Once you create behaviour patterns, no matter how big or small, it can be near impossible to break it and change habits.
Research from Duke University found that a habit leaves a lasting mark on certain circuits in the brain, encouraging you to feed your cravings. This makes it harder to change habits.
The same study suggests that an addiction to one thing can make you more likely to engage in other unhealthy habits too—so your afternoon snack could lead to bedtime grazing or skipping breakfast.
To counteract this, it’s time to act clever. Queen of lean Kayla Itsines explains: 'I’m not a robot, sometimes I want ice-cream at home so I have ice-cream,' says Kayla. 'But, wanting ice-cream is probably a sugar craving. So, before I leave work I put a teaspoon of honey in tea and when I get home often I won’t crave the ice-cream because I’ve had that little bit of sugar.'
Those familiar with Kayla’s approach will know she doesn’t advocate cutting out food groups (ice cream is a food group). However, she does warn of overloading on certain foods triggered by stress, anxiety or boredom.
'When you’re tired, you think about what you will give you energy. You don’t want ice cream. You think what’s the easiest thing to eat right now - you think ice cream. You’re not actually wanting anything, your body needs energy.'
This is when you need to be aware of your behaviour and look to change your habits. But is keeping ‘comfort foods’ in the house holding you back?
A study published in Frontiers of Behavioural Neuroscience suggests that however pure your intentions may be to change habits, they can be derailed by your surroundings. Researchers suggest using simple interventions, such as reminders of the low nutritional value of certain foods, can help.
This translates to how you take a handful of celebrations because they’re on the coffee table, or a slice of cake because it’s handed to you. By keeping unhealthy foods out of sight, and preparing healthy snacks that are in your reach, it may be easier to change habits and not give in to cravings. It's worth noting here that treats are great and should most certainly be enjoyed in moderation—they're good for the soul. We're talking about every day snacking habits that could lead to health problems in the long run.
How to change your habits with Kayla Itsines’ advice
Kayla suggests that in order to break a habit, you need to identify and understand the trigger for the habit and then replace it.
How can I break bad habits?
1. Create a note file to identify your habits
'So, my bad habit was biting my nails,' says Kayla. 'I would bite my nails down to the smallest little stump and then my friend said to me ‘why do you bite?’ and then she was like ‘why do your nails look like that?’'
'No one had ever asked me, everyone just said ‘eurgh your nails’. So I told her, I bite my nails when I’m thinking or I’m quite nervous or I watch a scary movie.'
'So it’s not until you actually say it. So, I wrote down, biting my nails and then I wrote down what causes it and then what I can do instead.'
2. Remind yourself to track how regularly it happens
The more frequently this behaviour occurs, the more you have to note it down. Taking these notes regularly will place the issue at the front of your mind and make you more aware of it.
This way you are forced to take steps to deal with the habit so you can change habits by replacing them with better thoughts and behaviour.
3. Remove the cue or trigger
Now that you are regularly identifying and noting bad habits, the path to change habits is simple.
Kayla’s advice on nutrition habits
Not drinking enough water
Try to carry a water bottle with you each and sip from it continually. You could also try an app that will track how much you’re drinking and prompt you with reminders throughout the day.
This may be linked to sleep, so make sure you’re getting up with enough time to have breakfast. Have a couple of easy-to-make breakfast foods at home so that you fill up with minimal effort required.
Snacking on unhealthy foods
If you prep and eat healthy meals and snacks, you should find yourself feeling less hungry. If you still feel like grazing, pack healthy snacks to take with you wherever you go.
Kayla’s advice on exercise habits
Not training because you are tired
You know your body best, and whether you are actually physically tired or just using it as an excuse. Be disciplined about your decisions, but rest time is important if you are unwell or your body is fatigued. Make sure you’re following a healthy, balanced diet to keep your energy levels up.
Not resting enough between workouts
Overtraining is one of the fastest ways to get an injury and to slow down progress. Use a weekly workout planner to make sure you’re not putting excess strain on your body.
Not working out when you get your period
You may still be able to train when your period first starts, even if it is a gentle walk. Listen to your body and if you feel as though you can’t physically train then a rest day is okay. Just make sure you’re not just using it as an excuse.
Kayla’s advice on lifestyle habits
Not getting enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is a must for a healthy lifestyle, so you’ll have to prioritise it over over activities - like watching TV or scrolling through Instagram. Follow a regular routine and prepare your body for sleep. Try also using an alarm for going to bed and waking up. This will make it easier to stick to the same time every day.
The issue here isn’t drinking, it’s over-drinking. To prevent this, set yourself a limit before you go out. Once you reach your limit, replace alcoholic drinks with water or infused sparkling water. Juice or low-sugar soft drinks are OK too, in moderation.
Overusing pain relief
When you are injured or sick pain relief can be helpful. However, it can quickly become something people rely on.
Make sure you’re not using it just as a mental relief, only use it if you really need to. And if you have a persistent pain, see your doctor so that they can diagnose and manage the problem.