A lot of what we do in our day to day life started by mimicking our parents behaviors. Some of you might have experienced this by receiving comments such as “you remind me so much of your mother”. The adoption of our parents mannerism through years of living with them became habits. A habit is something we do without having to think about it. An example of a day to day habit is tying your shoes, you will always start with the same side without thinking. Another example is someone who “talks with their hands” they often don’t even realize their arms are moving. We also develop food related habit from our parents.
Consider this story, Lucy and Amanda met at work and became fast friend. Lucy is lean while Amanda is living with obesity. After a while of sharing meals together Amanda starts noticing how long it takes Lucy to eat, she also never finishes her plate. When Amanda asks Lucy why she eats so slowly, Lucy laughs and says “I don’t know I just like making sure I chew my food properly”. She adds being aware of how slow she eats in fact she never finishes her meals not because she feels full but because her jaw gets tired and she gets bored. Later, Lucy tells a story about her childhood, specifically how her family all ate very slowly and her mom would constantly remind all of them to take their time and chew so they don’t choke. They also weren’t allowed to leave the table until every one was finished. Without realizing it Lucy had develop the habit of thoroughly chewing her food because of her parents habit to do so and the constant reinforcement. Meanwhile when Amanda thought back on her childhood she remembered all her family eating very fast, barely chewing. Finishing your meal meant you could go play so they all raced to the finish. Her mom also always reminded them to finish their plate because wasting food is bad. She would often overeat because she did not want to waste food. Although slightly adapted this is a true story, Lucy was so thin she often went on fattening diets but could never manage to gain much weight. She would always unconsciously chew her food to the point where she got bored of eating or her jaw hurt and continued to eat very little. On the other hand when Amanda tried to copy her friend as a weight loss method she found it very challenging. She had to continuously tell herself to chew, she would even copy Lucy’s chewing time when they ate together. It worked when she was able to remind herself, however most of the time she would forget and just swallow. Chewing slowly was not her habit.
Without knowing Amanda and Lucy’s parents through their own behaviors put both girls on a very different path with their eating habits. Neither parents thought their behaviors were about appetite control. They simple did as they had been thought by their parents before them. Habits are powerful because most of the time we do them without even knowing. For example if you have the habit of grabbing coffee and breakfast on your way to work at a local bakery you probably do so every morning without much thinking. If one day you decide you want to eat a healthier breakfast and make it yourself at home but still stop at the bakery for coffee despite being full you will still crave food from the bakery. Your brain or habit loop associates the bakery with coffee and food therefor expects it and creates a craving for it. If on the other hand you decide to make breakfast at home and also make your coffee at home avoiding the bakery completely you will find it easier to keep up with the change. You might however have a hard time not stopping at the bakery if you pass directly in front of it, taking it a step further would be to change the route you take to get to work to make sure you avoid visual cues as well. Becoming aware of our food related habits can be a powerful tool against weight gain and encourage weight loss.