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Posted on 12 Jan 2017 Views 11549 Comments 13

Breaking the chains of habit

If I had a penny for every person who asked me how to lose weight successfully, I would probably be very rich! The problem is, that whilst the actual mechanics of weight loss can be fairly simple (tipping the scales of energy balance in your favour by taking in less energy (calories) and/or expending more energy through exercise to create an energy deficit), losing weight can be a real battle. This is often due to the many factors affecting the situation, including our social support network, psychological issues, motivation, previous dietary habits and lifestyle habits.

This article aims to provide you with some insight and ideas around how to break any unhelpful eating and lifestyle habits you currently have and how to create new ones – some you may not have even thought about. I like the quote by the English writer Samuel Johnson in the 1700s, which says, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken”. If you’re already following one of our programmes, it’s worth considering this now, to get you ready to make your fresh start once you finish the programme.

The power of reward

In our society, food is often used as a reward; whether it’s only giving your children a sweet dessert if they finish their vegetables, rewarding a hard day’s work with a bottle or wine or takeaway, or rewarding your weight loss with a meal out. You may even be using food as a reward in more subtle ways without thinking. Moving away from food-based rewards and planning alternatives is an important step in breaking the habit. You could include rewards for yourself like a cinema trip, a new book, a new dress. If you have a partner or children, try to sit down as a family and discuss the issue; breaking the habits in children will help them achieve healthier lives later on too.

What type of ‘eater’ are you?

Many people turn to food for comfort or relief from stress, rather than due to true hunger. If you’re a ‘comfort eater’ or an ‘emotional eater’ you’ll know that it’s not as simple as just avoiding those snacks – when cravings hit, you probably feel powerless to change your actions. There are several differences between emotional eating and true hunger to help you spot this - emotional eating tends to come on more suddenly, craves specific foods or flavours, doesn’t ‘fill you up’ and tends to lead to unhelpful thoughts like guilt. The first step to overcoming comfort eating is to identify your triggers – often it’s things like stress, certain emotions (e.g. loneliness, resentment, anxiety), boredom or childhood habits (or a combination). If you have major issues in this area, seeking counselling would be a logical step forward. Alternatively you could try the following ideas, which may serve as ways to fulfil yourself emotionally.

Feeling / emotion Alternatives to try
Lonely or depressed

Skype, phone, text or Facebook message a good friend or family member; someone who always makes you feel good or feel better about yourself or your situation

Looking through your favourite mementos or photo albums

Anxiety Taking a brisk walk round the block, changing the environment by moving to another room or doing something with your hands, e.g. cooking or reading
Fatigue or exhaustion Make a cup of tea and have a warm bath with some scented oil or candles
Boredom Do something else, or change your immediate environment; read a book, take a walk, do some physical activity

MeditationPractising mindfulness

This links on well from how to overcome comfort eating. Mindfulness is the practice of living in the moment, becoming more aware of what you’re eating, and taking a pause between your triggers (or feelings) and actions. This technique can work particularly well for people who are emotional / comfort eaters. The following tips may help you:

  • Pause before giving in to your craving – start by pausing just 1 minute, and ask yourself how you’re feeling. Initially you may give in, but over time, being in touch with your feelings may help you do it differently next time
  • Accepting your feelings – learning to accept your feelings is helpful; even negative ones around feeling powerless in the situation
  • Change your habits at the dinner table too – start with smaller portions, pause to help you appreciate your food, take in the meal with all your senses (including taste and smell), take smaller mouthfuls, chew thoroughly and eat more slowly

The weekly takeaway

If one of your habits is regularly having takeaway foods or eating out, this is something to address. There are many resources available to help you choose a healthier takeaway (e.g. choosing tomato based sauces instead of creamy ones, choosing plain rice) – and whilst this may seem to take some of the pleasure away from the experience, it is important to break your habits by not only reducing your frequency of takeaways, but also the types of food you choose. By sticking to the same unhealthy options you love, and eating them less frequently, the habits will likely eventually creep back in and you’ll probably be back to your weekly repertoire before you know it. If you have other family members living with you, consult them and work out a plan that’s suitable for everyone – enlisting family support and making changes together is really important. If your downfall is ordering a regular takeaway due to a busy day, feeling too tired to cook, or have run out of ingredients to cook a healthy meal, meal planning can be a great help, as outlined below. You could also try batch cooking, and having a small supply of pre-made meals in the freezer for those busy days.

Meal and snack planning

Whether you are on a Slim & Save programme, or in the weight maintenance phase, making use of meal plans can really help. They can help you look forward to your meals, as well as making sure you have the right things in the fridge and cupboard to prevent you from having to pop to the local shop and buy something less healthy. Having your weekly meal plan somewhere visual can help too; for example on the fridge, or invest in some chalk and a small blackboard.

Take up a new hobby

Taking up a new hobby can be a good way of getting more active, relieving stress, socialising and feeling better about yourself – you’re less likely to eat unhealthily if you have some planned time outside the home. It goes without saying that your new hobby shouldn’t involve food! Don’t force yourself to do something you wouldn’t usually do or that’s naturally outside of your comfort zone or you will find it hard to keep it going. Find something that fits well with your personality. There are many things to choose from – from being more active (taking up a new sport, running, cycling, or ballroom dancing) to creative hobbies (e.g. watercolour painting, pottery, sewing or knitting) and most hobbies can include as much social interaction as you’re willing to partake in.

