How can I get rid of my bad eating habits?

Grant Cooper, MD
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
The amazing thing about changing eating habits is that it can be profoundly difficult or amazingly easy -- it all depends on your frame of mind. The good thing is that your frame of mind is completely up to you. Just because you had a negative attitude toward making healthy lifestyle choices in the past doesn't mean you must have the same negative attitudes in the present. You are in control.

Here's how to get started:
Remember that your ultimate goal is to eat a healthy diet. This doesn't mean it has to be completely healthy tomorrow or the next day, or even the day after. The more gradually you change your diet, the more likely you are to stick with the changes. If you had pizza every night for dinner until today, try eating a fruit salad before having pizza tomorrow, not necessarily instead of pizza. Instead of two slices, have one slice. The next night, have a vegetable platter and a bowl of tuna salad. If you're still hungry, have part of a slice of pizza, and so forth. By incorporating small changes into your diet over a few weeks, you will soon find that you are making big changes and enjoying them.
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The five things you need to do if you want to rid your bad eating habits are:
  • Set a clear, achievable goal. Be sure your eating goal is specific and is something you can measure. For example, "I will eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day" is an example of a clear, specific, and measurable goal. Start small -- choose a goal you can accomplish, then build upon your success.
  • Monitor your progress. Keep track of what you do. You can use a simple calendar to monitor your behavioral changes over time. Put an "x" on each day that you meet your goal. Look for patterns and make adjustments if you're not accomplishing what you planned. Watch your progress and feel proud!
  • Arrange your world for success. Create reminders for healthy eating all around you. Put your monitoring form in a place you see every day, such as the refrigerator door or your bathroom mirror. Make it easy to eat healthy foods by always having them available. A great way to do this is to take your lunch to work.
  • Recruit a support team. Enlist the help of others. Let those who want to see you succeed know what you're trying to achieve. Consider your family, friends, and work colleagues as your potential support team. Ask them to support your efforts in meeting your eating goals and to join you in celebrating your success. They will be happy to let you know you're doing a great job!
  • Treat yourself. Reward yourself every time you do the eating behavior you have targeted. Select a "treat" that is important to you, readily available, and not costly. A low-calorie beverage, a few minutes of alone time, or simply telling yourself you're doing a great job are some good examples of treats. Rewarding yourself is especially important in the beginning when you are starting a new health behavior -- you can phase them out over time.
You can apply this same set of skills to any health behavior you want to change -- or any behavior at all, for that matter.
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Arrange your world for success when changing eating habits. The idea is to set up the world around you so that you are successful. If you don't have high-calorie foods in your environment, you won't be able to eat them. If you don't bring fast food into your world, you won't eat it. These strategies make perfect sense when you think about making the world around you support your efforts for successful eating.
  • Remove all high-calorie foods from your kitchen and pantry.
  • If you want special snacks for your children, keep them in a place where you can't see them, and keep them out of easy reach.
  • "Arranging" begins at the grocery store. Only bring home food that will help you meet your goals.
  • Have healthy snacks visible and readily available so you can get to them easily if you feel tempted to eat a high-calorie food.
  • Post a reminder to yourself on the refrigerator door about your eating goals. A monitoring chart could serve this purpose.
  • Pack a healthy lunch the night before so that it's ready to take to work with you in the morning.
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Midwifery Nursing
As your YOUnurse and ambassador for the YOUdocs I encourage you to start working on changing your eating habits along with changing the types of foods you are eating.
  • Eat only in a special eating place and never in front of the TV or in the bedroom.
  • Planning menus allows you to eat fresh and unprocessed foods and learning to cook allows you the freedom to add flavor, spices and creativity.
  • Shopping smartly will help you save money and keep healthy snacks available to prevent grazing.
  • Reading the labels will help you prevent your poisoning your body with the five felons that are contributing to our inflamed arteries and aging processes.
  • Learning how to make healthy substitutions will keep you eating world class and nutrient rich and calorie poor.
  • Eating the right kinds of fat will improve your health and absorption of essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Eating healthy will increase your energy and motivate you to feel good enough to start to exercise and keep you from feeling overstuffed and tired all the time.
  • Taking time to eat and enjoying your meals will help you feel satiated physically and emotionally and keep you from feeling like you are on a diet or deprived.
  • Being a savvy snacker will keep you from making mistakes and needing to make a YOUturn.
  • And finally drinking lots of water will help you reprogram your body to know the difference between hunger and thirst.
Judith Beck, PhD
You need to answer back your sabotaging thoughts, such as, “It’s okay to eat this food I hadn’t planned because.....I’m happy/I’m sad/I’m tired/it’s a special occasion, it’s free/no one is watching/I’ll make up for it later/I’ve been so good,” and on and on and on. You need to continually remind yourself, “I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want OR I can be thinner. I won’t be able to lose weight or keep it off if I insist on spontaneous eating.”
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Start by cutting out the 5 food felons. Easiest way to find out about those is to log on and look at the “You: On a Diet” book or the cheat sheet relating to “You: On a Diet.”  While you’re looking into “You: On a Diet,” read up on portion control, packing your own food, and getting rid of your secret stashes of food felons that tempt you more than an apple in the Garden of Eden.
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine
Rather than just trying to stop cold when you feel like repeating the bad habit, substitute a harmless or healthy behavior. For instance, if you have the bad habit of eating a sweet, high-calorie dessert after supper, eat an apple or a few carrots when you get this urge. Your brain will adapt to this new behavior and accept it as a suitable replacement for the bad habit more easily than if you tried to eat nothing.

Likewise, if you find yourself snacking all evening, you are better off nibbling on fresh fruit, raw vegetables, or a pudding made with a PolyGlycopleX (PGX)-containing meal replacement instead of just trying to stop eating during the evening.

Substituting a good habit for a bad habit is easier and will be more successful than just trying to stop the old bad behavior. The brain program that controls your bad habit will adapt and accept the new healthier habit as an acceptable response to the unhealthy impulse to eat. In essence, the old program will never go away, but it can be shaped and programmed into something good for you. This is why habit substitution is much more successful than just trying to stop a bad habit.

Finally, reducing stress levels and feelings of depression can play an important role in terminating bad eating habits. Stress, depression, loneliness, and boredom can all be powerful triggers to stimulate inappropriate eating. If you are using food as a drug or an escape from stress, you need to find healthier ways to reduce your stress. A commitment to regular exercise and learning stress management techniques can really increase the success of your weight-loss efforts. If your unhealthy eating habits are triggered by feelings of depression, emptiness, or loneliness, you may need to seek professional or spiritual help to get at the root of your problems. Food cannot cure a wounded or empty soul.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.