How to Break a Food Habit

What foods do you crave?If you're like Ryan, who, on today's show told Anderson about eating the same two meals for the past seven years of his life, or you can't can stop snacking while in front of the television, Behavior Expert Dr. Mike Dow has some tips for breaking a food habit and making healthier food choices...

1. Baby Steps for Big Results

The first thing you want to ask yourself when trying to change a food habit is: what is one small thing I can change in my routine? The key in changing a food ritual is to take baby steps, never go cold turkey. Research shows that when you deprive yourself of something, it may have short-term positive effects, but not long-term results. If you tell yourself you're never going to have chocolate chip cookies again, it increases the likely you will binge on that food at a later time.

2. Create Healthier Rituals

The human brain loves rituals - daily actions that become habit. However, if your ritual is unhealthy it can be disadvantageous. The key is to take baby steps to change the negative, while finding healthy rituals in which to engage. For instance, if you reach for a glass of wine when you get home at night, could you try a 7 PM yoga class instead? Find a way to distract yourself from the ritual, and teach yourself to love a new ritual.

Don't Get Frustrated & Give Up

It takes about a month to create a habit in the human brain. The first time, changing a habit may be a struggle, but once you get into those healthy habits, it becomes just as usual as an after-work glass of pinot noir. The secret to success is accountability.

4. Go Social

Dr. Mike Dow says he loves his Tuesday evening yoga class because he sees the same people every week - people he loves - and it becomes enjoyable. Finding social connections is another piece to the puzzle of changing a food habit. People who have strange hoarding addictions are notorious for eating in secret. Keep in mind, you're as sick as your secrets. So, the more you get others involved in engaging in healthy rituals with you, the better. Instead of eating dinner alone, make a choice to meet friends for dinner and make your eating public.

5. Be Honest in Public

While being social is suggested for changing a food habit, what's important is to be honest with others. Don't go to dinner and only eat a salad, when you know you'll go home and binge on ice cream. Don't deprive yourself in public. Have ice cream with your friends. You don't want to set yourself up for binging and hoarding tendencies.

6. Are You Really Hungry? Below vs. Above-the-Neck Hunger

At work, a lot of people eat more due to stress. Dr. Mike says, when reaching for a bag of chips, ask yourself: is your hunger above-the-neck emotional or below-the-neck physical hunger? If your hunger strikes suddenly, it's probably emotional eating. Physical hunger grows gradually.

If you are experiencing a lot of above-the-neck hunger, ask yourself what your brain is craving. Are you low on dopamine and serotonin? Feeling frantic? Can't concentrate? Gorging on chocolate or pretzels will not satisfy your need. Instead, take a five-minute walk or use iTunes to enjoy a five minute meditation. Find some hot tea or an apple. Help yourself in healthier ways. Figure out what you can do in less than five minutes that will help you feel better.

7. Look for Healthier Swaps

If you are trying to break a soda habit, it is not advised to go cold turkey and cut caffeine altogether. No one can go all-herbal if drinking 8 espressos a day. Instead, ask yourself, could you give up two sodas a day for a green tea? Or can you change 50% of your coffees to decaf? It's important to make a gradual switch. Nothing extreme. You don't want to create frantic states of withdrawal.

The amino acid L-theanine, which is found in green tea, will help your work, making you focused and not frantic. While coffee is the number one source for antioxidants in the US diet, green and black tea both have more antioxidants.

8. Examine Your Social Circles

Are your friends helping or hurting your health? The fact of the matter is: you tend to look like people you hang around with. If your friends are constantly watching TV and eating chili con queso, you are most likely to be engaging in similar habits… and your waistline will show it.

9. Be the Force of Change

If your family or friends are helping you to easily engage in unhealthy eating habits, be the force of change. Next time ice cream is suggested on a Saturday afternoon, offer up a different idea - like bike riding, aerobics, yoga… or find a healthier snack that will suppress everyone's sweet tooth. Create healthier rituals.

10. Eat from a Plate

People who binge and hoard mindlessly in front of the TV eat from mutli-serving containers. Instead, eat from a plate. You will be forced to take food out of a serving container (like a Chinese takeout box or bag of chips), see how much you're planning to eat and put on a plate or bowl.

Remember, when trying to break a food habit, keep in mind that it's a marathon, not a sprint. Baby steps are suggested, and never go cold turkey -- it's statistically less effective.

About Dr. Mike Dow
Dr. Mike is an author, psychotherapist and addiction recovery expert. He is also a member of the California Psychological Association and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Dr. Mike has trained with top health experts such as Dr. Harville Hendrix, Dr. Daniel Siegel and even furthered his training at The Betty Ford Center's Professionals in Residence Program. With his own personal experiences, Dr. Mike has learned how to overcome difficult times in life by helping others. Dr. Mike believes in the power of balance and well-being by being of service to others.

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