How to create
a good eating habit?

An eating habit has four components: a cue, a craving, a response, and a reward. If you want to create a good eating habit, you must:

  • Make the cue obvious.
  • Make the craving attractive.
  • Make the response easy.
  • Make the reward satisfying,

Make the cue obvious

Being aware of your feelings is the key to start the process about creating good eating habits. Think about your feelings, acknowledge them, and even write them down. Keep track of your cues because most cues appear unconsciously. Make a list of your eating habits. Example: I eat breakfast at 7am, I snack at 9:30am, I skip lunch, I snack at 3pm, I snack at 5pm, I have dinner at 6pm, I snack at 8pm, I snack at 10pm. Score your habit with “plus” and “minus” : is the habit good or bad? Then, make a plan. Example: instead of snacking at 9:30am, I’ll take a 5-minute walk. 

The most powerful of all human sensory abilities is vision. The human body has about eleven-million sensory receptors. Ten million of those are dedicated to sight. So… if you want to stop snacking and work on healthy options, don’t look at your pantry if it contains junk food! Don’t open your fridge if there are still leftovers of the birthday cake of yesterday! Discipline yourself about when you won’t open your fridge: I won’t open my fridge after lunch, after dinner. Discipline yourself to drink more water: visually put bottles of water at different place in your apartment. Cues need to be obvious!! 

Privilege discipline over self-control. Create a self-disciplined environment. Self-control is just a short-term strategy. You may resist the temptation of eating chips once or twice but unlikely you can muster the willpower to override your desires every time. The only sustainable self-control is when you create a self-disciplined environment.

Make the craving attractive and irresistible

Today, we crave salt, sugar, and fat. The food industry has created processed food that makes food interesting to eat. How long does it take till we feel bored to eat kale? How long does it take till we feel bored to eat ice cream? An hour? With kale or broccoli, we feel full so quickly. With ice cream, the dynamic contrast of flavors and the addictive sugars keep the experience novel and interesting, encouraging you to eat more. Processed food is so attractive! But WHY?? 

One of our hormones for happiness is the very famous dopamine. One of the dopamine’s roles is to create desire. Without dopamine, we can still feel pleasure, but not the desire. Every behavior that is highly habit-forming like taking drugs, eating junk food or browsing social media, is associated with high levels of dopamine. Dopamine is released not only when we experience pleasure, but also when we anticipate it. To make it simpler: you anticipate the pleasure of eating a cookie as soon as you think about it and then when you see it. Desire is the engine that drives behaviors. Every action is taken because of the anticipation that precedes it. It is the craving that leads the response. Craving is just a specific manifestation of a deeper underlying motive. Your brain did not evolve with a desire to eat junk food. At a deep level, you simply want to reduce uncertainty and relieve anxiety, to win social acceptance and approval, or to achieve a status. Habits is all about associations. When you eat junk food, what you really want is NOT the bagel. What you really want is to feel different. Find something that make you happy. You want to eat junk food? Instead, listen to your favorite song! Feel your feet on the floor, deeply breathe three times, smile for 10 seconds, pet the dog… The options are endless! 

 

Make the response easy

Habits form based on frequency, not time. How long does it take to form a new habit? As long as you frequently repeat it! New habits require the same amount of frequency than bad habits – which you might have probably repeated thousands of times. To build a habit, you need to practice it. It takes work and time! The less energy a habit requires, the more likely it is to occur. 

If you want to improve your diet: prep food! Chop up a ton of fruit and veggies on weekends and pack them in containers, so you have easy access to healthy, ready to eat options during the week. Remember: 40 to 50% actions on any given day are done out of habit. 

When you start a new habit, it should take less than 2 minutes.  Action to eat healthy: prep food and veggies in the fridge, prepare your salad and dressing the night before, opt for good options at the supermarket, don’t buy anything unhealthy at the supermarket, avoid kitchen after 8pm, weight yourself every morning, restrain from eating in the morning for one hour, start eating after a 12-hour-time frame. The more you repeat an action, the easier it becomes a habit!

Make it satisfying

With bad habits, the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad. With good habits, it is the reverse: the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good. The costs of your good habits are in the present, the costs of the bad habits are in the future. 

With instant gratification, you are no longer making a choice for your future You who dreams of being fitter or wealthier or happier. You are choosing your Present You who wants to be full, pampered and entertained. As a general rule, the more immediate pleasure you get from an action, the more strongly you should question whether it aligns with your long-term goals.  

Success in nearly every field requires you to ignore an immediate reward in favor of a delayed reward. Create an immediate reward for yourself: each time you resist a cookie, add $5 in your account “buy a new dress”, each you lose 5 pounds, add $10 in your “buy a new dress” account: it is loyalty program for yourself. You CANNOT reward yourself of not eating a cookie by eating a cookie later or when you lose weight: it leads with conflicting identities. 

Another way to make the reward satisfying is to visually measure your improvements, feelings, moods etc… Start a food journals – there are tons of fun and easy apps.  The most effective form of motivation is progress. Avoid the “all or nothing mindset”: if you miss one day, try to get back into it as quickly as possible!

Conclusion

Sustaining an effort is the most important thing for any enterprise. The way to be successful is to learn how to do things right, then do them the same way every time. Start a “decision journal”: record all the decisions you make each week, why you make them, what you expect the outcome to be. Review your choices at the end of each month to see where they were correct and where they went wrong. When you want to start eating healthy, decision journals will be your companions in the journey of taking care of yourself.  

Dr. Judith Ryba

Dr. Judith Ryba

Hi I'm Dr. Judith. I am a certified Life Coach in Nutrition and Emotional Eating. I help women of all ages find pleasure in food while maintaining healthy eating habits. I am passionate about creating a safe and supportive space for women to honor their needs. I believe food is one of the greatest pleasures in life but also a great healer.

Dr. Judith Ryba - PhD

Coaching in Nutrition and Emotional Eating