How to Recognize and Change Habits

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Doodles… Our Perfect Example of Habit Brain


I recently sat watching her with daddy (Rob). As soon as he wakes, she walks to the “treat cabinet,” where their wet food sits, along with excess dry food, and treats. At 5 a.m., she and Princess walk into the kitchen for food. If we don’t follow them or happen to be busy working, they haunt us… rubbing on our legs, playing, fighting… anything to get our attention.

Animals are THE BEST source of telling time!

At 6:15, we eat breakfast. As Princess hears movement in the kitchen and smells food, she wakes and stands by our dining room table. She actually does this for every meal now—not because she eats our food (she only likes eggs)—but because we’re part of her colony. Clinking pots and pans signal feeding time, so once we sit at the table, she slinks to her food bowl and eats her dry food. She eats when her colony eats, just as she did before we rescued her from her feral colony.


Around 7 a.m., I turn on the shower and jump in. When Doodles hears the shower door slide open and close, she comes in and sits on the rug, patiently waiting for me. If Rob comes in, she stands up, arches her back, licks her mouth, and sits—very much like a dog begs (we joke she’s part dog, human, cat, and a host of other animals).

He reaches in the medicine cabinet and grabs the metal tin. If she’s looking away when the sound of the tin scrapes the cabinet or when it opens, she almost suffers from whiplash. She licks her mouth again, waiting for her daily dose of coconut oil.

If she wants treats, food, fresh water, attention, or wants to be covered with a blanket, she lets us know. This cat communicates better than most humans, I tell ya…

When we’re busy and miss or ignore her cues, she gets louder and louder. Eventually, you can’t ignore the “I want it MEOW!” And that’s when it hit me…

In nutrition school, we recently studied neurotransmitters, the nervous system, and how stress and environment affect health and obesity. We learned how food cues are how our brain processes images, sounds, smells—using memory and emotion to “tag” foods for pleasure. This is a VERY basic description of a complicated process-I outline it further in point #4 below. It’s also extremely fascinating and necessary to understand if you want to help yourself or others permanently achieve health or other lifestyle goals.

As I stared at Doodles bitching for her latest treat, I told her, “no, you’re too fat!” She didn’t care, literally huffed at me, and continued to beg. “Ah yes, of course this rationalizing won’t work! You don’t care and you don’t have the complex part of the brain we have, where we make decisions and work through complicated problems.”


This is the exact experience we have during a logical argument with our own unconscious, primitive reptilian brain.


Don’t misunderstand me with the whole cat-versus-human-brain comment above… I believe animals have much better abilities for living in tune with Nature and have much better survival instincts than we do. But I understand a decent amount of brain biology, too.

Humans have a higher-evolved executive brain, which separates us from other animals, and was the last part to form in our evolution. We then have a mammalian brain below that, which evolved prior—we share this in common with most other vertebrates/mammals (funny that!), and it allows for higher forms of thought than reptiles. Almost all creatures share the “original brain,” as I call it. This “original brain” is the reptilian brain that evolved oh-so long ago and is the seat of our unconscious and HABIT brain. It’s the brain that alerts us to danger and keeps us alive. (1)

Doodles is the perfect example of the habit brain and how it works. Rob and I have set times when we wake, give the cats treats, wet food, when we shower (without the cats!), snuggle with them, etc.—this is the “brain-training” I mention in “Transformation 101.” (2)


You train your body and brain when to eat, sleep, exercise, etc.—or it trains you. The choice is yours. I prefer the illusion of *some* control, thank you.


We habituated our kids’ (aka cats) feedings and attention, day in and out. We have rituals we follow in our lives that trickle down to them. When we start shutting off the lights and TV at night, Princess gets up, stretches, and heads to the bedroom. She understands the cues and habit.



