Understatement of the year: breaking bad eating habits can be difficult.
After all, we are creatures of habit. How are we supposed to stop indulging in foods we’ve eaten for months, if not years?
And what doesn’t help? Expensive food, busy schedules, not seeing changes quickly enough, the list goes on.
But for some, there comes a time when their doctors, trainers, friends, or family start telling them they have to change their eating habits. While this can be (and we hope it always is) said out of love, it can still be a hard thing to hear. Whether it’s because of the way we look or our health, changing eating habits and finding a fitness routine that works can be difficult and scary.
The Cost Of Unhealthy Eating
It’s no secret that food is expensive. A change in eating habits also means a change in the budget you set aside for your weekly meal allowance. But there is a heavier price to pay for highly processed foods and that is poor health. Processed foods are often high in sugar, fat, and empty calories. There’s a wide array of health problems that you can incur from diets rich in processed foods, starting with obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, depression, heart disease, and more. On the lighter end of the spectrum, you’ll feel sluggish, experience low energy, and experience even lower activity levels compared to your loved ones.
Where Do I Start?
Just venturing into the unknown is difficult. What do I eat now? Where do I begin in the gym? Not having any knowledge of where to begin can be daunting and leave you feeling vulnerable. And understandably so.
A client once asked us, “Do I have to give up the foods I love?”We often get this question and our ultimate answer always has the other person rethinking their answer. “No, but what do you want to accomplish in the gym?”
If you are in these shoes and unsure of what end result they want, the best place to start is by writing down your goals.
1. Write down your goals.
Multiple studies have proven that we retain information better if we write it down. In fact, people who only thought about their goals succeeded less than 50% of the time, whereas those who wrote their goals down and enlisted support networks to keep them accountable, succeeded in reaching their goals closer to 75% of the time.
Because it can be difficult to stay consistent and motivated 100% of the time, it’s important to have S.M.A.R.T goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely) documented. So whether you’re trying to lose 10 lbs. within three months, prep 4 meals a day, or gain muscle – make sure to write it down in detail and identify which are short term and long term goals.
2. Identify what your bad eating habits are.
Breaking bad eating habits requires you understanding what actions contribute to those bad habits. Do you eat when you’re stressed? Do you snack a lot?
Bad habits are bad for a reason – because we either enjoy them or because they’re easy to make. In a way, they are addicting and we often find ways to rationalize once we commit them. But once you can identify what your bad habits are and why they happen, you can start the process of phasing them out.
3. Identify the negative circumstances contributing to your bad eating habits.
When you identify your bad eating habits make sure to be specific – how often do you indulge in them? Why do you commit them? If eating out is your habit, how much money do you spend? Maybe you don’t eat well because you don’t have the time to prepare meals in advance, or you stress eat because you don’t like your job.
Now that you’ve made this list, how can you avoid the negatives? Perhaps if you don’t have time to prep you can take a closer look at your schedule and see where you have extra activities that you could forgo and use this time slot to prep? Or perhaps you have a partner you could ask for help? If you don’t enjoy your job perhaps you could amp up your self-care time before or after work, practice meditation during lunch, and so on.
Details like these will help you identify why you’re stuck in this bad habit loop, how much time, strength, and money you spend in it, and what actions are needed to counteract the loop.
4. Identify the positive circumstances surrounding your eating habits.
It’s important to identify the positives in addition to the negatives in your habit loop. Identifying the positives keeps us in a balanced headspace and appreciative of the efforts we make to live a healthy lifestyle. Perhaps your bad habits are waking up early in the morning to eat a balanced breakfast, or making sure you aren’t eating any processed foods. Even the smallest actions have an effect on our daily routines and outlook.
Something we practice at Pure Elite Fitness is scheduling in 15 minutes on a weekly or even daily basis to analyze our positive and bad habits side-by-side and discussing them with our team. This ensures that we not only limit the time frame in which we focus on the bad (so we don’t spiral into a negative mindset!) but also gives us an opportunity to provide each other with ideas for improvement. For this reason, we highly encourage sharing your goals and habits with others and creating a community of accountability and positive reinforcement.
It takes intention and consistency to change your habits. Try out a free 60-minute consultation with one of our Pure Elite Fitness coaches to get more information about how we can help you with your nutrition transformation.
5. Don’t overload yourself with a plan you can’t follow consistently.
Setting up unrealistic expectations is one of the most common traps we see people fall into. Unfortunately, breaking bad eating habits can sometimes take a lot of time, effort, and preparation. As much as we want to believe we can do everything all at once, we still have to face the realities of our daily routines, commitments, and energy levels.
With this in mind, don’t set yourself up for failure knowing you have a busy schedule that just won’t accommodate 6 hours of cooking and meal prepping. Starting out small is the best first action you can take. So for example, if you know you won’t have time to prep yourself a lunch for work, do your research and find healthy alternatives at a local restaurant. Or, if you enjoy snacking on chocolate at work and find that it’s difficult to stop snacking altogether, replace the chocolate with almonds or a piece of fruit.
Such small actions will set you up for success rather than failure, and help ensure you won’t feel as resentful when you’re not able to follow a chosen plan consistently.
6. Seek help and readjust if you’re falling off your plan.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find a plan or the right foods that will best support your goal of improving your eating habits.
There are a lot of factors that go into the type of meal plan you choose for yourself such as pre-existing medical conditions, macronutrient balance, allergies, long term versus short term goals, activity level, and more. You may be able to do all the research and pick out a plan that you think is best suited for you, but if you find that you constantly fall off of it, it may be time to find another plan and readjust or consult a nutritionist.
A nutritionist is your best resource for personalizing diet plans to fit your body and lifestyle. Although there are a lot of recipes and plan types floating out there, you’ll rarely find one that can be tailored to fit your exact needs.
Even if you don’t have access to a nutritionist and find yourself falling off with your plan, try to make small changes to the areas you find challenging. Finding the perfect plan takes time and trial and error, especially if you’re just starting out.
7. Understand failure is an opportunity to learn.
As with anything in life, whenever something doesn’t work out we get disappointed. Either disappointed at ourselves, in others, or at the world. We dwell on what didn’t work and in so doing make it harder to bounce back.
The beauty of failure is that it is an opportunity to learn and come back even stronger. Have you ever learned something when you were indifferent to the situation? Of course not. We are willing to learn from mistakes when we don’t allow failure to break us when we don’t see it is an absolute loss or an end to the situation. Imagine a child learning to walk. Children don’t give up on walking, but instead, crawl, get up, fall, and get up again. It’s the path we take throughout our entire lives, and it exists to support our growth.
The biggest threat of failure is seeing it as an end. Many times have we heard our clients say they slipped up on their meal plan and given up on their efforts of continuing. Why? Because they saw their slip up as an end to all the efforts they had thus far put in.
The key is to push through and continue! After all, we’ve all heard variations of how long it takes to create a new habit and make it automatic. We’ve heard anywhere between three weeks to two months. Others, such as former Blue Angel and current inspiring motivational speaker John Foley, say that acquiring a new habit takes 65 – 66 repetitions. It takes this many repetitions to build the neural pathways that allow us to see these habits as automatic behaviors.
With this in mind, it’s okay to fail. Continuing is your best bet, even if you do slip up every so often.
On your journey of breaking bad habits, you will inevitably find yourself frustrated or wondering what’s not working. We’ve all been there and know it’s not easy. If it was, everyone would be perfect! But with these seven steps, you can remain confident and mindful of the steps you take each day.
Most importantly, remember to acknowledge your efforts and stay positive!