Why New Eating Habits Don’t Stick | TMOHP Episode 024

Why is it so hard to make a new eating habit stick?

The idea of changing your eating habits sounds straightforward. So why is it so easy to fall off track? Why does this one area of your life work differently than all the other places where you can easily solve problems?

It’s not you. It’s that changing your relationship with food involves addressing different things than you’ve probably been taught to focus on. When you work hard, don’t get the results you want, and feel like screaming in frustration, it’s almost always because you’ve been conditioned to pick the wrong habits to nurture - and - to ignore the habits that are actually the building blocks you need to change your eating in a lasting way.

So let’s talk about why new eating habits don’t stick and what you can do to change this.

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Why the “right” eating habits might not be sticking
  • The importance of your habitual thoughts
  • How you can get stuck with conflicting habits that make it really hard to change your eating
  • Where to look for missing habits or plans
  • How changing your eating habits can be easier

If you like what you hear, be sure to take 30 seconds to subscribe (hit that big white button on the podcast player) and leave a review. It makes all the difference in my ability to share this information!

Featured on the show:

  • Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and find out your primary Hidden Hunger and your best place to start shifting your relationship with food.
  • Your Missing Peace - work with me in my emotional eating coaching program to create habits, thoughts, and beliefs that fit you and allow you to change your relationship with food and eating.
  • Visit http://toomuchonherplate.com for more tips and resources to create peace with food and overcome overeating and emotional eating

Enjoy the show?

Full episode transcript:

Do you consider yourself a high achiever? Are you somebody who is used to being able to figure things out or get things done or make things happen? There is nothing more frustrating to a high achiever than working really hard, putting together the perfect plan and then not seeing results, not, not feeling like everything you did paid off. You know, sometimes we think we're doing everything right. We work really hard and then we don't get the results that we want. And we feel like we wanna scream with frustration. I'm with you, cuz I'm a high achiever too. A lot of the time, it isn't about the goal and it isn't about not trying hard enough, which our high achieving brain us, because we think we're so capable. Our high achieving brain often tells us, well, you know, I just need to put in more effort or I just need to try harder or I just need to create a more perfect on-ramp to getting this thing done. Right. But a lot of the time, the reason that we don't see the results is because we, it's not the goal it's that we picked the wrong habits to nurture. Believe it or not.

When it comes to changing, eating, or making an impact on your weight, we are really good at ignoring the habit it's that are actually the building blocks of lasting success with changing your eating or overeating or emotional eating. And today I'm gonna give you some real concrete examples of this. I'm gonna tell you about somebody I worked with. We're going to call her Lisa in the podcast. That's not her real name, cuz I wanna protect her privacy. She's asked me to do, but she has given me permission to share this story. So Lisa, when we started working together was exceptionally ment. When she started describing her eating habits. To me, she'd been around the block a few times and she knew exactly what patterns of eating worked best for her. So she would say, you know, here's what I need to do when, and I can stick with this.

This is what works. So she would describe in detail how, the way that she liked to eat. So for instance, when she focused on eating fresh vegetables and having quality protein that worked for her, she didn't believe that snacking was helpful for her. So when she wasn't snacking that worked for her and there was a way of prepping food on the weekend and a way of keeping her refrigerator stocked with just the right food. These things worked for her. And as Lisa talked about this way of eating and this way of planning, she told me how much she really likes it and what a great fit it is for her and the results she sees with this approach. And she told me that she really happy with these systems and these habits that she has developed that work for her. But here's the thing. The reason that we're talking is that Lisa keeps losing her grasp on these amazing systems and these amazing habits.

So she's in this position where she's saying, okay, here is what works for me. Here is what I know I need to do. And I just can't stick with it. So as confident and as sure as she sounds, when she's giving me this to-do list, she's also working on losing the same 25 pounds. That seem to always be a struggle for her. And she is so for that. It feels like she works so hard while either never getting to her goal or she gets there and then it kind of slides away. So here is a problem that is common to many people, right? Lisa has put together a solid set of habits around food, but staying the path, staying the plan just isn't happening. This is something that happens to high achievers over and over and over again. I mean think about it. I bet you can put together a mighty plan, right?

