We are in such an interesting time at the tail end of this global pandemic. We’ve seen how the stress and mental anguish of COVID-19 has affected so many of us. As a result, I’ve been having this conversation with nearly all of my clients about dialing in on their nutrition again to lose the weight that the combination of stress eating and limited or lack of activity during the height of the pandemic put on almost all of us.
Behavior Change 101
Any kind of lasting behavior change that leads to success involves the formation of new habits. I’m sorry to burst the bubble that says if you can repeat an action for 21 or 30 days it becomes a habit. Research shows that it takes more like 66 days to form a new habit. Also, habits are easier to create when you have a support and accountability system to reinforce the habit.
The key is to make the habit a routine. Routines don’t take any thought. We simply do them automatically. The author James Clear discusses habit formation in his book Atomic Habits and condenses most of what we know today about habit formation into four essential features of habits that can become routines. Let’s break them down in terms of eating better:
- Make it accessible – We tend to do what is easiest. Anyone will find themselves at the McDonald’s drive-thru if they have to choose between that and going home to cook after a hard day. The way to make eating the right foods a routine is to surround yourself with the right foods, prepared and ready to eat. Food shopping and preparation is the key. If all I have to do is open a container and pop it into the microwave, air fryer or oven for a few minutes, then I’m bypassing the drive-thru and going home. Take one or two evenings a week to prepare and package your food for the week. Label your containers for meals and days if this helps. The first time you do it will be the biggest investment in time. After that, it gets much easier.
- Make it attractive – With all the different types of vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and protein sources available, everyone can settle on their favorite nutritious balanced meals that are good for them. If you’re having trouble defining meals that you’d like to eat regularly, I’d say put on your big boy/girl pants and eat like a grown-up.
- Make it easy – If you’re always on the go and don’t have time to shop or prep your meals, then a meal service might be the thing for you. Can’t afford a meal service? Perhaps you can hire someone via a Gig worker service like Taskrabbit.
- Make it rewarding – Your rewards are lower numbers on the scale, smaller clothes, more visible muscle, perhaps some favorable looks from people when you’re out, and better performance. What more could you ask for?
Figuring out how to use these four features to your advantage is your path to success.