How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?

We all want to be healthier. Making better food choices is a big part of that but changing the way we eat is hard. How long does it take to change a habit?

How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?
How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?

So you’ve started on a journey to change your ways.  You’ve decided to be healthier, eat better, ditch the take out and cook your own healthy meals at home.  It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s harder than you thought it would be.

It takes longer than you thought to research meal plans, find what you want in the grocery store, to prep and put together your meals every day.  And, unfortunately, you’re still craving your favorite frozen pizza.  It’s enough to send any (previously) sane person, screaming, to the nearest drive-thru.

Now, I know you’ve heard this before but it takes time to feel comfortable after making changes to your life, especially big ones.  But how long do we have to wait for this to get easier?  How long does it take to change a habit?

First, let’s break down some of the specific reasons we’re having problems.

How to Create a Healthy Meal Plan

Create a Healthy Meal Plan
Create a Healthy Meal Plan

Creating a meal plan seems like a chore at first, especially for those of us who are used to flying by the seat of our pants in regard to mealtime.  Who has time to find recipes, write out a menu and set up a shopping list for the next couple of weeks??  How would you even know what you’ll want to eat all those days in advance???

Ok, just calm down.  This process is completely malleable.  I’ll tell you right up front that I can’t plan my meals more than a few days ahead of time, either. But what I often do is keep an eye out for recipes online.  When I find something that I’d like to try, I print out the recipe or email it to myself.  This gives me plenty of ideas of what I’d like to try sometime in the future.  If you join the email lists at a few sites, they send the recipes to you!

If the ingredients in a recipe are shelf-stable, freezable or have a relatively long refrigerator life span, I’ll buy them on my next shopping trip so I can have them on hand when I’m ready to make it.  This is a form of meal plan because I already have the recipes and ingredients when I’m ready to cook.

Now for the shopping list.  I have a notes app on my phone (I’m sure you have one as well) so I keep a running shopping list.  If I need something or want to acquire ingredients for a particular meal, I just whip out my phone and add to the list.  When I buy something, I just remove that item from the list.

Sounds easy enough but now you have to face the grocery store.  When I first started on this journey, you can be sure that I knew where they kept the hot dogs and frozen dinners but where the heck are pine nuts?   It’s true that it will take you a little bit longer on your first few trips but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.  Remember that it’s ok to ask for directions!

For more tips on this subject, check out this article!

Prep. Cook. Repeat.

I love to cook.  I am often at my happiest when I can spend the afternoon creating a complex meal for myself and/or other people.  I understand that not everyone loves (or even likes) to cook and that’s something I can understand on a certain level.

For me, cooking is an undertaking, a project.  I do not enjoy feeling rushed or pressured when I’m cooking and I don’t like to cook when I’m feeling tired after a long day.  And, let’s face it…I usually don’t have an entire afternoon free to make a meal.  So, in that respect, I often don’t like to cook.  But I still gotta eat so what’s a girl to do?

The first thing to do is check your local supermarket.  These businesses recognize the increasing desire of their customers to eat healthy, whole foods while having increasingly less time to spend cooking.

I’m happy to say that they’ve stepped up to the plate by offering a large selection of items that are prepared and/or ready for cooking.  This includes produce that is peeled and cut into various shapes and sizes, both in the produce department and the frozen section.

Check out the meat and frozen food aisles to find proteins that are already deboned, ground or sliced.  Other areas can supply you with sliced or grated cheese, hard-boiled eggs, chopped nuts and many other things to reduce your time in the kitchen.

Another thing I do is take advantage of the opportunities I do have to cook.  Most dishes will last in the fridge for up to 5 days and can also be frozen in serving-sized portions for a minimum of 3 months, sometimes longer.  This means I can make extra portions and eat them throughout the week or freeze them for later.  Here are some additional thoughts on this subject!

But Wait…I Still Want Pizza

I Still Want Pizza
I Still Want Pizza

You’re eating healthy and you should feel better, right?  You should be enjoying the benefits of fresh food and craving some more of that awesome, nutritious stuff that your body needs…except you’re actually dying for a drive-thru sandwich.

You know you shouldn’t.  It’s unhealthy and it’s detrimental to what you’re trying to achieve. It doesn’t even taste that good.  And yet, here you are.  You could be in line right now, waiting for your turn to get one of those nuggets of death and berating yourself for being so weak.

Take it down a notch, ok?  It’s not your fault.

Manufacturers have discovered how to use a precise combination of sugar, salt and fat to virtually ensure our overconsumption of the foods they’re pushing. This concoction lights up the pleasure centers in the brain, creating a euphoria that compels us to want more.

