by Susan McCarthy
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Everyday practice: Find the micro-actions that will support your weight loss goals.
As someone who has tried and failed innumerable times to lose weight, I’m starting to think that I don’t need to read about another diet or nutritional plan. Most diets tend to promote themselves as The Way to health. You know, eat these foods and you’ll lose weight. Ta-da! Been there, failed that.
Some diets tell you that if you eat certain foods then you’ll never feel hungry. Other diets tell you that you should pay attention to your hunger as a guide for when you need food. Oh, and others point out that if you’re between meals and feeling hungry, you should tell yourself that you just ate ‘x’ hours ago and you will eat in another ‘x’ hours. Ack!
I’m not suggesting giving up on following a diet or exercise plan. However, whatever plan you’re following, you need to make it work for you instead of you working for it.
I’m working at losing over a hundred pounds and no shake or meal plan alone is going to support all that effort. What I am going to work on is my habits. And not just the usual list of habits that can help you lose weight.
When a nutritionist or doctor even acknowledged the habits that can help you lose weight, they tend to focus on big actions like:
Find the Micro-actions
Take a few minutes to list the actions you want to do – or not do – so you can lose weight. In the photo below, you can see the mind map I made, linking some of the actions I want to do and, in some cases, listing solutions or alternative actions; really, whatever came to mind.
I made this mind map in 5-10 minutes and chances are that I’ll think of things that I forgot, and I’ll elaborate on this.
However, using what I have, I want to focus on eating more slowly. If you’re following along with your own actions, pick whatever seems like it will make the most difference to you.
Now, I’m a fast eater. I can sit down and start shoveling in the food, not stopping until it’s done. Noticing that I’m no longer hungry? Not a chance of that happening. I could explore why I’m a fast eater, but that’s not going to change the behavior any time soon.
On my mind map, I noted that I need to sit, chew, and put down the food/fork between bites. All are reasonable things that I know I should be doing, but don’t. Writing that sentence helped me remember that oft-recited tip to eat without distractions (no tv, reading, social media, talking, etc.) so I added that to my mind map even though I realize that it’s not an action I plan on pursing now.
I’ve decided to focus on putting down the food/fork between bites. I think this will give me time to chew and suggests that I’ll be sitting while eating.
Select a Habit Prompt
Just telling myself to eat slower doesn’t work. I know this because I don’t already possess this habit. From reading about habits, I know that all habits start with a cue or prompt. While sitting down to eat seems like the logical prompt, again, I know it doesn’t work because it isn’t currently working.
After reading BJ Fogg’s book, Tiny Habits, I know that I need to anchor my habit with a specific prompt. Since the habit I want is putting down my fork between bites, I’ll use taking a bite as my prompt. So, “after I take a bite, I’ll set down my fork/food.”
And, yes, that means that instead of thinking of a big change, I’ve noticed that I’ll be practicing this habit numerous times during the meal. Each bite is another opportunity to develop this habit. And, if you develop a habit by repetition, then this micro-action is all about the repetition.
Cheer on Your Efforts
Another component of habit formation is feeling a reward for completing the action. (So, when I chow down a chocolate bar, the reward isn’t eating the chocolate but the happy, relaxed feeling I experience afterward.) Dr. Fogg has you deliberately cheer on each iteration of a habit. This is something simple like smiling or mentally telling yourself “good job.”
So, the process looks like this for me, “after I take a bite, I’ll set down my food/fork and mentally tell myself, ‘good job, you set down your fork!’.” I could just tell myself “good job” but I figured a few more words would encourage me to take the time to chew.
Does this feel silly. Yep, you bet! Does it matter if the TV is on in the background? No. Can I read while practicing this habit? Not really since I’m cheering on my action every minute or so. So, without really trying, I’m also limiting my distractions while eating (even though I hadn’t planned on doing this).
At least for now. I’m hoping that I’ll automatically eat more slowly, without being conscious of what I’m doing (take bite, set down fork, good job!) … you know, form a habit.
If I’d tried to work from the action, “eat slowly,” as I’ve done in the past, I would have sat down, reminded myself to eat slowly and then realized my plate was clear and I hadn’t eaten slowly. I’m in my mid-50s, so I have a lot of practice eating quickly. I’d like to say that a couple of meals transformed my bad habit. It has some, not entirely. (I’ve tried forming a few tiny habits with more success. Here I’m trying to change something that I already do.)
So, your turn.
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Hi, I'm Susan, creator of A Less Cluttered Life. Join me on my habit-based journey to build a better life. I'm a writer, teacher, professional organizer, habit rebel, gardener, crocheter, fan of young adult novels and wrangler of the squirrels that run free-range through my mind. I live on the Charles River in Massachusetts (USA) with my husband of 10 years, a calico cat named Biscuits (and, currently, a nephew and brother-in-law). I want to inspire you to make lasting changes in your life.