Habit-based weight loss is it possible?
I’m sure you’ve successfully dieted before and lost weight. Maybe it was keto, vegan, intermittent fasting, or Whole30. Whatever it was you were all in.
Maybe it was hard.
Maybe it was easy.
But if you’re like most people, once the diet was over you may have been confused about what to do next.
Should you stay with it?
Should you try something else?
The majority of people fall right back into old eating habits after following a diet. Leading them to put back on the weight they just lost and often more.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Today’s article is all about how building habits and creating food skills that will help you keep the weight off that you lost. And get you off the diet roller coaster (punch me please for dropping that cliche on you) once and for all.
Habit-based weight loss: Eat less move more. Makes sense but not the best advice
There’s a really good chance you already know that weight management comes down to energy balance. By eating fewer calories than you need over an extended period of time you lose weight. By eating more calories than you need over an extended period of time you gain weight.
And if you didn’t know, well now you do.
The eat less, move more phrase you’ve probably heard before is right and it makes a lot of sense. The only problem is that it’s not very helpful.
Eat less move more doesn’t take into account that eating less and moving more is actually kinda hard for a lot of us. It doesn’t address other things that influence our decision making.
- Lack of sleep
- Time (trying telling a mother or father of three that only want to eat macaroni and hot dogs and works full time to eat less and move more and see how that goes over with them)
- Social engagements
- Unsupportive friends, family, and environment
Things like this make eating less and moving more really freaking tough for a lot of us. So instead of trying to follow rules, plans, and programs – how about building habits, routines, and skills?
This doesn’t mean diets are bad or a waste of time. They can be very helpful and beneficial. Learn more about why here: How every diet you’ve ever been on or go on can help you.
Does habit-based weight loss work?
In a study found in the international journal of obesity. Researchers divided 130 overweight or obese participants into three different groups.
The habit-breaking group was sent a daily text message asking them to perform a different task each day with the intention to break usual routines (i.e. take a different way to work, listen to a new genre of music, write a short story)
The habit-forming group was asked to follow a program that centered around creating 10 healthy habits. No diet plans or exercise regiments were given. The healthy habits included were:
- Eat on a schedule: Eat roughly at the same time each day. This was found to lead to less snacking, nibbling, and grazing. Thus, reducing overall calories for the day.
- Choose healthy fats: Nuts, avocado, olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon
- Walk regularly: Aiming for 10,000 steps per day. This increases your NEAT. And overall calorie expenditure per day.
- Prepare healthy snacks when you head out: Fresh fruit, measured nuts, and seeds, protein, and veggies to help avoid chips, baked goods, and other calorie-dense processed foods.
- Create calorie awareness: Read labels and look up nutrition information for foods and when dining out.
- Adjust portions using various methods: Using smaller plates, hands to estimate, drinking water, and waiting for 5-minutes before going back for seconds.
- Reduce sedentary time: Find ways to move more during the day
- Choose mostly zero-calorie beverages: To help reduce calorie consumption
- Eat slowly: To allow for natural fullness signals to kick in.
- Eat veggies with most meals: So Mom was right all along.
The third group as the attention only waiting list group.
After 12 weeks the habit-breaking and habit-forming groups lost on average 3.1 kg. More importantly, after 12 months of no intervention, they lost another 2.1 kg.
This tells us is that building and breaking habits or routines could be an effective approach to managing weight long term.
What’s even better is that there are other studies that have shown similar results (1)(2) (3)
Habits can help us but can also override our best intentions. The key is in changing your identity
When it comes to weight management most people don’t know what, why, or how much they’re eating. This is done out of habit and without much thinking or reflection.
For example, I’ve got a friend (sorry buddy, I know you’re reading this and I am referring to you ? ❤️.)
He’s great with money and personal finance but a hot mess with his diet. He tracks how much he’s spending, saving, and is always looking at his bank and investment accounts.
Ask him how much he’s making, losing, or anything under the sun about his personal finance and he’ll spit it out to you in a moment’s notice. Ask him about what he ate or how much and he looks like this.
He’s built these amazing habits and routines around his personal finance but struggles to do the same with his fitness and nutrition. My buddy is saving money and building wealth but also putting on pounds and missing workouts.
Fitness and finance have a lot in common when it comes to long term and sustainable results.
