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“Chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken” – Warren Buffett
Has the festive season caught up with you? Are you experiencing any of the following symptoms - low energy, low mood, digestive discomfort, bloating? Nowadays more and more people are using January for a detox, but we want to provide you with the tools to be the best version of yourself all year round and help you make lifestyle changes that you can continue with.
We all have hectic lives and quite often find it difficult to prioritise our health and wellbeing, making New Year’s resolutions and then quickly falling back into old habits that aren’t beneficial for us. Additionally, with a common crash diet your body uses a protective mechanism and slows down your metabolism. Consequently, when returning to your normal diet, there can often be a rebound effect which causes an even larger increase in weight.
Everyone knows the fundamentals of how to be healthy – eat more vegetables, drink enough water, sleep well, reduce stress, move your body, and stop smoking. But how can you implement these into your daily routine and create long-lasting habits?
The habit loop starts with a cue, the trigger from the environment that tells your brain to go into autopilot. Next is the routine, the action taken after the cue and lastly is a reward which fulfils a craving in your brain. For example, sitting in front of the TV every day after dinner and snacking on chocolates.
Once a habit loop is identified, it becomes much easier to plan on how to change the habit. In today’s society, habits have become reactionary; for example when you wake up feeling unrefreshed, you usually reach for caffeine.
Some simple tips to make breaking a habit easier:
Dopamine is the key neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) involved in craving reward and is also strongly linked to memory, learning and emotion. Food, being essential for survival, is a primary stimulus that can activate rewarding brain circuits through taste, smell and sight.[i] Foods high in sugar and fat are potent rewards and promote eating, even if you’re not hungry. Imagine yourself doing the following experiment: first, try to eat two tablespoons of sugar on its own, next try to eat a large amount of double cream on its own – you are likely to struggle with both. Lastly, try to combine both together (into whipped cream) and eat it – easy? The combination of high fat and high sugar creates a spike in dopamine activity which fills us with a pleasurable sensation, promopting us to reach for those foods more often, which can drive a cycle of overeating.
With repeated exposure to this food reward, the dopamine response adjusts and makes a deeper association with it. For example, even the smell can be a sign of an imminent reward and become a cue.[ii]
Palatability is a major factor controlling feeding behaviour.[iii] Synthetic flavours, found in processed food, not only break the connection between flavour and nutrition, they also set false expectations. Flavour technology fools our brains into experiencing heightened levels of pleasure, increasing dopamine,[iv] without the nutritional benefits.
So what can you do to stimulate dopamine and provide reward in a healthy way? Some activities that can stimulate dopamine include:
Creating a habit is key to making a change last and habits are formed through context dependant repetition.
There are three basic ingredients for effective self-control – a clear goal, monitoring and willpower. Relying on your willpower alone makes you less likely to achieve your intentions and yet it is precisely what we do when we are trying to create new habits.
Research shows that blood glucose levels are an important part of the energy source of self-control. Every time we exert willpower our glucose levels drop, impairing subsequent attempts at self-control.[xi] So are we bound to fail? Our nutrient status could also play a role here, for example, chromium is important in blood sugar regulation and low levels of B vitamins can reduce energy levels, making it harder to exert willpower.
Failures in self-control are more likely when blood glucose levels are low or can’t be mobilised effectively to the brain (i.e. insulin resistance).[xii] Initially, to help regulate your blood sugar levels, you could reduce carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates, ensure you are eating protein with every meal, and eat regular, small meals. When things are better controlled you could consider intermittent fasting, which can help with insulin sensitivity.[xiii] Intermittent fasting involves going for extended periods of time without eating and ideally trying to keep your eating window to an eight hour period. This is only recommended under the care of a registered health professional.
As creating new habits can often be challenging, some general supplements can support you on your journey:
Finally, remember that even just making one change and turning that into a success, can lead to a positive ripple effect, automatically reinforcing changes in other areas. If you would like more tailored support please do not hesitate to contact our Clinical Nutrition team on 0121 433 8702 or email@example.com.
The brand you can talk to:
We have a team of friendly Nutritionists at the end of our advice line, open to you, for free expert health and product advice (5 days a week). 0121 433 8702 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or head to our advice page where you can find Healthnotes.
[i] Bassareo and Gambarana. Editorial: Food and its effect on the brain: from physiological to compulsive consumption. Front Psychiatry. 2019; 10:209
[ii] Volkow ND et al. Reward, dopamine and the control of food intake: implications for obesity. Trends Cogn Sci. 2011; 15(1):37-46
[iii] Yeomans MR et al. Palatability: response to nutritional need or need-free stimulation of appetite? Br J Nutr. 2004; 92 Suppl 1: S3-14
[iv] McCutcheon JE. The role of dopamine in the pursuit of nutritional value. Pyhsiol Behav. 2015; 152(Pt B): 408-15
[v] Kaasinin V and Vahlberg T. Striatal dopamine in Parkinson Disease: A meta-analysis of imaging studies. Ann Neurol. 2017; 82(6): 873-882
[vi] Frank S et al. Dopamine depletion reduces food-related reward activity independent of BMI. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016; 41(6): 1551-9
[vii] Neal DT et al. The pull of the past: when do habits persist despite conflict with motives? Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2011; 37(11): 1428-37
[viii] Tsuchida Y et al. Effects of a late supper on digestion and the absorption of dietary carbohydrates in the following morning. J Physiol Anthropol. 2013; 32(1): 9
[ix] St-Onge MP et al. Sleep and meal timing influence food intake and its hormonal regulation in healthy adults with overweight/obesity. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2019; 72(Suppl 1): 76-82
[x] Pirolli P et al. Implementation intention and reminder effects on behaviour change in a mobile health system: A predictive cognitive model. J Med Internet Res. 2017; 19(11): e397
[xi] Gailliot MT et al. Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: willpower is more than a metaphor. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2007; 92(2): 325-36
[xii] Gailliot MT and Baumeister RF. The physiology of willpower: linking blood glucose to self-control. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2007; 11(4): 303-27
[xiii] Halberg N et al. Effect of intermittent fasting and refeeding on insulin activity in healthy men. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005; 99(6): 2128-36
[xiv] Crovesy L et al. Effect of Lactobacillus on body weight and body fat in overweight subjects: a systemic review of randomized controlled clinical trials. Int J Obes (Lond). 2017; 41(11): 1607-1614
[xv] Healy-Stoffel M and Levant B. N-3 (omega-3) fatty acids: Effects on brain dopamine systems and potential role in the etiology and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. 2018; 17(3): 216-232
[xvi]. E Z. Vitamin C, Pain and Opioid Use Disorder. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2020;19(3). Accessed December 15, 2020.
[xvii]. Jin S, Sha L, Dong J, et al. Effects of Nutritional Strategies on Glucose Homeostasis in Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis. J Diabetes Res. 2020;2020. doi:10.1155/2020/6062478
[xvii] Penckofer S, Kouba J, Byrn M, Estwing Ferrans C. Vitamin D and depression: Where is all the sunshine. Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2010;31(6):385-393. doi:10.3109/01612840903437657