How To Form an Eating Habit Revisited

A find it interesting that though there are many articles on how to form a habit, there seems to be few articles on how to take the scientific approach of willpower and habit formation and apply it to eating.

In my NaNoWriMo book on this project, I took some time and theorized on how I’d be able to do this if I were advising someone starting from scratch.

To do this there are a few protocols I’d apply:
1) Implementation Intention
2) Sequenced habit chains, or “bookending”
3) Start small - “TinyHabits”

Based on this, my advice would be to  start small - and one small start is focusing on one clean meal a day. I’d also advice to make this automatic by having a clear cut implementation intention that’s in a chain of habits. I start out my days rowing, then I take a shower, then I meditate. I’d tack this on to the end of that chain.

The problem with my habit as it stands is that it’s fuzzy. My habit is essentially “eat clean.” That doesn’t really promote automaticity. Automaticity grows from having a clear time or sequence - an “if-then” parameter in the  mind. By not having it clear cut it promotes confusion - an unclarity in the forming habit.

It’s also all or nothing - if a Tiny Habit is ludicrously easy so that you feel like you’re more likely to do it, then having an all or nothing approach doesn’t really promote clean eating. It can’t be Tiny.

Nor does it incorporate how I prep for eating.  A nested habit would be beneficial for this- something like - on Saturday I go shopping for the week, and then I eat. 

My advice would be to fully master this as a habit, then move on to the next step.

The extension would be really difficult because there’s not really a bookmarking point for, say, eating at 6 pm. It would have to be an if-then based on time of day.

If I were talking to someone else, I’d of course start with smaller steps - removing soda, for example. But that’s not really something I have a problem with anymore - I generally drink almost nothing but water. 

I was talking to Lydia about this and she presented a counter argument. Articles have come out that suggest that things like gluten and sugar act almost like heroin in the brain, causing us to want to eat more. Her question was - would you apply this strategy to a heroin addict, or would your first step be to have them replace the drug fully? In methadone clinics heroin is replaced, then cut down.

So the analogy would presumably result in replacing wheat/sugar with substitutes, and then lowering the substitutes. Of course this is only from the Primal point of view.

I really don’t have a solution to this, except by looking at the past, seeing what I’ve done, and seeing how I’ve failed. I’ve gone the all or nothing approach, and it has clearly failed. My tendency now is to do something different, which seems to be to try to the piecemeal approach.

I do know that automaticity for my clean eating has been all over the place, and at least a portion of it has to be because I haven’t used the tools for habit formation at all in this particular habit. And it hasn’t just resulted in “fuzziness” in eating - it actually has a tendency to mess up other habits.

When I’m not pro-active about eating (pro-active being striking at a prearranged time versus “whenever I’m hungry) eating becomes an interruption in the habit chain of my morning. I believe that striking first allows me to incorporate it into the fold. And if I do this, I have yet another solid portion of the chain to implement another habit - writing or recording, both of which have been adversely affected.

I definitely think that other techniques I’ve used have really helped - especially the Flash Diet, which supercharged my eating during my 30 No Bread Challenge. I feel this can be incorporated into my progression.