In my nearly two decades of experience in the weight-loss world, I’ve found one thing to be true: There’s so much more to losing weight—and keeping it off—than printing out a meal plan and signing up for a gym membership. Ultimately, it’s all about habits, and seemingly tiny behavior modifications are more impactful than any fad diet in the book.
Why Habits Matter
As someone who works with clients every single day (and who has lost weight myself), I know it’s our behaviors, not certain foods themselves, that hold power over our weight. Otherwise, I’d be able to hand any client a meal plan and they’d follow it flawlessly, no problem.
However, many of us start our weight-loss journeys with the baggage of long-established habits and thought patterns. These patterns affect our relationships with food and our bodies—and ultimately our overall health.
What many of us don’t realize, though, is that these patterns are simply the results of a repeated of triggers and rewards.
For example, an ice cream commercial we saw on TV one night after dinner may trigger us to grab dessert. The sugar boosts ‘happy’ chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, and before we know it, we find ourselves mindlessly eating ice cream on the couch every night.
Though these small, seemingly simple habits can be tricky to unravel, rewiring them makes a massive difference in our weight-loss long-term.
Focus On The Triggers
So, if you want to lose weight, I suggest you think not about the foods that trip you up, but the behaviors that sabotage you.
If you sacrifice sleep to watch Netflix, hit snooze every morning, or lack an outlet for managing stress, you put yourself in a position to make some pretty questionable food choices. From there, it’s all downhill.
So, if you eat ice cream every night, don’t focus on the ice cream itself, but why you eat the ice cream. When you consider the ice cream commercial and ‘happy’ chemicals that have essentially hijacked you, everything changes. Suddenly, you can see your nightly ice cream as a trigger-related habit, not a reflection of crummy willpower.
And once you understand the why behind these behaviors, you can start to break them down.
If hitting the couch after dinner makes you feel like you need a bowl of ice cream, skip the couch altogether and go for a walk or read a book. Or, make yourself a cup of tea, instead.
Address the trigger, change the behavior!
My Top 10 Habits For Successful Weight Loss
Though we all have unique goals, schedules, and relationships with food and exercise, there are a few basic, healthy habits we can pretty much all benefit from. Here are 10 to start working on.
1. Add Fruits & Veggies To Every Meal
Every time you eat—whether it’s just a snack or a full meal—make sure to include a fruit or vegetable. Produce is high in fiber and water, takes time to eat, and fills us up. Plus, by adding produce to every meal, we leave less room on our plate for not-so-healthy foods.
2. Incorporate Healthy Fats
In addition to fruits and veggies, start adding healthy fats—like avocados, nuts, nut butters, hard-boiled eggs, pre-portioned guacamole cups, or chia seeds—to your snacks and meals. Though old school diet culture told us to fear fat, it’s vital for our brains and bodies—and also helps us feel full and satisfied.
3. Switch To Smaller Plates
Research shows we tend to fill up our plate—and finish our helping—regardless of the size plate we use. Switching to smaller plates means you’ll automatically cut down portions—and still feel satisfied that you got to eat everything on the plate!
4. Order From The App Menu
Given the outrageous size of certain restaurant portions, I often encourage clients to stick to the appetizer menu when eating out. Often, you’ll be served enough to be satisfied, but not over-stuffed. Side dishes and the kid’s menu are fair game, too!
5. Consider Grocery Shopping Online
If you find yourself easily-tempted at the grocery store—and end up loading your cart with sandwich cookies and the like—try ordering your groceries online. It might help you avoid the impulse buys we often make when strolling up and down the aisles.
6. Drink Water Before Meals
Most of us walk around dehydrated, a sensation we often mistake for hunger. To address the issue (and avoid unnecessary snacking), pre-game each of your meals with a tall glass of water.
7. Make An “After Dinner” Rule
If you eat a healthy, balanced dinner that includes vegetables, healthy fats, and quality protein, you should feel satisfied enough to make it ‘til bedtime without a snack. In my experience, most of the calories we consume after dinner are simply reactions to triggers like commercials or habits. Usually, they’re mindless and empty. If you find yourself wanting to eat out of boredom, get up off the couch and do something else.
8. Incorporate Sprints
Most of my clients totally phone in their workouts, falling into the habit of jogging or working out at a generally slow, steady pace. By adding one-minute surges to your workouts (I recommend at least two or three of them), you’ll elevate your heart rate and force your body to work harder. In the long run, this extra demand only increases your results.
9. Walk And Talk
To cut down on the time you spend sitting each day, make a habit of standing and walking around when you talk on the phone. Get yourself a headset or a pair of headphones, and every time the phone rings, get up! Stand or pace until you hang up. Every bit of extra movement helps.
10. Try A Meditation App
This habit works double-duty by helping us become more aware of our thoughts and habits! Plus, meditation also helps us manage stress, which is often a trigger for emotional eating. Start with just five minutes of meditation per day. Soon, you’ll feel better able to observe and understand your relationship with food, triggers, and more.
Making Healthy Habits Stick
Just like the not-so-healthy habits we develop, healthy behaviors need to be triggered into action until they become part of our routine.
Where to start? First, make a list of habits that might be holding you back—like eating in front of the TV or running to the vending machine mid-afternoon. Then, identify a healthier habit that addresses it.
Once you choose which of these healthy habits to focus on first, set up a system of reminders to help you make them happen. Set reminders or alarms in your phone to fill up your water bottle throughout the day or put a post-it notes on your snack cabinet that ask if you’re truly hungry.
With the help of these positive triggers, you’ll be on your way to drinking more water, cutting out unnecessary nighttime snacks, and more in no time.
Liz Josefsberg is a weight loss and wellness expert with over 15 years in the industry, as well as a member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. A mom, author, fitness enthusiast, and weight loss success story herself (65 pounds lost!), Liz consults all over the world. She loves testing every diet, exercise regimen, device, and piece of gear she can get her hands on.