Health & Wellness Articles

4 Mindless Habits That Are Hurting Your Weight Loss

Get Focused to Get Back on Track

If you’ve ever tried to break a bad habit, health-related or otherwise, you know how difficult it can be. Every morning, you awake to a daunting, gut-wrenching choice: to commit to change or to fall short of your goals. Those of you who have taken on the challenge of becoming your healthiest self can attest that this choice especially applies to creating changes in your diet and exercise routines. We all realize that the trick to lasting good health lies in mastering positive fitness and nutrition habits. But how can you put bad habits behind you and make wellness your main priority... every single day?
When attempting to dial back unhealthy behaviors, you’re up against several obstacles:
  1. It is likely that you’ve been practicing your unhealthy behavior over and over again for decades. Since your first childhood experience with brussel sprouts, you’ve become a master at avoiding vegetables. Since middle-school gym class, you’ve become adept at excusing yourself from exercise. Because you’ve been forming those unhealthy habits for so long, it isn’t easy to leave them behind.
  2. Efficiency and convenience are another knock against your good-health goals: unhealthy habits are often much easier than the alternative. Should I drive to work or ride my bike? Play football with the kids or rent a movie? Chop and prep fresh veggies or hit the drive-thru? Usually, unhealthy alternatives save us lots of time and require less physical and mental effort than their healthy counterparts. We’ve created such an efficient society that making good choices is almost impossible next to the not-so-healthy, yet quick and easy options.
  3. Finally, bad behaviors also come with sneaky, seductive pay-offs. It is understandable that most of us enjoy chocolate more than apples--it’s sweeter!  And why wouldn’t we avoid morning exercise when we could stay cozy and warm just by hitting snooze one more time? Of course, there are pay-offs for healthy habits as well: lower cholesterol, lower BMI, increased energy, longevity... But they’re usually not immediate or powerful enough to control our choices in the moment.
With the odds stacked against us, it’s easy to understand why conquering unhealthy habits with willpower alone can be rough. Luckily, the science of habit change gives us more effective ways to go about banishing unhealthy routines for good. Let’s take a closer look at some common unhealthy habits to see how we can put behavioral science to work for us.
Bad Habit: Eating on the Run
We’ve all fallen into the trap: You’re late for work, so you stop for a latte/muffin combo. The kids have soccer practice after school, so you settle for take-out tacos. And if you’ve ever taken a road trip, you’ll agree that convenience stores definitely live up to their name: there’s a one-stop-shop for all kinds of unhealthy eats within every 5-mile stretch!
Bust It!
Eating out while you’re in a rush is a habit that can definitely wreak havoc on your health and fitness goals. But there are ways that you can combat the convenience of  fat-laden fast foods. Get savvy about stowing snacks in your vehicle. If you’ve got apples, carrots, granola bars and water on hand, you’ll be less likely to make unplanned pit-stops. Additionally, if you know you're in for a busy week, prep quick and easy meals at home ahead of time. This way, you can grab a healthy bite to eat and avoid the all-too-familiar fast-food run in between evening activities. When you're preparing to leave the house, give yourself more time than you'll actually need to get ready so you can make healthy decisions with a level head instead of instinctively reaching for the easiest option.

