The Power of Habit

Article by: Macy Graham

 

Recently, I started reading books again. Good old-fashioned, borrowed, rented, and purchased paperback books. I pulled out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. It took me a while to make my way through this book, but I’m glad I did. It reinforced to me that, “Yes, I read books now. I’m a book reader.” This is a new thought, belief, and habit – one that I’d like to keep around.

The Power of Habit taught me things that I inherently knew about human psychology, but shared them through narratives that make it hard to forget or unlearn. The most simple and profound concept is the “habit loop” of Cue, Routine, and Reward. No matter if the habit is “good” or “bad” for us, it will always have triggers that follow the habit loop.

An example in the book is eating a chocolate chip cookie in the afternoon every day between 3 and 4 p.m. The cue was around the same time every day, the routine was going down to the cafeteria to buy a chocolate chip cookie and eat it while talking to coworkers, and the reward was a satisfying sugar rush and a feeling of relief.

In order to adjust the habit loop, there’s a framework: Identify the routine, experiment with rewards, isolate the cue, and have a plan. Once you build awareness around this framework, it will be much easier to change the habit if it’s no longer serving you.

Here’s an example that you will probably experience this month… Overeating at Thanksgiving!  

The holiday completely and overly obsessed with food where there is about 100 different options and dishes in front of you. The cue is to skip breakfast, surround yourself with food all morning, and eat a huge Thanksgiving lunch around 2 p.m. The routine is to pile large portions of food onto your plate, go back for seconds (possibly thirds), try five out of the eight desserts, and then lay on the couch either sleeping, watching football, or complaining about how full you are. The reward? You feel full. You feel loved. You completed your Thanksgiving mission.

But what if you don’t want to feel that way this year? What if you would rather eat a healthy-ish plate of food that isn’t restrictive, and still be able to eat all your favorite foods? You would rather have a balanced macro-nutrient plate that leaves you with energy and then go on a walk with Grandma or play fetch with your pup. You are tired of the way Thanksgiving is making you feel, and you want to change that habit.

The routine is to overeat. You want to experiment with a new reward of feeling energized and satisfied after you eat. You are no longer loving the reward of feeling full and lethargic, but you also don’t want to miss out on all the delicious Thanksgiving food that only comes around once a year. You’re afraid that once 2 p.m. comes around, you will be so ravenous that you won’t be able to help yourself and you will overeat again. It’s time to create a plan. 

What if you negotiated with yourself a little bit? (This is what I do with my coaching clients all the time.) Eat a small breakfast to get something in your stomach before helping Mom in the kitchen. How about a plain Greek yogurt with granola, or some avocado toast with sea salt. The carbs, proteins, and healthy fats will balance your blood sugar, and help you make healthier choices later in the day. If you are grazing, like we tend to do at Thanksgiving, do so on the veggie tray. Once 2 p.m. hits, you won’t be as ravenous and will be able to consciously choose what you want to put on your plate.

It’s important not to deny yourself of your most favorite holiday foods, or else you won’t truly feel satisfied and you are more likely to overeat later to fulfill that craving. Instead, focus on your portions. Fill half your plate with fresh food like salad, green beans, pickles, olives, and fresh fruit. The other half should be able to cover your turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and whatever your family’s secret recipes are. Remind yourself that there is always more than enough, you can go back for more if you’re still physically hungry, and that you DON’T have to finish your plate if you’re already full. Eat slowly, enjoy the experience of eating, converse with the people you care about, and look forward to feeling energized after you eat. As for those eight desserts, let’s have a half portion of your two favorites after you go live your beautiful life for a couple of hours. Sound good?

By isolating the cue of restriction before Thanksgiving lunch, you are able to change the routine by eating breakfast and improving portion control at lunch. This way you have more energy and feel better about your decisions with food and body as your reward.

I hope you found this article helpful, and that you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends! Please reach out to me at macy@hungryoga.com if you have insights or ah-ha moments after reading my advice.