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How to Use Habits to Lose Weight

We fail to lose weight because we don’t change our habits. Habits determine our long-term behavior, and our long-term behavior determines our success.

Why do we always fail to lose weight? You might think that existing weight loss methods aren’t good enough, or there’s too much unhealthy food available, or any number of other, entirely valid, reasons. 

But these reasons miss the heart of the problem.

We fail to lose weight because we don’t change our habits. Habits determine our long-term behavior, and our long-term behavior determines our success. If your habit is to grab a bag of chips every time you watch TV, no weight loss program in the world can help you in the long-term, unless it addresses that habit.

How do we change our habits?

The recipe for changing a habit is simple, but you have to do it right.

Step 1 – Determine the habit that you’re going to build. For the sake of example, let’s use the habit of eating more vegetables (one which we would all do well to practice).

Step 2 – Start off small and easy. We know that we should eat five vegetable servings per day, but let’s start off with two.

Step 3 – Practice your new, easy habit every day. That means we eat two vegetable servings every day.

Step 4 – Once Step 3 starts to feel second nature, up the ante. In our case, that means eating three vegetable servings per day.

Step 5 – Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until you have reached your goal with the habit. That means eating five vegetable servings per day without difficulty.

All we did here was break down the goal so that one huge, difficult step (eating five additional vegetable servings per day) became a series of small, easy steps (eating one additional vegetable serving per day).

Putting habit change into action

Now that we have the recipe for habit change, we just need to know how to use it. Apply this recipe to 1 – 2 habits at a time. For example, if you know that your diet and exercise routine could both use some love, then you could start developing the habit of eating more vegetables and walking more.

You can increase your walking target slowly, just as with vegetables (ex: 10 minutes per day, then 15, and so on…all the way up to 30 minutes per day).

This means that your lifestyle won’t change overnight, but that’s the entire point. Habits take weeks (sometimes months) to build, which is why programs that change your entire lifestyle right away are so difficult to stick to in the long-term.

Looking at the bigger picture

It’s normal to want results immediately, but you need to avoid the trap of sacrificing long-term results for short-term gratification. You can do this by focusing on making small lifestyle changes that will build on each other over time.

This slow but steady approach takes some patience and determination, but it is far better than losing 10 lbs right away and then gaining it back again.

Ready to get started? Choose a habit that you want to develop. Decide what your target is with that habit, then reduce that target (dividing by a factor of 4 often works). Start hitting that reduced target today, and just refer to the steps above as you go.

And remember – slow and steady wins the race!

Written by Kevin Packer of SimpliFit, offering Personalized Weight-loss Programs.

Photo “tortoise-hare” by matea2506 used under creative commons by attribution