Tag: habits

The Role of Habits

When I was in the military, we meticulously and methodically drilled and trained in order to ingrain habits into how we would fight to win battles. Our training was designed to place us into auto-pilot when bad situations might arise. Even in the fight for your life, those ingrained habits would kick in automatically, without thought, in order to get you through a tough fight. Simply through the development of safe habits, there was no need for deep thought to know not to place your finger on the trigger of your weapon until ready to fire. The act of switching the fire selector back to “Safe” after firing just became an automatic step through muscle memory instilled into habit through constant training. A pilot in combat, or any type emergency, does not get bogged down with decision making, they automatically know which switches to flip, because their training has instilled the actions deep into their mind.

What does all this have to do with weight loss and management?

We humans are creatures of habit. We may not always be cognizant of our personal habits, but good or bad, we still have them. Our habits can help us, or they can hurt us, they can destroy our health over a course of time. The habit of smoking is obvious of course, but just as damaging is our habit of eating calorie dense, nutritionally poor foods. When we are happy, we are in the habit of celebrating with food. When we are sad, we are in the habit of eating away our sorrow. When we are stressed, the dump of endorphins such as serotonin and dopamine from some foods make us feel better in the moment, therefore it is easy to become habituated to eating poor foods when we are having a bad day. Your body releases dopamine and serotonin to accompany the sugar rush that comes from simple carbohydrates, which is why, at first, you’ll feel happier, and perhaps even calmer. However, these receptor sites slow production to regulate the same endorphins that had you feeling so good. This causes a crash in mood and even depression, thus a vicious cycle begins and we reach for more sugar.

According to research from Princeton University, “food addiction” evolves as a result of changes in brain pathways. Therefore, we must be mindful of what we consume each day. Sugar causes the release of the hormone dopamine in the brain, which is no different than the response activated by addictive drugs. These chemical adaptations cause changes in dopamine release over time. In this study, rats actually became sugar-dependent, which lead to the theory that sugar can be physiologically addictive. The study displayed that the rats experienced withdrawal similar to drug withdrawals through low levels of dopamine and anxiety. Given this, it’s not hard to believe that in brain scans, sugar appears to be as addictive as cocaine.

The importance of adopting healthy habits.

As a society, we have sadly made food a habit that is driving our obesity epidemic.  We make poor nutritional food choices and then eat these foods for every occasion as a habit.  Often, we do not even need any specific occasion to eat poorly, we will simply do it because we are more bored than we are hungry.

It’s not just willpower, or a lack thereof, that makes us overeat and gain weight. It’s often because of that sneaky bad habit you developed such as running out the door some mornings without breakfast, or mindlessly munching chips in front of your television. The next thing you know, one little bad habit can equal a lot of body fat gained.

When you are having  a bad day, are you prone to opening the refrigerator and eating? You know it is not a good diet strategy to put food in your mouth as a coping mechanism. A number of studies confirm that emotions, both positive and negative, can cause people to eat more than they should, an easy weight-loss stumbling block.

The obvious solution is to drop the habit of eating bad foods for coping or celebrations, yet just dropping the habit is not enough. You must also begin working at instilling healthy habits to replace the unhealthy. When you just quit a habit, it leaves a void that must be filled. When you do not fill that void with a healthy alternative, you will find that vacuum will be once again filled the first time you encounter any of life’s adversities. If you have not developed new healthy habits, the first thing you are prone to do is to return to what is familiar to you, unhealthy eating. We see this often, someone might be having a great year and then maybe a tragedy happens. Just like ex-smokers can be quick to pick up a cigarette, food junkies are quick to reach for junk foods for an emotional lift.

What you can do.

1. Recognize patterns for food cravings: Your cravings often develop when your desire to eat a certain food is paired with a stimulus such as watching a favorite TV show, or feeling sad or lonely. When you stick to a healthy dietary plan, it can help to reduce the temptation to seek out tempting foods you are trying to avoid, so your cravings really do decrease, or may completely disappear. In fact, when you restrict your calories overall, especially when you eliminate sugar and white flour-based products, food cravings can greatly decline or even disappear altogether.

2. Remove any temptations. If you cannot stop at one….don’t tease yourself. It’s simply better to avoid bringing these foods—cookies, chips, crackers—into the house.  If you walk by a vending machine at work, and are drawn to a candy bar or those cheese crackers,  change your route if you can. Then, move on to other processed, prepared foods. Swap out the Danish or donut for  eggs  or oatmeal. The less sugar you have, the less you are likely to crave the foods high in it.

3. Plan Meals with Protein. The fix for hunger cravings is to plan your meals around protein and vegetables to fortify your metabolism. By doing this, your appetite will remain steady and you’ll feel satisfied from one meal to the next. Those ravenous cravings will no longer strike. The goal is to make sure your meals include chicken, fish, or beans at lunch and dinner along with a hearty salad and/or a big serving of vegetables to fill you up and keep your blood sugar even and your nutritional needs met.

