Ep004: Habit Cycles and Healthier Eating Habits

Mar 25

Below is a rough transcript (including time stamps) of the episode:

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You're listening to the mindful approach to weight loss podcast, where I'll be talking everything from brain science to woo as we take the focus off food and put it where it belongs on you living life to the fullest. This is a nontraditional approach.

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That means you'll be ditching those heavy expectations and allowing yourself to discover the joy of losing weight.

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So let's get started.

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This is Episode four, and I'm your host, Donna Doyon. In this episode, I'm going to expand upon the topic of habit cycles. I mentioned these in Episode two, Your Brain and Losing Weight. I'll be telling you what they are. How do I identify them and how you can disrupt them so that you can reduce your calorie intake by 100 or more calories each and every day. And if you aren't aware, that's an easy way to lose at least ten pounds a year.

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And this is even if you change nothing else about the way that you live your life.

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But before we get started, I want to clarify the difference between habit and habit cycles. So first, we have a habit. This is a specific act. And I talked about this in episode two. This is when the brain flips the switch on a series of decisions that you made that resulted in action or inaction. And your brain flips the switch and says, I recognize this pattern. I know what she wants to do. And your brain just allows you to act on that without consciously thinking about it.

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Because remember, your brain wants to be efficient, so you no longer have to consciously decide to do it. You just do it. And when you try to stop doing it, you have a really hard time of that. You know, you can have the habit of smoking, drinking, overeating, and most people would consider those to be, quote unquote, bad habits. But we also have habits that are good habits, habits like walking, meditation or just singing.

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Any of these habits work against or for your vision of who you are and who you want to be. So that's a habit. We also have habit cycles and these are the steps that you take to accomplish that habit or that act.

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For example, if you take a walk first thing each morning, the habit is walking. The habit cycle may start when your alarm rings off. You turn off the alarm, you get out of bed, you put on your walking clothes, use the bathroom, feed the pets, grab your headphones, phone keys. You unlock the door, you open the door, you step outside, you pull the door close behind you. You turn on your walking app, you turn on your favorite music, and then finally you walk.

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All of those previous steps have nothing to do with the actual habit of walking, but they cue your brain that it's time to get ready to walk. It's these habit cycles that can make Breaking Bad habits so difficult. As an example, over the years I've heard so many people talk about wanting to quit smoking, but smoking was so highly tied to their morning cup of coffee, which they were not willing to give up, that they never quit smoking completely.

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And some of these people, the only time of day that they smoke is in the morning when they're drinking that first cup of coffee. So sometimes one habit becomes so closely associated with another habit that life just feels wrong if you don't do it. And I can tell you, I experienced the same thing when I'm so dog tired and I'm just heading up to bed and I'll be heading up the stairs and I'll just make the conscious decision. I am not going to bother brushing my teeth tonight.

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I don't want to take the time. I don't want to deal with the two minute activity of brushing my teeth.

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But you know what happens? I use the toilet, I wash my hands and I reach automatically for my toothbrush. Even on the nights when I don't want to brush my teeth, I reach for my toothbrush. And there are times when I'll be standing there with my toothbrush in my hand and I'll mentally debate whether I want to brush my teeth. And that takes so much energy, so much more than I that I just give in and I brush my teeth.

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Now, granted, it may be a quicker brush, but still it's the power of that habit cycle. It's the efficiency needs of the brain. And that efficiency, that habit cycle keeps my teeth strong and healthy. Now, here's the thing is that pattern is slightly different than the mindset that I have when I go upstairs to use the bathroom just in the middle of the day.

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I'll walk upstairs and go to the bathroom, wash my hands and never have that urge that need to pull out my toothbrush.

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Why is it because when I'm going upstairs to use the bathroom during the day. The habit cycle is walking upstairs using the bathroom, washing my hands, drying my hands and leaving the bathroom, all of our habits, cycles, they have their purpose and they have their time in their place. But if I'm trying that at night before I go to bed, it just feels wrong. I like using that bedtime toothbrushing example because most of us are well aware of the bad habits that we practice and we give ourselves way too much grief over them.

