The Blog

Habitual Overeating - How to Change Bad Eating Habits

What's the first bad bad habit that springs to your mind? Smoking, biting your nails, what about not cleaning your teeth twice a day? "Successful change comes from a real understanding of people, their habits and their motivations.''

Today I read more statistics on food waste, childhood obesity, diabetes and heart disease. It is so frustrating that it makes me reach for the wooden spoon. I don't know whether it is to punish myself for not doing enough to inspire healthy cooking or to bake a cake and gluttonously reward myself for doing the best I possibly can.

I do neither. What I do instead is more research - this time on how to break a lifetime of bad habits. This distraction helps me avoid the self harm (whether through wooden spoon beating or through gluttonous eating).

What is the problem?

There is no denying that the problem lies in the the food we eat and how it impacts our lives. If food didn't affect our outsides, insides, emotions and our land, we could eat what and as much of it as we liked.

However, no matter what we hear or what we read, we still eat too much, buy the baby food jars, indulge in the ready made meals that have been mushed and mashed and waste on average 20 - 25% of the food we buy.


Because it has become a habit for us to do these things.

So let's break these habits...

What's the first bad bad habit that springs to your mind? Smoking, biting your nails, what about not cleaning your teeth twice a day?

"Successful change comes from a real understanding of people, their habits and their motivations.''

The Unilever's Plan

Unilever is the clever company who successfully changed people's habits of cleaning their teeth once a day to twice a day. In the process, they probably saved our lives (or at least our teeth) and now sell twice as much toothpaste.

The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan has huge ambitions as it intend to help more than a billion people take action to improve their health. They talk about making a subject understood, making it easy and desirable to change, then by rewarding it, we can make it habit. If they are aiming to hit a billion people, I'm sure with a little effort we could take action in our own homes.

Charles Duhigg's Ideas

Others who go further to explain how we can change bad habits and change our consumer behaviour is Charles Duhigg, a reporter for The New York Times and author of The Power of Habit which explains the science of habit formation in our lives, companies and societies. Duhigg research found 'The key to exercising regularly, losing weight, raising exceptional children, becoming more productive..., and achieving success is understanding how habits work'. He charts important work carried out in MIT illustrating the The Habit Loop to make sense of our bad habits and helps positive change.

Cues trigger an action > a reward reinforces it > a routine develops the habit

Jame's Clear (you like?) Habit Plan

James Clear is an entrepreneur, weightlifter, and travel photographer. He further simplifies the Habit Loop by using the 3Rs:

Reminder > Routine > Reward

Could it really be that simple? Why not?

My rules to break bad habits and make new ones

1. Break down the meal making process to find the pain point for you.

Is it grocery shopping, the What to Cook? question, the actual cooking, fussy eaters, washing up, time?

2. Understand your pain point.

Mine is 'What to Cook?' every night. This impacts on my time, my grocery shopping and what we eat as a family. It also makes everyday cooking a chore.

3. Focus on a solution for the pain.

I understand that meal planning takes the pain out of my life, so I plan five or seven meals every week.

4. Make your new solution routine.

Once a week I plan my meals. Every day I cook fresh wholesome meals.

5. Trigger a reminder.

Mine is an email. Friday mornings (to do the meal plan) and Sunday evenings (to check I have the groceries I need for the week).

6. Make sure to gain rewards from the behaviour change

I now know what I'm cooking every night. I control my shopping, the family eat fresh home cooked food regularly which I now enjoy cooking. I don't waste food and I have more time and money to treat myself to other fun things in my life.

Tip: Use technology to help you decide what to cook, and to create automatic grocery lists.

All habits whether good or bad trigger a routine which ultimately gives you a reward. There is no greater reward than a healthy happy family. However a short term reward makes the routine easier. Money and time to do some fun things is mine, along with enjoying the full mealtime experience everyday. Make your new habit a life saver.