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How to Build Healthier Habits

How to Build Healthier Habits

I see this far too often. When people are trying to manage their weight the only reward they look for is the number on the scale: 

Is it going down?!

Whether it is on a daily basis, or weekly basis their whole life becomes about what is happening on that scale. At first, whatever restrictive diet, or exercise regimen they have decided to embark on seems totally worth it…..ONLY when the 

numbers on the scale are going down. As soon as the scale stops moving (and I guarantee it will at some point), suddenly that restrictive diet or killer exercise 

routine is totally NOT worth it. They suddenly realize they are starving, tired, depressed, anxious, stressed, etc. and throw their hands up and go back to their old habits. I have seen this more times than I can count and I have only been working in this space for about 3 years. I won’t go into how detrimental this is on your mental health or metabolic health, via yo-yo dieting today. Today I want to talk about it in the context of habits.

I am borrowing much of this next part from James Clear the author of Atomic Habits, which is an excellent book by the way. I have recommended it before. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it! 

For a habit to occur – there must be a CUE – CRAVING – RESPONSE and a REWARD. 

If one of these components is missing, the habit will not happen. 

Subconsciously, especially when it comes to weight management, these are all happening without us even realizing it. Something in your environment has to CUE you to engage a previously learned habit – ex. Walking through the door after a stressful day at work. CRAVING – previously when you had this feeling, eating cookies before dinner made you feel better, so you CRAVE the cookies. Then, you go eat the cookies = RESPONSE. Again you feel better = the REWARD. Make sense?

So let’s look at it in terms of the scale. CUE – it’s lunchtime and you brought a salad from home. CRAVING – last week you ate salads all week and on Sunday you were down 2kg. So you CRAVE the salad and you eat the salad RESPONSE, and you do this all week and on Sunday you are down another kg – REWARD. You see where I am going with this?

Same scenario again, but this time the scale reads the same as last week therefore, NO REWARD. Now you might cut yourself some slack and say it’s a one-off “we are still doing good”. So you go another week and the scale doesn’t move yet again and you get NO REWARD. Now at this point, your brain is getting cranky. 

Your brain LOVES rewards, rewards mean dopamine and dopamine feeeeeeellls sooooo goooood (think of Homer Simpson drooling face), and I wish I could, but eating a salad every day does not really provide that kick of dopamine our brain knows and loves. Another example, if your brain has the choice between an apple and apple pie – it is going to choose the apple pie every time.

So what is going to happen? Well, your brain is going to get you to do habits that provide it with a reward, feeding its craving for dopamine. Snacking on donuts in the break room? Going to lunch with colleagues? Anything but salad? YUP! Those provided a REWARD in the past and I bet they still do. Boom. You are suddenly engaging in those behaviours over and over again because you are getting the REWARD from them. At this point, you have likely started the conversation with yourself that you will get back on track tomorrow (or on Monday). Or worse yet, ‘I am a failure, I wasn’t able to stick to it, so what is the point?’ 

Well, I am here to tell you, YOU are not a failure. The diet, or exercise plan is what failed you. As well as basing the reward for your healthier behaviours around an object and metric that is entirely out of your control! A reward like that is ultimately finite – the returns and reward will stop coming and at that point, the REWARD aspect breaks down and you stop engaging in that habit, it is not sustainable. So what do we do? 

We need to instead look at REWARDS that will always be present, rewards that are infinite if you will. If the reward is always there, then the habit will continue to occur (caveat: as long as the other 3 parts are also present).

  • Being able to keep up with your grandkids? 
  • Limiting the number of medications you are on? 
  • More energy? 
  • What else?!?

Think about the things that are actually important to you. Things in your life that you truly value! 

Related Reading > “Find your Why; Live a More Fulfilling Life”

Related Activity > “How to draft your Why Statement” 

When our reward becomes something that we will forever value – it will always be there. Our values are a part of us and they are unwavering over the course of our lifetime. This is the key to achieving your goals, permanently. Whether that’s how to lose weight and keep it off… learn to cook and enjoy healthy meals… how to become a runner… 

Tell me, what is that you value in your life? What is truly important to you? 

Then set your goals and lifestyle changes based around that! 

Having trouble figuring out what your driving force might be? Send me an email I would be happy to chat about it and help you narrow them down! 

-Dr. Dan

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