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You Can Lose Weight, One Small Habit at a Time

Weight loss can feel like a roller coaster: Up, down, up, down. Find your way to steadier ground by committing to a few small, simple habits.

You'll keep moving toward your goal, while your small habits build into larger ones that can permanently change your behavior.

Winning Ways

One reason small habit changes work is because you build success quickly. Each time you follow through on a small habit, you build your confidence. You feel more in control.

Plus, when you've set up a specific small habit, you can reduce anxiety about whether you're doing "it right" or doing "enough." If your small habit is to eat a vegetable every day at lunch, every time you do it, you can log it as a success.

Keep It Simple

The most important thing to remember when you choose a small habit is to make it something you can do. Set yourself up for success.

Over time, you can ramp up that small habit to the next level for even better results. For instance, after eating a vegetable every day at lunch becomes a no-brainer, you can move to the next level of your goal. That could be to eat two vegetables at dinner every day.

That's the beauty of making small habits -- one habit becomes routine, and then you add another small habit. You keep moving steadily in easy steps that move you toward big change.

Link the habit to something that motivates you. Changing old behaviors takes work, so you need a good reason to make a new habit worth your effort.

Improving your health is a great reason. If that inspires you, terrific! But if it doesn't, try picking something more concrete and immediately noticeable.

If you want to drink water instead of soda, one way you could motivate yourself is to save the money you'd spend on soda to splurge on something you don't usually get for yourself. New music? A special magazine?

Your motivation can also be more about how you feel or think. Maybe you feel healthier and more natural when you drink water.

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Create a trigger to remind you what to do. You may think of a trigger as something negative that leads you to an unhealthy activity. For instance, feeling sad can be a trigger to overeat. But a trigger can also be positive.

You can use a trigger to remind you to do your chosen habit. It can be as simple as setting an alarm or selecting a good place to stick a note.

You need a trigger that you'll notice, preferably at the time you've set to do the habit. To trigger yourself to drink water, for instance, you could:

  • Create a time on your calendar to "meet" with a glass of water.
  • Associate your habit with something you do every day. Whenever you turn on water to wash your hands, for example, use it to trigger you to drink water.

Keep Going and Going

Even when you have a specific, easy goal, a powerful motivator, and a trigger that reminds you to do your small habit, you may have moments when you're less excited about meeting your goal. That's when it's time to round up more reinforcements.

Support your new habit. Tell a trusted friend or family member what you’re doing, and ask them to remind you why you’re in this game. This might be the perfect opportunity for you to use Facebook or other social media.

Talk to yourself. If you feel tempted to skip a workout or eat something you decided not to eat, simple thoughts like, “I always feel better after I walk” or “That doughnut is not part of my plan” can help keep you on track.

Weight loss takes time. The small-habit approach won’t shed pounds overnight. But it can keep you on track without the jarring impact of a huge life change. Adding one small habit after another leads you to powerful healthy habits that you can use to keep your weight under control.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on April 20, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 2009.

Kessler, D. The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, Rodale Books, 2009.

Nutrition Action Health Letter: “Food Illusions: Why We Eat More Than We Think,” March 2004.

Fogg, B. Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford University: “A Behavior Model for Persuasive Design,” 2009.

The Stanford Behavior Wizard: "GreenPath Behavior Overview;" "BluePath Behavior Overview;" and "PurplePath Behavior Overview."

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