When pursuing lifestyle changes for weight loss with or without accompanying medical weight loss or surgical weight loss interventions, making a deliberate change in eating habits is necessary for sustained success. When an eating disorder is present, habit change can be even more crucial for restoration of health and quality of life.

The challenge in changing a problematic behavior lies in that doing so necessitates us to stop taking actions that we often do automatically, as well as beginning to take actions that are easy to forget. Without realizing it, your emotional eating or binge eating might be something that sort of happens on its own, only for you to notice “Shoot, I’ve done it again!” after it’s too late. Below are some tips for reducing problematic eating behaviors, which can include emotional eating or binge eating, and beginning behavioral changes for weight loss!

Make The Old Behavior Harder

Numerous authors who write on the subject of behavior change encourage their readers to change their environment to make their problematic behaviors harder to do and their desired behaviors easier to do. Perhaps you, like many others, have tried to quit eating ice cream every night before bed- how? By not buying ice cream! By abstaining from the purchase, you are shaping your home into an environment in which eating ice cream is difficult to do. You are also creating a prompt: opening the freezer and seeing a dearth of ice cream is likely to trigger the memory that you’re trying not to eat as many sweets- the prompt that reminds you to stick to this change is critical in keeping the automatic behaviors from returning.

We can borrow lexicon from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results, by calling the process of making an unwanted habit harder to do “introducing friction”. The following are some suggestions for introducing friction to reduce overeating  and binge eating.

  • Not purchasing large quantities of foods that are hard for you to resist or to stop eating.
  • Move your snacks to the back of your pantry or to a different floor of your home.
  • Taking a different driving route to avoid your frequently visited fast-food locations.
  • Choosing not to dine in buffet restaurants or shop in bulk food stores.
  • Avoiding places that increase your desire to overeat, such as movie theatres or food courts.
  • Commit to only using cash to buy groceries and stick to the budget you set when buying them.
Make The New Behavior Easier

Doing these aforementioned tasks, though, is typically not enough. Not only does addressing disordered eating call for the retirement of old behaviors, but also requires the cultivation of new, more productive behaviors as well. Once your environment is changed to make unwanted behaviors harder to do, it will behoove you to modify your routine to make your new desired behaviors easier to do by trying the following:

  • Prepare your meals in advance by cooking enough nutritious food to have leftovers during the week.
  • Place the snacks in your home behind books, movies, or video games in your snack cabinet to remind yourself to engage in hobbies rather than eat when feeling bored.
  • When at restaurants, order salmon, steak, or chicken- these foods make for generally nutritious leftovers and reheat nicely in the oven (toaster ovens are perfect for reheating these foods).
  • Purchase running/walking shoes in your favorite color that are exciting for you to wear.
  • Spend some free time creating a playlist of upbeat music or save an audiobook you plan to enjoy. Being excited about what you can listen to while exercising can turn exercise into something you look forward to.
  • Join a friend or loved one who already engages in exercise so movement can be more about socializing rather than labor.
  • Place your TV remote in your walking shoes so the next time you reach for TV, you will be reminded to consider going for a walk.
  • Consider enjoyable or productive forms of movement, such as browsing a mall, cleaning out your attic, or shooting hoops in a park.
  • If you never go, cancel your gym membership. Gyms are great but they can trick people into thinking exercise “doesn’t count” or is not worth doing unless you are pumping iron. If you don’t like the gym, jog around your neighborhood instead, research local parks that look relaxing and ride your bicycle through one, or commit to walking in a museum, zoo, or aquarium you might enjoy!
Request Help

Habits occur automatically, so there will be times when you might accidentally engage in overeating or rely on food to manage your emotions without realizing it. When this happens, it can be helpful to have a member of your support system, such as a spouse, a friend, or a child, point out when you have accidentally returned to the behavior you are trying to abandon. However, this can sometimes make one feel embarrassed, and will require your humility. To enlist the help of your support system without having them make you feel shame, consider the following suggestions:

  • Be clear and specific with your chosen support system member about the exact behavior you are trying to end or develop. Don’t say “I’m trying to lose weight.” Instead, say “I am trying specifically to eat less ice cream these days. One mug of ice cream per week is what I’d like to allow myself.” This way, they know what to point out and when their help is not wanted.
  • Explain exactly what you would like your chosen support system member to do or say if they notice you are returning to your old behavior either on purpose or by accident. Have them agree to notify you of their observations, and DO NOT be upset with them when they do what you asked them to.
  • Tell as many members of your support system of your plans to change your behaviors as you feel comfortable. If you try to make changes to your diet without telling anyone, your family might become confused and annoyed as to why Taco Tuesday has suddenly turned into Salad Saturday or Mushroom Monday.
  • Don’t ask too much of your chosen support system member. I know this sounds counter to the previous suggestions, but your pursuit of weight loss requires you to change, not them. Your chosen support system member is allowed to continue eating however they would like. Hopefully, you and your chosen support system member can collaborate to help you meet your goals without them feeling overly burdened.
  • Check in with your chosen support system member periodically to make sure they are comfortable helping the way you are asking and being willing to modify if needed.
  • Consider working with a weight-loss therapist, or seeking professional guidance through an accredited eating disorder treatment program or weight-loss counseling center.

Want more information? Call the Bariatric Counseling Center at (210) 634-2200.