Doodles (or Princess)… a perfect example of our habit brain:

  1. You do something repeatedly until it becomes a habit
  2. Your brain memorizes this and comes to expect this process
  3. There’s a flood of dopamine sent in anticipation of that process—this keeps you interested in that habit, repeating it frequently…

    Dopamine is strongest BEFORE the reward, by the way. It’s often misrepresented as being released AFTER an event, which is incorrect. You actually sustain the “feel good” drip by delaying gratification (3)

  4. Here’s part of my recent exam answer explaining part of this process:

In addition to these physical factors, hedonic pathways increase eating even if it’s unnecessary. These are the environmental cues that increase body fat, with one of the main neurotransmitters involved in this process being dopamine. Dopamine is released in anticipation of a reward, causing a “feel good” sensation (decreasing below normal levels when the reward is denied). It’s sent to multiple parts of the brain via the VTA, ensuring there are multiple cues available for future needs (a reward center of the brain, the emotional brain, behavior centers, and specific memory areas that record smells, sights, sounds, etc.). Once these cues are shown again, dopamine will encourage a return to that same treat. Incentive salience also increases, so that we’re physically drawn to the treat thru a craving. Eventually, this is automated with little thought.

Hyper-palatable foods increase our hunger, even during the first few bites. These foods increase both meal size AND frequency of eating these foods, easily leading to excess calorie consumption.

  1. That “original” or primitive part of the brain comes to believe these habits are necessary for survival. This habit brain doesn’t know healthy versus unhealthy, good or bad. It only knows: You’ve done it over and over, so surely it’s necessary for survival, somehow… “and stop calling me Shirley!” 🤣
  2. If you decide to change that habit, the original brain sends signals that get louder and louder. Emotions get involved, because who can ignore those!? The urge increases until you cave in.

Of course, you don’t always WANT that habit, so you apply some logic to the situation and fight “survival.” How’s that usually work out? As anyone who’s smoked, yo-yo dieted, or has an animal will tell you, you give in. When I have an emotionally trying day and can’t think about making dinner, I order pizza… I know how cheese affects hormones and neurotransmitters. But I also don’t allow this to become a habit, and often choose a walk in Nature as a primary source of relief.

Point is, you cannot argue with Doodles/habit brain. She’s relentless and ALWAYS wins. (She’s also much cuter than our subconscious, but that’s not the point.) Habit brain ceases when you give in… you’ve relieved the intense flood of hormones, pressure, and life is at peace again.


The THING of the habit doesn’t give you relief… the ACT of giving in to the habit gives you relief.


Read that last sentence again, please. It’s not the cigarette or the food, alcohol, or external factor that gives you relief. YOU give yourself relief by calming your brain.

Changing your habits can be easy when you understand how it all works together.

How to train your brain versus it training you:

  1. Recognize the habit and cues (you now have a basic understanding of the process)
  2. Get a habit tracking app of some sort. I have an app on my phone, recommended by one of my coaches. While I’m not usually a fan of technology-based reliance, there are some perks. If I’m going to look at my phone, it might as well be a positive quote or reminder to do something healthy. I use HabitHub
  3. Dissassociate from the habit… remind yourself you are not the Identity of that habit… it’s a behavior OF you. It is NOT you. You are not a smoker or an overeater. Those are simply habits you have
  4. Instead of “ignoring” the urge, move through it. Acknowledge the urge is there, but remind it you’re moving your attention to something else. I find it optimal to have a healthier option available, so that I’m simply changing the reward, not fighting the entire process.

    For example, have fruit-only ice cream around, rather than regular ice cream. Swap out bread for chickpea flour flatbreads. Change full-fat peanut butter to a powdered version. Swap your cigarettes for a Fum.

    I’m simply changing what my brain expects as a reward, so I still get urges, but a healthier outcome

  5. Rinse and repeat. Habits take 67+ days to form/reshape. Most online memes and programs set you up for failure by making you think it’s a quick fix, 21-day cleanse/DIEt. This is NOT long enough to build sustainable, healthy habits. Give yourself a break. Anything worth having takes time

If you’d like to learn more about classes on this subject, Ancient Wisdom, plant-based cooking demos or nutrition, check out my upcoming events. For private coaching sessions or packages, contact me directly.

If you have other tips about habits you broke, comment below or email me. Your suggestion will help someone else!



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