Bad Habit: Skipping Workouts
As important as nutrition is in your health-focused efforts, exercise ranks right up there with it as a tool to achieve lasting wellness and weight loss. There’s lots of work that goes into planning meals and pumping weights, but only one will get you sweaty and crank up your cardiovascular health. If you find yourself missing workouts, you’ve probably fallen victim to one of two bad habit culprits: lack of practice or more powerful pay-offs.
Bust It!
There are two types of people who are most likely to fall off the exercise wagon: people who haven’t yet mastered making fitness an everyday priority, and those who have become bored with their age-old routine.
In the first case, when you’re starting a new workout regimen, it is extremely important to set small, measurable goals and to track your progress daily. Keeping a chart on your wall of the days you fit in your workout will help you stay on track toward creating a lasting healthy habit.
If you’ve been rocking it out at the gym for a while and have recently hit a wall, consider changing up your routine and adding in incentives for reaching new heights. Never tried yoga? Complete a month of classes and then treat yourself to a massage. Think you hate cycling? Commit to biking to work for a week and, only then, indulge in that new handbag or pair of jeans. When you’ve lost internal motivation, adding outside incentives can give you the boost you need to get back on track.
Bad Habit: Mindless or Emotional Munching
On the surface, the analysis of unconscious eating behavior seems pretty simple. Food tastes good, especially the sugary or salty snacks we choose when we’re munching away in front of the television. It is obvious that there’s an immediate, powerful pay-off in the taste and texture of whichever treat you choose from the pantry. What you may not realize is that there’s another nasty habit-maker at fault here as well. If you really think about your instances of mindless munching, you’ll realize that they often occur in coordination with some other environmental trigger. Many of us turn to food when things go bad or when we’re bored; maybe you reach for chips when you hear unexpected bad news, or you’ve always had ice cream as a bedtime snack. The practice of situational eating is deeply ingrained and can be tough to correct.
Bust It!
Here again, keeping track of mindless munching and adding in incentives for staying away from unhealthy snacks can help you to reign in your behavior. Notice your food/mood triggers when they happen and make a point to keep your biggest trigger foods out of the house. Be mindful about what you're eating and set a goal for avoiding senseless snacking. Is there a favorite show you’ve taped or a new album you’ve been eyeing for your iPod? Deny yourself those little luxuries until you’ve met your goal of mindful eating for one full week. Adding a pay-off more powerful than the flavor of food can help you avoid so many extra calories. And, you can start practicing an alternative healthy behavior to get you through stressful times instead of food. Try journaling, meditating, calling a friend, or going for a walk instead of reaching for your usual comforting snacks.
Bad Habit: Skimping on Sleep
Late to bed, early to rise is a poisonous pattern that rings true for most of us. We know that sleep helps us to function well and be productive. But, between career commitments, family time, social activities and personal fitness, who has time to get a good night’s sleep?
Bust It!
Sleeping patterns are typically programmed in when we’re young. If you think back, you may realize that you were a night owl in` high school or an early riser in college. Your body has found a rhythm and is happy sticking with it. Because being awake is so well-ingrained, when you’re trying to change your sleeping habits, you’ve got to start small. Set up a bedtime routine and stick with it; this will help trigger your brain and body to prepare for rest. Brush your teeth, wash your face, read a book, or meditate to calm your body. Avoid looking at a computer or TV screen right before bed, as this can sometimes make it more difficult to fall asleep. It also helps to reserve your bedroom for sleeping only; relegate the television, video games, and home office to the rest of the house.
After you've got your bedtime routine down, aim to go to bed 5 minutes earlier or sleep in 5 minutes later than usual. When you achieve this schedule for a few days, add 5 more minutes of shut-eye. Making little changes like this can lead to big results. Keep it up for a month and you’ll have added over one full hour of restful rejuvenation!
How to Establish New, Healthier Habits
When you’re working on wellness, it always seems like someone is asking you to cut something out: sweets and fast food from your diet, time from your day to exercise, and so on. To stay sane while decreasing unhealthy behaviors, you need to fill the gaps! One of the best ways to break a bad habit is to insert an alternative healthy behavior in its place. You can use tips and tricks based on the information above to help you build new, healthier habits and make them stick, in conjunction with the following three tips:
  1. Practice. Set an achievable weekly goal for how many miles you’re going to bike, laps you’re going to swim, fruits you’re going to eat, and healthy meals you’re going to cook--and get cracking! As you reach your goal each week, you’ll find a rhythm and your healthy behaviors will start resembling a well-oiled machine.
  2. Make healthy choices easier and more convenient. Get environmental obstacles (like lack of jogging gear and a pantry full of junk food) out of your way. Once you’ve set up your environment for success, sticking with healthy habits will become much simpler!
  3. Plan some powerful pay-offs for reaching your wellness goals. Sure, internal motivation is great and hopefully you’ll have a ton of gumption to get fit. But, no matter how committed you are to your cause, unhealthy habits will always entice you with their quick, underlying pay-offs. If you plan ahead and reward yourself with extra incentives for working out and eating right, you’ll be riding high on healthy habits for a lifetime. 

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Member Comments

  • Brussels sprouts
  • This was a poorly thought out and poorly written article. Why because it speaks in absolutes and it makes them seem like they are achievable for EVERYONE. They are not. No one should ever carry snacks in their car - a moment's distraction causes an accident. I've been hit by a "healthy muncher" who wasn't paying attention to the road. I could exercise vigorously until I drop and I will never shed a drop of sweat. I don't sweat. Thankfully I learned this early - all I will do is overheat and then I will drop and be sick for days. As for the folks who are too busy to ... you fill in the blanks. You are only too busy if you let yourself get too busy. Say no. Kids don't need an organized activity every single day of the week. Begin by saying NO. Then completely UNPLUG at least 2 hours every evening. You don't need TV or your phone every waking minute. Only eat at the table. Avoid fast food and chain restaurants. None of it is good for you. Life is only complicated if you let it run you instead of choosing to live it.
    "Set up a bedtime routine and stick with it; this will help trigger your brain and body to prepare for rest."

