How to create new eating habits

The action of breaking old habits and building new ones plays a large role in losing weight and keeping it off. But as we all know, creating habits is difficult because it requires a high level of motivation and commitment.

As we discuss in this article, the first step towards creating a new habit is actually not an action at all, but rather a reframing of how we think about habits from a focus on outcomes to identity. We cover identity-based habits in more detail in the article linked above, but it can be summarised as this:

Focusing on outcomes (like losing weight) can help us achieve short-term goals, but makes it difficult to form habits which enable long-term behaviour change. Likewise, changing the process (such as going on a keto diet) can also lead to more immediate success, but this is equally as difficult to maintain over a lifetime. What does lead to maintained change in behaviours, however, is a focus on changing our identity (i.e. becoming a healthy person vs. losing weight). The steps you take towards becoming this person are simply a series of small habits.

In this article, we’ll focus on some actionable steps you can take to create new eating habits along the journey to becoming a healthier version of yourself.

Step 1: Break it down

Once you’ve figured out which identity you’re working towards (again, we recommend you read this article first), the next step is to break down this identity into tiny habits.

Think of one habit that type of person would do.

Now break that one habit down into an even simpler task. It doesn’t matter what you pick, but strip it back to the bare minimum. It should be a task you can complete in less than two minutes.

For example:

  • I want to be an athlete → Go for a run each day → Put on my running shoes
  • I want to be more mindful → Meditate for 15 mins each day → Meditate for 30 seconds each day
  • I want to be a great parent → Help my kids with their homework for an hour every day → Make sure to ask my kids how their day was every day
  • I want to be a healthier person → Replace snacks like crisps with nuts and fresh veg → Pack a portioned out snack (like a handful of almonds or pre-cut carrots) each day for the next week

Step 2: Follow these habit rules

There are four key rules to making a good habit. I’m going to go through an example habit and show you how to apply them.

Example Habit - I’m going to meditate for 30 seconds every day

Rule 1 - Make it OBVIOUS by committing to a plan and tagging it to another habit

Example: I’ve asked my partner to make sure I adhere to my meditation this week. I’m going to plan to meditate for 30 seconds after my morning coffee each day.

Rule 2 - Make it ATTRACTIVE by pairing an action you want to do, with an action you need to do

Example: After I meditate I’m going to listen to my favourite sports podcast. If I don’t meditate, I can’t listen to my podcast.

Rule 3  - Make it EASY by stripping back your habit to make it super simple (It can get harder later!)

Example: By only making my meditation 30 seconds I can complete the task even on days when I don’t have time to listen to my podcast.

Rule 4 - Make it SATISFYING by tracking your habit

Example: Each day I manage to do it, I’m going to make a note in my journal. I’ll also ask my partner for positive feedback every time I complete my task.

Once you’ve picked a habit that satisfies the above rules, start to implement it in your day-to-day life. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss it some days; Rather than focus on the failure, recognise that it’s more important to get back on track the next day.

Step 3: Set yourself up for success

Beyond careful planning and committing to something new, it’s important to note that your environment can have a huge influence on your daily habits.

This is because habits are our response to cues from our environment. The more times we receive a cue, the more likely we are to shape our reactions around it—therefore building a habit, be it intentional or not. In building better habits, we therefore need to think about not only what we want to change, but also ways of modifying our environment to trigger positive behaviours.

Here are a few examples of behavioural modifications which can help to break undesired habits and build new ones:

  • If you want to avoid mindless TV watching, try putting the controller in a drawer or unplugging the TV when you’re done.
  • If social media is keeping you up at night, try leaving your phone on the charger in another room.
  • Encourage healthier snacking by keeping a full bowl of fruit in the kitchen.
  • Pick a gym closer to your home or work to increase the chances that you go.
  • Put your running shoes by the door to remind you every time you leave the house.
  • Put a sticky note on your coffee machine to remind you to meditate after your coffee.

A lot of these examples don’t have to do with eating because at Habitual we’re focused on helping you to become an overall healthier person—both physically and mentally—and we know that extends far beyond the food you eat (and also that becoming healthier in other aspects of life can help you make better eating decisions).

Once you’ve completed steps 1-3, get on with your new habit—and once you’ve mastered it, start adding additional habits to build towards the new you.