The 3 pillars of weight management (and many other health and fitness goals) is nutrition, exercise and the underemphasized, yet absolutely essential domain of behavior change. Knowledge is a piece of the puzzle, certainly, but finding ways to implement what you know into your daily life, day after day, is how people sustain healthy behaviors that eventually result in energy, activity and healthy eating. If any or all of these are sustained over time, weight loss and is sure to follow.
So what factors play into behavior change?
Motivation is one key player. Uncovering one's motivation leads to discovering WHY they want to... X,Y or Z.
It is more effective to realize WHY you want to carry out a behavior, rather than being told to do something by someone else.
Confidence (or self efficacy) is a major predictor of successful behavior change. So starting small with achievable goals that encompass one's strengths is recommended. It is often helpful to look back on prior successes and reflect on what has worked, and what hasn't in the past. Identifying strengths, weaknesses and obstacles is critical to forming successful strategies that will eventually lead to the behaviors and outcomes you want.
Health beliefs (knowledge) do come into play. Understanding the logic or science behind a health recommendation can increase the chances one will follow through on a given behavior. Believing eating a certain way will eventually lead to weight loss, makes it more likely one will eat that way. Once you reap the benefits of skipping happy-hour drinks a few times, you're more likely to make it a habit.
Goal Setting is an important part of a change plan. Setting realistic appropriate goals is vital. Remember, you can always modify goals, but it is best to start with an easy goal and build confidence to tackle more challenging goals.
Try to set SMART goals
Try to set "Be" goals vs. "Do" goals
("Do" goals are okay, especially at the beginning)
Avoid abstinence goals (I won't have any more chocolate)
Instead, set positive goals (I will eat 3 servings of vegetables a day)
Substituting, especially at first, is a great strategy (I will drink 1% milk or almond milk in place of whole milk)
Values are also important to address.
A goal is more likely to be met if it satisfies more than one value. (cooking at home vs. eating out may satisfy health and financial values simultaneously)
A behavior is more likely to be met depending on how quickly or certain it is to satisfy a goal/value.
Hierarchy or prioritization of goals and values matter, with higher priorities (goals/values) being placed before others. It is essential to have a plan to deal with competing desires/behaviors.
Urgency or perceived urgency is another factor that affects how likely a goal is to be met. Diagnosis of a disease or seeing a particular number on the scale may increase the urgency to adopt different behaviors.
It is very likely you will feel ambivalent toward some of your goals. Ambivalence is the feeling of conflict between two desires. For example, you want to eat healthfully to lose weight, but you also want to have a beer during happy hour with your coworkers. Or, you want to go to the gym, but you also would enjoy staying home to watch your favorite TV show.
Can you find behaviors or compromises that allow you to satisfy both of your desires? Like watching your favorite show on the treadmill at the health club? When this isn't possible, try to find an action that deliveres similar satisfaction or at least destructs you from the action that will not help you achieve your overall goal.
Creating strategies, plans and compromises are necessary to follow through on healthy behaviors. This is also why motivation, support, accountability and skill power (not will power) are all so important.
Addiction also often a very big part, especially with food, alcohol, caffeine, sugar and smoking.
Environment drives a lot of what we do. This goes back to making the healthy choice the easy choice. I cannot stress this part enough.
If you want to avoid drive-thu's, carry healthy snacks with you in the car. If you want to go to the gym in the morning, pack your gym bag the night before and put in in your car.
Behaviors can also relate to triggers and cues.
Try to create healthy, positive triggers and cues, and eliminate negative, detrimental ones. You can set alarms as reminders to eat, pack your gym bag or make your lunch. Set an appointment with your gym buddy or carve out an hour on your schedule to meal prep.
Have healthy foods stocked and easily visible while keeping treats stashed away. Small bowls and cups can also cue you to know when it's time to stop eating.
None of these concepts are magical. They take a lot of time, thought, sacrifice, practice and fine-tuning. But nothing good ever comes easy, does it :)? The payoff will come, and it is well worth the sacrifice!
Mike Aguilar RD, CPT
Personal Fitness and Weight Management Consultant
Start Fresh Fitness
Personal Life Coach