Eating as a Habit
Have you ever considered that your eating is a habit? We hear the word habit and we don’t really think about them much. So what is a habit really?
A habit is a way of creating a shortcut in the brain to allow for pleasure, to avoid pain, and to improve efficiency. We humans are designed to make a habit out of anything we do on a regular basis, especially if it creates pleasure and allows us to avoid pain. Each habit has a trigger (or cue), a routine (or behavior), and a reward. Habits become totally UNCONSCIOUS, the trigger leads to the behavior which then leads to the reward! Over and over and over….
So you can see how eating becomes habitual. Eating is certainly something we do on a regular basis, it creates pleasure, and allows us to avoid pain. Much of our eating has become habitual! And most of us are unaware of the triggers and rewards involved that lead to our eating behaviors. Hunger is experienced as discomfort and we eat to stop the discomfort. We think that hunger is the main trigger for eating, but there are other triggers that we are often unaware of.
Let’s look at one habit that can quickly develop without our awareness: eating fast food! You plan to only stop there 1 time a month, but it the restaurant is located so conveniently. You forgot to prepare lunch and you are really hungry and this restaurant is right there on your way. So you end up stopping there once weekly, and then maybe multiple times each week. And each time you promise you will NOT get the fries! Fast food restaurants and food marketers have discovered how humans are creatures of habits and use it to their advantage. There are a number of cues and rewards that most customers never knew were influencing their behavior – the restaurants looks the same, the employees says the same things, so everything is a consistent cue to trigger eating routines. The fries are designed to begin disintegrating the moment they hit your tongue, in order to deliver a hit of salt and grease as fast as possible, causing your pleasure centers to light up and your brain to lock in the pattern.
Let’s look at sugar. Sugar is addictive. It lights up the pleasure centers in the brain in a similar pattern to cocaine. Sugar is not just in sugary foods, like sodas, candy, and ice cream. It is often a hidden ingredient in common foods that you don’t expect them to be in, especially low-fat foods. These foods quickly become triggers for habits because they create pleasure in our brains.
What can we do about all of this? Does that mean that we have no responsibility in the creation of these habits? How do we adapt to healthier eating habits when these habits are UNCONSCIOUS?
We become CONSCIOUS! We become AWARE! We become MINDFUL! WE take ourselves of auto pilot. By bringing attention to the habit, we can learn the trigger and the reward that have allowed the behavior to become ingrained. We can then influence the behavior and adapt to new, healthier habits. We can cultivate a balance between mindfulness and habitual behavior, especially when we cultivate habits that create wellness. One way to begin is to join our 28 Day Mindful Eating Challenge that will begin in just a few days! We hope you join the journey with us!