4. Dump sugar and be prepared for the moment that hunger strikes:

    • Always have a piece of fruit and some nuts on hand.
    • Pack some hummus and carrots, red pepper, or celery, for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
    • Keep a tin of roasted almonds in your desk drawer at the office
    • Have a bag of peanuts and dried mango in the car, and in your handbag or backpack.
    • Keeping a low sugar, protein bar at the ready so if you miss a meal, you can keep your blood sugar even, and avoid being blindsided with an insatiable hunger.

5. Work towards a healthy weight through good nutrition. When you are committed to managing your weight through high protein, low carb nutrition with zero sugar or processed foods. you will have fewer food cravings. When you are feeding your body the foods that it needs to function well, you will remain satiated far longer than when you eat foods full of sugar or simple carbs coupled with unhealthy fats and high amounts of sodium and preservatives..

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The Cost of “Comfort”

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Many years ago,  my Grandmother and I were talking about a family  member who really  needed to make some changes for her health, and my Grandmother said, “She’ll never lose weight or quit smoking because she’s  not  going to  do  anything  that  makes  her  uncomfortable.” No truer words have ever been  spoken.  Although my Grandmother is gone now, she was right. That person has continued her unhealthy habits and although she’s much younger than me, she has the health and life of a much older person than I do. She also looks much older. Her body has taken on the stereotypical “old lady” traits of bulging belly and huge, sagging breasts. She stays in the doctor’s  office  a lot and has serious health problems. She takes a lot of medication and still refuses to change her ways. The empty calories, cigarettes, alcohol and lack of fitness have changed her into someone who is barely reminiscent of her former self. She wouldn’t do the hard stuff like controlling her appetite or working out. She wanted comfort. Her medical bills are exorbitant.

Healthy habits can be learned and developed but there will always be a measure of discomfort when we push ourselves beyond our primal needs of a full belly and ease. I do not have any cravings now because I eat David’s Way. When I first quit eating  sugar, however, I  thought I would crack up for a few days. I was undoubtedly addicted. In a few days, however, the misery ended and now, years later, I’m the healthiest  and most fit that I have ever been. Without that struggle to kick sugar, I would not be where I am today. I was uncomfortable for a little while. One of the lessons that I had to learn is that good health and fitness take work and work is merely a skillset that can be learned.

In the case of my relative, she never would give up or limit any of her “comfort” foods. She thought it was just too hard. As a result, the pounds piled on over  the  years and her once beautiful figure became a burden to carry around with about 50 pounds of fat added to her frame. Her back, pelvis and neck gave way to injury and pain and she has had numerous surgeries in an attempt to be pain free. As a result of this ongoing pain issue, she has become addicted to opiates. Opiate addiction causes constipation and her belly is always huge and bloated. The extra weight and disproportionate distribution of her weight has furthur injured her back and the cascade of symptoms continues. It appears that she will live out her life as an opiate addict. Surely it would have been easier to have done without a few goodies. Her smoking has left her with ever worsening emphysema. A single breath comes hard. Was the eating with abandon and the momentary rush of the nicotine really worth the price?

There are methods to change our behaviors that really work but we must be willing to acknowledge that we need and want to change.

1-Clearly state what habits you truly want to change.  Be truthful  and focus on one habit at a time.

2- Analyze your bad behavior. Why are you doing it? At one time I asked myself that question and the sad answer was that I didn’t enjoy anything  else. I changed that.

3-Listen to your inner voice. We usually recognize our bad behaviors. Be truthful with yourself and allow that wisdom to guide you into better habits.

4-Every time you stop a bad behavior, replace it with a good one.

5-Remove triggers from your life. Whether it’s a person, a song, an old picture or simply a memory that you allows to ride roughshod through your brain, just say “NO!!!” Avoid negative triggers and be instantly happier and healthier.

6-Keep an ever upgraded visualization of yourself front and foremost in your mind. We can change the way our brain works and thinks with focus on the positive changes that we are willing to make.

7-Stop self talking yourself in a negative way. We tend to believe our thoughts. Make them good ones.

8- Break your goal down into manageable bits and pieces. When I began strength training I knew that I had to start small. I have lofty goals but they are not being obtained overnight. Build your good habits piece by piece. I had to decide where to lift and then what to buy. I had to commit to excellence in order to be safe. I had to be willing to work towards my goals slowly. I had to be willing  to work hard and then work harder. I had to make the decision to eat right. Making these practical decisions were a building block that had to go into the foundation of my program. If I had not done this first, I could have never successfully trained.

9-Give yourself Grace. Life happens. If you botch a workout or your nutrition one day, keep going. Stay committed and learn from your mistakes.

10-Remember, changing destructive habits takes time. You have to keep repeating the better behavior until the change is made in your brain. It won’t happen overnight but if you remain diligent, it will happen. I never crave sugar anymore. It may take several weeks to change some habits. Be patient. Your discomfort will pass and you will be free of the destructive behavior and free to create a better life.