Are your habits preventing your fat loss?

Today we have a guest blog by Mark Green at MXA Fitness on bad habits. I met Mark on a Fitness Assessment and Screening course and also trained with him on and Advanced Personal Training course and a few other courses. Mark has his own personal training company, MXA Fitness, which specialises in fat loss and body toning and also offers nutrition coaching.

Over to Mark and his blog post on habit forming (which was originally posted here). 

We all have them. Some people bite their nails, others crack their knuckles whereas some peoples border on just plain strange.

What I am referring to is of course our habits. Habits are a learned behaviour, an established custom, a pattern of frequent behaviour acquired through frequent repetition or a recurrent, often unconscious, pattern of behaviour.

There are 2 pathways for forming a habit:
1) Goal orientated habits (i.e. reward yourself each time you complete something)
2) Stimulus driven habit (established through a long relationship between a stimulus and a response).

Habits are a function of a drive, started by an initial cue, which is followed by a response and then a reward.

  • The formation of a habit will follow a typical process:
  • First, there is a behaviour,
  • Then, there is a reinforcement
  • This is then repeated
  • A neural pathway is then formed (more about this shortly)
  • Then the behaviour becomes easier
  • So the behaviour starts to happen without thinking
  • Finally, you have a habit.

Habits are not necessarily a bad thing however when it is, it can be almost impossible to change. This is evident in our society today as over eating and obesity become the biggest threat to our health. So what can be done about this.

First lets examine in further detail how a habit can be formed.

Habits can be driven by several factors. These may be biological, social or cognitive. There will then be a cue which is associated with that behaviour followed by a reinforcement. So for example, if you were struck down with food poisoning following eating some muscles, you will then associate eating muscles with being sick.

Furthermore, the more a behaviour is reinforced the stronger that behaviour or habit will become. . The reason for this is our neural pathways. This is because connections are made between our nervous system which will make future repetition of a certain behaviour easier. The more it is repeated, the more connections that are made and the more easily an electric impulse to stimulate these nerves, and thus repeat the behaviour, will occur.

So once you have formed a habit such as overeating, you have formed a neural pathway which has made repetition of that habit easier. Moreover, with each repetition in this example, a pleasurable reinforcement will strengthen the habit until one day, you have gained a substantial amount of weight.

So what can be done to break a habit? There are some well established techniques which you can implement to forge new healthy behaviour.

1) The first is to self monitor your behaviour. Keep a journal, or in the overeating example, a food diary. You must define the problem, so you know your enemy. This will increase your awareness of the habit which provides feedback.

2) Once you have defined it, you can then substitute this behaviour for more desirable behaviour. Remember, your initial habit was learned, so you can learn new ones.

3) Counter the original positive reinforcement with negative consequences. For example, if you are overeating, put a unflattering photo of yourself on the fridge door.

4) Eliminate the cues which are associated with the behaviour and prompt a habitual response.

5) Build a support network around you.

6) Implement time delays. Each time you go to snack, consciously wait 10 minutes to analyse whether you really want it.

7) This may not be applicable to our current example, but satiation, where you have too much of a good thing and can no longer face it.

If you can build some of these strategies into your life, it may just be the first step to making the first step to a new you.

Weight loss is more psychological than it is physiological. If you can train your mind into doing the correct behaviours and breaking the bad habits you have just won the battle. In practice, most health care professionals take a much more holistic approach to patients where they do not overload the patient with information but instead, try to get an understanding of why that particular individual performs such behaviour. If you can self monitor and do this for yourself, the rest will come pretty easily.