Old habits die hard, right? It sure does and you should not underestimate the role of habit when it comes to your daily caffeine fix or food, say researchers from the University of Southern California.
Already had your cup of coffee this morning? If the answer is yes, was this because you needed the caffeine boost to combat fatigue or because this is just one of those habits you have formed?
Well, according to a new international study published in Psychological Science this month, you shouldn’t underestimate the role of habit when it comes to your daily caffeine fix and even your food.
“People may consume coffee out of habit,” explains study author, Asaf Mazar. “You may automatically follow a coffee drinking routine when you wake up or go on your morning commute, regardless of how tired you are.”
Mazar is a doctoral candidate in psychology at the University of South California (USC).
Acknowledging your behaviour
To investigate just how much people underestimate the influence of habits, Mazar and co-author USC psychology professor Wendy Wood asked participants what drive their coffee consumption. The respondents said fatigue was about twice as important as habit in prompting their coffee drinking.
“The experiment provided causal evidence that people’s explanations for their behaviour favour inner states over habits, even when that behaviour is driven by habit,” says Wood. “Much of what we do every day is habitual, but we are reluctant to acknowledge our habits and instead chalk our behaviours up to our mood and our intentions.”
That automatic triggering of behaviour versus conscious intentions, is what makes a behaviour a habit, explains Mazar.
Why you should pay attention to habits
The study authors say that the gap between the actual and perceived role of habits in our lives explains why people have such a hard time changing repeated behaviours, such as maintaining a steady exercise programme and a healthy diet. “To effectively change behaviour, [we] must acknowledge that much of our behaviour is habitual and automatic,” says Mazar.
Gqeberha registered dietitian Eunice Mpehlo agrees and says that when it comes keeping consistent on our health journey, it is time you “make peace with food”.
“You need to take time to work on and re-evaluate your relationship with food,” she advises.
Break the habit
You can make peace with your food by understanding that food is for nourishment says Mpehlo. “Make honouring your health a priority,” she says.
Mpehlo shares 10 tips for people looking to remain consistent on their health journey:
- Developing trust with food and letting go over of the “control of food.”
- Understanding that you have unrestricted access to any food at any time, but that also comes with understanding that you don’t have to eat it all at once or hide it in a cupboard.
- Understanding that you can enjoy food that you find pleasurable without feeling like you needed to “earn” them.
- Understanding that we don’t use food as “rewards” or “punishment”.
- Becoming comfortable with all foods.
- Eat well-balance and satisfying meals: A balance of nutrients – carbs, protein, and fat is a satisfying combination.
- Stay hydrated: Drink 250 – 500ml of water when feeling hungry after a meal. Aim to drink enough so that your urine is pale yellow. For most healthy individuals this will be about 2 liters per day.
- Make sure you are getting enough quality sleep in a lack of sleep can increase your hunger hormones and increase cravings
- Allow yourself to enjoy your favorite fun foods. If you give yourself permission to enjoy your favorite fun foods, you won’t crave them as much.
- Manage your stress without food: Your stress hormones make you crave comfort foods that are typically high in carbohydrates and fat.