While nutrition is a science, eating is a behaviour, a behaviour that often occurs in a social context. For this reason, while specific diets may come and go, understanding and learning how to control our eating behaviours in different environments is a crucial aspect of long term weight control. Here are some of the deeply entrenched behavioural habits that are common in individuals who do manage to control their weight, not just in the short term, but for life.
1. They self-monitor
Whether it is keeping track of your food intake, daily step number or your weight, keeping mindful of our day to day food and activity habits and incremental changes in body size is a crucial aspect of long term weight control. This makes sense for a number of reasons. Documenting food intake, whether via an old fashioned food diary or an advanced electronic monitoring system helps to prevent the mindless munchies that sees little extras slip into mouths on a daily basis. Activity monitors help prompt us to move more after we have sat down for many hours each day and most simply of all, keeping an eye on our weight via regular check in’s with the scales reminds us to pull back when we see those numbers start to creep up. Indeed self-monitoring is proven to work – data from the US Weight Control Registry, which tracks a group of people who have lost 15kg or more and kept it off, found that reduced rates of self-weighing are associated with greater weight gain over time.
2. They limit not restrict
You know the old dieting story, you cut out everything from your diet and then after a few hours, days or weeks you can no longer maintain the restriction and binge at the first opportunity. There are numerous reasons why extreme dietary restriction does not work – people like to eat tasty foods; tempting food is around us all the time and perhaps most importantly, psychological food restriction appears to impact blood glucose regulation, which in turn may drive appetite and the drive for sweet foods. For this reason, more moderate dietary approaches in which controlled amounts of foods that we like to eat can be consumed without guilt and negative emotion are much more likely to be sustainable long term. This means including an occasional glass of wine, or dessert or whatever your vice is should not be frowned upon, rather encouraged.
3. They control the environment
It may sound ridiculous but I could not tell you how many weight loss clients claim to want to lose weight but who still purchase high fat cakes, biscuits, chocolates and desserts as part of their weekly shop, and then get cranky at themselves when they succumb and eat them. Behavioural food researcher Brian Wansink has repeatedly shown in research studies that human beings will eat more when food is readily available. If we can see the lollies, we will eat double the amount we would if we could not see them. The larger the plate, the more we will eat. Working backwards this simply means if you do not want to eat it, do not buy it, and simply serving yourself less is a powerful weight control technique that we have 100% control over.
4. They plan their food
Planning is the key to dietary success – simply having the foods on hand that you need to avoid becoming a victim of your food environment. How many times do you travel, go to a conference or to a social function and find yourself eating poor quality, high calorie food because you have nothing else on hand and are hungry? Avoid this scenario entirely by always keeping a backup supply of nutritious foods on hand; eat before you head to social functions so you are not starving and forced to eat whatever is served and pack your food when you know the choices available will not compliment your dietary goals.
5. They keep things consistent
It does not matter if it is Christmas, a birthday or if they have been ‘good’ in the week, individuals who control their weight keep their basic dietary intake consistent. In real life this means always eating breakfast, and always drinking water and even though an occasional extra or treat may slip in, rather than completely throwing their dietary rules out the window, they get straight back onto their program. Just as exercise consistency is the key to success so too is dietary consistency. So no more taking the weekend off, or starting again Monday, just start now, with your very next meal or snack choice.