Have you ever started to lose a bit of weight, but then have it all come back? Here’s an unfortunate truth:
A temporary lifestyle change can create a temporary caloric deficit, which only leads to temporary weight loss.
This is why people on shows like “The Biggest Loser” often gain all their weight back. This is why people on expensive shake diets can lose weight but often regain it back. They go back to their old ways, and therefore their old weights.
However, there’s a sliver lining to this unfortunate truth:
A permanent lifestyle change can create a permanent caloric deficit, which leads to permanent weight loss.
This silver lining is why there are actually countless examples of people losing weight and keeping it off. This is why I lost weight and kept it off. And this is why you can lose weight and keep it off too.
Here’s a gold lining on top of that silver lining: It doesn’t necessarily take a crazy lifestyle change either to start losing weight. I’ll explain it below. But first, a simple story to drive my point across.
The story of Survival Sam and Slow Joe
Imagine two people looking to lose weight. Survival Sam doesn’t change anything at all, but one day he gets lost in the woods. He ends up missing for a long time, struggling to find food. Through it all, he loses a significant amount of weight, losing 40 pounds over 2 months. Eventually, he is found, a much thinner man, but with all the same eating habits as before.
Now let’s talk about Slow Joe. Joe drinks a lot of soda, a couple of 2L bottles a week (which is approximately 1750 calories). He decides that the only thing he’s really going to do to start his weight loss journey is to switch from drinking soda to drinking diet soda, which is 0 calories. He ends up actually liking diet soda and decides to never drink regular soda again. This simple switch causes Joe to lose 4 pounds over 2 months.
Sam has lost 40 pounds. Because he has not changed his habits at all, however, he is destined to gain it all back. Joe has “only” lost 4 pounds, but he made a permanent lifestyle change. The odds are much higher than Joe that he’ll be able to keep those pounds off. Even better, he might realize that it’s possible to lose weight. He’ll then start experimenting with a few more permanent lifestyle changes, accelerating his permanent fat loss.
You may think that this story is a little contrived. Nobody would get stranded in the woods to lose weight, after all. However, PLENTY of people go to weight loss clinics to do basically the same thing. Many more spend hundreds of dollars a month on shake diets. You can lose weight by doing these things. However, if you go back to your old ways, that weight loss will be temporary.
As for Joe, you might be skeptical that simply switching to diet soda could help you permanently lose weight. Additionally, diet soda is bad for you, right?!
Well, I’m Slow Joe. I lost 100 pounds. To start, I didn’t restrict my diet. I didn’t jump right into some massive exercise routine. I didn’t make any gigantic lifestyle changes that I would eventually give up on. Instead, I did simple things. I drank diet soda instead of regular soda. I ate slightly less of all the same foods I ate before. A micro-target of 0.1 pounds a day for weight loss was made and I weighed myself daily to hold myself accountable to that number.
Eventually as my confidence increased and my energy levels increased, I started adding more lifestyle changes such as exercise.
Add up enough of these small lifestyle changes (I call them micro-lifestyle changes), and they will eventually lead to a brand new lifestyle (and brand new normal weight).
There are an infinite number of ways micro-lifestyle changes can happen. We’re all unique, so some ways might be really easy for you, and others won’t work at all. The key is to think about your strengths. Find ones you think would work best for you and your current situation. Here’s a list of micro-lifestyle changes for inspiration. I’ve divided them into three groups: Environmental, Nutritional, and Mental. Any of these changes, if done permanently, could create a permanent caloric deficit, which will lead to a new “normal” weight.
Environmental Micro-Lifestyle Changes
Your environment can matter more than your willpower. Micro-changes in your environment can make all the difference in whether or not you overeat. Here are some ideas to micro-adjust your environment:
- Add barriers to getting access to office snacks or being exposed to free food in the office.
- Andrew’s experience: I had a snack drawer at work. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough willpower to just get rid of it. One day I did an experiment where I decided to lock the drawer. Even though I knew it was locked, I counted at least 15 times that day where my hand subconsciously pulled the handle on the drawer, looking for a snack. Once I locked the drawer, I had to be a lot more conscious of whether or not I wanted that snack badly enough. Another example: I had a very nice admin assistant who always dropped by my office to tell me whenever there was free food in the building. Like a lemming, I would immediately go and grab some food whether or not I was hungry. I eventually realized that although I love free stuff, doing this was interfering with my goals. So I did something extremely simple: I politely asked her to stop telling me, and she obliged. I no longer needed to use willpower to stop eating excess food at work; I used ignorance instead.
