3.20 The Importance of Creating Habits and Routine

One of the keys to long-term weight management is developing and sticking with simple routines that incorporate new habits in support of long-term lifestyle changes [61]. A healthy lifestyle includes consistent consumption of nutritious foods, physical activity, and sleep [61, 62]. When we add structure to our days we’re more likely to avoid impulsive behaviors that lead to relapse. Those who are successful at maintaining weight loss often eat the same foods, engage in consistent exercise, and do not skip meals [61, 62]. It can be helpful to think about our routines in two broad categories. We all have what scientists categorize as “primary” and “secondary” routines [63]. Primary routines are those that are important for keeping us alive and meeting our basic biological needs. Examples of primary routines include sleeping, eating, and personal hygiene [63]. Our secondary routines are those that reflect our individual preferences and motivations and include our hobbies, exercise, work/study, and how we spend our leisure and social time [63].

Weight management and maintenance behaviors, of course, span across both our primary and our secondary routines. In terms of our primary routines, eating behaviors are important for managing weight over the long run. In fact, when researchers track the behaviors of people who maintain their weight-loss, they find that planning meals most days of the week and tracking calories and fat are commonly reported routines [61, 62, 63].

A novel way to approach the issue of adherence is to create a routine around your specific health recommendations. Once established, routines do not require conscious effort or thought and should be structured in a way that reduces the need for decision making [63].

Planning for success

It’s important to note the difference between a routine and a habit. Habits are associated with a cue [63]. For example, washing one’s hands after using the restroom is a habit because hand washing is associated with the event of using the restroom. Like a routine, a habit requires little conscious thought. However, after prolonged absence of the cue, an individual’s habit may subside. A routine is not dependent on a cue. On average it can take more than 2 months for new habits to become routine [60]. Some steps that can help establish positive routines [63].

  • Use meal replacement products that support your health recommendations

  • Plan meals ahead of time to avoid last-minute decisions

  • Before going to a restaurant plan your choices before going

  • Take meals to work/school

  • Schedule an exercise class or workout with a friend

  • Plan vacations or time away from home

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