    This is so true!

    Since using the bedtime setting on my Fitbit, and USING IT...I am sleeping better.
    The "alarm" goes off at 9:30pm which is my signal to turn off the computer AND phone, shower (lukewarm water) brush teeth, and get ready for bed at 10:00pm
    Some nights it helps, others it doesn't but the consistency is what matters!
  • Mindless munching changing to snack planning (fruits &
  • The article had good advice. I just had one problem with the "treating yourself". All the treats required spending money. I would have added free things to the treats such as a weekend camping trip away from people or go visit your favorite aunt that you haven't seen in years if possible. Little things can be free.
  • I can't seem to figure out which is better...wake up at 5:30 and get in a workout, or forego exercise for sleep. I lose an hour of sleep when I wake up to work out & my schedule is literally so tight that I don't have that 5 extra minutes to add each night. I run around until midnight, then pass out.

    So, my question continues to be...sleep or exercise? It sounds like it would be easy to have both, but as a full-time, working mother, I would love to know where I could find that extra time.
  • I've tried the sleeping advice and finally got my sleep pattern down - almost. The problem I have is when the time changes. So, to combat that, I change my bed and wake up time to stay the same. In the summer I get up at 6:30am, and in the winter, I get up at 7:30am. Seems to be working. P.S. I'm retired.
  • Sleep, no sleep, sleep, no sleep, sleep, no sleep. Kind of gets me tired just thinking about it. This camper defiantly skimps on sleep. The pay off for skimping is I end up not having enough strength to eat right, exercise, and plan. Sooooo, this was a great article for me to read.
  • This was such a boost for me. I've been on the vicious, self-defeating cycle of good habits that go bad within a few weeks. I'm back on track now, but after reading this article, I have a more strategic means of staying on track and reaching my fitness goals. Thanks so much!
  • The thing I really like about this article is that it got me thinking. When I read something like this I rarely agree with everything that is written. However, I typically find something that encourages me to try something new, think of something differently, or find comfort in knowing that others share in many of my struggles. While the suggestions for more zzZZzzzZzs won't help this insomniac sleep easier tonight, I can replace those sad (most likely rancid) almonds that have been in my glove compartment for months. This just goes to show that knowing and doing often show different parties! I need to see that they hang out together a little more often...heading to the garage right now!
  • I started at the beginning with the first assumption made in the article and was frustrated by the end. I loved veggies as a child. My sleep has always been an issue, all my life, yet I am told "just do yoga" or some other foolish thing. I've tried it all, my sleep continues to be messed up. I was very active as a child, as a teen, as a young adult and didn't change until my metabolism really messed up in my late thirties. Metabolic diseases are highly under-researched and easily dismissed yet they cause more damage than anyone realizes. Trust me when I say, after my gut healed (IBD), I was celebrating that I could eat veggies again.
  • Just started to change my eating habits today. I will eat smaller portions, healthier foods, no seconds, and make myself walk on that treadmill that has been gathering dust this past year. I need to do this to feel good about myself again.
    I am 70 years old and a professional dieter just not a professional loser. I have put on about 40 lbs in the last two years due to A-Fib, Planters Fasciitis, and knee problems. My Dr. is a Cardiac Electrophysiologi
    st (for A-Fib) and our primary doctor both recommended cutting carbohydrates.
    We started this new way of eating since Dec 26 for a jump start but want to get into a long term habit. I have talked about diets for years. I now have a renewed since of focus and need to prove myself. I quit smoking on 7-24-07 at 10PM (who is counting?) I can do this to help with AFib, blood pressure, knee, and heel.
  • Good advice! I think gas stations would go out of business overnight if it were not for their convenience stores. I am one who does not care for the image of gasoline and food together, but they were a godsend on road trips where traffic jams delayed us in the middle of nowhere and we had to get food and drink, and fuel. I do avoid them except for emergencies though. I do not even know what some of the food advertised is- what is a "tornado" for instance? Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen...
    Such great advice. I definitely saved this one in the favs!

About The Author

Megan Coatley Megan Coatley
Megan is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) with a masterís degree in applied behavior analysis from Western Michigan University. As a health and wellness coach, she combines her passion for nutrition and fitness with her professional talents to help others creative positive, lasting change and live healthier lives.

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