I bet you can put together a fantastic to-do list. It's something it's a strength. It's a skillset. Something that you're good at. So why am I sharing this with you? It's because as Lisa and I worked together and as we talked about this and dug deeper, it became really clear that she is caught in a trap that so many smart, ambitious women get stuck in when it comes to changing your eating or ending overeating. She's focusing too much of her energy on the wrong habits and in doing so she's missing the source of her real power. Okay. So here's your write or downer. If you're taking notes, there's a big difference between creating habits that you quote have to stick to and quote and creating habits that create their own ease and, and freedom. I'll say that again. There's a big difference between creating habits that you have to stick with and creating habits that themselves create ease and freedom.

When Lisa and I really started looking at what she was trying to do and how these systems and, and plan and ways of eating were working and not working for her. I discovered something that, that shows up pretty commonly Lisa often had two habits or two desires that were fighting each other one was the quote healthy habit that she was telling herself that she needs to do. And the other was the old comfortable habit or sometimes a belief that was undermining just about every action that she was trying to take. So these things were working in opposition to each other. This means that whenever she was pushing herself to do the healthy thing, she also had to fight the urge that she was missing out or she was depriving herself or she was making a hard choice. She wasn't getting the other comfortable thing or habit or honoring that comfortable thought or belief that she had.

So there was always a struggle going on even when she was doing things quote the right way. Does that make sense? I'm gonna give you some examples in a moment, but making things even harder, Lisa was putting all her energy into her healthy eating habits and her healthy eating plans. And she was ignoring those old, comfortable ones that were simmering along in the background that were, you know, hitting up against the, the healthy. And I'm putting that, that's my verbal way of putting that into quotation marks, right? But those old patterns that she was ignoring, those old beliefs, those old thoughts were bumping up against the, the healthy things that she was trying to do. And so as she put all her energy into the, the things she was trying to do and ignored the old ones, those old comfortable thoughts and patterns weren't getting attended to, she was trying to make progress by powering through with the new desirable habits that she had chosen while just ignoring the old comfortable skillset, let's call it a skillset that she had and hoping that those things would go away.

So I said, I would give you some examples. Here are some examples that came up when we looked at was what was going on for Lisa. And I want you to think about these and see if any of the lies to you. All right. So for each of these, I'm gonna share with you the healthy thing, the thing the should that Lisa thought she had and then the other we'll okay, we're gonna call these healthy habits. And these are in air quotes that Lisa thought she had. And then we're gonna talk about the other quote overeating habit that was operating in the background on last, she was showing up super disciplined and focused and feeling really, really strong with her healthy habit. Right? So just to be really, I wanna make sure I'm being clear here. There are these two things operating. There's the healthy habits that Lisa says, these things work for me, but I can't stick with them.

And the reason that they, she can't stick them, part of the reason is that there's this other habit operating in the background that she's not paying attention to. We're calling that the overeating habit. Okay. So here's some examples that came up for Lisa healthy habit was I eat when I'm hungry. And I stop when I'm full. And Lisa said, you know, when I do that, things work beautifully. Here's the overeating habit that was simmering in the background. And this is actually a set of thoughts or beliefs that led to an overeating habit. That was, I clean my plate. I'm somebody who cleans my plate. And if I'm eating out, I still clean up my plate, right? The restaurant is choosing my portion, this, the amount of food that I get to eat, whatever is whatever they bring. So the overeating thought was, it feels great to get to eat everything, which is interesting because it really doesn't when Lisa took a step back and really looked at this when we talked about, okay, so how does it feel when you eat this way?

Lisa said, you know what, actually, it doesn't feel great to eat everything. A lot of the time I leave and I feel overstuffed. And when I eat too much, when I eat the whole thing, when I clean my plate and I, I feel overstuffed, I sleep poorly. I feel bloated the next day. Okay. Another overeating thought it is a sacrifice to leave food on my plate. If I do this, I miss out. So here's this contrast that's going on inside Lisa's brain, right? Healthy habit. I feel great. I eat when I eat, when I'm hungry and stop. When I'm full overeating thoughts and bully leaves, I'm somebody who clean my cleans my plate. I don't determine my portion. My portion is what shows up on my plate. And it's a sacrifice to leave food on my plate. If I do this, I miss out. So do you hear right there? The kind of struggle that that sets up. We do this to ourselves all the time.

Here's another set of conflicting beliefs that were causing a lot of problems. The healthy one was I feel energized. I feel really vital when I eat fresh vegetables. And when I get enough protein and water each day, we were talking about what, when do you feel your best? If you're eating to feel your best, what does that look like? I feel energized. I feel my most vibrant when I'm eating fresh vegetables, getting enough protein and getting enough water in the background. Here are the overeating beliefs. When I earn it, the treat I deserve is to not have to follow the food rules. It's a treat to not follow the food rules. Remember her is the eating, the fresh vegetables, getting enough protein, getting enough water each day, but it's a treat to not follow the rules. Another belief sometimes I get to eat whatever I want in air quotes.