- Why it works: A lot of these impromptu office snacks and meals are excess calories that you wouldn’t eat if they weren’t there. Unconscious eating is a huge source of excess calories.
- Why it wouldn’t work: Coworkers can be pretty persistent with hijacking your diet, or you might be in a situation where you can’t easily add barriers.
- Don’t put snacks in your pantry. rather, put them somewhere harder to access.
- Andrew’s experience: I actually went a step beyond and put my snacks beside my exercise bike. If I wanted to eat them, I’d have to go downstairs and look at my bike. This small change triggered a question within me: is this snack worth delaying my weight loss goals? Sometimes it was, but very often it wasn’t.
- Why it works: Having to do just that little bit of work triggers the brain to think about whether or not the snack is worth it. It gives the brain the chance to say “it’s not worth it.”
- Why it wouldn’t work: You might overeat the snack because your brain has now tricked itself into thinking that the work that you did now means you’ve earned it.
- Find a way to reduce food advertising in your life.
- Why it works: There’s a reason why companies spend billions of dollars on advertising: it works. Obviously, food advertising makes people want to eat, and eat more. By avoiding advertising, you avoid getting infected by these messages that subconsciously (or directly) tell you to eat more.
- Why it wouldn’t work: Advertising works, so avoiding it lessens its effect. However, you may still overeat because there are many more factors to overeating than just advertising, and the impacts of advertising may have already brainwashed you.
- Eat with smaller plates.
- Why it works: Studies have suggested that this reduces food intake.
- Why it wouldn’t work: Studies have actually suggested that this is false. So why did I even add this one? Here’s the thing. Forget studies. What matters is if something you try works for you. If it might help and it doesn’t hurt to try, it’s worth experimenting with. Twirling three times before you eat makes you eat less? Go for it! If a silly trick works only for you but for nobody else, do it! Here’s another interesting one: apparently eating in front of a mirror can reduce the desire to eat unhealthy foods as well.
- Get a smart scale and put it right in your bathroom.
- Andrew’s direct experience: For years I had a gut feeling that weighing myself would help me lose weight. In fact this is true: people who weigh themselves regularly have better weight loss outcomes. I even tried to do it, recording my weights on a log. However, it was only until I got a smart scale when I finally achieved success. The smart scale made it easy to connect my data into a tool where I could then calculate my trend weight and use that information to understand my progress.
- Why it works: By putting the scale right where you’ll always be in the morning, the odds of you regularly weighing yourself goes up.
- Why it wouldn’t work: You still have to weigh yourself, and then act based on the data. I created the Luuze app to help you do this.
Nutritional Micro-Lifestyle Changes
One of the reasons obesity has gone up four-fold in the last 40 years is because our nutrition has changed. Corporations have found ways to hack into our pleasure centers, tricking us into eating more. However, the flip side is also true. If we can be persuaded to make bad nutritional choices, we can “persuade” ourselves to make better nutritional choices as well. Here are some ideas to make micro-changes to how you eat:
- Replace a high calorie food with a low-calorie/zero-calorie equivalent.
- Andrew’s experience: I did this with soda. I still haven’t been able to kick my soda habit, but I almost never drink non-diet soda anymore although before I couldn’t stand the taste. Drinking too much soda was definitely a big source of excess calories for me.
- Why it works: You may not even notice a big difference and make the switch a permanent change, creating a permanent caloric deficit.
- Why it wouldn’t work: You may over-eat the low-calorie equivalent, simply replace the calorie deficit with calories from a different source, or won’t be able to accept the equivalent.
- Meld unhealthy snacks with healthy ones.
- Andrew’s direct experience: I love chips, and I just couldn’t completely replace them with a low-calorie equivalent. I however realized that what I really enjoyed was the “crunchiness” of chips. Whenever I decided to have a chip, I decided that for each chip I ate, I also had to eat two crunchy bean crackers as well. These were healthier (and yes, less tasty). However, because I still got to eat my chips (but now only a third as much), the snack still felt rewarding to the brain.
- Why it works: You still get to eat your favourite foods, but won’t over-binge on them.
- Why it wouldn’t work: You may just over-eat anyways or simply replace the calorie deficit with calories from a different source.
- Fill your plate three-quarters full with vegetables first before putting anything else on it.
- Andrew’s direct experience: I did this at the beginning of my journey. I didn’t change my diet or add any restrictions to my diet, but because my plate had more vegetables than usual, I filled up on fiber. That prevented me from overeating as much.
