Why do people deal with unhealthy habits

Tag Archives: habits

We probably all know it: We take on something very firmly, e.g. like our New Year's resolutions for healthy eating, weight loss or exercise now in January. For a few days we start our project motivated, but then we let go and return to our old, often unhealthy habits. That is why we asked an expert for advice on why we fail so often and what is really necessary to change our habits sustainably.

Dear Evelyn Obermaier, thank you very much for taking the time for us to answer a few questions on the subject of “changing (eating) habits”. Perhaps at the beginning you will briefly introduce yourself so that our readers know who you are:

With pleasure. Among other things, I work as a clinical and health psychologist in my own practice and accompany many people in individual consultations, but also within the framework of the Lower Austria “does well” initiative “Active prevention” in groups on their way to a healthier lifestyle. Nutrition was already a very exciting topic for me during my student days, so I also studied nutritional sciences for a few semesters. Since I had to do more and more professionally with dieticians, nutritionists, physiotherapists, sports scientists and of course doctors, I no longer felt it necessary to specialize equally intensively in both fields and preferred to work with these professions.

Now it's almost the end of January. Many people have made resolutions, often about losing weight and new healthy habits. What are habits anyway and what do we need them for?

Habits are our practical companions in everyday life. They make life easier for us by not having to reinvent ourselves every day. So maybe we develop a kind of routine so that we can move forward more quickly in the morning and sleep longer. The usual process is quick and easy, conveys security, stability, trust and we need less energy.

New processes, on the other hand, require more attention, energy and time. Just the morning question "What should I wear today?" is said to have taken up many a precious minute and possibly even caused some stress. Since the spectrum of possibilities is reduced under stress, it is usually a combination that has already proven itself many times. 😉

The same applies to the question about breakfast. New variants require attention and planning. On a day with a high potential for stress and little time resources, those patterns of action that have already been tried out many times will tend to win.

New Year's resolutions: Most want to change their diet and do more sport, but too often it happens that the good resolutions are thrown overboard as early as mid-January. Why is it that so many people fail in their endeavors?

I fear that many people sometimes approach such a project too unprepared. “Getting used to” or “getting used to” something means implementing a new blueprint in our brain. And every new building requires preparation, planning and the provision of resources.

If you want to get used to something new, then you basically set yourself up to learn something new. Put simply, your brain has to put together a kind of team of brain cells in order to be able to carry out the desired new behavior.

For example, if you want to learn how to start a car with a clutch, a chain of reactions is activated in the brain in which one brain cell informs all other brain cells necessary for this action. This means that the entire network responsible for this is activated.

The first time it is probably a bit slow and bumpy - as we know it from everyday team building processes. But little by little, the team members learn to coordinate and react to each other more and more. The connection with each other is getting stronger and stronger.

This can be illustrated by a comparison with the first steps through a cornfield. At first it is tedious to have to work your way through such a field. But if you go this way again the next day, you may recognize your route from the previous day by means of signs, such as a few kinked stalks. If you walk this path every day from now on, a well-trodden path will emerge in this field by the time of harvest, which you can walk effortlessly without thinking much.

And this is how habits arise. With many, many repetitions, something like a “highway in the brain” forms. Leaving this well-trodden path and reorienting yourself requires strength, energy, concentration and is time-consuming. Everyone who got into a car with an automatic gearbox for the first time in years has experienced this. Depending on the background of your experience, it can take different lengths of time until you no longer step into the void with your left foot.

For us at myBioma, health begins in the gut and the basis for this lies in nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. How do we manage to integrate really healthy eating and living habits into our everyday life and to stay on the ball?

There are certainly a lot of components that need to be considered and are also very dependent on the respective personality. But one very important point is certainly to be consciously concerned with why and for what purpose we want to change our habits. We need a really good reason to invest our time, effort, and energy in making such a life change. A strong driver! An important goal! Ideally, a need of the heart that can be satisfied in this way! It just has to make personal sense to embark on this journey.

Joy - better still enthusiasm - motivation and reward are important companions to maintain behavior over a longer period of time or even to integrate it completely into our everyday life.

Steps in this direction can include, for example, consciously dealing with your own personal values. By that I mean, among other things, consciously questioning personal shopping behavior. According to which values ​​and ideas do I make my food selection? Do offers determine my selection? Do I pay attention to regionality? Do I value organic quality? etc. If a value collides with my plan, it will not be sustainable for long.

From my point of view, such awareness processes are an essential factor for successful integration into everyday life. To take time for yourself and to question why I am doing something and how high I prioritize it.

How long does it usually take before we make new habits a routine and become firmly integrated into our everyday lives?

After 3 months, a good basis is usually created to integrate a new behavior into everyday life or, in other words, to pave an easily walkable path through the cornfield. It is important not to make too many changes at once. It is only advisable to take the next step when a new habit has been well received or a path has been well established.

It is not only important to incorporate new healthy habits, but also to get rid of old unhealthy ones. Do you have a tip?

This is certainly an important point, but sometimes also requires a little patience and creativity in the implementation. Especially if it is an unhealthy but very cherished habit that may satisfy many emotional needs.

Because it is important to find something equally fulfilling and at the same time healthy as a substitute. Deleting something with a reward function without replacement will rarely be successful in the long term.

We all probably know it: When we're stressed, we tend to eat unhealthy foods like chocolate or ice cream more often. What do we want to achieve with it?

Food is very closely linked to our reward centers in the brain. In addition, sweets are still often used as a reward. A good report card is rewarded with a trip to the nearby ice cream shop, we traditionally celebrate the day of the birth with a cake, after a busy day we have earned ... (whatever we personally believe), when we are sad, we console ourselves with, for example Chocolate ... etc

So eating is much more than just a physiological filler. It is important to realize that food also fulfills many psychological functions.