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We can be pretty harsh and critical about ourselves. We say we lack willpower, lack of control, powerless.

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Oh my God, I'm such a failure and that is just so unfair to ourselves. I like to remind people with a mindful approach to weight loss, one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves on this weight loss journey is just to be kind and understanding and to have compassion for ourselves. I mean, these habits that we now resent, we despise them. We experience frustration at ourselves over them.

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These are just proof that our brains are working the way that they're supposed to.

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In one of the previous episodes, I talked about your brain always having your back, your brain wants to survive, it wants you to survive.

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And it's basing this pattern of efficiency in these habit cycles on decisions that you made in the past and for whatever reason you made them. And don't beat yourself up over them because now they're not serving your hire.

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Good. They're not helping you to live the life that you want to live. Let those decisions be. In the past, there's a saying, when is the best time to plant a shade tree? And the answer is twenty years ago. So when's the next best time today.

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So I encourage you to just let the baggage of the past be in the past and start today with a fresh perspective, new information and knowledge on how your brain works so that you can start making the changes that will serve your greater good to help you live the life you want to live so that you can do the activities that you've always loved or always dreamed of doing, beating yourself up over it. It doesn't help you in any way. So if your brain is efficient at helping you to do the habits that we consider good habits like our personal hygiene, treating others with kindness and even just going to work every day, your brain is also capable of allowing itself to be retrained to do things that serve your greater good.

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And as a side note, I'd like you to ask yourself, do you spend as much time praising yourself for consistently practicing those good habits as you do for condemning yourself over the bad ones?

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If you don't, this is where mindfulness can help. And if you haven't listened to Episode one, I do encourage you to go back and listen in case you're not quite sure what I mean when I use the term mindful or mindfulness. So my definition of mindfulness is this. It's pausing in the moment to notice, consider, reflect and decide what action you want to take without judgment against yourself. Let's go back to the brushing your teeth example. You're brushing your teeth, you pause, you notice, consider, reflect and decide what action you want to take.

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Do I want to brush my teeth tonight? Is it serving my higher purpose to brush my teeth? I don't really know about that. Is it promoting good health and wellness? Yes. Well, hallelujah.

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Look at the gift I gave myself by brushing my teeth even when I really didn't want to give myself a high five and choose to keep this habit.

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Now, let's look at another example. Eating ice cream every evening, pause, notice, consider, reflect, decide what action you want to take. Is it serving your higher purpose, eating ice cream, maybe. I don't know. Is it promoting good health and wellness?

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You're probably not. OK, so when the answer is no, you have the opportunity in this moment to make a different decision, a decision that serves your higher purpose and promotes your health and wellness. And this is where the habit cycle comes into play.

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More than likely, if you eat ice cream every evening, it's part of your evening routine. Much like brushing my teeth is part of my bedtime routine. Now, eating ice cream, it may be something you do at a certain time each night. You may say, oh, it's eight o'clock, it's ice cream time. It may be something you do with activities you're doing. Oh, so you finish dinner, you clean the kitchen, you sat down to watch Wheel of Fortune and then Jeopardy!

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And on the commercial break before final Jeopardy! You. Go to the kitchen for a bowl of Ben and Jerry's, or it could be something you do because someone else is doing it, you're feeling satisfied. You had a good dinner, you're reading a good book, but your spouse gets up for a bowl of ice cream and brings one back to you. And so you eat it. Habit cycles come in many forms and there can be subtle nuances that make them seem like they're not cycles, but they really are.

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They're swapping out this for that, skipping this step or skipping that step.

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But the pattern and the end result remains the same. Kind of like what I was talking about with the trip to the bathroom. Certain times of the day. I go up, I use the bathroom, wash my hands, dry my hands and leave in the morning. I go into the bathroom, I use the bathroom, I wash my hands, I brush my teeth, I use my water pick, I dry my hands. And sometimes, sometimes not.

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I'll get right into the shower. But we have these little habit cycles that help us to move along through our day pretty efficiently.

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So a habit cycle consists of three parts. First, there's the cue. This is what starts the routine.