Right? Sometimes I get to eat whatever I want. I get to eat. Whatever I want. What I really want is food. That is not good for me. That is what I really want. So again, there is this, this push pull thing right between, well, the question is, what do I really want? What does really make me feel good? And there's this conflict going on in the background with the beliefs and thoughts about what that is now. I wanna say here that this particular story about what is the kind of food I deserve, what is the kind of food feels good inside me? What is, what is a treat for me? This is a story that trips up. So many women Lisa's default story, her old comfortable story that ended up being untrue for her. When she really took a look at it, her untrue story was that life is better when she gets to eat, whatever, whenever she wants.

And when she gets to do that in abundance, I can have as much as I want. I can have whatever I want. I can have it whenever I want. Her untrue story was that freedom of feeling of freedom equals overeating and permission to overeat. Now here's where things get interesting. The truth is when she really looks at it through a wide angle lens, the truth is that overeating doesn't feel like freedom for Lisa. And it didn't feel like freedom for Lisa. It actually felt like a trap. It felt like something she was stuck in and a cycle that she couldn't get out of and something that was really leaving her feeling crappy physically and emotionally. And on the days when Lisa gave into her old story and ate whatever she wanted in the way that her old comfortable habits and ways of thinking to find it, she usually ended up feeling tired and crappy and not at her best two competing stories, two completing beliefs and two competing habits, right?

Feeling energized and vital when you eat vegetables and protein and water each day, trying to create that habit. But also having this habit of when I need a reward, when I feel like I've earned it, I don't follow the rules. I, whatever I want, I get to eat as much as I want. Right. That's what cheat days are based on a lot of the time, right? This, this idea, the habit, there's the habit. This is what I do. But it's really important to look at what is the, what thoughts and beliefs that underlie that habits, which is eating. Whatever I want is a treat eating as much as I want is a treat eating. Whenever I want is a treat and it feels freeing and it feels good. Not always true, but the thing about beliefs and thoughts that we repeat often enough, and BEC that become familiar enough to us is that if we don't examine them, they don't feel like thoughts and beliefs. They feel like truth. They feel like facts. And we begin to think of them as facts, which is how it was for Lisa until we took some deliberate steps back and really examined her thoughts were what her beliefs were, whether they were serving her and whether, and again, when we expanded what we were looking at and looked at a wide angle lens instead of a close up of a particular moment, looking at whether these thoughts and these beliefs were really true for her.

And I wanna point out that in Lisa's story, there was another old overeating story or belief that was going unchallenged. That was simmering in the background. That was really fueling everything as well. And this is a very common one. It lives inside a lot of your brains. So I want you to pay attention to it, many people in spite of all the hard work and the effort that they're putting in to change their eating, or to lose some weight or to overhaul emotional eating habits, have a belief, a story that is percolating along in the background that is this it's that eating healthy, eating healthy isn't enjoyable. And that the real fun starts when you go off track, think about it. You have this habit you are trying to create. In least instance. She's like, you know what? I feel great when I eat this way. But in the background, there is this soundtrack that is telling you 24 hours a day. You know what? Eating healthy isn't enjoyable. It doesn't feel good. I don't really like it. The real fun starts when I do something else.

And this is really interesting because Lisa is likes so many women that I work with and talk to in that, when I ask her about the kind of food that she likes to eat, she says, you know what, actually, when it's good, when it's well prepared, I really like eating these things I think are healthy. I really like vegetables. I really like big flavor, old salads. You know what? I'm a good salad maker. I'm a really good salad maker. She said, right? And she loves the energy that she has when she eats in the way that fits her. And I wanna say, I'm not saying everyone needs to eat more vegetables or eat flavorful salads all the time. This is what Lisa had already determined, made, feel vibrant and energetic. She liked how she felt when she was eating this way. She loved the energy level that she had.

Right? The reason we were having this conversation is that Lisa feels this freedom. And this vibrance, when she is in the groove with this healthy way of eating, that she's determined, works for her, but staying in the groove can be really difficult. And I'm here to tell you that one of the reasons so many women have difficulty staying in the groove, well, there are two actually, first off, you gotta pick the groove that works for you. You gotta know yourself, you can't be trying to squeeze a square peg to a round hole, right? Which is what so many people try to do. They, they read about a weight loss plan or a way of eating that worked for somebody else. And they think I should be able to make this work. This was not the case with Lisa. Lisa had spent a lot of time listening to herself.

