A while ago I introduced the healthstyle Recalibration. Recalibration is an excellent way to help reset your healthstyle (especially if you were a bit derailed by the holidays) and troubleshoot stalled weight loss, but it is not intended as a method of prolonged weight control. For that you need something that lasts.
No human on earth can eat perfectly healthy for every meal of his life. And if you think about it, that shouldn’t even be your goal. Food is too good and life is too short to deprive yourself all the time of things you enjoy. Besides, nobody has an endless supply of willpower, so even if you try for perfection you will likely fail.
What’s awesome is that you don’t actually need to eat perfectly all the time. To achieve and maintain your ideal weight, all you need is to eat healthy most of the time. In other words, the secret to long term weight control is not restricting certain foods or ingredients, it’s changing your habits.
Over the years I’ve noticed there are a handful of essential habits that are necessary for me to maintain my preferred weight. For me these include eating breakfast, shopping at the farmers market (which translates into cooking more at home), eating vegetables daily, walking 10,000 steps per day, strength training 3-5 days per week, chewing my food thoroughly, drinking lots of water and limiting sugary or bready meals to 1-2 times per week.
I call these my Home Court Habits, and if I am able to do them consistently I can pretty much eat whatever I want the rest of the time. But if I miss any of them for too many days in a row without compensating in some way my weight will start to creep upward.
The beautiful thing about habits is that once they are developed they work for you automatically, without much thought or willpower. This means that if you can acquire the right set of Home Court Habits, weight control will be fairly effortless. Cool, right?
Things only start to get tricky when you are thrown off your normal routine for an extended period of time. This is one reason the holidays can be so difficult. With travel and special occasions every weekend, it’s easy to let cooking or exercise slip for a week or more. But when you return to your home court, your habits should put you back on track.
Of course, for Home Court Habits to work, you need to defend them. Birthdays, holidays and pressing work deadlines occur too often for you to rely on temporary diets or willpower to see you through your fitness goals. But if you have a set of Home Court Habits that you know you can depend on whenever you’re in your regular routine, these health-defying events won’t be strong enough to have a significant impact on your weight.
Because Home Court Habits are so essential, you shouldn’t trust yourself or your best intentions to maintain them. Track your activity and keep records to make sure your habits are working for you. Monitoring is a Home Court Habit as well.
To keep myself honest, I use a wifi scale (both Fitbit Aria and Withings are great) daily to track my weight. I know from experience that I fluctuate within a three pound window. If I start to veer outside of that I reexamine my Home Court Habits to make sure something isn’t being neglected.
To make sure I get my 10,000 steps per day I use my Fitbit pedometer and check it regularly. The app keeps a record of your daily steps and sends you an email every week summarizing your activity. Habit building apps like Coach.me are excellent for helping you track your eating and exercise habits and focus your efforts.
Home Court Habits do not need to be the same for everyone. If you don’t like the gym, find some other activity that helps you be active and reach your step goal (I do think everyone needs to take 10,000 steps per day). If you don’t like to cook, find a few prepared meals (at restaurants, grocery stores or wherever) that are healthy and tasty. Work on building the habit of portion control when you’re indulging in something sweet. This may require developing mindful eating habits so you enjoy food more and are satisfied with less.
Whatever habits you try to develop, make sure that you enjoy them. Habits are always associated with a reward (for more on habit building check out The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg). Though the rewards can be very subtle, if your new activity provokes a negative or even neutral emotional response it probably will not stick. So yes, you’re going to have to learn to enjoy being thinner and healthier. Bummer, I know.
By far the hardest part is identifying and developing the Home Court Habits that work for you, both physically and logistically. There needs to be enough of them to counteract all of your not-so-healthy habits (some of your Home Court Habits may involve reprograming these), and they need to be rewarding enough to develop into habits in the first place. Once formed, however, your Home Court Habits are the ultimate secret to lasting weight control.