Make space to be active

Training with light dumbellsWhilst it’s great to have a regular exercise routine – whether it’s a gym session three times a week or an exercise class – consider what other space you can make for being more active. Evenings tend to be the time we like to kick back and relax (often snacking creeps in here as well) – however why not try to break this habit? One idea to help you get more active in the evenings (or another part of your day) is to start by doing short bursts of activity during the ad breaks, e.g.

  • Buy some light hand weights and do some arm exercises every time the ad break comes on
  • Run up and down the stairs a few times
  • Squats or sit ups
  • See how long you can hold yourself in plank position
In summary…

We hope this article as given you some ideas to try and highlighted areas of your routine which might need to change to help you stay healthier in the long term. Remember that with any new habit, it does take time for new changes to get ingrained into your routines and thought processes and become new habits. Don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t go to plan, but keep going – only through perseverance can real change happen.

Written by Annemarie Aburrow RD BSc (Hons) PGDip, Slim & Save Dietitian.
Comments on Breaking the chains of habit
Karen Sayer 12/06/2020 18:50
Great tips and help thank you x
Jennifer Goodall 28/03/2017 08:29
The hard part is breaking old habits as it is what we are used to and it does take a while to break the cycle but once you do you will feel so much better in yourself.

A fantastic blog with some really helpful tips on breaking these old habits and moving that one step closer to a healthier you.
Smithg329 20/01/2017 14:22
great tips and advice x
Smithg 19/01/2017 07:02
ueful article will look to implemtn some of the suggestions
Sophie Kean 16/01/2017 08:35
I'm an emotional/boredom eater. I think I always have been.
So to target the boredom side, I have started crochet and knitting in the evening, I am making prem. hats for a charity, so I keep my fingers and mind occupied whilst doing a good thing and also saving my waist line!

To target the emotional side, my very supportive partner has reinforced the fact that he is always there to talk to me, or sometimes, I just go and do stuff in the bathroom, face pack hair pack etc. It makes me feel better, and it also means that iI cannot eat if i am in the bathroom or covered in goo!
Rochelle Fleetwood 14/01/2017 18:09
A great plus about this program is that it forces me to be able to cook for my family and not eat while cooking... I can eat a meal during cooking, then sit down for another meal... I'm hoping the break from this habit will help to reinforce new ones.
Kathryn Williams 13/01/2017 09:25
"Do what you've always done, you'll get what you've always had" ... I am great at losing the weight with the help of these packs, but as soon as I've done it I fall straight back in to the old habits and pile it back on again making a never ending cycle of packs, indulgence, guilt, packs, indulgence etc etc

This time around I'm going to change my habits - find new routines and challenge myself with steps and mindful thinking not just consume my packs and hope for the best - looking forward to seeing where that takes me
Beckie alley 13/01/2017 02:09
Brilliant article, thank you for sharing!
I was a comfort eater for most of my life and work stress always used to be an excuse. After being on sns for a short time (week 15 now - 5 days off over Christmas) I had to face my food demons.

With a lot of effort ive now reduced my portion sizes to the size of a side plate (im regularly defeated by a simple salad) and focusing my energy elsewhere when im hungry ive found a great balance. Not only do I recognise cravings for what they are, I now listen to my body!

Distraction is very much the key for me. Initially I would craft to distract myself. Thanks to this ive now decided to set up my own craft business (card making mostly!). Couldn't be happier. I'm losing the weight, learning self control and self discipline along with enjoying it!

Thank you SnS for changing my life and for all the help along the way, and thanks in advance for future help! ;)
Susan Burke 12/01/2017 22:34
I've found if I follow the plan, eat my allowances, have warm drinks and drink my water quota I manage to get through the day. Spacing your packs out, get into a routine, your body does adapt in time I've found.

If all fails, I manicure my nails, UV gel polish them or go change the bedding , clean the bathroom , get on with emails or office work I have to do, it takes my mind off food. You didn't get bad habits overnight and likewise you won't lose them overnight.

By the time you've diverted your mind from thinking about food, it will be meal time again.

Focus on how much you want to lose weight , to get to goal, think about how disappointed in yourself you will be if you give in, that works for me. But if you do give in to temptation, forget it and start again, keep going.
Janice Crombie 12/01/2017 21:54
I'm on maintenance now, but the old habit of wanting something in my mouth that tastes nice still wanders within me every evening after supper. I'm still having my bars around 9pm as a sweet treat, so the time between finishing supper to bar time makes me feel more vulnerable to 'nosh'. So I'm sticking to fruit and/or healthy snacks. Got loads of Walden Farm products in my kitchen cupboard, that helps. My mantra is that I've spent so much on a new wardrobe, I just can't afford to waste it; and, as I worked so hard to lose the weight for almost half a year, I say to myself, I did not do that for nothing, keep maintaining, so I am and will do in the future - hopefully.

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