How do you change your bad eating habits. Is it even possible? so, what does it take?

For years I felt I was a prisoner to my eating habits. My reasoning sounded plausible to me and maybe to you, too, if you are someone who has difficulty with excess weight and loves to eat.

My reasoning went something like this.

  • I can’t change the way I eat because I love sweets, breads, potatoes, cream sauce, homemade candy, chips, French fries and the list went on.   I could never give them up.
  • I can’t change my habits because they have been ingrained in my by years of eating large at family gatherings, birthday parties and holidays.  One can’t celebrate without the traditional good old down-home cooking.
  • I can’t change my eating habits because my family won’t eat anything else. I’ll be a bad mother and wife if I don’t feed them things they like.
  • I can’t change my eating habits because I’ll starve to death if I can’t eat this way. It will just be too painful to change.
  • I can’t change my eating habits because no one can eat rabbit food for the rest of their lives. Maybe I could do it for a short period of time but not forever.

Wait, don’t despair. What if I were to tell you that you can change your eating habits and it doesn’t have to be all that difficult?

Obviously I had a lot of excuses and more than those listed here. At 430 pounds, I was told by a cardiac surgeon that if I didn’t lose weight, I’d be dead in five years. You’d think I’d throw away my excuses. But for someone whose habits were entrenched, bad habits are almost impossible to change. His advice was weight loss surgery.

So, I took his advice and had the surgery. Problem solved, right? Wrong. The problem was slowed but not solved. I lost weight but then I started gaining it back. That’s when I finally came to my senses. I was 57 years old. I had tried every diet in the book even let a doctor cut on me, but nothing was working.

It was at that point that I joined a weight loss support group and began making small steps toward my goal. The first habit I changed was to stop eating candy.  I substituted that horrible word that no overweight person likes, exercise.  I went to the pool three times a week for 30 minutes to walk in the water. It was easy and it began to help curb my appetite.  If I got hungry, I kept healthy snacks that I still liked such as bananas, strawberries, apple slices, deli turkey and cheese sticks.

After giving up candy it was easy for me to give up sugar, especially when I learned that alcohol turns to sugar in your blood system. So essentially an alcoholic is a sugar-holic. This tripped a switch in my brain that helped me give up the sugar.

Later, I gave up white flour, then wheat flour and finally any grains with gluten.  By this time I was up to exercising at least 30 minutes five days a week. Through the months, my time in the water has increased to at least an hour a day as much as six days a week. If I have time, I increase it to 1.5 hours or longer.

So what does this have to do with changing your eating habits and how does it really work. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that a bad habit such as eating fattening or sweet foods is impossible to stop. However, it can be changed.

A habit can be boiled down to a cue, a routine and a reward.  If you can figure out the cue or what prompts you to eat and what the reward is, you can change the routine, according to Duhigg,.

For me, the cue was frustration with not getting things done and the boredom that lack of accomplishment brings. I was working but, was not productive and so I would eat sweet stuff which gave a momentary burst of energy but would make me lethargic and even more unproductive. So, I’d eat more candy. The reward was the temporary high that sugar brings. And you can see the endless negative cycle that my habit had created.

By beginning to work in the morning when it was my prime work time and then when frustration and boredom set in (my cue), I would go exercise (my new routine to replace eating), I would get the extended high and great alive feeling that exercise brings.

At the time I didn’t know about habits. I was only putting exercise into place by setting a time to do it. It just happened to coincide with the time I would normally start eating.

As I gave up each new thing, I replaced it with something else. When I gave up sugar, I told myself anytime I craved sugar I could eat any fruit I wanted. Yes, fruit is fructose, a natural sugar. However, it is more difficult to eat a lot of fruit than a lot of something that is like a cookie or cake or candy.

When I gave up white flour, I replaced it with all wheat. When I gave up wheat I replaced it with gluten free flours and mixes.

The advantage of this is that you are not depriving yourself but rewarding yourself with things that you know are good for you. As I’ve gone along, I’ve also changed my mindset about food from I want that so I have to eat it to I want what will make me healthy and the junk that is making me feel bad is something I don’t have a desire for. Sort of like, “These are not the droids you are looking for.” Excuse my attempt at humor.

One other component for me is to tell myself with each new thing I do that this is for the rest of my life, not a short-term fix.  I have probably lost over 1,000 pounds in my lifetime. I would go on a diet, lose weight and then reward all my hard work by going back to the way I’d always eaten before.

I am now down below where I was when I lost weight with gastric bypass. I am still 30 pounds from my goal but I am getting there. I have lost 58 pounds in the last two years.

Basically, it boils down to this: consistency and hard work pays off.

Wanting to live a few more years helps as well.

Stay tuned for more weight loss tips coming soon. Oh, and you won’t want to miss the interview I’m doing with a formerly overweight teen. Wait until you see how she looks today!

Teresa Shields Parker
Teresa Shields Parker is a Christian weight loss author, coach and speaker, who has lost more than 250 pounds. Her book, "Sweet Grace: How I Lost 250 Pounds and Stopped Trying to Earn God's Favor", is the number 1 Christian Weight Loss Memoir on Amazon. Her other books include: "Sweet Journey to Transformation: Practical Steps to Lose Weight and Live Healthy", "Sweet Freedom: Losing Weight and Keeping It Off With God's Help", "Sweet Change: True Stories of Transformation" and "Sweet Hunger: Developing an Appetite for God".

She also offers Overcomers Christian Weight Loss Academy and VIP one-on-one coaching program, both available under the weight loss tab. To book Teresa for your next event, check the Speaking tab on her website. Also check out her blog and Sweet Grace for Your Journey podcast under the tabs by those names.