It’s so powerful that it’s been compared to cocaine. Yes, you heard me right. Check out these findings put together by Yale University.

The good news?  The longer you hold out, the weaker that compulsion will be.

How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?

How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?
How Long Does It Take To Change A Habit?

This brings us back to the original question.  How long does it take to change a habit?

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to that question.  According to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes between 18 to 254 days and about 66 days for it to become automatic.

Why the wide margin?  Because habits are diverse and affect our lives in different ways.

When you get in your car, you most likely put on your seatbelt without even giving it a thought.  You probably don’t remember struggling to form that habit, it was just something that became a muscle memory after doing it over and over.  Why?  Because, although you know that it could potentially save your life, the seatbelt doesn’t connect with you emotionally.

How about that time you cut your finger with a knife?  I’ll bet it didn’t take you long to form the habit of keeping your fingers out of the way while you’re cutting potatoes.

Food is a different situation altogether.  Eating food gives us pleasure for many different reasons.

We need food to live and so we’re naturally drawn to it.  We also enjoy the different flavors and mouthfeels of these foods as well as the satisfaction of being full.  And nothing compares to the camaraderie of sitting down with our friends and loved ones for a good meal.  Our attitude toward food is wound tightly with tradition, emotion and physical need.

What we eat is a habit that’s much more difficult to change but it can be done.

Here’s my take on the situation.  This is a journey, not a race. You can’t change your entire diet overnight.  Maybe not in 6 months.  Maybe not even in a year.  All you can do is begin.

Ask yourself what you’re willing to change right now.  Maybe you’ll decide to make a smoothie for breakfast tomorrow.  Or trade the takeout one day this week for a super quick and easy tomato and shrimp salad.  Once you’re comfortable with that, maybe you’d like to change something else.

The Best Time Is Now

The Best Time Is Now
The Best Time Is Now

The most important thing to remember is to always be kind to yourself.  There will be hiccups and backslides.  I’ve been at this now for over 4 years and I still have a relapse from time to time. But I’m miles ahead of where I began.  That’s what matters.

So go ahead and get started.  The best time is now.

What’s the first change you plan to make?  Let me know in the comments below!

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

Saving Money On Food – 13 Ways To Slash Your Grocery Bill

Do you find yourself spending more than you wanted to on groceries? Here are a few tips for saving money on food – 13 ways to slash your grocery bill!

Saving Money On Food
Saving Money On Food

Here you are in the checkout line of your local grocery store. Do you watch in horror as the numbers on the display register go up and up…and up? How many times have you cringed when the cashier announced your total? Yup. Me, too.

How did this happen? You just went in for a couple of items and now you’re wondering how to adjust your monthly budget to account for this comestible catastrophe. Well, this episode may be water under the bridge but let’s look ahead and talk about saving money on food the next time you go shopping.

With some planning and critical thinking, there are ways to slash your grocery bill!

Have A Game Plan

Have a Game Plan
Have a Game Plan

First, I’ll say this: All that money you just (over)spent? Not entirely your fault. Grocery stores pay people to come up with ways to entice you to spend as much as they can entice you to spend. The store set-up, end cap displays, lighting, colors, shopping carts, the yummy smells? All part of their diabolical plan to make you spend more. There are 2 important things you can do to overcome this psychological warfare before you even leave your house!

Make a meal plan: This isn’t as hard as it seems. What are you having for dinner tonight? Why not double it and have the rest for lunch tomorrow? Two meals down. Maybe grab some oatmeal, raisins and yogurt for overnight oats or granola parfaits to take to work for breakfast this week? Now you’re down 7 meals. That’s ⅓ of your entire meal plan and it just took a minute. See how easy that was?

Make a shopping list: Now, use that meal plan to make your shopping list. I’m going to assume you’ll be shopping in the same store that you always do, so, with that in mind, set up your shopping list in the order that you’ll be walking the store. Does the entrance lead you to the produce section first? List all your produce items first, then (for example) all your meat items followed by the dairy items.

Once you hit the aisles of the store, group items together that will probably be in the same section (all the spices together, all the baking items together, etc.) This will prevent you from backtracking and being further tempted by all those sneaky displays!

Into The Fray

Into The Fray
Into The Fray

Stay In Your Own Lane: No unplanned off-ramps. No side trips down aisles “just to check it out”. Stick to the store perimeter and only enter the aisles that have items you planned to buy.

Stick to your list: Do it like it’s your job. No unauthorized purchases, no maybe-I-can-use-its, no gosh-that-looks-goods. Keep your eyes forward and only stop for the things on your list.

