5 Tactics That Work To Change Eating Habits Permanently
We have all been there, staring at the cookie… the chocolate cake… and saying to yourself that “this time it will be different.”
You decide to just one or two bites but then five minutes goes by and you realize your fork had a mind of its own. I (privately) called myself a cookie monster because I could easily sneak eating a dozen cookies in any social setting without people realizing it. I could also polish off a whole bag of Tootsie rolls in less than 5 minutes.
So how do you successfully overhaul poor eating habits so that you don’t binge eat or get distracted by all of the tempting goodies? Enjoying a sweet treat once a week is good, but every day? That habit will definitely add to your waistline. How do you get to that point of just eating two or three bites and putting the fork down?
You need a strategy that realistically fits who you are and your life. Try anyone or all 5 of these tactics to change your approach to food so that you can stay on task when food temptations are beckoning. Sometimes, when life hands you lemons, you add them in or swap out something else.
CHOSE THE TACTIC THAT WORKS FOR YOU AND THE SITUATION. BE FLEXIBLE, BUT HAVE A PLAN!
1. ADD INS
This tactic works very well for many people who are just looking to add in a super healthy food that will positively impact their body. These add ins pull their weight in making positive changes to your gut, mind, hormonal balance, and metabolism.
Choosing daily resets with specific weight loss or health targets is a good way to filter your add ins. It’s a great mindset, too, especially if you are prone to pessimism and the “I can’t” self talk because you aren’t depriving but adding value. Small steps for big impact!
- Bone broth or collagen supplement
- MCT powder and coconut oil
- Lemon water
- Apple cider vinegar
- Green algae like spirulina, chlorella
- Foods high in Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
- Fresh herbs and spices
- Healthy fats
- Prebiotic foods like garlic, onions, bananas, coconut flour, yams, chia and flax seeds
Not only will these foods help you to lose weight, you will be nurturing your gut microbiome, which is the sustainable foundation for overall health and wellness.
The complete opposite approach is to eliminate food groups or items from your meals. You can target certain foods, or completely overhaul your entire diet at once. How do you know what to eliminate? Start with the gut to impact almost everything else.
More than likely, your gut is “leaky” and reacting to the food you are eating. Dr. Amy Meyers explains what to look for in 9 Signs You Have A Leaky Gut. You will want to eliminate foods that trigger inflammation and keep the gut lining from healing. By focusing on creating a healthy gut, you are building a sustainable foundation for a lifetime of healthy weight, emotional stability, and wellness.
Tired of hearing about the gluten-free movement? There’s substance to it that makes it significant to this elimination tactic. Gluten contains the protein zonulin, which keeps the gut lining permeable, exposing the rest of the body to damage. Whole30, Paleo, AIP (Auto Immune Paleo), or any specific type of diet for healing takes out the guesswork and stream lines meal planning.
Most people find immediate success when they eliminate gluten or dairy foods. Eating less processed meals, reducing caffeine dependence, and boxed snacks each day is another elimination tactic that will change your eating habits for the better.
The basic elimination diet is as simple as this: No gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, fast food, or alcohol for 23 days. Why 23 Days? Antibodies, which are the proteins that your immune system makes when it reacts to foods, take around 21 to 23 days to turn over, so if you don’t quit things to which you’re sensitive for at least that time, you won’t get the full effect of eliminating them.
And, of course, eliminating sugar is always a top choice. Sugar erodes your health, catapults disease, fattens fat cells, fogs your thinking, and explodes the pathogenic and opportunistic bacteria and yeast population in your gut.
“Eat this, not that” tactic. Not depriving, but finding a healthier food is a great mental booster for long term success. Swaps help you to look at a lifestyle change in a more positive light, teaching you to approach food more mindfully.
You learn how to say, “I choose” versus “I can’t,” which has tremendous emotional power. With food swaps, it boils down to the calories in-calories out model for weight management. The reduction in calories adds up big time for potential pounds lost as a result of eating healthier options. Also, nutrient dense foods replace sugar or processed ones.
Like to eat out? This post gives you “smart swaps” for popular restaurant meals. Try these simple swaps to change your eating habits permanently:
- Black offee instead of latte
- Collagen powder in place of whey protein in shakes and smoothies
- 100% Whole grains, not just 100% whole wheat (see the word play that’s not in your favor?)
