How to Make Eating a Successful Habit

February 25, 2019

ReferencesLally Eur Jr Social PsychBright Line EatingInternat Jr Beh NutrCHIRr,

How can you get smarter than your insidious lizard brain that is determined to help you bulk up for the winter, and American processed food that is determined to bulk you up in order to sell more? Susan P Thompson elegantly shows in her book, Bright Line Eating, that you have to allocate your behavior to the part of your brain that is pure habit, your basal ganglia, at the base of your brain. Start by asking yourself the question, "How many times will I have brushed my teeth one year from today?". I bet the answer is either 365 or 730. Right? And you didn't even have to think about it. If you go on vacation, you may not take much, but you do have a toothbrush in there.

Making how you eat into an automatic habit accomplishes several key goals. First, you don't have to think about it and decide something. That's done. That nixes the power of your evil Saboteur who lies to you and teases you with temptation. Secondly, once you have lost weight, you keep it off. And third, it stops the monkey chatter in your brain about food. You don't have to feel anxious and you don't have to worry. You have a reliable friend: a habit.

Now, if you are feeling anxious reading this right now, it's your Saboteur screaming at you that "This will be really boring.", or "You won't get to have you special Kopp's ice cream ever again!", or "You'll lose all your friends!". None of which is true.

Let's look at the research by Lally on making new habits. Take 96 volunteers and ask them to start a new habit of eating, drinking or activity daily in a specific context. They then were to record the feelings of automaticity with a "self report habit index". 86 ended up with good data that showed an asymptotic curve. The more reliably they did the behavior, the better the model fit. Lally's research was pretty interesting. Some folks are fully automatic in just 18 days but some were out there at 254 days. But the average was 66 days. It takes 66 days to get to automatic for most people. Whatever you have heard before about 21 days is hoo-haw. It's harder than that. It takes longer. 

And, not to be ignored, Susan Thompson says to put all your energy into learning the habit. That means go really easy on yourself with everything else. Specifically, DON'T EXERCISE. There is no evidence whatsoever that exercise helps you lose weight an keep it off. Your brain has a fantastic computer that knows exactly how many calories you burned and you eat more to make up. Then, the food you are eating makes you eat even more for which your Saboteur eggs you on. Don't exercise. Get it.

Here it is: Your own Self Report Habit Index

___________________ (brushing my teeth, eating spinach for breakfast, doing pushups.....etc, is something . . .) Answer 1-5. Write it down for yourself. Make 66 copies of your survey and start doing it every day.

  1.   I do frequently
  2.  I do automatically
  3. I do without having to consciously remember
  4. That makes me feel weird if I do not do it
  5. I do it without thinking
  6. That would require effort not to do it
  7. That belongs to my (daily, weekly, monthly) routine
  8. I start doing it before I realize it
  9. I would find hard not to do
  10. I have no need to think about doing it
  11. That’s typically “me”
  12. I have been doing it for a long time

 WWW: What will Work for Me. 66 days. Wow. That's interesting. You mean I can't just go on spring break and learn a new habit? I have to do it how many times? As many as 280? I knew my lizard brain was like Darth Vadar, but this explains a lot to me. I'm in awe at the forces of evil aligned against me that knock me off my intentions. And it is all wrapped up in how we got here, the quality and nature of our food, our advertising, our media, our food companies, our culture....The best way out is a habit. I'm going to work on it.

Pop Quiz

  1. It takes an average person 21 days to make a habit? T or F Answer: False
  2. How many times will you brush your teeth today? Answer: __________
  3. Did you think about it? Answer___________
  4. What other things in your life would fit into the habit index for you? _________
  5. Would you like that same, reliable confidence for your eating? Answer: Read Susan Thompson's book. She is a genius.