- They’re both slow. Building wealth and fitness take time. Sometimes it feels like you’re never making progress
- Both can be boring and monotonous at times.
- They require some level of awareness. How much you’re earning, spending, eating, burning, gaining, losing.
- Both require some sort of discipline. Do I buy this thing? Do I eat this thing?
- Simplicity is usually your best friend. Spend less than you make and set up automatic investments. Move your body in ways you enjoy and eat mostly whole foods, but not too much.
The key with both is in changing our identity around them, building new habits, and possibly breaking some old ones – and this takes time.
To change your behaviors you need to start believing new things about yourself.
When most of us set health and fitness goals we start with the outcomes that we want.
- Lose 20 pounds
- Drop inches around my waste
- Get tone, lean, deadlift 300 pounds
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear gives us this graphic.
The first circle is the outcome you want: It revolves entirely around a ‘result.’ Lose 20 pounds, drop inches around my waist, get more tone, lean, stronger, faster, have more stamina.
The second circle is changing the process: It revolves around changing your behaviors or the current ‘system’ you use. A new workout routine, diet, nutrition habits, getting coaching… That’s me ??
The third circle is changing your identity: This revolves around changing your belief system. How you see yourself, how other people see you [your impression], the world. This is where your beliefs, assumption, and biases are.
- I have a slow metabolism
- I don’t enjoy exercise
- I’m lazy
- I love food
- I’m just not very athletic
- At my age
- I’m just so busy, unmotivated, lazy…
In the book, James says it best.
Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.
To change your habits you MUST change your beliefs.
The most powerful way to do this is by focusing your energy and thoughts on who you want to become.
Who do you want to become? Changing your identity and beliefs
There are only two simple steps to this process.
- Decide the type of person you want to be.
- Prove it to yourself with small wins.
Step 1: Decide who you want to be
What do you stand for? What are your principles? What are your values? Who do you want to become?
These questions may feel overwhelming? You may even be thinking, “I have no fucking clue!”
But I bet you know what kind of results you want. Try starting there and work backward. For example, let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds.
Ask yourself, “Who is the type of person that could get that outcome? What decisions they make, what would they do? How would their day go?
James gives a great example of someone that is trying to lose weight.
Step 2: Prove it to yourself with small wins
Identity: Become the type of person who moves more every day.
Small win: Buy a pedometer. Walk 50 steps when you get home from work. Tomorrow, walk 100 steps. The day after that, 150 steps. If you do this 5 days per week and add 50 steps each day, then by the end of the year, you’ll be walking over 10,000 steps per day.
Take a look at some of the people in your life that you consider being “healthy.” If you don’t particularly have any healthy people in your close circle, think of someone you have crossed paths with that you consider to be a pretty darn healthy person. Or think about one of your favorite healthy and fit movie, book, or television characters.
They probably practice the following habits:
- Meals are often prepared ahead of time.
- Meals are typically eaten at specific times during the day.
- They usually don’t allow themselves to get too hungry or too full.
- They typically don’t snack or graze all day.
- They combine different proteins, carbohydrates (mostly veggies), and healthy fats with each meal that they eat.
- They know how to choose healthy foods at restaurants or when in a pinch.
- They almost always seem to be ready with a healthy option.
- They understand calorie balance and have good calorie awareness.
Don’t worry; you won’t have to practice all of those things. I’m going to simplify the process for you so that you become a nutrition-hacking ninja over the next few weeks.
Take action this week.
During your day today, as you’re making various exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle choices. Stop and ask yourself,
“Who is the type of person that could [insert your goal].” What would they do here? What decisions would they make?
How habits are created
I recently quit drinking coffee in the mornings and it was hard. Not because of headaches or a lack of energy.
It just felt fucking weird to not have a cup right when I woke up. I literally was confused the first week because I didn’t know what to do. Drinking water and tea replaced the habit but I still felt “off.”
I had been drinking a cup of coffee every morning for the past 10 years of my life. Because I had been practicing the habit for so long, it was strongly ingrained into my routine.
Most habits are built the same way.
- Some sort of cue or reminder
- The routine or habit
- A reward
- Length and consistency of habit equals the strength of habit
In my coffee example, the cue was waking up and feeling tired. My routine was walking straight to the water boiler and heating up the water. And the reward was feeling alert and energized. And because I had been practicing this habit consistently for a long time it was extremely strong.