Lisa knew, I feel great. When I eat this way, I get enough to eat. I'm not going hungry. My body. He responds well to it. I sleep well. I feel wonderful in the mornings. She knew this way, worked for her. She couldn't figure out why it wouldn't stick. And it was because there were two things going on at once inside of Lisa. So we talked about the conflicting habits and the conflicting stories and the conflicting beliefs that were bad rushing against each other and making things more of a struggle than a straightforward journey. There was another piece of things in play here with Lisa, which I think is important to talk about. And that was that eating that healthy food and not overeating stopping when she was full wasn't, as easy as it could have been for Lisa. So in addition to having these conflicting habits, as we started to look at what was going on and why things weren't working, the other thing I discovered was that she had some missing habits, missing habits, missing thoughts that were making things a whole lot harder for her.

So when I first talked to Lisa, remember Lisa was a very practical person. She was in, get it done mode. She's like, here's what I, you know, here's what works for me. This is what I need to do. Help me figure out why I can't do it because this is, this is the plan. This is the path forward. Now at its most basic her plan, as she described, it was to use food only as fuel. She was tired of battling with the stuff she was tired of struggling. She just wanted to make it simple, use food as fuel. This is the way I like to eat. This is the fuel. My body likes here's the problem. The problem is that like many of us Lisa really loves tasty food. So this habit that she had designed for herself, that she couldn't figure out why she wasn't sticking with.

Didn't take into account that things like flavor and texture and enjoyment were things that she wants and needs in her life. If you don't take into account what you want want and what you need and what you love, then you are always gonna feel deprived. And without taking these things into consideration, that Lisa was setting herself up to always feel deprived when she eats on the healthy side of her thoughts, right? When she's eating the healthy menu. And she's also reinforcing that their side of, oh, my comfort is over on the other side, right? My comfort is when I go off track freedom is when I go off track, she had these, these two, two tracks going on. One was healthy. One was comfortable or one was the old way of doing things, right? And they were both taking care of different things we needed to, we needed to bring, bring some of what she was getting from the comfortable path, into her healthy way of eating.

And you could see this need. And this pattern when we looked at the times, that tended to be the most difficult for Lisa. Lisa got off track when she was on vacation, when she was traveling or when she was extra busy with work. And here's why makes perfect sense. During the times when she was on vacation or she was extra busy with work, Lisa tended to tell herself that those were free days. Even those though those things were regularly, you know, happenings in her schedule. They were a regular parts of her schedule. She didn't have habits that she loved or ways of thinking about her eating, that she loved, that fit these very routine parts of her life.

And here's another place that Lisa tended to. Well, it was a real trouble spot for Lisa. She overeats at the end of the day, like a lot of busy women overeating at the end of the day is somebody called it thereby witching hour, right after a long exhausting day, food is a treat. That's a thought when I ask her habit, she wished she had instead of overeating at a long, stressful day, Lisa ever the high achiever said something. I hear all the time. She said, I just want the habit of not doing it. Here's the thing not doing something is not a habit. Not thinking something is not a thought I hear from so many women. I just don't wanna have to think about food anymore. I just don't wanna think about food in the evening. I just wanna not overeat in the evening. The, the power question there is, what do I wanna do instead?

What is the thing I need to think instead to create the results, I wanna have that missing replacement habit, that missing thought, that thing that you put in place of doing the thing you don't wanna do is almost always a key piece of success. Lisa had been doing what so many busy women do. She's been trying to stop and establish pattern of overeating by focusing on what to eat and what portion size she should have at the time that we were talking about these things. She didn't yet have working habits that helped her deal with triggers, for her comfort eating or her stress eating or her mindless eating. She was simply trying to manage the food itself and not stress, eat, not comfort, eat or not eat mindlessly, not doing something is not a habit when you're feeling triggered to overeat by something that isn't hunger focusing on portion size is just gonna feel like you're not giving yourself enough.

It's just gonna feed into those old competing comfort habits and comfort thoughts. You know, what I really need is a reward. What I really need is freedom. What I really need is a break, because if all you're doing is focusing on the actual food or the actual portion size, you're not paying attention to those things. And they are simmering along in the background and they're going to undermine you. They're gonna, they're gonna undermine you. They're gonna wear out your willpower and they're gonna L leave you feeling like you just don't have enough self control. And there isn't enough self control in the world because there's something really important that you are needing to pay attention to when you develop new habits, new ways of thinking that honor paying attention to that trigger. That honor the reason that you are wanting to overeat that honor the craving and the hunger, those things decrease, or they go away.

