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Sunday
Sep042016

Why Small Habit Changes Aren't Getting You To Your Goal

For as long as I can remember, the “one-behavior-at-a-time” approach has been deemed the gold standard when it comes to weight loss.

Habit change is hard and with the average American overstressed and overtired, the thought of changing too much of their current lifestyle can sound unbearable, no matter how motivated they are to lose weight. And for most people, there is a laundry list of healthy habits they’ll need to embark and practice over and over before their body decides it’s enough to burn and lose fat. 

But newer research is showing that we might all be underestimating our capacity to change and that in some cases, focusing on only one habit at a time, can lead us down to a path of frustration.

If changing one thing at a time never worked for you with weight loss, you might be due for a full-on life overhaul. 

The Latest Research

Some of the most exciting research around behavior change is coming from UCSB’s Center for Mindfulness and Human Potential.  Michael Mrazek, the director of research, and his team are proving that we might be completely underestimating the capacity of the human brain to actually change. Through their intensive intervention amongst college students, they discovered that improvements in several wellness factors (including physical health, working memory, self-esteem, mindfulness and life satisfaction) all could improve in parallel to each other and be measured on multiple cognitive and neuroimaging measures.  

Throughout the course of six weeks, they had 31 college students undergo a complete lifestyle overhaul when it came to their nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle factors. Every day, for six weeks, each student had to complete the following:

  • 1 hour of morning exercise targeting balance, coordination, balance or strength
  • 1 hour of mindfulness practice
  • 1.5 hours of a lecture or discussion on a wellness topic (nutrition, sleep, stress management, etc)
  • 1.5 hours of afternoon exercise under direction of a Fitness Professional
  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink
  • Eat a whole foods diet
  • Restrict consumption of non-produce carbohydrates to after exercise
  • Sleep for 8 – 10 hours per night
  • Two additional interval training workouts (per week)
  • Complete random acts of kindness
  • Keep a daily log of food, sleep and exercise 

 

At the end of the intervention, participants underwent blood testing, brain measures and other validated questionnaires and physiological tests. The research was able to show that the participants demonstrated a host of physiological improvements, including enhanced muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, muscular flexibility and reduced triglyceride levels, along with some cognitive improvements, including improved self efficacy and esteem, reduced stress and mindfulness.  They also improved their task-focus (less mind wandering), memory capacity and performance on standardized testing.

One Change Versus Many

It’s been estimated that it can take at least 21 days before turning a practice into a full-blown habit, and in the world of weight loss, most individuals have to undergo multiple different habit changes.  Because of this, many weight loss and nutrition programs and professionals use the strategy of habit building – selecting one healthy behavior for a person to work on and not incorporating any additional ones until the initial one becomes habit.  This could mean you practice drinking 8 cups of water each day for weeks until it becomes habit – or something you don’t have to think about before doing – before you start practicing eating protein at every meal. 

What’s great about this approach to weight loss is that it leads a person down an optimal path of health and could be assumed to have longer-term results.  It also helps with compliance and helps prevent additional stress on our already-stressed-out lives thinking about all of the things we need to change or fix. If they’re working with a coach on a program, that coach can continue to provide education and motivation around why they are doing what they are doing and help strategize what specific habits will get them the best return on investment when it comes to weight loss or feeling better. And as long as the individual has realistic expectations and the right mindset, this approach can and will work.

But for many people, they won’t see results soon enough to stick with the longer term strategy and might start down a path of frustration.  They sort of need to see some skin in the game (weight loss) and feel like they are making progress towards something.  And if they have a huge investment in something (supplements, a personal coach, etc), they’ll start wondering if they’ll ever get to their goal and feel defeated before they’ve really put some time in.

Mrazek’s research would also show that following a strategy that has you practicing a multitude of different habits would net out a true synergy that multiple changes can have on each other if practiced together.  Interesting enough, the individuals in the study followed a very similar protocol that most of my clients (outside of having hormonal imbalances that would require additional changes) would follow on a weight loss program. One synergy might include the positive impact “low alcohol intake” can have on sleep improvement. While the participants were controlling their intake to one serving or less per day, why not also have them focus on getting more than eight hours each night, as together, they’re an even more powerful and positive response to the body.

How to Get Started

If a full life overhaul sounds like a better approach for you for weight loss, there’s a few different ways to get started.

Looking at the protocol outlined in the research above, you might consider if you could follow such a plan in your current lifestyle today. Unlike the college students in the study, most adults are committed to a job and family life where they don’t have 5+ hours to focus on meditation, exercise and knowledge building each day.

But, you could start by highlighting what your priority goal is and then take the time to outline all of the behaviors that could be improved to help support that goal. This type of strategy I use all of the time with my clients as it helps them dictate what their weight loss plan looks and feels like, but together, we create a strategy that hits on multiple aspects of their health and helps them feel great and see results. 

And although I have had a handful of clients in the past completely quit their jobs or “lives” in order to get their health back in shape, it’s not required and there are ways to incorporate the positive behaviors within the work day and outside of it.

I think for most of my clients, having a coach has helped the most by helping prioritize their time. Having someone you can trust and that can continually guide and motivate you can make all the difference in the world. I can't tell you how many people I've had to convince (or just have them trust me) that someday, they'll actually crave that nighttime walk after dinner versus wanting to slump on the couch and watch television. 

If working one on one with a coach doesn’t sound like the right fit for you, you might consider a program that helps support multiple different behavior changes all at once.  For many of our members, D.TOX has been a incredible jumpstart to their weight loss overhaul – as it offers up a whole food diet guide along with supportive supplements, but guides individuals to incorporate walking every day, utilizing the dry sauna on a regular basis and drinking half their weight in ounces of water. It’s designed to get people feeling great within two weeks (while offering up an average weight loss of 5 – 7 pounds) – a perfect start to a weight loss plan.

Finally, a challenge might be a perfect fit and time to get started. There’s something about having an official start and stop scheduled for you and that can be all the motivation in the world to get started and make as many healthy changes as possible. We offer up our 60 day challenge three times per year to help create a spark for change amongst individuals and provide the motivation of a group of tens of thousands of people overhauling their lives all at once.

Hope you enjoyed this! If you’re interested in a overhaul for your weight loss plan, email weightloss@lifetimefitness.com and we can get you connected with the right professional at your club (or virtually) or program to get started.

 

In health, Anika Christ –Senior Program Manager– Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader

 

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