It’s hard to believe we’re at the start of another year, and with that, we often decide to start new diets or even cleanses.

As you might guess, now is the time of year I hear people say that they want to finally kick their bad eating habits and get healthy! But I see so many struggle with changing the bad habits, embracing the good ones, or even just sticking with the good ones. There are many reasons our brains become conditioned to certain behaviors, but there are also many ways to change them.

So, let’s talk about why these “bad” habits begin in the first place.
Stress (mental, emotional and physical stress) is a major precursor for indulging in habits like eating high-sugar, high-salt foods; and I know I don’t need to remind you of why this is bad. Stress causes a decrease in dopamine (a brain chemical or neurotransmitter) which helps make the brain feel-good; eating high-sugar, high-salt foods cause a short-term release of dopamine.  Dopamine strengthens our desire to engage in whatever behaviors caused its release again and again.  But guess what else increases dopamine (for longer periods of time), exercise, getting enough sleep, listening to music, sunlight, eating protein, probiotics, certain supplements and mediation.

So, when we reduce stress, we’re able to stay more grounded and resist the pull of temptations. For example, that candy dish at work is always more appealing when you’re tired. But if you slept well, got some exercise, and ate a good breakfast, it’s much easier to walk right by.

Ok, so HOW do we break a bad habit?
To break a habit that is not productive, a personal trigger needs to be identified.  When it is understood what triggers a person to do something, then that person can work on avoiding or fixing that specific action. The more you understand your personal reactions to different situations, the more you can find the right tools for your success.  Journaling is a fantastic tool to help find and recognize personal trigger; then systems can be put in place to prevent undesirable personal triggers from occurring. And your accountability partners can be more useful when they know what triggers to support you on.

Some examples,

  1. if you are feeling like you are not getting things done or are easily distracted by multiple projects: some people do best when they have everything scheduled on the calendar and get positive reinforcement by checking things off their list as they accomplish them.
  2. If you are having trouble staying committed to a process, some people find that being held accountable by others encourages them to follow their desired habits more effectively.
  3. And some of us just need a little enticement to get the job done, like a massage at the end of a long week. But be careful to avoid rewarding a job well done with high sugar, high salt! Choose an activity instead of food.

Take some time to understand the causes of your own bad habits, get very clear on why you want to change them, and learn more about what would give you the most motivation to get the job done.

Corey Feldman MMS, PA-C