And that resolves the problem that leaves you on a path moving forward without having to constantly resist going off track. So taking a look at habits in a vacuum can be problematic, creating a set of habits that feel difficult to maintain. That's not a long term solution to overeating. Good habits are important. Knowing what works for you is helpful. Knowing the way of eating that energizes you and helps you feel good is important. Paying attention to the thoughts and the beliefs and the stories you tell yourself that can encourage you to continue to overeat or cont, or can encourage you to see that set of habits as difficult or a problem or a setup for deprivation paying attention to those things is absolutely important. And what also is important is building habits that fit you and that work so well. They become habit forming when new habits with food only feel like hard work.

Then every new healthy step that you plan to take is gonna require discipline and focus attention. You're gonna have to keep working to make it happen. Think about when you typically overeat or when your plans tend to fall apart. I'm betting. It's not when you're feeling it, your most focused or refreshed or disciplined. So let's talk about doing it differently. Habits become habit forming when they work for you. Now, this may sound like a no-brainer, but when it comes to changing your eating or losing weight, too many smart women are trying to stick to habits. That simply feel like hard work. They don't have enough habits that make food and overeating less powerful. And when I'm talking about habits, I'm talking about the way you eat. I'm talking about the way you talk to yourself, the habitual way you talk to yourself, the thoughts that you practice, and I'm talking about habits that are about responding to the things that trigger you to overeat like stress or exhaustion or busyness or tough emotions.

Lisa had plenty of items on her healthy eating to-do list. And I bet you do too. What she really needed were habits and thoughts and beliefs that worked for her, not things she had to do, but things that worked for her and that were going to eventually, as they became more comfortable, meet her needs in a way that food doesn't habits that work for her and do this so well that she forms the habit of keeping the habit that she forms the habit of thinking the new thoughts, right? So Lisa needed habits that help her catch herself when she's falling old ways of thinking like that story, that overeating feels great, or that eating as much as she wants with abandon is gonna leave her feeling free. And, and that that's a treat. She needed some new habits for taking care of herself when she's tired or discouraged that didn't involve chocolate.

She needed habits that were fueled by powerful thoughts that would help her avoid those old ways of thinking that sabotage her Lisa needed great habits for ordering in restaurants. She needed habits that could just be autopilot, ways of responding when she's busy or when she's traveling instead of, oh, well, that's just a free day for Lisa to be successful and to stay on the track that she had chosen for herself. She needed habits and ways of thinking and ways of treating herself, which are also habits that actually helped her with triggers like stress and boredom and difficult emotions. And that did the job better than her old overeating habit, which was, you know, comfortable and had been the default for a very long time. So Lisa had this, you know, this framework of this is the way of eating. That will work for me. The reason it wasn't sticking is that she was missing the pieces of the approach that make her life easier and make overeating less interesting or desirable.

And when you take that stuff out of the way, it was so much easier to focus on a simple plan. Habits are not something that you snap your fingers and, you know, they, they become, you become one with them, right? New ways of thinking are not instantaneous habits really become habits when they are developed and strengthened imperfectly a step at a time. And here's some thing that's really important habits that support you in creating freedom from overeating. Often don't even involve food. And sometimes the most empowering thoughts are not about food at all. They address the reason that you overeat, they address the reason for your cravings. They address the things that you are really needing that are not food habits, become habit forming. I'm gonna keep saying this over and over again, through trial and error, through imperfect attempts, through discovering how to fit that habit or that thought, or that new approach to you.

I of the high achiever mentality of working really hard to force a habit that doesn't really fit new ways of doing things, become your habits over time with practice, with imperfection and with gentle reminders to keep returning to them. Lisa was, and is a dynamo. And we started together when she was really close to identifying the right way of eating for her, which can be a challenge. But here's the thing that's so important. Food alone does not break habits with overeating to break up with overeating, to really break up with overeating. You need the habits that give you your power back from food. The thoughts that empower you and help you feel strong and confident and not like it is so tempting to not do this anymore. And you need the habits and the thoughts that help you create a life where you don't wanna overeat habits and ways of thinking that over time fit you so well that you can envision them become becoming automatic and comfortable so that you can stop starting over and stop struggling with the same 25 pounds. It's not about the food it's about you. It's about your habits. It's about your thoughts, it about you getting what you need.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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