How to Align Your Habits with Your Health & Fitness Goals

You’ve seen it before. You know you have to stop snacking in order to lose weight.  There’s an open bag of chips in the pantry and you tell yourself “I’ll only have a few”. What about that open bag of M and M’s or a pint of ice cream leftover from a party quietly calling your name?

After a furious crunch fest or spoon slinging session, you come to your senses and find yourself at the bottom of the bag or container wondering what just happened? Momentarily you may feel happier, energized, calmer, or satisfied but that quickly turns to feeling sluggish, stuffed, bloated and a failure asking yourself two questions: Why do I keep doing this and can’t I have more willpower?

Food-Science to Get You Hooked

First, the palatability of junk food is partially to blame. Why can you eat an entire bag of crisp, salty chips but not a bag of juicy, sweet apples?  The reason is that junk food is manufactured to be hyper-palatable and whole food is not. Hyperpalatable foods are designed to be excessively pleasing hitting multiple pleasure centers in your brain, mouth, and belly all at once. Do you want to know how they come up with these tasty concoctions? In the industry they must meet The Big 5:

Calorie dense meaning high in sugar and/or fat

Have intense flavor the minute it hits the tongue

Must be loved at first bite

Must feel as though they melt easily in your mouth  

Must be able to be chewed in 10 bites or less

Now, how’s that juicy, sweet apple going to hold up to those standards? The Big 5 is what makes junk food irresistible and to top things off, evolution has hard-wired your brain to desire sweetness and calorie-dense foods. Our hunter-gather ancestors used sweetness as a sign that a food was safe to consume plus the fact that food then was not packaged nicely or readily available, calorie density meant survival.

The food industry clearly understands this connection and uses savvy marketing skills like “healthy” buzzwords or celebrity endorsements to sell a product. In the end, a non-GMO, organic gummy bear is still just a clump of sugar but seems a better choice. That’s why you struggle to resist these delicious snacks when trying to lose weight. So, what’s a person to do?

Find Your Trigger to Kill the Loop

While there are many ways you can break the cycle of a “junk food addiction”, using willpower is not one of them. Bottom line, you must develop SELF-AWARENESS because that’s your POWER UP.  You need self-awareness around your eating habits. Most likely, it all began with a habit you were not even aware you were creating.

Here is what a habit looks like: trigger + behavior = reward. A common habit is stress eating: When I am stressed (trigger) I eat candy/ junk food (behavior) because it makes me feel better (reward).

This behavior performed repeatedly then becomes your habit. Triggers range from stress, boredom, social occasions, groups of friends, certain activities all the way up to a certain time of day and they are different for every one of us. To begin to fix the problem, you have to figure out what triggers your junk food habit.

Once you have identified your triggers, simply substitute a better behavior that moves you to your goal, in this case, weight loss. Here’s what the new habit might look like: When I feel stressed, I will take a walk that makes me feel better. Both the act of eating sugar/junk and exercising help to decrease the stress hormone response in your body. The trigger and reward stay the same, since these are difficult to control, and you need only to modify the behavior.

Our brains love habits and our daily lives are full of them. You can use this method anytime you are struggling to meet a goal. Our habits become a problem when they don’t align with our goals.  Figure out what triggers you to behave in a way that is obstructing progress and substitute a new behavior that is more in line with your goal. This will give you back the power to keep moving forward and onto success!

Are you ready to embrace discomfort and make some lifestyle changes?

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