The Mindful Diet Week 3: Replace Old Vices with New Routines

This week is all about noticing triggers for unhealthy eating patterns—and figuring out how to reward yourself in new ways.

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Habits follow a very specific “loop,” says Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. You get a cue (say, it’s 3 p.m.), which prompts a reward-seeking behavior (you walk to the kitchen to grab a cookie and chat with co-workers), and a routine is born: That 3 p.m. cookie-chat break becomes a daily ritual. So, this week is all about noticing triggers for unhealthy patterns—and figuring out how to reward yourself in new ways.

Day 15: Identify your “bad habit” routine.

Name one unhealthy eating habit you want to change—like that afternoon cookie klatch.

Days 16–18: Figure out the cue.

When you crave that cookie, is it because you’re hungry? Bored? Feel like you need a break before diving into another task? Experiments have shown that almost all cues that prompt habits fall into one of five categories: location (working at a desk, driving to work, sitting on the couch), time (3 o’clock slump, 11 p.m. munchies), emotional state (sad, bored, stressed), other people (friends, partners, co-workers), and the action that immediately preceded the urge (finished a task, TV show ended, tough phone call). The moment your bad-habit urge hits you, write down what’s happening in these five areas. After three days, it should be clear what’s triggering your habitual response.

Days 19–21: Experiment with different rewards.

Rewards are powerful because they satisfy our cravings, says Duhigg. To help you pinpoint a routine’s reward (i.e., is it the cookie itself—or is it simply stretching your legs or talking to co-workers?), try giving yourself a new, different reward when the craving strikes. For example, you might take a walk, have an apple, or chat in the break room without indulging in a cookie. Write down how you feel after you’ve tested each new reward. Are you relaxed? Maybe what you needed was fresh air or social interaction. Still hungry? That apple either did the trick—or clued you in to the fact that you’re not eating enough or the right things for lunch.

Smart Rewards

Want to connect with others?

Instead of … having a third cup of coffee in the hopes that someone will be in the break room when you pour it Try … scheduling a walk-and-talk break with a colleague.

Want to combat boredom?

Instead of … munching on gluten-free cookies Try… doing a self-care ritual, whether it’s a 10-minute home yoga session or giving yourself a mini-facial

Want to decompress after a tough day?

Instead of … diving into your dark-chocolate stash Try … calling a friend on your drive home to vent and laugh together

Continue on to the next week:

Return to the whole program

Return to the whole program (link to listacle) See also All-Day Ayurveda: Makeover Your Daily Routine