Atomic Habits

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According to recent CDC statistics, 16 states now have rates of obesity at 35% or higher. I wasn’t surprised to read that Ohio had been added to the list.

The pandemic has left us stressed, sedentary, and significantly softer around the middle than we should be. One of the most common reasons people call me for nutrition counseling is for weight management. This has only increased over the past 2 years.

While there’s a variety of ways to lose weight, health professionals recognize there is no magic bullet when it comes to weight reduction. Consumers want a quick fix, but nothing really changes without long term habit changes.

Habits matter

I recently read the book Atomic Habits- tiny changes, remarkable results by James Clear. Having recovered from a terrible sports injury (being hit in the face with a baseball bat), Clear recovered through small, incremental changes. He suggests that in order to reach goals, we need appropriate systems.

It’s important to set goals in life like losing 10 or 20 pounds to prevent diabetes or getting our first job. But goals aren’t going to magically happen. We have to have a system in place to get to the goal. In order to make the system work for us, small changes must be easy, attractive and obvious.

Cue your brain

Our brains are set to follow cues, which impact behavior. In order for me to change my habit of drinking coffee as soon as I woke up, I needed to change the cue. I placed a large water glass next to my coffee maker, which is my cue to drink water before coffee.

If you want to exercise more frequently, make it simple. Keep tennis shoes at your office to walk over lunch or pack your gym bag to go immediately after work. Join a gym close to work or home instead of across town.

Make it visual

To maintain good habits, Clear advises making things visual. Crossing the date off a calendar each time you get out for a walk is an example. Your brain likes to see progress. A habit tracker that shows behavior spurs us on to continue the habit streak.

Paying yourself for a good habit is another example. Each time you skip the fast-food drive through and pack your lunch, place the money saved in a jar to visualize your progress. Use the money to treat yourself to something special like a massage, new book, etc.

Change your mindset

Clear gives a great example of shifting your mindset. To quote Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try”. When offered a cigarette, a smoker can say, “No thanks, I don’t smoke”, instead of “I’m trying to quit”. He also gives an example of a woman that lost 100 pounds. She decided that any time she sat down for meal, she asked herself, “what would a healthy person eat?”. She gradually chose more nutritious food.

I’ve seen clients get very upset when their weight loss progress is slow. It’s tempting to throw in the towel if things don’t magically change in a week or two.

Focus on the habit change and not the number on the scale. Repeated habits build up over time. Do you have more energy? Do you have less indigestion? Do you feel stronger from exercise? These are all positive changes.

America will continue to battle with weight gain. Adopting small habit changes that stick over time may help some get away from the CDC’s ever-growing map. Here are more habits to help your clients:

  1. Keep a journal. Track your habits and see which ones you’d like to change. Awareness is the first step to change.
  2. Take a cooking class. Virtual cooking demos or in-person classes may spur interest in cooking healthy food. Many are offered for free on social media channels.
  3. Don’t sabotage your diet. Keep sweets and treats out of the house to make them more difficult to obtain and eat.
  4. Avoid using food when stressed. Pay attention to hunger versus habit. What’s eating you that’s making you eat?
  5. Hire a dietitian for accountability and support. He or she will help keep you on track with habit changes.
  6. Focus on overall health and not the number on the scale. Diet changes also improve blood sugar, blood pressure and lipids.

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


  1. Atomic Habits, James Clear
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