Are you trying to lose weight and feeling overwhelmed with all the nutrition and diet information out there these days? I know I was and still am.
And I was definitely feeling overwhelmed when, about 3 years ago, I began studying and researching why I was feeling fatigue, anxiety, depression throughout the day, flu like symptoms after exercising and not able to lose weight.
Since exercising was out of the question for me for weight loss, I turned to nutrition, specifically diets, to see if I could improve my health and fix some of my symptoms. (FYI, I did go to my doctor as well but blood work didn’t show any obvious reasons for my symptoms). It seemed like every diet out there was the miracle cure for all my symptoms. The only problem was they all had contradictory information – don’t eat carbs, only eat slow carbs, only eat certain times of the day, only eat plants, and on and on.
It got so bad that I noticed, one, I had basically stopped eating anything but soup, and two, I was afraid of eating anything. One day I looked in the fridge and realized I was afraid to eat carrots.
How could a carrot be a source of my problems? That’s when I realized that enough was enough.
So I educated myself. I got certified as a health coach, personal trainer, and fitness nutrition coach. Those certifications helped me realize one major rule when it comes to weight loss and getting healthy
Diets Don’t Work – Habits Do!
So I wrote this guide to hopefully help you get off the diet roller coaster like I did and make some small changes that will last and help you lose weight and stay healthy without having to diet or exercise..
What Are Habits?
Habits are actions or decisions you make without even thinking such as
- Getting dressed
- Taking a shower
- Brushing your teeth
- Knowing exactly how to get to and from work
- Washing the dishes
- Doing the laundry
- Making your bed after getting dressed…and the list goes on
You don’t even have to think about these things as your mind has become accustomed to your routine.
Problems arise when you are trying to form a new habit. Say you want to lose 10 pounds (your outcome). That outcome requires you to make several decisions or habits in order to lose those 10 pounds. You need to change your diet, you need to start moving more, and you need to reduce your stress.
These can be small or large changes, but you need to add them to the routines in your life if you want to not only lose the 10 pounds but also keep it off for life. Research indicates that it takes approximately 66 days to form or break a habit, depending on the difficulty of the habit (say, walking an extra 500 steps each day vs. quitting smoking) . This means for one to two months, you need to make a huge effort into performing these tasks. After this time the effort will seem like less, just because your mind is becoming accustomed to your new actions.
If you are trying to form a good habit it can be extremely helpful to have reminders around your home. For example if you want to lose 10 pounds to fit into your bathing suit. Leave your suit out where it acts as a reminder. Another idea is to write notes and leave them around your home. Maybe on the fridge door, so when you feel like snacking, you are reminded of why you are trying to lose weight.
If moving more is your new habit, remind yourself during the day that when you get home you are going to enjoy a walk. View the task as something enjoyable, not something that has to be done. This way you will look forward to getting home and walking after dinner. Remember that the more you repeat this process the quicker the habit will form.
And skipping a day won’t mess you up, just get back on track the next time the event occurs (like drinking water at every meal) or the next day (like doing 5 mins of movement everyday).
Why Use Habits Instead of Diets?
- Habits are basically modified diets and routines that are broken down into small steps to last over a lifetime. Through habits and listening to your body, you learn what foods work with your body, how to handle cravings, how to reduce stress and emotional eating, and how to accept your body and your lifestyle instead of working against it.
- Diets usually don’t teach you how to life healthy and make lifestyle changes that last. They give you a set of rules that you follow until you reach your goal, then you go back to your old habits.
- Healthy habits take behaviors that are known to help people reach better health – reduce medications, improve blood work, reduce the risk of developing diseases like cancer, and losing weight – and show you how to fit them into your lifestyle.
- Diets demonize certain foods or food groups and give you an all or nothing approach.
- Diets are usually too calorie restrictive. They slow your metabolism and the weight you lose is usually water and precious muscle
- Diets don’t teach you how to control your social or physical environment
- Diets don’t teach you how to handle cravings or emotional eating.
- Diets are great for a short term fix or event (vacation, wedding, etc) but are not sustainable for long term weight loss.
What Are the Healthy Habits You Need to Lose Weight and Keep It Off?