- Unsweetened nut or seed butter for peanut butter
- Sourdough baking instead of white or italian bread
- Coconut or almond flour in place of white or bleached wheat flour
- Olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil instead of vegetable oil
Personally, I love dessert and I’ve admitted to my cookie habit. I swap baked cookies for this low carb, raw dough recipe.
Similar to a swap approach is the cognitive behavior therapy of thinking about what you will do in certain situations. This tactic works well for people who struggle with binge eating, making good choices in the moment, or getting easily overwhelmed by the larger picture. Psychology Today shares the statistics:
“Amazingly, you are two to three times more likely to succeed if you use an if-then plan than if you don’t. In one study, 91 percent of people who used an if-then plan stuck to an exercise program, versus 39 percent of non-planners. Peter Gollwitzer, the NYU psychologist who first articulated the power of if-then planning, recently reviewed results from 94 studies that used the technique and found significantly higher success rates for just about every goal you can think of, from using public transportation more frequently to avoiding stereotypical and prejudicial thoughts.
“These plans work so well because they speak the language of your brain: the language of contingencies. Humans are very good at encoding information in “If X, then Y” terms, and using this process (often unconsciously) to guide our behavior. Deciding exactly when and where you will act on your goal creates a link in your brain between the situation or cue (the if) and the behavior that should follow (the then).”
If-then helps you to use less of that exhaustive willpower, replacing it with automated brain abilities. Need to tap into this tactic because it is real struggle? I highly recommend the book, Never Binge Again.
Here’s some If-Then statements to change your eating habits:
- If I want dessert I will eat ____ first. If I want dessert, I will plan it for ____ day[s] this week.
- If I want Starbucks coffee, I will [not add sugar] [I will have only one pump].
- If I get tired in the afternoon, I will [do ____] [eat _____] instead of caffeine.
- If I’m on my device late at night, I will wear light blocking glasses after dinner.
- If I want a late-night snack, I will eat [fruit with yogurt] [have some herbal tea].
Still a big struggle for you? Highly recommend reading The Marshmallow Test to learn more about mastering self control.
5. COUNT IT
When something is measurable, it is quantifiable and predictable. A set program with defined, numerical food parameters helps many people learn about portion control as a form of food freedom and discipline. Check out these stats from the popular Weight Watchers website:
“We have approximately 1.1 million active members who attend approximately 32,000 Weight Watchers meetings around the world, which were run by approximately 8,800 Leaders—each of whom has lost weight on Weight Watchers and kept it off.
“Yes, you will lose weight. And with Weight Watchers, you’ll also gain a whole new perspective on getting—and staying—healthy.”
While I don’t count calories or use a point system for my food choices, I do weigh my day. Every morning, before I eat yet after I’ve had my cup of coffee, I step on the scale. Yes, I weigh myself daily because this number is a guide for my overall and daily eating habits.
I’m comfortable with a 5 pound fluctuation. If my weight number starts creeping up, I will eat much lower carb and add way more healthy fats to my meals for the next few days. This approach works well for me because I have metabolic flexibility; my body loves when I eat low carb veggies, rarely any flour products, definitely less sugar and chocolate, and lots of healthy fats.
Over a year, I became very intentional in making that change in my diet by exploring new recipes, learning about the ketogenic diet, making swaps, and adjusting to the taste of stevia and sugar alcohols. I also count by only cooking out of a specific food plan or recipe book. I know the nutritional profile of each meal is on point and the math has been done for me; I just cook and eat!
Fortunately, there are so many cookbooks that include weekly meal plans and even grocery lists, too. Need some inspiration and help choosing real food cookbooks that are easy and use gut friendly ingredients? Download my free Quick Start Resource PDF! Counting may work differently for you. Here’s a few ideas of how you could count:
- Focus on your total macronutrients each meal or each day
- Focus on a specific macronutrient to find a good balance (protein, fat, carbohydrate)
- Put a value marker goal on specific food group or servings (like green vegetables) each day
- Decide to eat the rainbow of vegetable colors. Assign a different color to the weekday or just check off a color
- Create a habit tracker for how many days or meals you’ve accomplished a food goal, like how many days you’ve not had soda or a candy bar in the afternoon
- Load up with at least a half plate of veggies every dinner
- Cut the sugar in recipes by half