You want your child to eat better, but it’s tough. No matter what you do, things seem to stay the same. Sometimes, things even get worse.
Changing someone’s eating habits is no easy task. (If it were, we’d all be stellar eaters.) And it takes more than information to move things along. Everyone knows the information about ice cream — it is sugar-laden and full of fat — but that doesn’t stop most of us from eating it! Or from giving it to our kids. We know the information about broccoli too, but…well, you know where I’m going.
The thing to remember about habits is that they don’t reside in our rational region: they’re automatic behaviors, triggered by a particular time, place or interaction. With habits, there’s no conscious decision-making. That’s why knowing the information about ice cream (note to self: ice cream isn’t healthy) doesn’t stop us from eating it. We see ice cream truck; we buy cone. It’s as simple as that.
Information can make you want to change a habit, but it’s not enough to make change happen.
Habits win out over conscious thought because they are easier (you don’t have to think about what you are going to do, you just do it) and because they deliver rewards. (Yes, sweet, creamy, chocolaty, delicious rewards!)
So if you want to change a habit, you have to
1) Decide on which habit you want to implement.
2) Disrupt the trigger/behavior connection.
3) Substitute the new behavior for the old one.
4) Make sure the new habit delivers rock star quality rewards that trump the old habit’s rewards.
5) Continue with steps 3 and 4 until a habit is formed.
The trickiest part in changing habits is figuring out what rewards are driving the whole shebang, and that’s not an easy proposition. Your kid isn’t the only one benefiting from the current eating system; you are too.
So come back next Monday to find out how exactly to disrupt a bad habit in your child and replace it with a good one. Hint: You’ll have to give up some of your “rewards” too. But we promise you’ll be scoring more gratifying ones instead!
~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~
Dina R. Rose, PhD, is a food sociologist and author of the blog and upcoming book itsnotaboutnutrition.com.