Losing weight and keeping it off long-term can be a challenge, but it doesn’t need to be. Often, people make drastic changes to their life, causing them to slip back into unhealthy habits and fall short of their goals. However, with self-compassion, effort and commitment, lasting change is possible. In this blog post, we’ll explore evidence-based strategies to kick bad habits to the curb and adopt new, healthy behaviours that support sustainable weight loss.
What are Habits?
Habits are behaviours we automatically engage in. Habits can be thought of as mental shortcuts that our brains use to conserve energy and streamline decision-making. Over time, these behaviours become instinctive when they are repeated, but they are not always positive. Beneficial habits, like taking your shoes off when you get home, can stick around. However harmful behaviours, like mindless snacking, are behaviours we should aim to change in order to support our health and wellbeing. Even though bad habits have negative consequences, they can be hard to break1.
Bad Habit Myths
When it comes to breaking bad habits, people love to share their experience. When it comes to weight loss people often share how it didn’t work for them. In order to keep you motivated, let’s look at some common weight loss myths to keep you enthusiastic about your journey ahead.
Myth: Going cold turkey is the best way to break a bad habit.
Fact: Research shows that a gradual approach is often more successful long-term. Slowly reducing a bad habit makes it more sustainable and keeps you motivated by experiencing small wins1.
Myth: You just need willpower to stop a bad habit.
Fact: Willpower alone often isn't enough. Strategies like identifying triggers, controlling your environment, and finding alternatives will also help you to break bad habits.
Myth: Replacing one bad habit with a good one works.
Fact: Substituting a bad habit with a good one, like chewing gum instead of smoking, can help in the short term. But it may not address the root cause long term. Unpicking what the bad habit provides you will allow you to understand how to knock it in for good.
Myth: You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Fact: The brain can form new neural pathways at any age. While it may take longer, you absolutely can break lifelong bad habits.
Myth: Slip-ups mean you have failed.
Fact: Slips are normal and expected when breaking habits. Getting back on track by speaking to others and finding coping mechanisms to navigate setbacks will allow you to prevent bad habits from spiralling.
The truth is, habits persist because of a trigger, a response, and a reward. This happens in a loop, and the more this loop occurs, our brain remembers it and it becomes automatic. For example, if every time you make a coffee you reach for a chocolate bar, your brain remembers the tastiness of the chocolate and after a few times you are automatically reaching for the chocolate without even realising2.
In addition to the activity above, you can use these techniques to enhance your ability to ditch the bad habit and encourage your weight loss journey. Additionally, you can use these if your motivation starts to wander in order to keep yourself on track.
1. Keep a Journal and Monitor Progress:
Maintain a journal to track mood shifts based on eating patterns, exploring emotions, overeating triggers, and life circumstances. This aids in identifying triggers and developing coping strategies for the future. Additionally, regular check-ins with an 0--provide inspiration and an opportunity to note positive changes, fostering motivation for the journey3.
2. Eat Mindfully With Variety:
Maintain a varied diet by stocking up on fruits, veggies, and nuts for convenient healthy snacks. Ensure your meals include a mix of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats4, consumed in moderation to curb cravings and avoid potential binges. Practise mindful eating, savouring each bite, and stop when you feel satisfied5. Slowing down allows your body to signal fullness, fostering a healthier connection between your stomach and brain.
3. Stay Accountable:
Staying committed to the eMed Weight Loss Programme provides accountability and a supportive community, fostering motivation crucial for your weight management journey. Consider sharing your progress with a supportive friend to enhance mutual encouragement and gain valuable insights along the way6.
4. Establish Routines and Be Consistent:
Keep your goals in mind while allowing yourself enjoyment; avoid excessive restrictions, aiming for a balanced approach to savouring life and maintaining health. Incorporate changes into your daily routine, such as packing a healthy lunch each evening or taking a 15-minute walk before lunch, to transform them into habits.
5. Deal With Setbacks and Avoid “Quick Fixes”:
Navigate setbacks with compassion; forgive yourself for slip-ups and swiftly return to your path instead of dwelling on mistakes. Steer clear of "quick fixes" by prioritising sustainable habits for long-term well-being. Remember, this journey encompasses more than weight loss – it's about gaining a healthier life, a process that takes time with limitless opportunities.
Ultimately, habits are automatic behaviours that go unnoticed most of the time. However, despite the automatic nature, with effort and time they can be changed. Be compassionate with yourself and focus on one habit at a time, focusing on practising the new behaviour until it becomes instinctive and we don’t even have to think about the alternative!
Activity: Breaking Bad Habits Practice
Download our Breaking Bad Habits worksheet to understand your bad habits, their triggers, and how you remove them from your life!
- Proietto et al., 2014, The effect of rate of weight loss on long-term weight management: a randomised controlled trial. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, available at https://www.sciencemediacentre.org/expert-reaction-to-rapid-vs-gradual-weight-loss-and-long-term-weight-management/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CMost%20studies%20have%20shown%20slow,at%20which%20it%20burns%20calories
- Willner T, 2024, How to break bad habits: 3 simple steps, available from: https://www.secondnature.io/guides/mind/habit-change/break-bad-habits
- Hollis, J. F., Gullion, C. M., Stevens, V. J., Brantley, P. J., Appel, L. J., Ard, J. D., ... Svetkey, L. P. (2008). Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial. American journal of preventive medicine, 35(2), 118–126.
- Wansink B. (2006). Mindless eating: why we eat more than we think. New York, NY: Bantam Books.
- Robinson, E., Almiron-Roig, E., Rutters, F., de Graaf, C., Forde, C. G., Tudur Smith, C., Nolan, S. J., & Jebb, S. A. (2014). A systematic review and meta-analysis examining the effect of eating rate on energy intake and hunger. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 100(1), 123–151.
- Greaves, C.J., Sheppard, K.E., Abraham, C. et al. (2011). Systematic review of reviews of intervention components associated with increased effectiveness in dietary and physical activity interventions. BMC Public Health 11, 119.