Updated: Nov 29, 2022
Much of what I do as a Naturopathic Doctor involves teaching patients about making lifestyle changes that will improve their health and longevity. Getting people to change habits is a difficult business to be in though, which has led me to explore what it takes to form a habit.
Forming habits starts with consciously thinking about every necessary behavior until the behavior eventually becomes automatic or second nature. The process can be summarized into the four stages outlined below. Using the example of transitioning to a low carbohydrate diet, we will analyze how a habit is formed.
Many people go through life eating a modern standard diet that consists of a high intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates without understanding how what they eat impacts their body. This is termed eating in an “unconsciously incorrect” manner.
Many people have learned that eating this way is actually not ideal for their health, at which time they transition to “consciously incorrect” behaviour. They realize that drinking a Coke and eating cookies is not good for them despite still eating these foods.
Some people go one step further and deliberately make corrections to their behavior – by removing simple carbohydrates and sugar from their diet. This requires great effort and unfortunately is where most people get stuck. This stage is uncomfortable and can be frustrating. It is not uncommon for people to even be ridiculed by friends and family for making these changes. As a result, most turn back to consciously incorrect eating with brief periods of revisiting consciously correct eating.
A select few continue on to develop the habit of eating correctly without deliberate thought or action required. Only a few people reach this final stage of unconsciously correct eating because it takes a lot of time and effort.
With today’s food environment, it makes the process of unconsciously correct eating that much more difficult to adopt. “Default” eating nowadays consists of consuming high amounts of sugar, grains, and highly refined carbohydrates, which puts most people at serious risk of metabolic disease. Without a better food environment that supports easy and affordable access to the right foods, it’s up to the individual to undergo the difficult process of forming consciously correct habits.
The following is a great quote by Peter Attia, MD, on motivating yourself to continue to work on developing healthy habits:
“If you find yourself feeling frustrated at how difficult it is to get from consciously eating well to unconsciously eating well, remember that you are on a journey. If you are consistent and patient, if you remind yourself that you are embarking on a journey to change your life and not a short-term fix to look good in a bathing suit next month, you will embrace the right mindset to find the ‘sweet’ spot of unconsciously correct eating.”
While the example provided above pertains to eating, it can also be applied to other aspects of our life, including improving stress management, sleep, and exercise habits.
Looking for guidance on making changes to old habits? Check the Contact Info page and book an appointment with me!