- Why it works: You still get to eat your favourite foods, but you will naturally eat less because you get too full from the fiber.
- Why it wouldn’t work: If you get seconds, you may still over-eat. Or you might pack your plate with the same amount of other food as you did before, which means you’d be eating more calories.
- At the restaurant, immediately pack half your food once you get it.
- Andrew’s direct experience: I did this a few times at the beginning of my weight loss journey. Eventually I was able to do it mentally, keeping the food on the plate, but ensuring that I did not eat half my meal. When I did this sometimes I still gave in because the food was still accessible, but I was often able to prevent myself from doubling up the calories due to a night out. Bonus: lunch for tomorrow.
- Why it works: Meals out are often ridiculously high on calories. They can be 2-3 times your normal caloric intake for a single meal. Splitting the meal in half before you even start eating it reduces the amount of food you will overeat.
- Why it wouldn’t work: Social pressure.
- Create a “banana rule.” What’s the banana rule? If you’re hungry and it’s not mealtime yet, before you can eat a snack, you must eat a food item that you don’t really like (but will fill you up) first. For me, this was bananas.
- Andrew’s direct experience: This is such a weird trick but it worked for me. I’m not a big fan of bananas, but my wife always has some around the house. The banana rule reduced my snack intake significantly. Whenever I wanted to eat a snack, this dumb rule said that I had to eat a banana first. I didn’t want to eat a banana, I wanted candy. But if I didn’t want to eat the banana, then that implies that I’m not actually hungry, I’m more just craving addictive foods. Faced with this truth, most of the time I decided to wait till mealtime. Sometimes I decided to eat the damn banana and then felt full so I didn’t need to eat the snack anymore. Sometimes, but rarely, I ate the banana and the snack too. If you actually like bananas, pick something else that is filling, healthy, and that you don’t like to eat too much. Pickles, broccoli, and carrots are other examples.
- Why it works: Are you actually hungry or just craving junk food because advertising and food companies have brainwashed you? If you’re hungry, you should be willing to eat food you don’t even like. The banana rule forces you to eat for satiety, not for mental satisfaction.
- Why it wouldn’t work: You find some excuse to not follow this rule and go straight to eating the snack. For example, I couldn’t use this rule at work, because there were no bananas around.
Mental Micro-Lifestyle Changes
A huge reason I lost 100 pounds is due to the fact that I changed the way I looked at food. Food is a source of joy, but too much has an opportunity cost. I started to recognize that taking advantage of the joy of food through overeating actually prevented me from finding joy in other things, such as the joy of health and the joy of having more energy to play with my kids and achieve fitness goals. The more we can understand how our decisions around eating and exercise can influence our future happiness, the better. Here are some ideas on how to do this:
- Keep reminders of why you want to lose weight around your house, workplace, car, everywhere.
- Andrew’s direct experience: This was huge for me. One of the Defining Motivations I had was to get healthy so I could be a healthy example (and alive) for my kids. I put a note in my wallet that I was doing this for my kids, so whenever I paid for food, I was reminded. A post-it was also on my car dash so if I drove anywhere to get food, I was reminded. I put a quote about it as the background image of my phone. I consider it one of the key reasons I was able to sustain my journey for 3 years to lose 100 pounds, and since then to maintain my health.
- Why it works: Being reminded of why you are losing weight helps you recognize that the long-term benefits of being healthy often outweigh the short-term happiness of eating that snack or having that extra portion.
- Why it wouldn’t work: Your reason for losing weight not be as strong enough as your desire to get that immediate dopamine hit from that snack.
- Brush your teeth at 7 PM or immediately after dinner.
- Why it works: If you want a snack after dinner, you’re forced to then brush your teeth again, and that little barrier can be the difference between eating a needless snack or skipping it.
- Why it wouldn’t work: It might feel too strange to brush your teeth at this time, or doing so may mess up other parts of your routine. If you don’t snack in the evenings this trick will do nothing for you.
- Chew gum.
- Why it works: Sometimes we just eat because our mouths are bored. Gum lets our mouths resolve that boredom.
- Why it wouldn’t work: If you don’t eat out of boredom, this trick will do nothing for you.
- Find a hobby that prevents you from boredom snacking. Walking is a good one. A lot of people mention that knitting is also a good one, potentially because it keeps your hands active.
