“We are what we repeatedly do” said Aristotle and when it comes to weight gain and loss, we are what we repeatedly eat—and how we eat it. If you want to change anything in your life, you need to make habits that align with your goals and break the ones that work against you. (Check out Atomic Habits by James Clear or The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg for a deeper dive into the science of habits and how to change them). Today, we're going to talk about four habits you should start to think about breaking if you want to lose weight faster. Will you break these habits seamlessly and never slip up again? Only if you have some kind of superpower. Habits are hard to break. The important thing is that you don’t beat yourself up too badly and keep getting back on the horse.
Here are four habits to break if you want to lose weight faster. We've developed them from Mayo Clinic’s magazine issue entitled “Live Your Healthiest Life” and supported these concepts with additional evidence and studies.
1. Cut out (most) sugar
If you feel like you’re addicted to sugar, it might be because you really are. Studies are beginning to confirm the addictive properties of sugar in animals and humans. So first things first: show yourself a little compassion and don’t beat yourself up when you find yourself caving and eating sugar. It’s going to take time and a ton of willpower to break your sugar habit. But don’t quit eating all sugar. Sugar from fruit is perfectly acceptable. As we explained in another article, most Americans fall drastically short of daily recommended intake and need to eat more fruit. You would have to be eating a ton of fruit to go overdo natural sugars (as always, consult your doctor if you plan to make any major dietary adjustments). Eating fruit is a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth and keep yourself from loading up on other nutrient-poor, high-calorie sugary foods. And eating fruit instead of cake doesn’t always have to feel like a loss. A perfectly ripe chilled mango might as well be candy, in my opinion.
2. Don’t mix food and screens
Eating while watching TV is distracted eating and studies have shown that people tend to overeat while distracted. This may be because attention and memory impact how much food we eat in a day. Once you start eating, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to start sending a “Time to stop!” signal. So if you’re eating distractedly during those 20 minutes, you’re more likely to eat an excess of calories before your brain can give you a signal to stop. Additionally, when you’re mindlessly eating due to distraction, the memory of eating it doesn’t get stored in your brain which means you’re more likely to have another meal or more snacks again sooner. On the flip side, mindful eating—that is, eating your food without the distraction of screens—is “linked to eating less later on.” So put the screens away and try to eat your meal mindfully. Slow down, savor the flavors, and thank yourself for the nourishment you’re giving your body.
3. Quit eating out
As somewhat of a self-proclaimed foodie, this one hurt pretty badly initially. I love to eat out. It’s a wonderful way to get to know a new city or meet up with friends. But eating out has been linked to higher BMIs and weight gain, especially if eating out at fast-food restaurants. Portions at restaurants are often huge and calorically dense, not to mention the dessert menu. But you don’t have to ban yourself from eating out. There are healthier options on menus, you might just have to look a little harder for them. If you eat out regularly, try putting a limit to how many times a week you eat out. I did this recently, restricting myself to one meal out a week on the weekends. I’ve come to enjoy cooking for myself during the week and then picking a new place to eat each weekend. Come up with a plan and start finding healthy staples you feel confident cooking at home. You’ll have a repertoire of recipes up your sleeve in no time, gain confidence in the kitchen, have control over portions and calories in your meals, and you will definitely save money. Plus, you’ll truly appreciate and enjoy the times when you do go out to eat.
4. Curb snacking
Snacking in and of itself is no crime. In fact, it can help you feel satiated and avoid overeating at meals, which is a good thing. The problem is the kind of snacks we grab for. When you think of snacks, what comes to mind? I think of all the convenient, packaged, grab and go foods we see tons of advertisements for everyday—things like cheese crackers, snickers bars, or granola bars. These foods are nutrient-poor and high in calories. The key is to switch your snacking habits to nutrient-rich foods that increase satiation without all of the sugar and calories that come with pre-packaged snacks. Snacks that are high in protein, fiber, or whole grains are the most likely to satisfy your hunger. Try things like nuts, popcorn, fruit, or low-sugar yogurt. Right now, my favorites are apples in nut butter and popcorn with olive oil. Find your own favorites! Google and Youtube are great places to start looking for ideas and find what works for you.
DiNicolantonio J.J, , O’Keefe J.H., Wilson W.L. (2018). Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review. British Journal of Sports Medicine (52),910-913.
LeWine, H. (2013, March 29). Distracted eating may add to weight gain. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/distracted-eating-may-add-to-weight-gain-201303296037
Bhutani S, Schoeller DA, Walsh MC, McWilliams C. (2018). Frequency of eating out at both fast-food and sit-down restaurants was associated with high body mass index in non-large metropolitan communities in Midwest. Am J Health Promot. 32(1):75–83. doi:10.1177/0890117116660772
Njike, V. Y., Smith, T. M., Shuval, O., Shuval, K., Edshteyn, I., Kalantari, V., & Yaroch, A. L. (2016). Snack food, satiety, and weight. Advances in nutrition (Bethesda, Md.), 7(5), 866–878. doi:10.3945/an.115.009340