- Bad habits make it hard to lose weight
- If you’ve been dieting for a while you’ll need to break habits
- For 10 years I focused on willpower instead of breaking habits
My previous post explains that when you’re dieting, you’re not actually dieting.
When you’re dieting you’re building unhealthy habits that make it harder to lose weight.
Overeating, exercising to purge after overeating, weighing yourself and worrying about whether or not you ate the perfect amount are all preoccupying thoughts and behaviours that come from dieting.
But don’t worry! You can break habits in 3 steps.
Break habits: Step 1
The first step is to be aware of habits you’d like to break.
Grab a pen and paper. Record the thoughts and behaviours that take your attention away from things that are important to you.
Once you’ve written your list, continue reading…
Did you write down any of these unhealthy habits?
- drinking diet pop
- weighing yourself
- looking at reflective surfaces to check your size
- exercising to make up for overeating
- eating diet food
- trying to eat an exact amount of food or worrying about what you ate
- ignoring cravings
- being on and off diets
- counting calories
- not eating when you’re hungry
- drinking skim milk
- restricting what you eat
- thinking about food and weight
- always eating or drinking something
- trying to make dramatic change
- believing tomorrow will be different
- eating low-fat food only
All of these thoughts and behaviours make it harder to lose weight and preoccupy you from your REAL goals. Click on their links to see why.
Over the 10 years I tried to lose weight I developed all the bad habits listed above, and more, without even realizing it! The result? My before photo says it all. The harder I tried the worse things became because I had the wrong information.
Each time I made one of the above choices I simply thought I had a moment of weakness. I didn’t see that I was ingraining self-defeating choices over and over again.
If you omitted any of the unhealthy habits listed above, add them to your list.
While you’re at it, are there any other habits you’d like to break? Are you a nail biter? Social media magnet? Smoker? Worrier? Complainer?! If you wish, add these to your list. Full disclosure, presently I drink too much coffee. I’ve never been one for moderation.
Preoccupation runs down a spectrum
Whether you find yourself, for example, overeating once a month, once a week, once a day or more, if you find this choice preoccupying, write it on your list. Any thoughts or behaviours that distract you from the rest of your life should be addressed. A stitch in time saves 9! You can prevent unhealthy habits from escalating.
Break habits: Step 2
Now you have your “Break Habits” list. Identifying self-destructive patterns is half the battle.
Choose a few habits you’d like to work on first. Pick one that’s highly preoccupying and one that’s less intrusive. Then track how many times you do this habit.
The length of time you run the tally will depend on the frequency of the behaviour. For instance, if you drink a lot of diet pop each day, like I did, run your initial tally for one day. Or if you exercise roughly once a day to make up for overeating, you could have a week-long tally.
Once your tallies are complete you’ll know roughly how often you engage in self-defeating behaviour.
Break habits: Step 3
You’re ready to break habits!
Cut the behaviour back by one, each week. Don’t shock your body. Work with it. Then the change will be lasting.
You weigh yourself 4 times a day
Aim to weigh yourself 3 times per day for a week. The next week cut back by one again.
You overeat 6 times a week
Cut back by one each week.
Once you set your goals keep track of your progress. Get a pocket calendar or use an app on your phone.
When you’ve improved these habits choose another habit you’d like to work on.
Continue to tally the first 2 habits you chose as well, to keep them in check.
Break habits: Troubleshooting
1. Gradual change makes change lasting
Take the urgency out of weight loss and you’ll lose weight faster! Even when things are going well don’t rush the change. Remember, it took me 10 years to lose 10 pounds because I tried to make dramatic change for 10 years, always believing tomorrow would be different.
2. It gets easier
The first time I stopped myself from overeating it was a total struggle. After that, it got SO MUCH EASIER because it was such a rewarding experience. Hang in there! Get over that initial hump. Plan an activity ahead of time, like walking around the block, for when you feel the urge coming on. Then you’ll be prepared. The key is to not overthink it. If you feel like you’re about to overeat just leave the house and walk. Otherwise you’ll talk yourself into doing what you always do. Keep in mind, your goal is to cut back by just one time this week.
3. Plateauing is part of the process
If you had trouble cutting back, don’t cut back again until it’s no longer a struggle. Give yourself time to get used to the change. This could take a few days, weeks or longer.
4. Be prepared to go backward
People who reach goals have one thing in common. They stick with it! It’s ok if you do something more one week than the week before. Record your behaviour. Try again. When you break habits it’s natural to take two steps forward and then one step back. Keep going!
5. Catch yourself in the act
When you find yourself falling into an ingrained habit, don’t say “I’ve already started, I may as well keep going…” Instead, stop yourself as early as you can.
6. Understand many habits are interlinked
For instance, overeating can lead to exercising-to-make-up-for-overeating. If you see this correlation, cut back on purging before trying to cut back on overeating. When I stopped giving myself the option to purge, I was surprised how much easier it was to stop overeating. Each positive step has a domino effect.
For 10 years I DIDN’T break habits with these 3 steps
When my doctor told me to try to purge one less time per week I thought he was crazy. I wanted to get better NOW.
Rather than sharing my concerns, I agreed to follow his suggestion. But after I left his office I tried to get better my way, by taking an all-or-nothing approach. Even that way of thinking was a habit. Any other method felt wrong.