… Unless you don’t stick to your list: OK, so there’s that Manager’s Special on chicken. That really good special. Riddle me this: Do you eat chicken? A lot? Can you break that package down into smaller portions for storage? Do you have room in your freezer? Can afford to spend the extra money this week? If you can answer “yes” to every single question, then go ahead and pick up a package.

Stick To The Basics

Stick To The Basics
Stick To The Basics

Learn to read the shelf tags: These tags help you to discern the true value of an item compared to another by breaking down the cost per unit (such as ounce, pound or individual item). Once you know how to do this, you’ll be able to find the best value for your dollar.

Do your own prep work: Food in its most unprocessed form is always less expensive than pre-cut or prepared items. A few examples of this are:

  • Whole carrots compared to baby carrots or matchstick
  • A whole roast compared to steaks or stew meat*
  • A block of cheese compared to pre-sliced or shredded cheese

Doing your own prep work does take more time, but I find that it’s easier to just do it all when I get home from the store. Some like to set aside some time on their day off for all the prep work for the week while others prefer to just prep for the meal that they’re cooking. You can play around with different methods until you find one that works for you!

*I’m not going to discuss edible yield in regard to meats here as I find the bone-in/boneless argument is usually more of a personal choice than a cost point.

Size doesn’t matter: Bigger is not always less expensive. Use the shelf tag to determine which size is truly the best value.

Buy generic: Many lesser-known brands are a better value than the Big Guys. Make sure to read the ingredient and nutrition labels to make sure it’s as high quality as the name brand.

Put down the frozen french fries: For real. Just do it. Put back those individual packets of flavored oatmeal while you’re at it. These two items, on average, cost twice as much per unit as their unprocessed counterparts (fresh potatoes and old-fashioned rolled oats). That’s true of most convenience foods. The truth is that it doesn’t take much more time to make these items fresh.

Ban Junk Food

Ban Junk Food
Ban Junk Food

The average American spends almost 25% of their grocery budget on processed, convenience, pre-made and snack foods. Don’t believe me? Dig out your last grocery receipt and add it up. I’m positive it’s more than you think it is.

Ask yourself how much of that food was eaten mindlessly. It’s easy to prepare (if it needs any preparation at all) so it’s easy to just grab some to chow down while you’re watching TV or working on your computer. Seriously, when was the last time you wondered why there were only crumbs in the bottom of the chip bag? And did you really eat all of the microwavable pizza nuggets?

Now ask yourself if you’re really going to spend that much money on things you didn’t even enjoy eating. Surely if you had enjoyed them, you would have remembered actually eating them. Think of how much you’re going to enjoy keeping all that money right in your bank account from now on!

OK, yes, you’re gonna want cookies. These no-bake cookies come together in less than 15 minutes for about $3.50, which is less than ½ the price of buying the same amount of the same cookies pre-made.

I found some other great ideas in this post from honestfoods.com.

Go Forth And Conquer

Go Forth And Conquer
Go Forth And Conquer

Be bold. Be unafraid. Get out there and go shopping. You’ve got this.

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

 

Shopping for one person – 12 of Your Questions Answered

Shopping for one person. It should be easy, right? Then why is it so hard? Let’s get to the bottom of it with answers to 12 grocery shopping questions!

Shopping for one person
Shopping for one person

Shopping for one person may seem easy in theory. After all, it’s just you, right? And you know what you like, right? Right?

Then why does it seem so hard once you get behind the wheel of that shopping cart?

You know like chicken but the choices seem overwhelming. Whole chicken? Half? Wing, thigh, breast, ground, bone in, bone out? With rice or potatoes, stuffed, in a salad, on a sandwich? Hot? Cold? Gravy? No? Do you even have the stuff at home to make any of these dishes?

Relax for a few minutes while I do my best to get 12 most common of
your questions answered.

How Do I Buy Groceries For One Person?

How Do I Buy Groceries For One Person?
How Do I Buy Groceries For One Person?

What is a basic grocery list?

This is what I would consider to be a basic list of thing you will want in your kitchen:

  • Meat, poultry, seafood and tofu
  • Grains such as pasta, oatmeal, flour
  • Cooking oils and butter
  • Dairy such as milk, yogurt and cheese or nut based alternatives
  • Garlic
  • Fresh and/or frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Canned tomatoes and/or sauce (no preservatives added)
  • Dried fruits such as raisins and cranberries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peanut butter
  • Eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chicken or vegetable stock/cubes (no preservatives added)
  • Honey
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Sugar

Exactly what you decide to get is up to you but use this as a general guideline. Buy only those things you like to eat and know how to use/prepare (unless you’re trying a new recipe, which I encourage wholeheartedly).

