Weight Loss

How to Build Healthy Habits for Weight Loss

4 minutes read

Advice on weight loss often promotes transient “fad” diets, extreme exercise regimens, and temporary, but drastic routine changes. For most people, this inevitably leads to unsustainable rapid weight loss with a high likelihood of weight regain.

Research shows the habits in our routines — the small, repeated actions we take on a daily basis — help to pave the path to sustainable weight loss and long-term health. Forming habits ensures that the changes we make become integrated into our daily lives.

The science behind successful habit formation

Habit formation is a well-studied, yet complex psychological process [1]. When done effectively, forming habits can lead to successful behavior change [2]. Habits are a crucial component in healthy weight loss and overall metabolic health, as they promote lifestyle changes that can be maintained long-term.

One way to build healthy habits is to use a research-backed method called Habit Loop [3].

The Habit Loop is composed of 3 steps: a reminder, a routine, and a reward. This model provides a framework for embedding new, positive behaviors into your everyday life.

Habits can be developed over time when a behavior is performed after a reminder or set of cues [4]. This allows our brains to associate a specific action (reminder) with an expected response (behavior). A simple example is hearing an alarm in the morning (reminder) and waking up to start your day (behavior). Habits can be further reinforced when there is a reward associated with the outcome of the behavior.

Reviews and meta-analyses of research studies support the idea that intentionally forming habits makes the behavior become automatic [5, 6]. Research also shows that programs that focus on habit-based changes are more successful for weight loss than other kinds [6]. 

Why building habits is critical for weight loss

It's not surprising that losing weight – and keeping it off – is a challenge. It’s common to reach a weight loss plateau, and research shows a high rate of weight regain over time among people trying to lose weight [7]. Maintaining your weight is affected by factors like your environment, your motivation, and your behavior patterns, also known as your habits [8].

Identifying these factors that impact weight loss and forming solid habits around them is important. The Four Pillars of Metabolic Health — diet, exercise, sleep, and stress — are factors within your control that you can build habits around, and are directly related to weight management, insulin sensitivity, and glucose control.

Unhealthy habits in diet, exercise, sleep, and stress can cause your body’s insulin sensitivity to decrease and your glucose control to become dysregulated, eventually leading to insulin resistance. When your body is in a state of insulin resistance, you have elevated levels of blood glucose and an increased amount of fat storage – making it much harder to lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight.

Utilizing tools like a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) can provide you with data on your current habits and how your body uniquely responds to them. This allows you to personalize strategies and incorporate habits for your own weight loss journey.

Examples of healthy habits for weight loss

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to weight loss, there are many research-backed habits you can start today to improve your metabolic health and kick-start your weight loss journey.

Diet

Exercise

Sleep

Stress

Daily routines for weight loss using the Habit Loop

Using the Habit Loop format, you can set reminders, routines, and rewards to help reach your weight loss goals. Some examples for each part of the day include:

1. Morning

  • Reminder: Set your alarm 30 minutes earlier for morning exercise.
  • Routine: Start your morning with a 20-minute walk or yoga session.
  • Reward: The feeling of enhanced energy levels, alertness, and focus through the morning. Make sure to refuel with a nutritious breakfast that includes protein and fiber.

2. Afternoon

  • Reminder: Block off your schedule at the end of lunch.
  • Routine: A 10-minute walk after lunch to stabilize blood sugar levels.
  • Reward: An afternoon break from work and better digestion of your lunch.

3. Evening

  • Reminder: Have your phone automatically switch to sleep mode when it’s time to start your pre-sleep routine.
  • Routine: Dim the lights and engage in a relaxing activity, such as reading, stretching, or meditation.
  • Reward: A restful night's sleep, which is essential for weight management.

For sustainable and healthy weight loss, focus on forming habits that align with your lifestyle and goals. You can modify these habit loops, such as adjusting the type or intensity of exercise or the timing of your pre-sleep routine. You can also use personalized data from a CGM and Veri to create your own habit loops to align with your unique weight goals.

Key takeaways

  • Maintaining weight loss is supported by the formation of healthy habits.
  • The Habit Loop is a valuable tool for incorporating and embedding new behaviors into your daily life. By creating a series of reminder, routine, and reward, you are more likely to reinforce the habit you want to include in your life.
  • Sustainable habits for weight loss include eating a metabolically healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise, managing sleep, and reducing stress.
  • Personalized approaches, such as using a CGM with Veri, can optimize your weight loss strategies by providing data and insights into your unique metabolism and current habits.

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4826769/
  2. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17437199.2011.603640
  3. https://gdt.stanford.edu/the-habit-loop/ 
  4. https://oxfordre.com/psychology/display/10.1093/acrefore/9780190236557.001.0001/acrefore-9780190236557-e-129
  5. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1539449219876877
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31529279/ 
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5764193/
  8. https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo201559

Written by: Sarah Jayawardene, MS
Reviewed by: Emily Johnson, MSc RD

Table of Contents

  • The science behind successful habit formation
  • Why building habits is critical for weight loss
  • Examples of healthy habits for weight loss
  • Daily routines for weight loss using the Habit Loop
  • Key takeaways

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