As it turned out, trying to break habits my way meant ingraining this bad habit for another few years. (I still thought making healthy choices was all about willpower. I didn’t grasp these self-destructive choices were habits.) As well, I used purging as a way to punish myself and to draw a line in the sand before starting another diet. More unhealthy habits! Had I followed my doctor’s advice I would’ve broken the debilitating habit of purging in just a few months. And a few months goes by quickly in the scheme of things.
Take the urgency out of weight loss! Dramatic change is short lived. Focus on where you want to be in a year and enjoy the steady improvement along the way.
Break habits then build healthy habits
Good habits are just as addictive as bad habits but are a lot more rewarding.— Success GrooveAs you cut back on unhealthy habits, start to integrate positive choices. If you drink lots of pop (or coffee!) try replacing the one you cut out with a glass of water.
Transitioning unhealthy habits to healthy habits helps you reach and maintain your goals.
Break habits like negative thoughts
Our thought patterns are powerful. What does the voice in your head sound like? Does it criticize your every decision? Or encourage you? It’s just as easy to get into the habit of looking for the bad or good in any situation. Feeling optimistic makes a world of difference.
Do you have a bracelet, hair elastic or just a plain old elastic you can put around your wrist?
Decide to take your bracelet or elastic off and put it on your other wrist each time you criticize yourself. This action helps you become aware of your negative thought patterns. Catching yourself in the act will help you break habits.
After making the switch to your other wrist you can get in the habit of saying something positive. To begin, tell yourself the following:
The world is full of people who want to break habits. But how many people are actively working toward that goal? You fall into a very small, proactive percent. It doesn’t matter if your “Break Habits” tally is up or down today or this week. The fact you’re trying and sticking with it, will keep you moving toward your goals.
– Your inner voice
Take care in how you talk to yourself.
Get started! Don’t spend another day getting used to making unhealthy choices.
Break habits slowly. Then build healthy eating and exercise habits. A healthy weight will follow.
Are you ready to break habits? Along with cutting back on self-defeating routines it’s important to build healthy habits. Sign up for my newsletter below and you’ll receive one of the best strategies I learned.
Unhealthy patterns can take over your life. You can start to be a stranger, even to yourself.
“…when you’re away and I am missing you …”
But remember, you can break habits. You can get your life back.
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Sharing what I learned makes the 10 years I STRUGGLED worth it
What are some thoughts and behaviours you’d like to improve? Do you have any questions about this post? Or suggestions for people trying to break habits?
Am I a con? Because I took all the “bad habits” off of your list and wrote them as my own. I’m guilty of all those things. Its no longer a mystery why I struggle and am finding myself GAINING weight. Slow and steady. Your blog really is helping people like me save myself through “a stitch in time”. Thank you so much for posting your content. Your words and tone of voice are infinitely sensible and reassuring. Xx
Over the years I struggled, I was both hungry and overweight. It truly was, as you describe it, a “mystery.” A frustrating and all-consuming mystery. But once I started focusing on habits instead of willpower, everything got better. Being able to direct my energy in a productive way allowed me to make progress—which made me relax and feel present. Just walking down the street and hearing birds, rather than being preoccupied by a diet, was a thrill. Slow and steady improvement feels good. I always say: baby steps don’t sound sexy but they work! Thank you for your comment Catherine. I’m so happy this post is helpful. But please know your feedback means a lot to me too!
Thanks for sharing. Sound advice. I did the same thing you did. I tried to lose 10 lbs for 30 y and instead gained 25 lbs. I got involved with the Canadian organization weight loss grants.org and Dalewood Health and Wellness and, while it’s tempting to mention the problems with them the reality is that I have been eating healthier, feeling better and have lost 20 lbs in the last 6 months. That was not happening with my previous strategies. Marj
Your story and mine are both examples of why dieting is a recipe for weight gain. So happy you’re eating healthier and feeling better Marj! xo
Thanks for these principles that worked for you, Kelly, and breaking them down and explaining them in such a concrete, manageable way! I have a notebook, have taken down notes, and will report back in the following months/year with my progress. #1 Bad habit- overeating. If you are comfortable sharing, how long did it take for you to change your diet pop habit? Thanks for everything!
I’m not sure how much diet pop you drink a week, but aiming to cut back by one pop each week makes the change feel natural.
The beauty of sticking to your plan of cutting back by one pop per week (even if sometimes you drink more) is that soon you’ll build momentum and then it gets easier and easier. Stick to it! I think everyone’s experience is slightly different so it’s important to focus on your own journey and celebrate your improvements and feel REALLY good about them! Otherwise it can be easy to feel frustrated when you compare. For instance, one person might have a few weeks they drink more at the start and find cutting back hard in the beginning and then just fly… whereas other people might find cutting the final pops the hardest. And don’t worry about plateauing or even drinking more… the goal is to stick with your plan of doing your best to cut back by one pop a week… WHILE logging each pop you drink and checking in with someone for accountability.
Accountability makes such a huge difference!
Also, replacing an unhealthy habit with a healthy habit also helps to make change lasting. Experiment with herbal teas and good old fashioned water as substitutes for diet pop.
Would love you to keep me posted on how you’re doing Kathy! xoKelly
PS Here’s a blog post about how to stay motivated and it explains the MAGIC of sticking with a goal through the ups and downs. I hope you’ll read it 🙂