Break The Chain
If your unwanted habits are a chain, it’s time to break the links.
The food chain
Have you ever overeaten, then checked back in to reality wondering what the heck happened?
Like it seemed like that bag of cookies blindsided you and drove off, leaving you in a pile of crumbs. Did anyone catch the license plate of that sugar truck?
How do those mindless, uncontrolled events happen?
Think of unwanted auto-pilot and overeating like that last link in a chain. It might seem like it starts the moment you take the first bite. But actually, those events are caused by subtle thoughts and emotions that can be building-up long before the actions become obvious—even a few days beforehand.
- You might be stressed on Monday, then eat more on Tuesday.
- You might skip breakfast, then nosh at night.
- You might have a few drinks with friends, then think, “Hey! Let’s order takeout!”
- You might be feeling deprived and want to “rebel” or “relax” by eating.
Even as convenient as food often is, it still takes several steps for an eating event to occur.
You might have to decide to get the food. Then go get it. Then find a place to set-up or a time to be alone. Then prep utensils, open the food. Then eat.
Each one of those steps is a chance to break the links in a chain of unwanted behaviors. It’s hard to stop overeating once you start (though, of course, it can be done).
It’s a lot easier to prevent it in the first place, by addressing the problems farther up the chain.
The key to prevention is working backwards, finding the subtle connections in behaviors, and getting closer and closer to the source of action.
The behavior awareness worksheet
This Behavior Awareness Worksheet could help. It’s helped a lot of people. It could dramatically change the way you think about eating and habits.
Behavior Awareness Worksheet (PDF)
You can fill this on your computer, or print and keep it nearby and easier to use in a stressed or emotional time. For example, when you’re not feeling good about what you ate: whether because you ate too much, made poor food choices, felt out of control, that you were eating for the wrong reasons, …
The next time that you have an eating episode that you don’t feel good about, fill out the sheet as soon as possible. The sooner you do it, the better you’ll remember everything.
Think like a scientist. The point is to gather data and stay objective, rather than judging. Try doubling it as a practice of acceptance and forgiveness for yourself.
Look for patterns
After filling out this sheet 2–3 times, you might notice some trends. What patterns are showing up?
Are you noticing that behaviors are related to a recurring …
- type of food
- all of the above
First, don’t worry about changing everything (or anything). Build awareness by noticing and naming.
Break the links
Eventually, look for little links that you could more easily break. What can you anticipate and plan ahead for?
- If you notice yourself snacking at 3 pm, book another activity during that time slot.
- If you notice that you grab a snack when you come home from work via the back door through the kitchen, try coming in the front door instead.
- If you notice that you reach for a candy bar after a family visit, make a note for next time… before the in-laws come knocking.
With a broader awareness of why you do the things you do, you can more easily prevent unwanted or vulnerable situations from happening. Planning and prepping beforehand—breaking the chain—is the real key to feeling “discipline” or self-control in the moment.
With accurate self-awareness, very small changes can have big effects.