Habituation is a great way to get comfortable with intuitive eating. When we try to get control over our eating we often cut out and remove ourselves from certain foods. The temptations of specific foods are all too familiar. We know that bingeing is the natural consequence of restriction and cutting out foods often leads to increased cravings for them. This is where food habituation comes in.

What is Habituation?
Habituation is the process by which we get accustomed to a repeated stimulus and find ourselves responding to it less. For instance we might find ourselves initially distracted by the neighbour mowing the lawn. Overtime we get used to the sound and our mind cuts it out. It works the same with smell, sight, touch, taste and any other sense. With continued stimulus we get used to it and the mind focuses less on it.

How does Habituation help with diet?

By becoming habituated to foods, the novelty thereof wears off. Naturally, this is a great way to reduce the strong appeal of problem foods and eat less of them. Habituation doesn’t make us feel negatively towards food. What it does is normalise a food, making us feel neutral towards it.

By regularly eating the same foods we realise that that particular food is not as exciting. We are still able to enjoy the food but we no longer constantly crave or strongly look forward to eating it.

Think of a meal or snack that was really great that was really looked forward to. The next morning it is unlikely that we’ll want to eat that same thing again. It does not mean we no longer enjoy it or won’t enjoy it in future, but rather we want something else for the moment.

By not avoiding troublesome food, we want to expand the type of food we crave and enjoy. Through this we learn that we can eat whatever we want (in moderation) without the fear of getting hooked on a particular food.

How to start implementing Habituation

Don’t start too big. Choose one problem food or snack that, preferably not the most triggering food. Stock one packet/portion and go from there.

Eat around others. Many people hide the foods they are ashamed of eating. For some of us it can be difficult to eat around other people. Eating around others normalises the food and makes us less likely to binge.

Eat at the right times. Try eating these foods at times that we are less likely to binge. The more we get used to eating the problem food without bingeing, the more likely we are to stick with the habituation process.

Pair the trigger/trouble foods with other foods. Habituation is about normalising triggering foods. By pairing trouble foods with normal, safe foods we can begin viewing them as the same.

Remember that as you start including ‘fun foods’ that were previously off limits, you might initially feel like you are ‘over-doing’ it. This often is a part of the process, deal with yourself with compassion. Remember to listen to your body and stop when you are comfortably full and tomorrow you can eat that same item again. The big thing to remember is that as you allow yourself to unconditionally enjoy that food, the need to binge on it or overdo it diminishes.

Contact a dietician to help. It can be tough to make these changes on our own. The support and guidance of a professional create a greater likelihood of success.

Getting familiar and comfortable with the foods we fear is the best way to beat them. Remove the temptation of binge foods and rediscover the food we love. It’s a process that has long lasting effects. Contact us for help with diet advice and planning.