When it comes to eating, we all have deep-rooted habits. Some are good (“I always eat my breakfast”) and some are not so good (“I always leave the plate clean”). Although many eating habits we’ve had since childhood, it doesn’t mean it’s too late to change them.

Sudden, radical changes in eating habits, such as not eating more than cabbage soup, can lead to short-term weight loss. But these exaggerated changes are neither healthy nor good and will not help in the long run.

To permanently improve eating habits, a Reflect, Substitute, and Reinforce approach is needed.

  • REFLECT all of your eating habits, both good and bad, as well as the things that trigger you to eat unhealthy.
  • REPLACE your unhealthy eating habits with healthier ones.
  • STRENGTHEN your new eating habits.
  • Reflect, Replace, and Reinforce: A Process to Improve Your Eating Habits

Make a list of your eating habits. Keeping a “food diary” for a few days where you write down everything you eat and the time you eat will help you discover your habits.

For example, you may always want something sweet when your energy drops in the middle of the afternoon.

Use food diaries to make the list. It’s good to write down how you felt when you decided to eat, especially if you weren’t hungry. Were you tired or stressed? Underline the habits on the list that are causing you to eat more than you need to.

The eating habits that can often lead to weight gain are:

  • Eating too fast
  • Eat all that is served from the plate
  • Eating when you’re not hungry
  • Eating standing up (may cause you to eat without thinking about what you eat or very fast)
  • Always eat dessert
  • Skipping meals (or just breakfast)

Review the unhealthy eating habits you have highlighted. Be sure to identify all the factors that trigger those habits. Identify some of the ones you will try to change first. Be sure to congratulate yourself on the things you do well.

Maybe you almost always eat dessert fruit or drink low-fat or fat-free milk. These are good habits! Recognizing your accomplishments will motivate you to make more changes.

Make a list of “triggers” by reviewing your food diary. You’ll be more aware of where and when “triggers” arise to eat without being hungry.

Write down how you usually feel on those occasions. It is often an environmental “trigger” or a particular mood that drives us to eat without hunger.

Common triggers that encourage you to eat when you’re not hungry:

  • Open a drawer and find your favorite snack.
  • Sit at home and watch TV.
  • Before or after a meeting or a stressful situation at work.
  • Coming home from work and having no idea what you are going to eat.
  • Have someone offer you a dish he made “just for you!
  • Pass in front of a sweet dish at a counter.
  • Sit in the dining room at work near the candy or snack vending machine.
  • See a plate of donuts in the morning during a business meeting.
  • Spend every morning at the window of your favorite fast food restaurant.
  • Feeling bored or tired and thinking that eating something will raise your spirits.

Circle the “triggers” on the list you face daily or every week. Gathering with your family on Thanksgiving can be a “trigger” for overeating. You may want to have a plan in place to counteract these factors. But for now, focus on the ones you have most often.