“Should I get a caramel apple crumble fritter with a sugar glaze or a cruller with a honey coating? The old fashioned glazed donuts look great today though. Really fresh. And I’d bet they would just melt in my mouth…”
These were my thoughts at 3 pm on work days. I had a seriously bad habit: donut addiction and this was my donut time.
Especially at 3 pm, when most office workers have a mental and physical slump.
- Extreme fatigue or lethargy
- Frequent yawning and/or feeling sleepy
- Craving for carbohydrates
- A headache or stomach ache
Apparently, our bodies are naturally designed to have a lull around 2 or 3 pm. This could explain why some cultures have a midday siesta.
So the choice was either a pillow or a donut.
It even got to the point where at 3 pm, the Tim Horton’s worker would see me coming and automatically say “Miss, let me check in the back for a fresh batch of honey crullers.”
However, after I started to really “work on my fitness”, it felt dumb to put in all this work pumping iron (LOL) and then seemingly counteract it with my daily bad habit of eating a high-fat, high-sugar and highly-delicious donut.
Something had to change
I recently read “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business” by Charles Duhigg. This book made me realize that my donut addiction (and subsequent donut detox) could be explained by a habit loop.
Habits start as deliberate choices. Over time, their loops become so ingrained that they become automatic.
Duhigg explains it as such:
Habit loops are made up of a cue, routine, and reward.
A cue triggers your brain to go into automatic mode. It tells your brain which habits to use.
For me, my cue was: Low blood sugar, tiredness, feeling overwhelmed at work
Next, comes routine. It can be physical, mental or emotional.
My routine was: get a tasty donut and a coffee
Lastly, reward, which tells your brain if the loop is worth remembering in the future.
My reward was: blood sugar spike, caffeine boost, time away from my desk.
This translates into: FEELING GOOD.
Every time that habit loop was activated, the habit became stronger until I wasn’t even thinking about it anymore. It became automatic that 3 pm = Donut Time.
But, as with most things in life, good things don’t last forever.
Enter 3:30 pm.
Donut is done. I have remnants of the sugar glaze on my lips. My fingers are a sticky mess. I’m feeling bad about myself. And worst of all, I’m hungry again because it was all empty calories.
Every day I would go through this roller coaster of feeling tired, to feeling on top of the world, to feeling more lethargic than before.
Time to enter Donut Rehab
As Charles Duhigg explains, the only way to change a habit is to understand its parts. Once I understood the parts of my donut habit loop, I was able to overcome it by targeting my usual cues, only this time, with a new routine.
Cue: Low blood sugar
Old routine: Eat a donut
New routine: Eat an apple
Reward: Blood sugar boost (without the crazy spike)
Cue: Feeling tired
Old routine: Buy a coffee
New routine: Make a coffee at the office
Reward: Caffeine boost (without the temptation of seeing Tim Horton’s display of tasty treats)
Cue: Feeling overwhelmed at work
Old routine: Get donut and coffee
New routine: Get up, stretch, chat with coworkers
Reward: Time away from the desk, come back with a clear head
At first, this new routine felt unnatural. I wondered if I would be able to keep it up. I also wondered if the Tim Horton’s worker missed me and was upset that I stopped visiting.
However, over time, this new routine has been gratifying. One thing I found interesting was that the craving for the actual donut went away so quickly. Perhaps, the reward had little to do with the donut but rather, it was more about having a break from work.
The Donut Test
A couple weeks later, a coworker brought in donuts one afternoon and of course, my old habit loop started lighting up. I gave in. Old habits die hard as they say. Who can resist rainbow sprinkles anyways?
Surprisingly though, the donut tasted sickeningly sweet! I was shocked at how quickly my taste buds had adjusted.
So what does this all mean for you?
Well, interestingly, if you’d like to tackle a bad habit, Duhigg actually suggests that you should start by continuing your habit loop as normal to take note of your cues. Once you understand those, you can start tackling them by implementing a new routine, which is what I did with my donut addiction.
He goes on to describe more features of habits. One is keystone habits, in which one habit causes a chain reaction of additional, often unintended, positive habits. He also describes the advantage of being part of a group that believes that positive change is possible.
I will cover both of these topics in a later post in which I describe how ridding myself of my donut addiction kicked off completely new eating habits for me.
Do any of you have a bad habit you are trying tackle?