For example, as an emotional stabilizer and comforter in crises, a real supporter to eat into your anger, a silent representative of praise and recognition “Well done! Now you have earned a reward for your efforts! ”, As“ employment ”when one is filled with inner emptiness, it offers the possibility of societies (family dinners), partnerships (business lunches), friendships (coffee and cake) and other social gatherings to give an appropriate framework and much more

We should be aware that many of our eating habits are learned.

On the other hand, research indicates that our taste receptors are not only stimulated by delicious food, but also react to so-called endogenous messenger substances, including stress hormones. According to observations, stress seems to primarily increase our cravings for sweet.

According to the “Selfish-Brain-Theory”, our brain should be selfish to maintain its energy supply. In the case of greater stress (whether physical or psychological), it activates the body's own stress system in order to request energy from the body - e.g. in the form of glucose.

Avoiding stress and practicing relaxation techniques are considered to be useful companions on the way to a healthy and low-sugar diet.

The other way round - scientifically proven - it is also the case that our food influences our mood. This is because we have certain bacteria in our intestines that are able to break down fiber and produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) such as butyrate and propionate, which in turn stimulate our intestinal cells to produce serotonin. Serotonin, also known as our happiness hormone, is a natural mood stabilizer - and helps us feel happier, calmer, less stressed and anxious. Almost 90% of serotonin is produced in our intestines. Have you had any personal experience of how diet can affect mood? 

Yes, experts like to use the term “mood food” in this context. This refers to foods that promote the release of our body's own happiness hormones and thus can help raise our mood. In general, these include dark chocolate, vanilla, fish, berries, chestnuts, ... and much more ... I am happy to refer you to colleagues from the field of nutritional sciences with whom I work.

And then of course there is our individual reaction or even hypersensitivity to certain foods and our personal biorhythm and how we deal with our daily lows and highs.

Personally, I have observed in myself, for example, that in the afternoon I tend to get tired, unfocused and a little listless. I used to work against it unconsciously with coffee or chocolate. Strictly speaking, these foods are misused ;-). Today I know that if I treat myself to a power nap of no more than 30 minutes - and it really never takes longer - I will achieve a much better effect. Whenever possible, I try to take this into account when planning my day.

Another observation is that there is a certain cereal flake mixture that our kids like to eat at home, which is not at all good for me personally. I feel like it, yes I can't think of a better description than “the oats sting me”. After that I am absolutely out of round, unfocused and irritable. Efficient work afterwards is simply out of the question. After making this observation more than once, I just don't eat this mixture anymore.

I also try to avoid heavy, fatty foods, as experience has shown that they make me lazy, lazy and lackluster. I fall on the couch and even really cool, exciting projects can't get me out of this state. I think that's a shame and my lifetime is now too precious for that.

In our brain everything is so ingeniously networked and especially smells and tastes can very quickly bring all archived feelings (for better and for worse) to life. For example, when my grandmother-in-law makes a vegetable soup, the one of my grandmother's (unfortunately deceased) tastes very similar. I think of her immediately and remember how I sat in her kitchen as a child and spooned the warm soup in her presence.

Intuitive eating is trendy. Does it really make sense to rely on one's intuition when it comes to food or does it make more sense to orientate oneself on a nutrition plan?

Personally, I am a big advocate of mindful and conscious eating. The switch from a more cerebral approach to feeling for yourself is certainly not an easy one, but I find this path to be very worthwhile - especially in the long term. For example, I would otherwise still use the muesli flake mixture that is unfavorable for me today.

In my opinion, nutrition plans are therefore not generally bad or cannot be integrated into an intuitive eating style. It depends on how detailed and comprehensively these are worked out. There is room for maneuver - depending on your personality. And a certain amount of purchasing planning - depending on the nature of the surrounding infrastructure - may not be completely avoidable anyway.

In my experience, there are people who tend to struggle with “plans”. I myself also count myself more among those who tend to spontaneously redesign a plan due to a “flash of inspiration”. But there are also people who feel more comfortable in everyday life when they can work off a kind of to-do list.

When I was able to resume work with my groups after the first lockdown and we exchanged ideas about the time and how we fared during this time, one participant surprised us with her realization that she hadn't felt like shopping, cooking and eating for a long time as good as it was in lockdown. Her children had moved to her country for the duration of the lockdown. A daughter has taken over the menu planning and drawn up the corresponding shopping list. All she had to do was take the list and do the shopping and cook the menu accordingly.

The “what” can of course not be determined by gut instinct, but the “how much” and “what of” and also the “when”.

In a world in which time is becoming the most precious resource, creative approaches often emerge to simplify everyday life. Meal planning seems to be an essential point.

A client told me that they had a 10 day plan in the family, which was repeated over and over again. If a balanced diet is guaranteed even in challenging times and the family can avoid additional stress in this way - why not. Especially since numerous studies now point to the negative effects of stress on body weight and intestinal health, among other things.

Personally, however, I would miss the variety and enjoyment would definitely be neglected. But we humans are certainly very, very different. 😉

When should you seek help to change your lifestyle?

People usually seek help when their personal level of suffering has exceeded a certain level. Unfortunately, the unfavorable lifestyle has often left its mark. Earlier would therefore be better - but then there is often still a lack of recognition of a sense for a change in behavior. Everything is still good. It reminds me of an article I read today. A pilot who currently has to earn money elsewhere due to Corona. He would love to fly again and remembers - almost ashamed - of times when he complained about his flight times. The current time invites you to rethink, to become aware of what really counts in life.

We thank you for the valuable input from Evelyn Obermaier. If you want to find out more about her and her work, you should visit her homepage directly, where you can find all further contact options and information. Such an exciting and important topic! We hope that you liked the article and that you were able to take a tip or two with you!