- Eat slowly – It takes ~20 minutes for your body to know if it’s full. When you eat fast you will tend to overeat and not get the signal to stop until you feel like you are about to pop.
- Eat until almost full – This means to check in with your body’s hunger and fullness cues to see if you are still hungry. If you are, then eat. If not, then stop. This works in conjunction with the first habit.
- Eat protein at every meal – with right portions
- Eat 5 servings of veggies/fruit (only 2 servings of fruit per day) – with right portions
- Make smart carb choices – based on activity and little refined carbs – with right portions
- Eat healthy fats – with right portions
The previous 3 habits work together to make the ideal meal. The protein and fat will keep fuller longer and make your meal more satisfying. The protein is also necessary for muscle generation and repair. The fat is necessary for making certain vitamins. The carbs are necessary for fuel and the fiber will help you feel fuller, longer.
- Have a food journal – Food journals help you see where you are getting too many calories or not enough. They also help identify trigger foods or trigger situations that contribute to emotional or binge eating. One caveat, food journals can get boring and hard to keep up with. Try it for a few days and only use it if you are plateauing or not reaching your health goals.
- Get enough sleep – Sleep is required if you want to lose weight.
- Drink only calorie free beverages – preferably water, black coffee, and unsweet tea. Water is necessary for your body and you don’t need the extra calories.
- Eat clean – Refined and processed food have no nutritional value, whole food (ie one ingredient) does. The cleaner you eat, the less you will crave and the less you will eat.
- Take regular breaks – add “happiness” breaks into your day – This will keep your stress levels down throughout the day. Stress causes your cortisol levels to rise (ie the “flight or fight” response). If you have chronic stress or high levels of cortisol, then this will limit your body’s ability to digest your food and absorb nutrients. If you don’t get your nutrients then this usually triggers hunger and cravings. Bottom line, keep your stress down.
- Have a de-stress ritual – meditation, calm breathing, walking meditation, journaling
- Control your morning
- Control your evening
The previous 4 habits work together to help you control your stress. Creating a morning ritual will help you feel calmer in the morning. Creating an evening ritual will help you sleep better at night. And creating a de-stressing ritual (doesn’t need to be fancy, 1 minute will do) will, you guessed it, reduce your stress.
- Get moving – This will help you not only lose weight but only 5 minutes of moderate activity a day REFERENCE will help you lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol. Exercise is also a know stress reliever REFERENCE.
- Control your social and physical environment – This is a tough one and will probably take longer than 66 days to control. Basically, avoid triggers that make you overeat and create triggers in your environment that help you eat healthy. Simple – yes, Easy – no
- Control emotional eating – This is another habit that will probably take longer than 66 days or involve multiple baby steps. But be gentle with yourself here. The first step is just becoming aware of your emotional triggers. Next, find slightly better or healthier ways to handle the emotion (get a smaller version of that half-gallon of ice cream or smaller bag of chips).
- Plan your meals – This one is the toughest one for me – MEAL PLANNING! Someone should develop a personality test that matches you to the best meal planning system for you. Basically try to find a system that matches your current lifestyle situation and note that it will probably need to change throughout the year. I plan my meals differently when the kids are in school, when we are camping, and when my kids are out for the summer. Remember one size does not fit all here.
How to Get Started With Healthy Habits
Getting into the habit of eating healthy and moving more is probably one of the biggest stumbling blocks for people. Why is it that this is such a complex task? It may all come down to your mindset.
As with any habit you have to want to make changes. If you don’t have a strong enough desire to lose weight and get healthy, you most likely won’t form a strong enough habit.
It is very easy to view weight loss as a temporary state. How many times have you said to yourself that you can manage to eat this way for a couple of weeks? You may have even lasted the course. But this is not going to give you long term success.
First, you need to really dig down deep and discover what your reasons are for losing weight. Has your doctor told you to drop some pounds for health reasons? Are you totally sick of not fitting into your clothes? Take the time to find your reasons and then write them down.
Your next step will be to figure out how you can add these changes into your life. How much time do you have for exercising and cooking healthy meals? If your time is limited then look at cooking in batches and freezing portions.