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And the cue could be a time. It could be a place, it could be an emotion, a person or even the immediately preceding action. For example, brushing my teeth is cued by washing my hands, which is cued by going to the bathroom before going to bed or when I first get up in the morning.

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Now, the routine follows the cue. These are the multiple steps that you take once you get started. It's kind of like a choreographed dance routine. And if you get distracted or stopped in the middle, you pretty much have to stop and then run through the steps in your head to get back to what you were doing. You don't necessarily remember the steps independently. You just know when to do them as you're going through part of that flow. But if someone were to ask you, oh, well, what immediately follows this step, you can't immediately answer them.

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You have to replay the whole routine in your mind. And then the third part of a habit cycle is the reward. Now, sometimes the reward, it doesn't seem like a reward. It's just the simple act. That sense of completion, the reward for following my bedtime routine is I can climb into bed, I can take a deep breath and feel confident that everything that needed to be done has been done. But sometimes at the end of a habit cycle, it's more like you've come to the end of a dance.

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You know, the music stops playing. You find yourself standing out on the dance floor and suddenly you're looking around saying, OK, what do I do now? And it can be a bit disconcerting. And this happens many times throughout your day, but you've just gotten used to it. This is when you go from being on autopilot, when you're nonconscious brain is coordinating your movements, and then suddenly you snap back into full consciousness and you really have no clue of what to do next.

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I'm sure you've experienced it. It leaves you with that. What do I do now? Feeling and this can even be those times when you walk into the kitchen or another room in your home and you say, why did I come in here? More than likely it wasn't just senior forgetfulness. It was something happened that triggered you to start a routine that had you on autopilot going into that room. And when you got there, you weren't quite sure what you were doing there.

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So this week, I invite you, I encourage you, and I challenge you to start paying attention, to be mindful of when you are eating food as part of a habit cycle. So here's what I mean. When you find yourself standing in your kitchen, pause. Notice what you're doing and how you're feeling. Are you physically hungry or are you emotionally hungry? You know, lonely, bored, tired, frustrated, maybe even angry. And then even if you are physically hungry, OK, even if you are hungry, consider how the food you're reaching for or that you're in the process of eating serves your higher purpose and promotes health and wellness, reflect upon how you want to feel and experience life as your future self.

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Now some people think, oh, future self, that's so far in the distance. What does this one little decision now make? Your future self is also yourself. Five minutes from now, will you be proud of yourself for making a healthier choice, for perhaps not eating that piece of cake or that bowl of ice cream or proud of yourself for eating a smaller portion? Or will you be determined to beat yourself up for making your usual choice, the one that's been programmed into your brain for years, for decades?

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You can also think of your future self as you in a year when you step on the scale, will you have dropped twenty pounds? Just by making mindful food choices, or will you step on the scale and weigh exactly the same so as you're looking at that food or even if you're in the process of eating it, you can make a decision to continue on or you can make a decision to step back and put the food away or not pull it out in the first place.

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You can make the decision to discard whatever you have remaining. These are all choices that you can make in that moment by pausing long enough to actually make a choice. One request I have of you is no matter which decision you make, whether you make a choice that is healthier for you in the short term and in the long term, or if you follow along with your long standing habit and you don't change your behavior, please don't be unkind to yourself.

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Thank your brain for doing its job to work efficiently for your benefit. But of course, if you did make a healthier choice below that celebration, away the up, that is fireworks in the sky worthy. It's fairy dust sprinkled everywhere. That is a celebration beyond celebrations. And yes, it is a big deal, even if just for one time you chose not to eat a full bowl of ice cream. And it's time for you to start acknowledging that because it's these little celebrations, these little acknowledgments of self that are building up those feelings of pleasure.

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Remember, your brain wants to experience pleasure. It doesn't want to experience pain and discomfort. When you yell at yourself, your brain is saying, no, I'm not happy, I don't like this. But here, have a cupcake that will make you feel better when we can find in that natural sense of self and appreciation and recognition for making a healthier choice. Please don't underestimate the power of that. Thrive on it, celebrate it and make it larger than life.

