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Image by Annie Spratt


Food Fabulous

Notes from midlife

How to stop eating 'bad' food

Over the years – and some of us have racked up more years than others (speaking form myself) – you have probably developed hundreds of little habits. Some of them good, others bad. That’s all completely normal. But look to see that sometimes you’re going to be saying (to yourself, to other people) something along the lines of ‘I have slipped back into a bad habit’ to excuse your drinking more than you want to, or eating lots of chocolate biscuits, for example.

How to train yourself to stop eating 'bad' foods

There are a few things at play here. One of them is the habit loop. Here’s how that works and how to deal with it.

The Habit Loop

A habit is an acquired behaviour pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.

Habits allow us to focus on other things and, a lot of the time, we are not really thinking about what we’re doing. Willpower is a limited resource and, when it runs out, we default back to our existing habits.

When you are learning a new response, you engage your ‘associative basal ganglia’, which involves the pre-frontal cortex and supports working memory so you can make decisions.

As you repeat the behaviour in the same context, the information is reorganized in your brain.

It shifts to the sensory motor loop that supports representations of cue response associations, and no longer retains information on the goal or outcome. The shift from goal-directed to context cue response helps explain why our habits become rigid behaviours.

For example:

CUE: getting home after a busy day at work

ROUTINE (habit): kick off your shoes and open a bottle of wine

REWARD: feel relaxed and “home” after a long day

How to break bad food habits

One way of breaking the habit loop is to keep the cue constant and change the routine.

CUE: getting home after a busy day at work

ROUTINE: kick off shoes, enjoy a hot shower, comfy clothes

REWARD: feel relaxed and “home” after a long day

If you have an unhelpful or unhealthy habit you need to break, you will need to identify alternative ‘routines’ that will give you the same feeling of reward.

Switch the routine to something positive (healthier) and make sure that the new habit gives you the same feeling of reward.


Studies have shown it takes time for a new habit to become the default choice. Keep in mind the 3 / 6 / 36 rule: 3 weeks to break a habit. 6 weeks to create a new habit. 36 weeks for the new habit to become a default habit.

  1. Become aware!

  2. Interrupt the pattern

  3. Replace it with a new behaviour that makes you feel better

  4. Practice consciously until it becomes automatic

Habit stacking

  • Take an existing habit

Find something you do every day without thinking about it. For example – cleaning your teeth.

  • Tack on your new habit

For example – wall squats while cleaning your teeth. Cleaning teeth becomes the cue for the new habit wall squats which meets the reward feeling of doing something positive to help reach health and wellness goals / get leg ready for skiing holiday.


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