I received an email recently from someone who was really frustrated with her behaviours around food. “I constantly tell myself I’m going to eat less and make healthier choices,” she told me, “but a few days later there I am again right back at it – eating way too much, again! How can I stop?”
As the first part of my response I sent her some information about Overeater’s Anonymous, a 12-step program that can be very effective in helping people take back control of food. This post is going to be the second part of my answer, as I thought it might help you, too.
It’s also timely for me, as due to some major life changes in the last year or so, I’d fallen back into some unwelcome habits myself. When I’m under stress, especially in transition, I crave sweet, rich, starchy foods – think cupcakes, carrot cake, sigh. I also justify takeout meals, which even if “healthy” are still usually packed with calories, salt, additives and fat.
If I give in enough times, I’ve created a habit – my body screams for a cupcake if it hasn’t seen one in a couple of days, or begs me to stop by the adorable little bakery on the way home. My waist expands, clothes get uncomfortable. I’m not even supposed to eat wheat and dairy, and my skin shows the effects of inflammatory foods like sugar and white flour. Yech.
The last few years have also had some financial up and downs, and it’s time to get seriously back on track. My biggest obstacle? You guessed it: bad habits. The frequent takeout I mentioned above is one of them.
Can you relate?
In just a few weeks, I’ve made a HUGE amount of progress in both of these areas. What I’ve been doing has been working so well that I want to share these key habit-breaking tips with you:
1) Admit to yourself what you’re doing, and when you’re doing it
What habits around food and money do you have that are self-defeating? Bad habits in these two life areas often block us most powerfully from the life we’d like to enjoy.
Get your journal out, and on one page write your ideal food-related goals for the rest of the year(e.g. lose ten pounds, eat healthier, less sugar, etc.). On another page, write out your goals around money.
Now, list how you sabotage your goals in each area.
What do you eat? When and where? Why?
When and where do you impulse buy? When your money runs out but the month keeps going do you start charging everything?
How much money would you save in a year if you stopped buying that gourmet muffin and coffee every afternoon? (Here is where money and food meet – welcome to my world! And boy is it exciting when you start to leverage the breaking of BOTH habits!)
Warning: these lists can be LONG. Mine about bad money habits sure was! Start watching yourself, and you’ll learn surprising new things about your habits. You might be shocked about the ways you were self-sabotaging without even realizing, just because you’d gotten so used to the behaviour. The habit.
You’ll be amazed by how much easier it is to change a habit when you really let yourself see what you’ve been doing and acknowledge the effect on your life.
2) Change up your routine
Our less-than-ideal habits around spending and eating are usually tied to bigger patterns of habit that can be our secret weapons for change.
I decided I wanted to stop picking up sushi after finishing at the clinic. Nothing wrong with sushi normally, but at 10 pm all that white rice is a nightmare for a pre-bedtime body. As much of a treat as it was after a hard day, it really was a bad idea for my waistline, insulin levels, sleep quality and so on. AND at $12 a pop, if I could eliminate my usual two sushi nights a week I could save up to $624 in a year! Again: bad food and money habits, hand in hand.
That amount alone might not seem like a lot, but as I looked at more and more things I could painlessly trim from my life, the money started to add up fast.
Now for the routine aspect: I would drive by this sushi place on my usual route home from work. If I took a different route, I wouldn’t even have to debate with myself over whether I’d cave and get it or not. Works like a charm.
Do you have routines around food and money that you can switch up? If you stop watching TV at 10 pm rather than 10:30 every night, could you use the time to make yourself a fabulous lunch for work the next day, instead of grabbing fast food? Could you and your friends go out on Fridays to a different restaurant for a change, one that doesn’t feature ridiculously enticing martinis and the giant hot fudge cake you always share? Could you start eating in together instead of dining out?
Break the routine – and break the habit!
3) Make small key changes to chip away at the habit
Kindness to yourself is important, and there may be real comforts or benefits tied to your habits. Even though it’s ideal to find more adaptive ways of comforting or treating yourself, you don’t need to deny yourself all the time or go cold turkey.
In every choice you make, think of ways you can minimize the damage.
Now when I go out with a friend for dinner, I’ll often skip both my glass of wine and dessert. I save almost $20 with tax and tip, and avoid the extra calories and the day-after bloating and fatigue. If I save $20 a week, that’s $1040 in my pocket – how crazy is that? And I still have a great time, so I’m way ahead!
4) Take it a day (or moment) at a time
When you’re staring down a potentially self-sabotaging decision – like whether to have that bag of chips while watching TV, or whether to buy that gorgeous dress in the window even though you promised yourself you’d put $200 in your emergency fund this month – ask yourself if, just for today, you can resist. Just this moment, this afternoon, this evening, whatever. Just for today.
Can you do it? Could you get through it without giving in to the old habit? Just for right now? I’d bet you can!
The best part is, when you start having these small triumphs and watch them build into bigger and bigger results, it gets easier and easier to keep winning the habit battle. Before you know it, your habits have become good ones!
(P.S. I also always pray for help with changes I’d like to see happen in myself and my life. That’s probably another key ingredient of my success…asking for help from a “higher power” is at the heart of 12 Step Programs like OA and AA that help people keep lifelong addictions for good)
What’s a self-sabotaging habit you’d like to kick? What’s hardest about it for you? Let me know by posting a comment about it and I’ll see if I can help you out…
Thanks so much for stopping by, and I hope I’ve helped you move closer to living a life you truly love!