By Joy Martina Ph.D. and Roy Martina, M.D, Special for USDR
The hardest habits to break are the ones in which you try to stop doing something you’re accustomed to doing, such as overeating or eating junk food. The problem is your brain is not designed to replace doing something with doing nothing, so you have to exert willpower to stop yourself from doing what your brain is pushing you to do. Here are three steps you can take to help change habits plus seven more tips to help you shed fat like melting snow on a hot day:
1. Replace doing something with doing something else: Rather than trying to stop yourself from repeating a habit, create a new habit that operates in the same situation. One of our friends was a heavy smoker when he decided to quit. He led a very unhealthy lifestyle, eating junk food, drinking large quantities of alcohol and only moving from his desk to the refrigerator and then to bed. When he quit, he decided to go full blow: he started running and eating a healthy diet. Within six months had not only stayed a happy non-smoker but was fit enough to run his first marathon.
2. Tell a friend: Your own motivation can break down easily, so enlist help. If you’re embarking on a radical change in lifestyle, find a friend who is willing to try it too. We feel much more obliged to stick to our promises if we make them in public, and you will have the added benefit of team motivation. When you feel like falling back into a bad habit, call your buddy. She or he can help talk you out of it.
3. Drink a glass of warm water and make yourself think: Habits work on autopilot. So, when you’re trying to change your behavior, set things up so that your autopilot doesn’t work. Break the pattern by doing something that you wouldn’t normally do in that moment, like drinking a glass of warm water (warm water has proven to be more effective here than drinking icy cold water. Add some lemon juice or fresh ginger to give it an extra kick). Also, try rearranging the dishes and food storage in your kitchen. That way, none of the habitual ways that you ate at home before will work. You’ll have to think about every step of the eating process, and that gives you a chance to add new behaviors.
4. Replace unhealthy snacks with healthy ones: You must change your snacking habits, especially if you work or live in an environment where there is abundance of snacking. If you know you can’t resist brownies, cookies, or muffins, don’t keep a mix in your pantry. Eliminate all temptations and replace them with healthy choices. If you are going somewhere with friends and family and know you’ll have a hard time controlling yourself, make a decision before you go about what you will eat — and stick to it. Create an abundance of healthy snacks like a fruit basket with apples, oranges, grapes, etc. Also consider bringing chopped up carrots, celery, etc., instead of baked goodies. Make a plan for healthy snacks that combines a little bit of fat, protein, and crunch; such as apple slices smeared with peanut butter. Some walnuts, almonds and dried apple or mango can be healthy alternatives, if not overdone.
5. Banish all high-calorie condiments and sugars: A real no-no is sugar added to anything or drinks containing sugar, fructose, corn syrup etc. If you go to a coffee shop, avoid getting any added syrups. We are not fans of sweeteners but if you have to have something, try Splenda. Steevia or monk fruit are much better, but you will have to carry them with you, as most places don’t serve them. Avoid mayonnaise: replace that with mustard on your burger or sandwich, and always order salad dressing on the side so that you can control the amount you eat.
6. Load up on veggies/salads: Two thirds of your plate should be vegetables or salad. The other third can be split between protein or starchy carbohydrates (preferably one of the two). If you decide to get a second plate, make it all vegetables. People who routinely eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day are much more successful with weight loss.
7. Ban fast food: A study of 1,713 adults who have been successful over the long term with weight loss demonstrated that people who eat at fast-food restaurants less than twice a week have greater success with weight loss. If you do eat at a fast food restaurant then load up on veggies and stop eating as soon as you feel satisfied.
8. Ban liquid calories: Water is your best friend and will help you lose weight. Most people understand that sugary sodas add calories, yet still believe that sweet tea and fruit juices are healthy. Sweetened tea is no less calorie-dense than soda, and you are better off eating the fruit than drinking the juice.
9. Be accountable: The best way is to have a professional coach, but if you cannot afford that, find a diet buddy you check in with, or a support group. Keep a food diary; keeping track of your daily food choices takes only a few minutes, but can double your weight-loss success.
10. Order smaller portions: Start ordering smaller portions and ask the server to leave out the carbs and add extra veggies. Data suggests that people who order smaller portions or share a plate at restaurants are more successful with weight loss. If available order a lunch portion, an appetizer, or a children’s meal — or put up to half your meal into a doggy bag before you begin eating.
Finally don’t forget to celebrate your success. To change your future, you need to believe you have it in you! People who believe they can succeed with weight loss actually do lose weight more successfully. How do you gain this confidence? Take a moment to pat yourself on the back when you make healthy choices and achieve your short-term goals. These small changes, all of which are easily made, will quickly add up to more pounds lost over time.
About the Authors: Brain-training experts Joy Martina, Ph.D., and her husband Roy Martina, M.D, are co-creators of Sleep Your Fat Away, a groundbreaking approach to weight loss, and co-authors of the comprehensive, step-by-step guidebook Sleep Your Fat Away (Morgan James) coming to Amazon. Joy and Roy are passionate about health, longevity and fitness. They describe themselves as “health food lovers, exercise maniacs and happiness addicts” who never go to bed angry or stressed. Visit www.SleepYourFatAway.com.