The same applies to moving more, what exercise do you like and when can you fit this in? This can be as simple as walking everyday or joining a popular squat or plank challenge. Most people find that early morning is best. If you wait until the evening you may be too tired and just want to plop down on the couch instead of going for a walk.
How to Make Sure Your Habits Are Working
While habits are great, they don’t mean much if they don’t get you to your goals. It’s like driving with the wrong map. You need the right habits (like the ones listed above) to reach your goals.
The best way to make sure your habits are getting you closer to you goals is to measure them.
First, measure how often you complete your habit each day or whatever time you have set to complete your habit (ie, workout 3 times per week)
Second, measure your outcomes. Are you trying to improve your blood pressure? Then get it checked each week at the grocery or drug store. Are you trying to lose weight? Then weigh yourself each week and track your changes. If you are getting closer, then great!! Don’t make any changes. If not then, it’s time to make some changes to your habit. Maybe your habit was to have a special treat at night. If you treat is a whole candy bar, then try half a candy bar to see if it makes a difference.
Some words of caution when it comes to applying habits to weight loss.
One, weight loss is rarely linear. One week might show 2 lbs lost and the next week might so nothing or that you have gained weight. Try your habit out for 3 – 4 weeks. Then if you don’t see any changes, try a different habit. POWERPOINT SLIDE
Two, if you are strength training as part of your exercise then you might be gaining weight instead of losing it. A better measure for you to track would be your waist measurement, your hip measurement, your waist to hip ratio, or how your clothes feel – are they getting tighter or looser?
Tips to Make Your New Healthy Habits Stick
- Habits are loops – a trigger, a behavior, then a reward. So if you want your habit to stick, it needs these 3 elements to work.
- It takes 66 days on average to form a new habit, so be patient. Some habits will be easier to form than others.
- Set habits that are achievable 80-90% of the time. If you quit a habit before 66 days then it was probably too difficult. For example, “never eat out again” should be changed to “only eat out 3 meals a week”.
- Make a new habit similar to the bad habit you are trying to get rid of – fruit for dessert
- Choose the habits that appeal to you or will be easy to do first.
- Only choose 1- 3 habits at a time. More than that will be overwhelming.
Common Questions/FAQs About Healthy Habits
How long does it take to form a new habit?
It takes approximately 66 days for a new habit to form. But that depends on the habit.
Which habit or habits should I start with first?
Basically start with the ones that are easy to do for you and appeal to you. Don’t commit to going to the gym 5 days a week if you don’t go at all right now or if you hate the gym :> Commit to walking around the block 5 days a week instead. Same with eating. If you barely eat any vegetables, then commit to eating one serving of vegetables a day.
What big or small should I make my new habit?
Your habit can be as big or as small as you want but a good rule of thumb is the “2 minute rule”. And then stack it with other habits to make a “habit stack” by BJ Fogg. An example of this for eating may be that as soon as you get back from the grocery store you get a knife and cutting board out to cut veggies for snacks. Or if you are trying to work out each morning, lay out your exercise clothes the night before and put them on as soon as you get out of bed. Or carry a glass of water with you every time you sit down to eat.
How many habits should I start with?
It depends on the complexity or amount of focus you need for each habit. If you decide to completely change all your meals to clean eating then that is the only habit you should work on. That type of habit takes a lot of mental energy to make happen. However, it doesn’t take too much mental effort to add a glass of water to every meal and a fruit or vegetable to every meal. Those two habits could be combined and done at the same time.
The Last Thing You Need to Know About Healthy Habits
Now you are ready to starting forming your new habits?
Remember that you don’t have to change things overnight. Start out by cutting down on one or two items. Eat less sugar or watch how many carbohydrates you are consuming. Then when you feel you have this under control, change another aspect.
Combining healthier eating habits with exercising and mindset habits can really help you get the healthy results you desire and make them permanent. Diets are great for short term results or events, but you need habits if want permanent change.
Forming a new habit doesn’t have to mean completely changing your lifestyle, it means just adding one or two new steps into your routine for the better. Take it slow and start with changes that are the easiest or most enjoyable.