29 May 2018Make New Habits or Break Old Ones?

Are you interested in strategies for maintaining weight after losing it? I am! A recently published study in the International Journal of Obesity, Habit-based interventions for weight loss maintenance in adults with overweight and obesity: a randomized controlled trial, caught my eye. The aim of this study was "to determine whether habit-based interventions are clinically beneficial in achieving long-term (12-month) weight loss maintenance and explore whether making new habits or breaking old habits is more effective". Well, based on my professional experience, I can tell you that looking at lifestyle habits is crucial for long-term weight maintenance. Now, the second question about whether it is more important to break old or make new habits is interesting to me. Hmm... Thank you to researchers who back up theories like this with science so we can all learn from it.

In this study, researchers recruited 75 adults, aged 18-75 years, randomly assigned them to one of three different groups, and then followed them for 12 weeks. The Top Ten Tips group did a self-guided program based on forming new eating and activity behaviors. The Do Something Different group focused on breaking unhealthy behaviors through an online program. The third control group received no intervention or weight loss advice. Not only did the first two groups lose more weight than the third group during the 12 weeks, but one year later, these two groups were more successful at maintaining their weight. At the end of the 12 months, the behavior-focused groups also showed greater improvements in waist size, daily fruit and vegetable intake, depression, anxiety, and reported well-being. These outcomes captured the whole wellness package, not just a mere focus on weight loss.

So, what is the take-home message I would like to share with you? Both breaking unhealthy habits and forming new, healthy habits are effective. If you want to be successful at taking weight off and keeping it off, please don't fall prey to the endless stream of fad diets that come your way, but rather look at your own habits. You know yourself the best. Remember, the latest fad diet author doesn't know you from Adam.

If you are seeking weight loss or weight maintenance, here are some suggestions you may find useful:

  • Tracking food and activity with a tool like MyNetDiary is a proven strategy to keep an eye on calories in versus calories out. For weight loss, you need a calorie deficit. To maintain weight loss, you need a calorie balance. In addition to the calorie factor, the simple act of self-monitoring causes you to pause and consider what you eat, how much you eat, or whether you actually made it to the gym or not.
  • Don't just go through the motions, though, or get too wrapped around the axle with minute details, such as entering precise recipes when you track your foods. That can come later if you want to explore tracking more deeply. In the beginning, it can be cumbersome and impractical to juggle too many behaviors all at the same time. I am not advising to be careless about your entries, but save some energy for exploring your eating and activity behaviors.
  • Figure out what works and doesn't work for you. Take 5 minutes to look at your diary. Recognize your habits, both old and new. Are there small tweaks you can make? Don't try to reinvent yourself, which never works in the long run.
  • Mindfulness is awareness without criticism or judgement. Give yourself credit for healthy and tasty meals. Positive kudos always trumps negative criticism, especially with your own self-talk. And, by all means, have a sense of humor! It is not the end of the world that you ate half a container of ice cream or chips. Learn from the experience by exploring the scenario a bit.
  • Scenario example: You have diabetes and you just ate half a container of ice cream. Was it a hassle to pause your movie to check your blood glucose and deal with correcting it? Did you end up with a headache or feel flushed from a high glucose? Would you have felt comfortable and satisfied after enjoying 1/2 cup of ice cream instead with the bonus of enjoying your uninterrupted movie? Did you honestly enjoy the ice cream or were you just going through the motions? Were you stressed, bored or depressed?
  • Set one reasonable and simple eating or activity behavior goal. If and when you master it, move on to another simple goal. Tame the overachiever in you. For example, our kitchen has undergone some downsizing recently. One day, it dawned on me that I couldn't eat the same size portions as when I was younger. So, I started gradually using smaller plates, cups and bowls, and made it fun by looking for them at thrift stores. As a result, our kitchen has gradually transitioned to an assortment of smaller plates, bowls and cups. My husband can't eat lumberjack portions now either, although his portions are usually larger because men need more calories. My point is that this didn't happen overnight; it morphed over time.

Yes, we are creatures of habit and lasting change takes time and self-reflection. Old habits that harm our health can be hard to break and new ones require effort and personalization. It is so worth it, though! Take baby steps, be kind and patient with yourself and have a sense of humor. Small changes can lead to the big result of health and vitality!

Brenda L Braslow, MS, RDN, LDN,CDE

Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Indialantic, Florida

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Weight Loss/Behavior Weight Maintenance/Behavior

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