Keys to Sustainable Habits

The hardest part of losing weight is keeping it off. Long-term success in health and fitness is built on top of a lifestyle, not a quick fix, a detox or an insane workout. Upgrading your lifestyle means acquiring sustainable habits that improve your quality of life. Here are four ways to ensure that you’re setting yourself up for success.

Choose smart goals. This column has talked about setting smart, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goals. It’s also important to make sure that your goals are tied to something you personally value. It will be much easier to adopt a habit if the payoff is genuinely meaningful to you.

Many are motivated to lose weight by shame or a rude comment. While this pain may get you started, the research on human motivation is clear: this kind of external motivation will not keep you going. I suggest investing a little time thinking about what truly motivates you, and making sure that your goals match up.

Fill in the blank. There may be parts of your current routine you’d like to part with. Perhaps you splurge on a Danish with your afternoon coffee, or maybe your evening agenda consists of binge-watching through your Netflix queue. As you cut out some habits, remember to find new ways to fill those voids.

For example, if you’ve begun to reduce your bread intake, be sure to add in extra fruits and veggies so you eat enough to feel full. Similarly, if you cut back on TV to make time for the gym, be sure to find other ways to get that relaxation time — by going to bed a little earlier or splurging on grocery delivery to free up shopping time, for instance. Filling in the “blanks” left by unhelpful habits will be the difference between trying to white-knuckle your success versus enjoying a lifetime of benefits.

Pat yourself on the back. Change is never easy, and our environment of high-calorie, highly palatable food makes changing our eating habits that much harder. Applaud yourself for your efforts. That affirmation helps get feel-good chemicals to your brain, keeping the desired behavior going. This can be as simple as a quick mental note congratulating yourself on getting through a difficult afterburn class or, with a bit more planning, taking a vacation to celebrate hitting a weight-loss goal. And look for ways to get supportive people involved in this feedback loop.

Be excellent. We like to remind clients of the wise words of Edwin Bliss: “The pursuit of excellence is gratifying and healthy. The pursuit of perfection is frustrating, neurotic and a terrible waste of time.” Slipups will happen. That’s part of life. Sustainable habits won’t be extreme, rigid or based on perfection. Sustainable habits will involve strategies for getting back on track after things haven’t quite gone as planned. Be patient and build in some wiggle room. Success lies in striving to be your best, not striving to be perfect.

*Matthew Daniel is head coach at True 180 Fitness in Georgetown. Information about his 14-day trial may be found at*

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