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 that we engage in repeatedly, often without conscious thought or effort. These behaviours are learned through repetition and become automatic over time. Habits can be beneficial (like putting your keys back in the right place…) or harmful (such as smoking), and breaking bad habits can be a challenge.
Habits are routine behaviours that are repeated regularly and tend to occur subconsciously. They are deeply ingrained in our daily lives and can have a significant impact on our overall well-being. Habits can be thought of as mental shortcuts that our brains use to conserve energy and streamline decision-making. Hence, for example, why we often discuss habitual behaviours when addressing weight management.” Sargent, J. (2023)
“I tried to lose weight, but I…” People love to share their experience when you start something new, and 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: 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 wins.
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.
Here are techniques to drop bad habits:
- Keep a journal: Keep a journal to reflect how your mood changes depending on your eating patterns. Consider how eating made you feel, why you ate too much, what was going on in your life at that moment and this will allow you to identify triggers and implement coping strategies to navigate them in the future which you could do through talking to others or writing down your thoughts1.
- Keep your diet varied: Make healthier foods more accessible by stocking up on healthy snacks like fruits, veggies and nuts2. However, make sure that you eat a range of food including carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, and enjoy things in moderation so that you reduce cravings and potential binges.
- Slow down: Eat mindfully, enjoy your food, and stop when you feel satisfied. Slowing down will allow your body to recognise when it is full through communication from your stomach to your brain. Take time to relax and savour meals3.
- Stay accountable: Keeping to the eMed Weight Loss Programme offers accountability and a source of support that helps sustain motivation which will in turn support your weight management journey4.
Staying on track
It’s one thing to start strong, but the next hurdle is to stay on track when motivation starts to wander:
- Establish routines: Make changes part of your daily routine so they become habit. For instance, pack a healthy lunch every evening or go for a 15 minute walk before you have your lunch.
- Deal with setbacks: Slip ups are bound to happen. Have compassion and forgive yourself so you can get back on track instead of beating yourself up and letting bad habits take over. .
- Stay consistent: Always keep your goals in your thoughts, but remember you are allowed to enjoy yourself. Restricting the things you enjoy could lead to excessive consumption, whereas this journey is about learning to balance moderation whilst savouring life and staying healthy.
- Monitor progress: Checking in weekly with an eMed Healthcare Clinician will keep you inspired throughout your journey. Note down positive changes you notice in yourself and the new activities you can experience in order to stay motivated.
- Get support: Share your journey with a like-minded friend. Having someone to share achievements and setbacks with will help you feel supported and gain insight in navigating your journey.
- Avoid “quick fixes”:Focus on adopting habits you can sustain lifelong, not just until you hit your goal weight. This journey is about more than weight loss, but about life gain, and that takes time but the opportunities are endless.
- 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.