- Andrew’s direct experience: As a kid, I remember that I was obsessed with playing video games. There were some weekends I clearly recall where I woke up, played video games all day and night, and didn’t even stop to eat until late in the evening. Getting addicted to video games to eat less is not something I’d recommend, but it was an interesting observation. Sometimes one addiction is replaced by another.
- Why it works: Sometimes we just eat because we have nothing else to do. A hobby keeps us busy.
- Why it wouldn’t work: This is more to prevent boredom eating. If our hobby makes us skip meals, we often just make up for the lack of eating by overeating later.
- Convert the number of calories in a snack into how many hours that would put you back from your goals.
- Andrew’s direct experience: My goal was to have a deficit of 350 calories a day. I knew drinking a single can of soda was 180 calories because of the label on the can, so doing some rough math, drinking that single can would basically be worth half a day’s progress towards my goals. And sometimes that was okay. Drinking that can of soda was worth it sometimes and I gave into my short term desires occasionally, but most of the time I did not. Making snacks and “bad” foods occasional treats also made me enjoy and appreciate them more when I did eat them, whereas in the past the deliciousness of the snacks was taken for granted.
- Why it works: Converting calories into time makes you aware of the longer-term consequences of eating snacks that you don’t really need to eat.
- Why it wouldn’t work: You might not be good at math so you wouldn’t do this regularly.
- Set up simple rules for yourself that trigger when something happens to your weight.
- Andrew’s direct experience: I’m good at following rules. I created a few simple ones while I was tracking my weight: if I was one pound behind my goal for the day, I wasn’t allowed to snack. If I was two pounds behind my goal, I had to halve my portions and was only allowed to go out for dinner if I had a social obligation. On the flip side, if I was two pounds ahead of my goal, I gave myself the freedom to eat as much as I wanted when going out (if I wanted to). These rules basically pinned me right on my target goal line all the way until I hit 153 pounds, my goal weight. Another rule was that I really wanted to buy a fancy bike. I told myself when I was close to hitting my goals I’d be allowed to buy one, but not before.
- Why it might work: Rules enable people to stay on track and can be easy to follow if they are straightforward.
- Why it wouldn’t work: You ignore your rules or don’t properly track whether or not you are adhering to your rules. Luuze can help with this: it has an option to display trend lines that help you stick to the rules you may set for yourself.
- Weigh yourself daily. Bonus: add notes to this weight log, and reflect on why you think your trend weight went up or down that day.
- Andrew’s direct experience: This is a major reason why I was able to lose weight and a big reason why I created the Luuze app. Contrary to popular belief, people who weigh themselves regularly have better weight loss outcomes. The key is to understand why the scale can lie to you and to use an app like Luuze to extract the signal from the noise and tell you the truth.
- Why it might work: A huge reason why people gain weight is that they unconsciously overeat, often through no fault of their own. Weighing regularly adds back a conscientiousness to eating, which allows people to make the right decisions about better eating.
- Why it wouldn’t work: In every single person’s weight loss journey, there will be false scale readings, weight plateaus, and times where weight is regained. Seeing this on the scale can be extremely discouraging and cause people to give up. This is why I created Luuze however: Luuze does math to blunt the impacts of false scale readings and provides you with feedback on why the scale may not be telling you the truth.
Micro-Lifestyle Changes Add Up
Like I said at the introduction of this post, only a permanent lifestyle change can create a permanent weight change. However, for many of us, a micro-lifestyle change may be all you need. Certainly, for all of us, a micro-lifestyle change can get us started on the right track.
I remember a sentence my father told me: “Earn a dollar and spend 99 cents: you live a good life. Earn a dollar and spend $1.01: you live a bad life.” It’s just a 2% difference, but that tiny difference can be the difference between sustainability and destitution.
People love to try and make huge (and often unsustainable) changes in order to lose weight and then fail. But if we make some micro-changes (that we can stick with), that’s when we can succeed and sustain success. That’s how I did it: doing simple things like weighing myself daily, setting up some simple rules, and using a few of the micro-lifestyle changes listed above. Yes, it took a long time so patience was also key. But once I figured it out, it was literally as simple as a few small but permanent lifestyle changes.
Not only that, as we make these lifestyle changes, we gain the experience and strength that then allows us to take on slightly harder micro-lifestyle changes. In time, all of the micro-lifestyle changes becoming something completely transformative, and our new lifestyles are completely different than before.
So, what micro-lifestyle changes can you make to shift the equation from continual gain to an eventual permanent loss? Are there any examples from above that you can implement right now? Are there any that you have successfully used in the past?