Memorial Day is the unofficial first day of summer (a.k.a. the great unveiling), and for most people to feel good at the pool or the beach, they usually need to drop a few (or more) pounds of body fat.
Consider this quote from the novelist Charles Reade: “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an action and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” To apply this quote to health, fitness, and/or weight loss you simply replace the word “character” with “lifestyle”, and the word “destiny” with “body.” This is the fundamental truth that infomercials would love for us to forget.
The first step in changing your habits — which is how you change your body — is to actually understand them. “The Golden Rule of Habits,” according to Charles Duhigg, the author of “The Power of Habit,” is that bad habits can’t actually be changed. This is why will-power focused attempts at lifestyle change will fail: Willpower only allows you to delay the running of a habit pattern that’s hardwired in your brain. That delay costs a lot of mental energy, and when the stress elsewhere in your life picks up, that’s when your will becomes overwhelmed and the old habit comes back with a vengeance.
The good news is that this is not as depressing as it sounds. You can’t break a habit, but you can modify your existing habits so that they work for you. Here’s how:
1. Understand the mechanics of your habits. Habits are three-part pattern: trigger, routine and reward. A very common midsection-expanding and energy-sapping habit that people have is eating some sort of junk food at a certain time of the day.
If you ask people why they eat junk food, they erroneously talk about what terrible people they are. However, if you ask “How do you do that?” you can get some very useful information like this:
They’re so busy and focused at work that they don’t realize they barely ate anything for lunch, and are getting really hungry. Sometimes they will tell you they did eat enough for lunch, but a basic nutrition analysis will usually say they did not. Because they’re so intellectually involved with work their body’s demands for food go unnoticed until they have intense cravings and the junk food habit is run: go to the vending machine, go to the communal box of doughnuts. At the end of this habit is the reward — physical relief from hunger and a temporary energy boost.
So here’s the mechanics of that habit: Trigger — hunger, routine — eat junk food, and the reward — relief from hunger and/or temporary energy boost.
2. Improve the routine. “The Golden Rule of Habits” says we can’t change the trigger or reward, but we can find a new routine that will yield the same reward. In this case this is pretty darn simple — find a snack that is reasonably tasty and also congruent with your nutrition plan: no refined carbs, at least some protein, and hopefully some fat, too.
3. Repeat: Repetition is how you condition the new habit. When you are hungry at 3:30 p.m., reach for the new snack — cottage cheese and strawberries, hard boiled eggs and celery, or whatever. Then be aware that you got the reward: “Hey, I feel better, have more energy and I’m not craving.”
4. Systematize your preparation. If you have to leave work, walk to the grocery store and get your snack. This will never ever work more than once a month. Make it easy to do the right thing. Make a very simple and fast way for you to always have your new snacks available to you at work. I am lazy about this stuff. So all I have is a bag of nuts in my desk that I replace every week or two, and a bag of protein powder. When I am about to run out of nuts I put “nut for work” on my grocery list. That’s about as complicated a system as I can manage. Don’t come up with a system that requires lots of daily preparation time unless you have a ton of free time.
5. Use positive peer pressure. Tell one of the supportive people in your life about what you are doing so you can have some extra accountability.
Every person I’ve worked with since 1998 who wanted to lose weight has some negative snacking habits to change, so use this to go to work on yours. It really pays off.
Josef Brandenburg is a Washington, D.C.-area certified fitness expert with 14 years of experience and co-author of the international best-selling book “Results Fitness.” In 2004, he started The Body You Want personal training fitness program, which specializes in weight loss and body transformations for busy people. Read more about The Body You Want at josefbrandenburg.com.
@2013, Josef Brandenburg
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