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Bad Habit Intervention

Actual scenario: Connor (my 14-year-old son) stomps in the house after another inspiring day at middle school, throws open the refrigerator with an exasperated groan, grabs a bowl of freshly washed strawberries sitting front-and-center on the top shelf, and lets out a relieved, “Thank goodness!”

He takes the entire bowl upstairs to his room and I don’t see either one of them again until dinner, at which time he comes back down – empty bowl in hand – much happier and ready to interact in a more civilized manner, having been completely rejuvenated by that ginormous bowl of strawberries.

super-momThe boy didn’t even realize what I’d done. Clever mother that I am, I intervened in the behavior that I knew was his pattern: bursting in the door and grabbing food from the refrigerator as a way of transitioning from the stresses of the outside world to the refuge of our home.

Nothing any other amazing mom / superhero wouldn’t do.

Like many of us, Connor was in the habit of coming in the door at the end of the day and using food as a way to decompress from the pressures of the outside world. I cite this example because I think it’s a common, involuntary behavior pattern that many of us engage in, and one where poor food choices can easily sneak in and derail our best intentions.

When we’re trying to lose weight it’s important to start examining these involuntary behaviors so we can stage our own healthy lifestyle intervention.

To break a habit you must do one of two things:

  • Change the behavior itself.
  • Mitigate the damage the behavior creates.

Changing the behavior itself is sometimes possible: switching to a restaurant that offers healthier fare so you’re not tempted to order the Macho Nachos your usual place specializes in, or putting your gym bag in the car so that you head directly there after work instead of going home first, if going home first typically means you never make it to the gym.

But you can’t always change the behavior. Sooner or later you’re gonna have to walk in that door at the end of your day, just like Connor does. Then what?

Mitigating the damage the behavior creates is a great option: by giving the kid a huge bowl of strawberries to nosh on I didn’t change his behavior; he still comes though the door tired and needing to decompress. But eating an entire bowl of strawberries never hurt anybody and I’d much rather have him do that than go through a box of Cheez-Its.

To successfully intervene in Connor’s behavior I had to do five things:

  1. Be aware of the behavior.
  2. Look for opportunities to interrupt the destructive potential of that behavior.
  3. Stop bringing crappy food (ahem, Cheez-Its) into my house.
  4. Shop for, prepare and have available a healthy alternative.
  5. Sit back and enjoy my own brilliance (that one’s optional, actually).

Use those five – okay, just the top four – tools to do your own bad habit intervention. Apply them to situations where you cannot change the behavior itself, but want to lessen potential damage the behavior can create. (Examples: you still attend family gatherings, go to happy hour after work on Fridays, walk in the door at the end of your long day.)

Make no mistake, understanding how to do this and then acting on it is the difference between permanent, life-long weight loss and failure. This is why even people who lose weight gain it back. You must scrutinize your own habits and then either change them or modify them in such a way that it neutralizes them.

Simple? Yes.

Hard to do? Hellyeah.

That’s why you’ve gotta be your own superhero.

Losing weight is hard. Very hard. But it gets easier, and you’re so damn worth it.

Let’s go get it!

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