Change Your Habits and Lose Weight for Good

From the WebMD Archives

You know you want to make a change. You want to see what life is like without extra weight on your body and on your mind. You're committed to making a change for the better.

To make it happen, think of your habits like a road trip. Your next steps become clear, and you start to see your destination ahead.

Map Out Your Route

Just like you'd make a plan for a long road trip, you'll want to take time to think about how to map out healthy habits to take you to your goal. Planning can also get you psyched up about new things to try or doing things you enjoy. Here are tips to help you plan your habits, your support, and your mind-set.

Prepare for each destination. Think about what you’ll need to stick to your new habits everywhere you go: home, work, favorite restaurants, and other places you go often.

For instance, what would your perfect, most motivating kitchen have? Cut-up colorful vegetables ready for you in the fridge? Apples in the fruit basket? Sheer curtains to let the light in?

If you often go to potlucks, what would make you feel the best about your choices when it's over? To bring something you'll feel OK about eating? To ask the other guests to bring only healthy options? Have someone else fill your plate so you don't have to recommit at every dish? There are lots of solutions that are true to your goals. Think creatively, and ask someone you trust to help.

Plan for the family and friends you'll see along the way. There will be people who are for you -- happy to support you in your weight loss. And there will be people who aren't so supportive. You may already know who they are.

You need to be prepared for both types.

Think of each person you spend time with in your daily life, and ask yourself these questions to set up a game plan:

  • How much do you want to share with them about your efforts?
  • What kinds of obstacles do you expect from them? What are a few ways you can respond to them?
  • What kinds of help do you hope they'll offer you? Think through the best way to talk with them about what you need. Don't be afraid to be specific about what helps you and what doesn't.

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Check your readiness to drive. Even with help and support, the buck stops with you. What can you do to set yourself up for success?

For instance, are you wondering if you really can meet your goal? Now's the time to identify and sort out those feelings.

To change behavior, experts say you must be able to do the required new habits. So, it's key that you choose habits that you can follow through with.

Let's say you've picked a food plan with foods or styles of eating that you don't like -- say, one that asks you to cook everything yourself, and that’s not realistic for you. Or you pick one that's impossible for you to stick with, like eating cabbage soup twice a day. If you keep moving forward with that plan instead of adjusting it, you're crushing your ability to succeed.

Know Why You're In Transit

As part of your preparation, ask yourself: Why do I want to make changes?

Your reason will be most motivating when it's linked with a strong emotional state. Instead of simply “wanting to lose weight,” the reason could be “because I want to have more energy” or “not be in pain.”

"Rather than focusing on the weight you want to lose, focus on the feeling you want to have. As you create that experience, the weight will come off,” says Erik Hajer, a fitness and lifestyle coach in Boston.

Set up cues to remind you about your motivation. A good cue is one that you'll be sure to notice and that happens near the time for your healthy habit. You could open your blinds in the morning to cue you to take your vitamin, for example. Or, you could simply set an alarm.

Even when you take the actions you need, there's some chance that you might go back to your old ways. So have a clear sense of what you want. It's like an energy reserve. It gets you back on track when you need it.

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Expect Curves Ahead

There are two important truths about change:

  1. It happens slowly, over time.
  2. The path to change most likely isn’t a straight line.

One day you might be meeting your goals. Then you have a stressful day or two at work, or yoga class is canceled -- and your motivation takes a hit.

At times like this, think about how to adjust your schedule to stay, or get back, on track. You have to map out a new plan.

That's OK. In fact, it’s normal to hit a few speed bumps on the road to changing your behavior for good.

Count on the fact that you'll lose your way. Just like an emergency kit in your car, you need to have tools ready for the unexpected.

Prepare by thinking of solutions for likely situations, such as these:

  • What will you do when a co-worker brings in homemade cookies?
  • How will you move on if you fall back into your old habits? For example, you overeat, or skip the gym?
  • What will you do when you feel stressed?
  • Who can you call for help?

"We expect our journey to be a straight path -- and when it’s not, we beat ourselves up or just quit altogether," says Sofia Rydin-Gray, PhD, of the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, NC.

To help her clients have a less emotional response, she suggests you redirect yourself like your GPS does.

Your GPS is objective and doesn't blame you. It's programmed to know that you’re going to make mistakes and redirect you. If the new route doesn't work, it offers you another way.

So don't judge yourself for a detour. "Use your energy to get back on the right road," Rydin-Gray says.

When you practice doing that, the amount of time you stay off-road will get shorter and shorter. Eventually, you willget to the point when your habits feel natural.

Still, at times, you'll have to dig deep to fine-tune your motivation -- again. You'll have to rethink your environment and relationships. And you'll make mistakes.

That's normal. It's how you change your behavior for good.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on December 18, 2013

Sources

SOURCES:

American Psychological Association: “Understanding How People Change Is First Step in Changing Unhealthy Behavior.”

Cancer Prevention Research Center, University of Rhode Island: “Detailed Overview of the Transtheoretical Model.”

James Prochaska biography, University of Rhode Island.

Sofia Rydin-Gray, PhD, behavioral health director, Duke Diet and Fitness Center, Durham, NC.

Erik Hajer, fitness and lifestyle coach, Boston.

McKenzie Zajonc, MS, CN, nutritionist, lifestyle coach, Passionate Nutrition, Seattle.

“Why behavior change is hard -- and why you should keep trying," Harvard Women’s Health Watch, March 2012.

Fogg, B. “A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design,” Persuasive ’09, Claremont, CA, April 26-29, 2009.

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