ways to manage your habitual eating patterns, Kingsford says, and she recommends these steps to help you with your long-standing patterns with food and overcoming your habits:
- Become mindful of your food patterns. Do not judge whether your pattern is good or bad, just become aware of what it is.
- Keep a food journal. This is one of the easiest ways to be mindful of your food patterns and to hold yourself accountable to them.
- Decide if the habit is serving you. Let’s face it: if you weren’t getting something out of a habit, you wouldn’t be doing it. That doesn’t mean you decided it was good for you; perhaps it became a habit over time, or your brain is reacting to a hyper-palatable food you are consuming. In either case, decide if what you really want to be doing is consuming the food that causes you to feel shame, blame and guilt afterwards. Be intentional in your decisions.
- Make a game plan. You know your pattern, so how are you going to change your direction? How will you replace the food trigger behavior? Come up with a few ideas and write them down. Sometimes, the act of being intentional about food decisions is enough to make you stop reaching for a trigger food.
- Continue to re-evaluate. What alternative coping strategy did you commit to using? How did it work for you? If it did not work, why not? What are you doing to do differently in the future?
Want to read more about how to overcome your habitual eating patterns? CLICK HERE to read “Retrain Your Brain: How to Change Your Habitual Eating Patterns,” an article by Ms. Kingsford in the Spring issue of Your Weight Matters Magazine.