There has been a tremendous amount of work in the areas of habits and willpower over the past ten years. Our favorite books on the subject include Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” with its cue-behavior-reward model, Baumeister and Tierny’s “Willpower” with its willpower as a muscle idea and Patterson, Greeney, et al’s “Change Anything” with its six sources of influence framework.
Despite our fascination with habits, when it comes to changing bad eating habits, we have been unsuccessful. Despite the need, the potential reward and our national obsession with losing weight, no diet, method or habit creation strategy can claim success at helping the majority of people who try it to keep their weight off. Why is that?
Certainly part of the blame goes to the crazy restrictive diets people use to lose weight. But even if you use a smart, simple long term strategy, it’s still hard to consistently eat well. The root of the problem is that eating is different than everything else we do in three ways:
1. It’s necessary (you have to eat);
2. We have an internal hunger trigger; and
3. Eating is the most ubiquitous permitted pleasure.
We don’t have the option of kicking the eating habit. We have to eat every day to function and survive. To remind us of this, our brains have a hunger sensation which tells us that we need to eat. The longer we go without food, the hungrier we get. Clearly, we don’t need help to start to eat. The problem is that we make poor food choices and we eat too much. The main reason we do that is that food is extremely pleasurable and eating is a required pleasure.
The good news that comes out of this is that you shouldn’t consider yourself a complete failure if you are not eating properly on a regular basis. The bad news is that eating properly and maintaining a healthy weight will greatly benefit you and it’s hard. We’ll discuss the foundational strategies to achieve success in a future post.