How to Break a Bad Habit

Charles Duhigg, author of the book “The Power of Habit”  identifies a habit as

Habit – a behavior that starts as a choice, and then becomes a nearly unconscious pattern.

The purpose of a habit is for your brain to work less.  Think about the first time you drove a car: you had to adjust your seat, figure out how to turn the car on, determine the amount of force needed to push the gas or break, adjust your mirrors, and so on.  Those behaviors have now become a habit.

So how are habits formed? Habits are formed by something called a “habit loop.” Habit loops consist of a cue, a routine, and a reward. A cue triggers the brain to act automatically, a routine is a behavior or thought, and a reward is the immediate benefit that comes from the routine.


Take for example: late night snacking. You want to cut back on late night snacking but it has been impossible to achieve so far.  Let’s think about your habit loop. Your cue may be turning the TV on, your routine is grabbing a snack, and your reward is relaxation from your busy work day.  From turning the TV on through sitting on the couch, you may not even realize what you have done until you are halfway through your show and half way through your chip bag.  That is because you have created a habit loop.

CUE (TV) —> ROUTINE (Snacking) —> REWARD (Relaxation)


Is changing a habit possible? Yes! It is not easy, but it is possible. The same goes for forming a new habit.  Let’s tackle changing a habit first.

Changing a habit

In order to change your late night snacking habit, first you must acknowledge it.  Call it out for what it is. This behavior at night after a long day of work is not decision-based but strictly done out of habit. In fact, a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that

more than 40% of the actions people perform in one day are because of habits, not actual decisions.

You may never be able to extinguish bad habits but you can change the habit loop by inserting a new routine.  Instead of grabbing a snack when you turn the TV on, grab a crossword puzzle, an adult coloring book or scroll through a motivation app on your phone. This new routine should be triggered by the old cue and deliver the old reward. So the new habit loop would look like this:

CUE (TV) —> ROUTINE (Crossword Puzzle) —> REWARD (Relaxation)

As always, the dietitians at Yummy Body Nutrition would love to work with you and help you throughout this habit forming, habit re-adjusting, goal-setting process! 

Prediabetes: A Complete Guide. Jill Weisenberger.
The Power of Habit. Charles Duhigg.