I was able to break this routine by first changing my cue and environment.
- I stopped leaving the water boiler out on the countertop
- I placed a reminder there instead that said drink water, wash face, do 10 push-ups
My new routine became drinking a glass of water, washing my face with cold water, and doing 10 push-ups. This led to the same reward of waking me up and making me feel energized.
And that may be a key for you. Identifying what reward you get from your current habits and routines and finding other ways to give you that same reward.
Creating your new normal
If you’ve been struggling with weight management for years, weight loss isn’t a switch you turn on.
It is hard.
There are multiple new skills you’ll be learning
- How to grocery shopping
- Meal plan
- Cook (without recipes)
- Navigating social situations
- Emotional and stress eating
As you can see It’s a series of subtle lifestyle changes that gradually build and stack upon each other over time.
You are not trying a new diet. You are not on a new weight loss program You’re building new skills.
It’s a series of subtle lifestyle changes that gradually build and stack upon each other over time.
How to create your new normal: Build skills and focus on leveling up your life
Skills get better with practice. Which means you’ll probably suck at them at first. For most people, this means they’ll get frustrated and quit. Telling themselves this isn’t for them or they can’t do it.
The key here is to choose stuff that you can practice most of the time. The more practice you can put in the better you are going to get and the faster you’ll level up. And the faster you level up the more excited and motivated you’ll be to keep going.
Reflect weekly by asking yourself what went well this week? Where could I be 1% better? This puts you in the right frame of mind every week. You can avoid repeating the same mistakes and start making subtle adjustments that lead to regular improvements.
Track it and measure adherence. We’re really good at thinking we’re doing better than we really are. Find some sort of way to measure adherence. It could be as simple as the Seinfeld technique.
Leave your ego at the door. Just because you do X doesn’t mean you get or deserve Y. If you’re not progressing assume that you’re wrong and make adjustments, check adherence, and ask for help.
Choose things you’re confident in, are fun, or some combination of the two. We change best when we’re having fun.
What if habit-based weight loss is not working for you?
Are you doing too much?
Taking on new challenges is exciting at first and can lead to you taking on too much. This leads to burning out. You can get great results fast but that often leads to “falling off the wagon” and creates an endless cycle of start and stop.
Most of us don’t need to do that much in the first place. Subtle adjustments and getting back to basics can lead to both immediate and long terms success.
Are you doing too little?
If you’re not pushing yourself things can feel boring and slow. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good enough. You don’t need to be perfect with each habit or skill that you’re working on. Get good enough, 80%, and level up.
Habit-based weight loss and online nutrition coaching
If you’ve ever missed out on a goal because you felt overwhelmed or got a case of Information overload a habit and skill-based approach could be helpful.
That’s exactly what I offer in my online nutrition coaching practice.
When it comes to losing weight and getting the body you want, “eating better” is the most important step. The only problem?
Most of the common diet advice you receive simply isn’t sustainable…
- Avoid your favorite foods forever.
- Don’t ever eat after 7 pm
- Weigh and measure every morsel of food you eat
So if you’ve tried something before and “failed”—or just can’t stick with it—you’re not alone.
(And it’s definitely NOT your fault.)
I talk to people every day who are trying to muster up all the willpower they can find to diet their way to a better body… but they still aren’t getting the results they want.
Ready for some good news?
I can help you learn how to “eat better” so that it becomes easy, consistent, and automatic.
No restrictive dieting. No weighing or measuring your food. No “one size fits all” meal plan.
Instead, through highly strategic, doable daily actions that are designed to fit into YOUR lifestyle, you’ll learn how to:
- Eat better—without dieting or feeling deprived.
- Lose weight—without giving up your favorite foods.
- Ditch the food rules—overcoming the guilt and shame.
- Feel energized all day—so you can enjoy all the things you want and need to do.
- Get the results you’ve always wanted—and build the healthy habits you need to stay that way for GOOD.
If you’re ready to lose the weight you haven’t been able to shed for years… gain more energy than ever before… and find new confidence in your body…
I’m ready to help.
I’m opening up a few spots in my online nutrition coaching program where I will personally guide you to the sustainable body and health changes… that last.
Interested? Send me a message now saying “nutrition coaching” and I’ll answer any questions you have—and share all the details.