I love reading about habit science, after all knowledge alone doesn’t translate into behaviour change so what does? Creating habits that stick is harder than we think.
I’m always looking for handy hints and tips to make doing the healthier stuff feel easier and more consistent.
You can read my top 5 tips on creating habits that stick later in this article, but, before we go dishing out the tips, I want to speak to the real issue… the problem I have when habit science gets mixed up with weight loss advice.
It’s really difficult to separate the two out and you may wonder why we have to.
How to Create Habits that Stick
Surely good habits translate into weight loss and that’s what I want, I hear you saying?!
The problem is that weight loss programmes come with an added extra… THE DIET VOICE.
This clouds everything. In trying to build truly nourishing habits, the diet voice has its own agenda that ties everything you do to changes in weight loss. This is limiting, in more ways then perhaps we realise. Let me give you some examples:
Does this sound familiar?
What you say to yourself: I don’t feel very hungry right now so I might as well skip lunch.
What your diet voice says: Ooo well done love, you’ve saved yourself some calories there.
What happens later: You’re so hungry, you’re a minute off eating the sofa. Food choices are knee-jerk and feel out of control in terms of the off switch. This reinforces your belief you can’t be trusted and that you need to be tougher on yourself tomorrow in order to succeed.
The solution: Tackle the belief system that is programmed to see saving calories as a good thing.
What about this?
What you say to yourself: I’m out tonight and I don’t feel hungry right now, so I’ll skip breakfast.
What your diet voice says: Good you’ve saved some calories there. Plus, once you start eating there’s no stopping you.
What happens later: God, I’ve been so good today, I can’t wait to get stuck in. Might as well make the most of it and I’ll have a ‘good’ day tomorrow.
The solution: Look at the ‘good’ ‘bad’ mentality’, then understand what is driving that and change it.
And after a busy day,
What you say to yourself: I’m so tired and I have no energy to cook dinner. I’ll just finish up this cake from the weekend. At least it’s gone then.
What your diet voice says: You idiot, why did you eat the cake. You are a nightmare. Where is your will power!
The reality: You are not an idiot. You’re a human who is primed to survive = cake is a good choice (according to your chimp).
When reserves are low this is an obvious choice, the path of least resistance and one that serves you well.
The Solution: Explore the tiredness and energy thing. What’s really going on there? Humans lacking fuel will make non-human decisions.
And when it comes to weighing ourselves…
What you say to yourself: I’ll just hop on the scales, just check I’m still on track and I got away with that pizza last night.
What the diet voice says: Sh*t, that’s a pound up. Idiot, you’ve let yourself down there. No more pizza for you!
The reality: You feel really low all day, with no energy or inclination to go for that walk and coffee with your good friend (because she’s probably lost more weight than you anyway).
The Solution: The scale will always retain the power over you and ultimately alter your behaviour in subtle ways you don’t even realise. Time to stop looking through the lens of the scale.
Don’t Listen to the Diet Driven Marketing
No matter what ‘making healthy habits that last’ spiel a diet company pedals, if they’re telling you how to change in order to lose weight, it’s a diet.
All diets will come with a free diet voice. Your little companion, sitting on your shoulder every day with a clipboard marking your work.
You’ll want to please the diet voice and get top marks – gold star for me this week, yey!
Other times you’ll want to flick the diet voice off your shoulder into the bin, so it shuts up for 5 minutes whilst you enjoy a couple of glasses of wine in peace.
Or it’ll just sit there, feeling like an extra weight you’ve got to carry around with you everywhere you go. Like a person you don’t really like, but you tolerate them to avoid making a scene because you’re not sure what other choice you’ve got.
The good news is, there is another way! All you have to do is give yourself permission to explore it.
For example, my Hormones, Hang-ups and Habits programme gets underneath it all – the diet voice melts away and at last you can see a way forward towards better health and confidence around food choices that make you feel good. You can find out more about it here.
But back to habits. Here are my 5 top tips to building good ones:
- Don’t set weight loss goals – you cannot ultimately control the scale, and weight is not a behaviour so pick goals that are real. Make them so ridiculously small so that you can achieve it consistently – it’s consistency, not the magnitude of the goal that counts.
- Create a when, then plan. Giving it some concreteness allows you to think about what might stand in the way of it happening. For example, I’ll take a walk tomorrow becomes, “After I’ve dropped the kids, I’ll walk to the park at 9am. I’ll put my trainers on as opposed to my boots in readiness before I leave the house”.
- Foster curiosity. We create a rigidity to our eating plans that leaves us tripping up all the time. Our perfectionist streak might serve us well when organising our accounts or completing a project, but it doesn’t work well for eating behaviour. Fundamentally we have to be comfortable with flexibility and get curious about what the true drivers are for our behaviour.
- Make it fun. I’ve lost count of the number of my clients who take a salad to work and then bring it home again untouched. It’s boring and unappetising. What do you actually want to eat that ticks the satisfaction box whilst still feeling in tune with your well-being desires? More often than not it’s the how we eat, not the what we eat that’s the problem.
- Talk to your loved ones. Them keeping you on the straight and narrow by mocking you for caving in and eating a fourth biscuit is not helpful. Neither is them hiding the sweets as if you’re a naughty toddler who can’t be trusted. Instead, tell them what you actually need. It might be some manpower to meal plan together or permission to de-stress for 15 minutes a day guilt free.
Hope this helps, and don’t forget to check out Hormones, Hang-Ups and Habits to see if it’s for you.
Otherwise, you can contact me here to discuss how I can help you with creating habits that stick.