11 Behavior Changes to Reach Weight Loss Goals

Whether it’s taking on the challenge of eating healthier, stopping smoking, or beginning an exercise program, relying on willpower alone will lead to nothing but failure. Setting out on a fitness journey requires strategies for achieving a change in behavior.

As American Council on Exercise (ACE) master trainer Nancy L. Naternicola points out in her forthcoming book, Fitness: Steps to Success (Human Kinetics, December 2014), you need to be able to answer questions such as how you will exercise regularly instead of sporadically or how you will choose healthy options at a holiday event.

Not to be confused with action, the who, what, and when strategies for changing behavior take into account current barriers and resources available. In the book, Naternicola, who has 35 years of experience in personal training and group fitness, looks at 11 ways to achieve behavior change and reach fitness goals:

1. Change one behavior at a time. “Your unhealthy behavior didn’t happen overnight, and a new behavior will take time,” Naternicola stresses. She advises that trying to accomplish too much too fast may set you up for failure and cause you to lapse, which can lead to relapse, so it’s essential to focus on one thing at a time—replacing one unhealthy behavior with a healthy behavior.

2. Get support. Tell a friend or family member about your desire to change a behavior, or seek the services of a personal trainer, support group, or registered dietitian. You may need to meet periodically throughout your journey to keep on track and make progress.

3. Make a realistic and specific plan. Be realistic and write down the days and times that work best for you to exercise. Be practical rather than say you are going to exercise seven days a week for an hour each day. You can always increase the time or add another day as your schedule allows. “This will allow you to pat yourself on the back for accomplishing more than planned instead of beating yourself up because you missed an exercise session,” Naternicola explains.

4. Start with small short-term goals. While your long-term goal may be to lose 25 pounds, breaking it down into a shorter goal will help you feel successful and motivated to continue. For example, losing one pound a week is a small, achievable step that will help you reach your goal in 25 weeks.

5. Use the buddy system. Having someone to hold you accountable when you want to skip going to the gym—such as someone with similar fitness goals—will help keep you on track, and vice versa. Naternicola explains, “Your buddy will be someone you can share similar experiences with, which can help you stay motivated and focused on changing your behavior.”

6. Set up prompts. Setting up daily reminders, or prompts, will help you stay focused on changing your behavior. Examples include packing your gym bag the night before or keeping your running shoes in the car. Naternicola recommends putting your exercise schedule on the refrigerator and scheduling exercise time in your planner as you would a doctor’s appointment.

7. Use rewards. It’s important to recognize your accomplishments. Upon reaching a goal, reward yourself with a movie or spa treatment instead of an unhealthy food item. You can also use your social network to post, tweet, or blog about what you have done.

8. Don’t get bored. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to exercise, so think about changing your regular walking route, or vary your activity with walking, biking, and swimming. Naternicola points out that this is the time to try something new—like a yoga class or martial arts lessons. Or if you have been doing the same strength routine, switch it up with one or two weeks of body-weight-only exercises.

9. Use stimulus control. If you are aware of certain triggers, or stimuli, that set off an unhealthy behavior, make a note of the time, place, and your feelings when it happens and choose an alternative. For example, if you drive by a fast-food restaurant on the way home and can’t resist some fries or a milkshake, take a different route.

10. Monitor your behavior. Keep a record of your workouts—that is, what type of exercise you performed. Studies have shown that those who monitor their exercise lose more weight and make better improvements in fitness levels than those who don’t. Naternicola observes that today’s technology with smartphone apps and interactive websites makes monitoring this information easier than it ever has been.

11. Learn how to be positive. It may sound simple, but research has shown that being positive makes your brain more productive while also reducing stress. “Many times unhealthy behavior is a mechanism we turn to when we are tired, hungry, or emotionally used up,” Naternicola warns. “We use it to manage stress and anxiety, which results in creating additional negativity and guilt.”

Change your mind, behaviors and your body. Get your copy of Fitness: Steps to Success now!

About Mark

Hi, I'm Mark Dilworth, Nutritionist, Dietary Strategies Specialist, Nutrition for Metabolic Health Specialist and Lifestyle Weight Management Specialist. Since 2006, I have helped thousands of clients and readers make lifestyle habit changes which includes body transformation and ideal body weight.