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Give it more power than that cupcake. It's beautiful. And it builds and it builds and it builds upon itself. So the secret to disrupting any habit cycle is just a pause. Again, it's like when you're dancing and you misstep, it throws things off. You have to pay attention to get back into the rhythm of that dance. But you can get back there. You just have to get up and continue on over time as you become more comfortable with disrupting a habit cycle, one that doesn't serve your goals and your vision for your future, your brain will adapt.

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For example, you get home from work in the afternoon. You automatically go into the kitchen, you pull out a bag of crackers or potato chips. You eat a handful while you're looking through to see what you want to make for dinner. Eating those chips or crackers is part of your habit cycle. So to change that, when you get home from work, you go into the kitchen, you pull out the crackers or chips and you pause and you ask yourself, am I even hungry?

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Will eating these chips or crackers serve my higher purpose? Do they promote health and wellness? And then in that moment make a decision whether you want to eat them or not. Over time, as you are pausing, you will start to make a healthier choice because you're being mindful of the impact you're giving your brain time to process the idea that ha things might be changing here. Oh, but for today things are the same. And the next time you get home from work, you go into the cabinet, you pull out the chips of the crackers and you keep asking yourself those questions and your brain is getting used to it.

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Your brain isn't feeling threatened. Your brain is paying attention.

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But it's not on full alarm. It's not resisting that you might make a different decision because you've introduced the idea to it. It's kind of like when you have a scathingly brilliant idea that you share with someone and they resist it from day one and they say, no, no, no, no. And you keep bringing it up because you think it is such a great idea.

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And they say, no, no, no. And then suddenly you start hear them saying to you, what would you think about? And you're saying, oh, my gosh, that's my idea, you jerk. You stole my idea.

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That's how our brains can be. And that's how we want them to be. Because then your brain is on your side and it's going to say, OK, so how can we make this happen? So over time, as you go into your kitchen after a day of work and you open the cabinet and you pull out the crackers and the chips and you say, no, I'm not going to have it today. And you closed the cabinet door, you put the chips away and your brain starts to notice that pattern.

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And after a while, you'll walk into the kitchen and it will no longer even occur to you to pull out the crackers or the chips.

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Your brain wants to be efficient. And if you've made that decision several times, your brain is going to start saying, oh, we can skip that step and it begins to flow more easily from walking into your kitchen to starting the decision making process of what to have for dinner. It only takes a short period of time and this will change for every person. And every food situation depends on how much emotional baggage you have tied up with it. But it will take a little bit of time that your conscious brain needs to be focused on just reminding yourself that that step, that food item is no longer part of this routine, this habit cycle.

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So I hope that makes sense. And I know you're thinking, but Donna, what about cravings? Usually I know I'm not hungry, but I still eat and eat and eat.

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How do I overcome those cravings?

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It's a great question and it's one that I'll answer in next week's episode.

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So be sure to subscribe through your podcast app or sign up for my newsletter at Donna Doyon Dotcom. You don't want to miss it, but for now, this week I invite you, I encourage you and I challenge you. Start to identify the habit cycles you have in place around food and eating. And don't forget, habit cycles are put into motion by one of five things time, location, emotions, people, or the immediately preceding activity. And once you identify these food related habit cycles, that's when you can begin to disrupt that cycle and allow your brain to rewrite the routine.

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And remember, my mission with this podcast is to share information and ideas so that you can find your own approach to weight loss. It's always your choice.

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It's always been your choice, and it always will be your choice if you enjoyed listening to this podcast, but you feel like you aren't quite ready to go off adventuring on your own just yet. Check out my services and self study courses on my website. Donna Doyon Dotcom. That's dō and a d o y o n dot com. Be sure to download my healthier habits. Start our program. It's a mini guide. While you're there, it'll give you some simple ways to start your journey to living healthier and happier.

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But remember, always make it fun.


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    About the Author

    Donna Doyon fosters personal and spiritual growth thru goal setting activities. She invites, encourages, and challenges people to self-develop into physically healthy, mentally strong, emotionally healed, and spiritually awakened beings.