I’ve been a perfectionist for as long as I can remember. I find an inordinate amount of pleasure in small details. I’m the person that notices the weird things that some people would never even think to notice. In some scenarios this is really useful, but when it comes to self-development that’s rarely the case. One area that I’ve been battling for so long that I’m embarrassed to say at this point (15+ years), is the one with my weight.
I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve tried every diet, damn I’ve done the whole a-to-z… Probably twice (which is another post entirely)! I’ve bought the books, the supplements, indoctrinated myself with the gospel and marked Monday on the calendar so many times I’m what you might refer to as a diet extremist. Hell I even tried the gastric balloon – which was the single most violent thing I think I’ve ever subjected myself to, and definitely something that I recommend people steer clear of (let me know in the comments if you’d like a separate post on this).
The problem with all diets though, they are all very well and good until Friday night rolls around and you find yourself standing at the bar trying to order a Diet Coke rather than your usual large vino, only to be over-ruled by your friend who orders a bottle to share. In situations like these I tend to be guilty of (pardon my language) pushing the fuck it button, and once it’s pushed there’s no going back. The calories that follow obliterate any hope of a significant deficit the following week and then it all seems pointless, so I give up until the next shiny, new, get-skinny-fast plan comes along.
I’ve continued in this vein for more than a decade, losing and gaining the same 30 pounds. It’s been miserable at times, I’ve felt like a failure, on many occasions hopeless and like the mountain is just too steep and high to climb, which has only served to perpetuate the quick-fix-fad-diet cycle further. So earlier this year I called time on this bull shit situation and vowed to start building better habits – ONE AT A TIME!
It started with swim coaching. I had signed up for the Marathon Swim in the new year and knew I needed to work on my front crawl if I was ever going to make it through the 10km swim in a decent time. Having regular swim coaching sessions really changed the dynamics of my workout schedule – which started, ended up on diversion and stopped as frequently as a London bus route up to this point. Having something to work towards other than weight loss really helped shift my mindset away from obsessing about the number on the scale constantly. Obviously I still wanted to see the my weight going down, but my primary focus shifted to improving my technique and shaving excess time off of my PB, things I hadn’t really focussed on since leaving the swimming club as a teenager.
After about a month of coaching I’d lost a little bit of weight (seven or eight pounds) without obsessing too much over it and felt like I wanted to start building healthier habits around food. Inspired by some friends following the Slimming World plan, and having heard great things about their support for the vegan diet, I went along to my local group and signed-up for a 12 week countdown. Now this may seem counter to everything I’ve mentioned above – surely Slimming World is just another fad diet and I’d fall off of the wagon eventually? – but stick with me for a moment. Rather than being a fad diet with a strict meal plan and a mountain of restrictions, Slimming World actually teaches members how to build balanced meals and habits that will last a lifetime – they call this way of eating Food Optimising and I can honestly say after seven and a half months I’m totally sold.
Rewinding back to March when I joined though, the first habit I set out to build was to do a weekly shop during the week. I hate giving up my weekend to chores and life admin so building this into one of my weekday evenings really helped me to feel the plan wasn’t eating into my social life. Because I’m definitely not that person that is going to turn down a social engagement to meal prep at the weekend. I also found that the Sainsbury’s on my route home from the office has scan-as-you-shop technology, meaning that I could be in and out in forty minutes or less. And I don’t know about you but, in my opinion, supermarkets are the kind of place one’s soul goes to die so the less time spent in one the better.
With my fridge and freezer well stocked my next focus was adapting my favourite recipes to work with Food Optimising. I found that while I love cooking, I don’t want to cook a whole meal from scratch every evening. So spending one or two evenings cooking bigger batches and storing portions in the fridge and freezer was a real game changer for me. Some of my favourite go-tos now include vegan cottage pie, mushroom Bolognese, jackfruit fajitas and spicy root vegetable soup. I store portions that I’m going to eat that week in the fridge and the rest in the freezer, which my future self regularly thanks me for on those days when I get home late or just can’t be bothered to cook.
It really wasn’t long before these few simple habits gained momentum and I began introducing more new ones. Packing my lunch for my days in the office was something I was previously loathe to do. I generally hate feeling rushed in the mornings so would usually stick to the same boring jacket potato and beans on offer in the office canteen. But once I started batch cooking this became as simple as deciding what I was going to take from the fridge or freezer. I then levelled this up to deciding what I would take and putting it all together in the fridge the night before. This way I don’t have to feel rushed and anxious trying to get everything together in the mornings (first world problems, I know). Not only has this helped me to stay on plan, it’s also really helped my mornings get off to a great start which is setting me up for happier days overall.
In the past I would have tried to do all of these things at once. My anxiety would have been through the roof trying to remember them all and build all of them into each day. I would have been overwhelmed at all the new things I had to to think about, plan and prepare, and eventually, when something inevitably didn’t go to plan, I would fall off of every bandwagon I’d tried to so precariously balance myself on, and the whole deck of cards would come crashing down around me – i.e. I’d push the fuck it button! Instead, building these small habits one at a time has allowed me to settle into them. I’ve been able to meet the bumps in the road with my head screwed on the right way, rather than being completely frazzled with so much to remember to “be” and “do”. As a result I’ve lost more than sixty five pounds and when I have gone slightly wrong I’ve been better equipped to course correct. After all this is a journey and it’s never going to be 100% plain sailing.
In personal finance they talk about the debt snowball, how paying off lots of small debts creates that sense of accomplishment, of getting somewhere, of moving forward. The kind of habit stacking I’ve described in this post is much the same and if you’re the kind if person that is motivated by small, regular wins, building small habits that can snowball into big changes can really help you not only get started, but stay on track and win long term.
Do you habit stack? I’d love to hear the things that you’re doing to set yourself up for success with your goals in the comments below.
Until next time, stay healthy!
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