Breaking bad habits can be hard.

Whether your bad habits are directly related to eating or just other lifestyle habits that are hurting you, it’s challenging to change a behavior that you are so used to doing – especially when it comes to eating and working out. However, every day is a new opportunity for you to choose to make a change for the better or to continue in your bad habits. This is where it’s really beneficial to celebrate small changes.

Don’t expect your bad habits to disappear overnight – that’s just setting you up for disappointment. Just focus on one day at a time, easing your way into making healthier choices. Before you can change bad habits for good ones, you’ll have to recognize that you are up against several obstacles.

Your bad habits have been around for a long time.

First, it’s highly likely that you’ve been engaging in your bad habits for a long time. Perhaps you learned early in life to avoid vegetables and, as a result, you continue to do so. Maybe you hated gym in middle school so you avoid any kind of workout as an adult. Whatever the habit or the reason for the habit, know that you have an uphill battle to change your behavior, but IT IS ACHIEVABLE.

Your bad habits are easy and convenient.

Most people tend to make choices based on their ease and convenience, rather than focusing on what’s best for them. For example, choosing the elevator over that stairs, driving instead of walking, ordering take-out rather than cooking… Not surprisingly, unhealthy choices can save us lots of time and require less physical and mental effort than their healthy counterparts. However, in the long run your health will suffer.

Your bad habits have a certain appeal to them.

It makes sense that most of us enjoy chocolate more than apples; it’s sweeter and it makes us feel good. I don’t know one person who would want to get up for a morning run when they can hit the snooze button and get more sleep. But, for every bad habit that has a payoff, there are good ones that offer much more. Lower cholesterol, lower BMI, increased energy, longevity; those are some of the payoffs for a healthier lifestyle. Overcoming unhealthy habits is a hard road if you’re just relying on willpower alone. However, the science of changing your habits provides us with more effective ways to go about removing unhealthy routines for good.

Here are 4 common unhealthy habits and how applied science can work for us.

1) Bad Habit: Eating on the Go

How often do you eat in your car? Or made a stop at a convenience store to grab a ‘snack’? It’s very challenging to pick up healthy food on the go and even more challenging to eat it mindfully. Usually, it just gets scarfed down without paying any attention or getting any real satisfaction of out it.

Fix it! There are ways that you can fight the trap of choosing convenience over health. One way to do it is to pack some snacks for the road. If you have healthy options available like apples, carrots, almonds, granola bars, water… you’ll be less likely to stop for fast food. At home, stay ahead of a busy week by making meals ahead of time on the weekend and just reheating them when you get home for the day.

2) Bad Habit: Missing Workouts

Exercise is important and ranks right up there with healthy eating as a tool to achieve lasting wellness and weight loss. Sure, there’s a bit of planning necessary to eat right and exercise, but both are beneficial and only one is going to help you develop your cardio fitness, endurance and strength. (Hint: it’s not eating right.) If you find yourself falling behind in workouts, don’t rely solely on willpower to get back into things. Having a workout buddy can help you get to the gym and keep you motivated when you’re lacking in self motivation.

Fix it! You are missing workouts for a few key reasons:

1) you are bored with your workout routine and/or;
2) you haven’t developed the habit of working out consistently.

In both cases, an workout partner or fitness professional can help you with fun, new workouts, motivation and accountability. If you’re bored with exercise, it’s really motivate yourself to do it. Instead of forcing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy, find a workout that you do enjoy. Take a new class, take it outside, or take up a new support system.

Whether it’s a buddy or a fitness trainer, both are going to inject some fun into your routine. Like I said above, it’s much easier to motivate yourself and establish a good workout habit when you are enjoying what you are doing. Other techniques that help are setting small goals, tracking your progress and keeping reminders of benchmarks you achieve.

3) Bad Habit: Mindless or Emotional Munching

It’s no secret that people enjoy food for many more reasons than just our nutritional needs. It tastes good, it’s fun, it’s comforting… and it’s easy to overdo it when you’re sitting comfortably on your couch, kicking back and watching tv. However, what you may not realize is that this can become a habit if you’re not careful. And many times there is a pattern of emotional or other triggers that may cause you to munch mindlessly. Whatever the reason, the habit of mindless eating is almost subconscious and can be difficult to beat.

Fit it! This can be one of the harder habits to break, but it is doable! Here are several ideas to try. The first thing to do is turn off TV when you are eating. The TV is probably the number one distraction for eating mindfully. Keeping a food journal will also help fix this bad habit. Make note of your food/mood triggers as they happen and pinpoint what feeling is causing the current craving. Then, instead of feeding the craving, you can work on the emotion you are feeling. Don’t tempt yourself by keeping trigger foods in the home. Set small goals to reach before rewarding yourself with a favorite snack (in moderation). Adding a payoff can help you avoid relapsing into bad habits. Also, you can begin establishing a pattern of distracting yourself with another behavior for those times when you feel the urge to munch. Writing, cleaning, walking, calling a friend… any kind of movement can be a great alternative to eating mindlessly.

4) Bad Habit: Not getting enough sleep

The early bird gets the worm, but lack of sleep doesn’t help anyone in the long run. Sleep is essential to many daily functions, so how can you correct the bad habit of too little sleep?

Fix it! Sleeping patterns are hard to break simply because they usually have been long established. For that reason, you need to start small in order to change your behavior. This requires going back to basics: set up a bedtime routine and stick with it. Brush your teeth, wash your face, read a little, or just relax with the TV off. Cut out watching the TV or using the computer later because it can make getting to sleep more difficult. And, take the TV out of the bedroom so you can get used to using your bedroom for rest and relaxation. Breathing relaxation techniques like meditation can be very helpful to induce a good night’s sleep Aim to get to bed extra five to ten minutes early. After a day or two, increase that time by another five to ten minutes. Before you know it, you’ll be caught on rest.

How to Establish New, Healthier Habits

When trying to break bad habits, for every one you work on, replace it with a good habit. Use tips above to help you build new, healthier habits and make them stick. Here a few more ideas to help you along as well.

Practice, practice, practice. Set a small, steady goals. Those goals can be how many miles you’re going to bike, how many laps you’re going to swim, how much fruit you’re going to eat, and how many healthy meals you’re going to cook. You will find your rhythm and stick with it.

Make healthy choices easier and more convenient. Plan ahead, know your goals and stick with them. Reward yourself as you meet your goals. Setting goals is the easy part. Reaching them takes work. And rewarding yourself for all your effort is the most fun part of it all.