Let me ask you a question: When did you last do something for the very first time, or did a familiar thing in a different way?
We humans, apart from being way too complicated for our own good, are creatures of habit. Believe it or not, that doesn’t mean we’re lazy or unadventurous. That just happens to be how our brains work best. Whenever we perform an action (or think a particular thought) pathways are laid out in our brains specific to that action. If we do that same action again, another pathway is laid down in the same place. The more times we do the action, the bigger that pathway gets until it becomes established in our brains as our preferred way of performing that action.
But don’t go thinking this is a bad thing, because it isn’t. This is how we get good at things – like walking and talking. Our brains function like this so that our expertise increases each time we complete a task, until we become expert. Expertise is necessary for us to function successfully as adults. So, from a survival point of view, these habit-forming pathways are good for us.
The downside is, the pathways don’t make judgement calls. They don’t tell us whether we should be making this action a habit or not. As a result, it’s just as easy for us to form bad habits as it is to develop good, healthy, useful habits.
Of course, there’s another way of looking at that last sentence: it’s just as easy to form new, good and healthy habits as it is to form bad habits.
At least, as far as our brains are concerned. 🙂
But forming habits isn’t the real issue here – it’s breaking the bad ones. Breaking a habit – as anybody who’s given up smoking will tell you – is very hard. And that’s because your brain wants you to go down the easier path most travelled, the path it’s built for exactly that purpose.
7 bad habits that can directly affect our weight:
- Skipping Breakfast. If you don’t eat first thing in the morning, by the time you do eat, your body has been starving for 12 – 18 hours. That kind of break between meals tells your metabolism that there could be a famine happening and it will slow down. When it slows, it stops burning fat and starts burning muscle. Not only that, but when you do get around to eating, starvation makes you eat more than you would have.
- Being distracted while you eat. Who of us these days doesn’t eat in front of the TV? The problem is that if you don’t pay attention to your food, you don’t know what you’re eating. You don’t notice when you’re full and you eat more than you need to.
- Not getting enough sleep. This is a biggie. In this crazy, busy world we live in, ensuring we get our allotted eight hours seems like nothing more than a fond memory. But insufficient sleep can have a catastrophic effect on your weight and your mood. Over long periods of time, the regular loss of two hours of sleep can impact on depression, motor skills, concentration – and weight gain. That’s right – if you don’t get enough sleep, you are five times more likely to binge on carbohydrates the following day. Your body does this to compensate for the serotonin you didn’t produce the night before. Serotonin is responsible for feelings of well-being, energy and mood. You have to have it to live. Your brain creates it at night when you sleep. Without sufficient sleep, you have insufficient serotonin. You also then have a problem.
- Celebrating & Comforting. I’ve written about eating disorders and the unhealthy relationship some people have with food. But even if you don’t have an eating disorder, you can still have unhealthy habits when it comes to food. You might find you’ve got into the habit of celebrating with a pizza and bar of chocolate. That’s not so bad, once in a while. But have you started doing it every week? Do you ‘treat’ yourself to a whole packet of chocolate biscuits just because you ‘deserve’ them? These habits are insidious – and just about everybody has at least one. You don’t even realise they’re forming until it’s way too late. If you’re already struggling with your weight, they can have a very bad effect.
- Confusing thirst with hunger. This is so common it’s almost funny. Almost. For a lot of people, the feeling of being hungry in the stomach can seem to be exactly the same as feeling thirsty. Eating when you get that feeling can become a very bad habit. Especially since, unless you eat something like a nice juicy apple or orange, you’ll feel the thirst again half an hour later, and eat something else. Most of us suffer from chronic dehydration without even knowing it. Water is essential to our continued existence, so if in doubt – drink first and ask questions later. If it turns out you were hungry after all – no harm done.
- Family traditions. In my family, Christmas tradition demanded that you ate so much food for dinner that you couldn’t move for some hours afterwards. We did this for most of my life until one day, we all realised how dreadful it felt – and we stopped doing it. Oh, we still eat plenty – we just no longer eat to excess. Well, not much excess. 🙂 Family traditions creep up on us without our realising it until suddenly, we’ve been having fish and chips every Friday for the last 40 years and we’re 20kg overweight and suffer high cholesterol. No tradition is worth keeping if it’s going to help kill you.
Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
This, I suspect, is the basis to my final – and favourite – of the bad habits so many of us indulge in: Dieting. How many times have you looked in the mirror or weighed yourself and then said, “I’m going on a diet tomorrow.”? And you’re ‘good’ for a few days and then you get distracted or something happens and you stop. A few weeks later, you do the same thing again, with the same result. And a few weeks after that, a few months after that – and you can look back at the last 20 years trying desperately to remember the last time you weren’t on or trying to stay on a diet.
Dieting like that doesn’t work. It really doesn’t. You just end up feeling like a failure – and what does that get you? If you want a different result, try a different approach. Weight loss is not just about restricting calories. It’s about lifestyle: food, nutrition, attitude, exercise, mood, emotional stability, outlook, ambition… the list goes on. But the one thing it definitely isn’t about is diets.
In the final part of this series, we look at the human body and how physical issues such as stress, depression, metabolism and some medical conditions directly contribute to obesity, as well as how some foods can be addictive, and perfectly legal additives can turn you into the Cookie Monster.
Read the rest of the Causes of Obesity series:
Part 6 – Clinical Issues
- Sleep Less Lose Less Weight (fitnesstipsforlife.com)
- Bacon and cheesecake ‘alter brain like heroin’ (canada.com)