Condiments and spices can be expensive to buy all at once so I suggest that you buy them as you go along. In other words, only buy the condiments and spices you will need for this weeks (or months) meal plan. Eventually, you will find that you have a supply of everything you need!

How Can I Simplify Grocery Shopping?

How Can I Simplify Grocery Shopping?
How Can I Simplify Grocery Shopping?

How Will I Know What To Buy?

Make a list. The easiest way to make sure you have a complete list when you hit the market is to make a meal plan for the period for which you’re shopping and list everything you’ll need for that plan (that you don’t already have).

Keep it running. Keep the list on your fridge (or your phone) and immediately add to it when you notice you’re low on something.

Check your budget. If it looks like you’re shopping is going to cost more than you had allotted, go back through your list to decide what you can put off until the next trip.

Organize your shopping list. Set up your list in the order you’ll be walking the store. Clump all your produce together, for example, and your meats. When you get to the aisle section of the store, try to group things together that would be in the same section such as condiments, spices, baking supplies, etc.

For more information on this subject, check out my article, “Shopping For One Person”.

How Often Should I Grocery Shop?

This is a completely personal choice and varies wildly. Much of it depends on a person’s access to a grocery store and how much he/she enjoys or can afford to shop. I have a friend who shops for her food daily (“How would I know what I want to eat tomorrow?”), while another views her bi-weekly curbside pickup as a blessing (because she never has to step foot in a grocery store ever again). Some will shop monthly due to fixed income schedules. The average person goes to the grocery store 1-2 times per week, which is how my schedule looks, but this decision is totally up to you.

When Is The Best Time To Go Food Shopping?

Early mornings before 9:00 am or evenings after 7:00 pm are typically the times that stores are the least crowded. The busiest time of day 3:00 pm to 7:00 pm due to school release and people getting out of work

How do I grocery shop on a budget?

How Do I Grocery Shop On A Budget?
How Do I Grocery Shop On A Budget?

 How much does food cost per month for one person?

The USDA publishes a monthly food plan which indicates that it costs between $165 and $345 a month to purchase a healthy variety of food for one person.

How much does the average person spend on groceries?

The amount varies wildly depending on gender, income, expenses, household size and the ratio of home cooking to pre-made, take out and restaurant dining. It’s important to have a food budget that coincides with your income and expenses.

How Do I Budget For Groceries?

In general, most people spend an average of 6% of their income on groceries and another 5% on pre-made, takeout or dining out. You can use this as a general guideline to see where you stack up against “the norm” but the amount you budget should reflect your eating habits as well as your ability to cover your other expenses.

If you’re concerned that you spend too much on groceries, try keeping your receipts for a month or two to track what you purchase, where and when. Are you spending too much money on items that could be scaled back? Are you making poor choices on certain days or times (for example after a long day at work?) Are you paying extra by buying single items at the convenience store each morning when those might be less expensive if bought ahead at the supermarket in larger packages?

What Can I Do If I Have No Money For Food?

What Can I Do If I Have No Money For Food?
What Can I Do If I Have No Money For Food?

Food pantries are a fabulous resource, whether you use them on a regular basis or just for those “lean times” caused by things like unexpected car repairs or reduced work hours. In many instances, it’s not necessary to prove income or need. Click here to find a list of food pantries in your area.

How Do I Eat Healthy On A Tight Budget?

Please read my article “How To Eat Well On A Budget” for some thoughts on how to get by when times are tough!

What are the cheapest meals to make at home?

Here is a list of the foods that will give you the most bang for your buck. Tasty, nutritious and inexpensive, these foods can be your safety net on those weeks when you check just isn’t stretching as far as you’d like it to!

  • Eggs
  • Rice
  • Dried or canned beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Pasta
  • Peanut butter
  • Oatmeal
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Potatoes
  • Canned tuna and salmon
  • Fresh Carrots
  • Fresh Onions
  • Bananas
  • Chicken or pork (look for sale prices!)
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese

What often happens when I’m in a spot is that I will find myself with a few random food items but I’ll have no way to tie them together into a meal. When that happens, I’ll do a recipe search on my computer. Seriously, just type in “tuna, rice, tomato” and see what comes up. I guarantee you have more options than you think you do!

Another thing to remember is that, once you get your supply built up, spices and condiments go a long way in jazzing up a couple of simple items. I have a number of recipes on this site that consist of just a few key ingredients paired with spices or condiments! Pork pie filling, Korean beef marinade and General Tso’s chicken are just a few examples.

Go Forth And Conquer

Go Forth And Conquer
Go Forth And Conquer

I hope these tips will help you put your next shopping trip in perspective. Now go forth and get some groceries! And please comment below if you have any tips you’d like to share.

All my best

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

 

 

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