Kicking bad habits with baby steps and willpower the way to weight loss without surgery


Updated

September 08, 2018 10:34:13

Weighing in at 135 kilograms, Gary Fitzgerald knows all about failing to kick bad habits.

Key points:

  • 67 per cent of participants reduced their total body weight by more than 5 per cent
  • 75 overweight volunteers participated in the study and were broken into three different groups
  • Study found that changing behaviours helped change the bio chemistry of the brain

The Sunshine Coast former policeman has been an off-and-on dieter for years, getting down to a healthy size 14 then ballooning back to a size 44.

But for the last 30 days he’s been following a scientifically-based program, developed in Queensland, that’s given him the mental discipline he needed to start kicking his bad habits and get healthy.

“Before I started this I was going to pay $26,000 to have my stomach cut in half,” he said.

“I have tried everything and failed.

“But the course taught me first up, that 45 per cent of things that cue your habits are geography. That they are automatic and beyond your conscious awareness.

“So I used to get up in the morning and have my breakfast of five wheat bars and sit on the lounge and watch television.

“All of a sudden I’d been there for two hours, a classic couch potato.

“Now the first thing I do is put my runners on, then I have a healthy breakfast of fruit and home-made nut bread.”

The 56-year-old is now walking 20,000 steps a week and has learnt all about the triggers that make him buy and eat the wrong foods, with the help of a life “health” coach.

“It is learning about what cues those habits. Those are the habits I am learning to change,” he said.

The course is based on a world-first study by Dr Gina Cleo, a dietitian and research fellow at Bond University on the Gold Coast.

She recruited 75 overweight volunteers and randomised them into three groups — a habit-forming group, a habit-busting group and a control group.

“So the habit-forming group had 10 healthy tips to perform every single day and the trick there is about repetition and having a cue to trigger you to do the new behaviour,” she said

“Whereas the breaking-habits group had a text message which reminded them to do something different every single day.

“These tasks were focused on breaking usual routines and included things such as drive a different way to work today, listen to a new genre of music or write a short story.”

What you need to kick bad habits:

  • Commitment to a course of action
  • Courage and patience
  • A burning desire to change
  • Start small
  • Be aware of triggers
  • Avoid old behaviours
  • Support and accountability
  • Track your progress and incrementally reward yourself (with non-food rewards, such as a massage, new clothes)

Dr Cleo said most people who diet gain 50 per cent of the weight lost in the first year after losing it.

But in her study both groups lost between 3 and 4 kilograms over the 12-week period, and 6 kilograms over a year.

“Some 67 per cent of participants reduced their total body weight by over 5 per cent,” Dr Cleo said.

“And they kept it off, reducing their overall risk of developing type-two diabetes and heart disease.

“Often we try to make these grand and elaborate changes to our lifestyle and we get too overwhelmed and lose self control to continue those long term.

“So habit changers are really about doing small manageable tips and doing them consistently and building on those.

“That could be something as simple as putting on your runners and you might do that until it feels like second nature.

“Then you might walk outside your house go around the block and all of a sudden you are going out for a walk and not having to use a lot of self control to do that.

“I actually had a client who used to stop into a fast food chain every time she got home from work.

“She would get triggered and go past and say to herself ‘don’t go in, don’t go in’, and the first thing she would do is go into that drive through.

“So I said to her ‘why do you not just drive a different way?’, and automatically the trigger is gone.

Why you may find it hard to kick bad habits:

  • Fear of failure
  • Avoiding the mental discipline needed
  • Lack of energy
  • Laziness
  • Ingrained behaviour
  • Focusing on changing the habit, rather than the trigger
  • Old behaviour can be an identity
  • Low self-esteem

“We are actually changing the bio chemistry of our brain, we change the physical brain anatomy.

“When we perform a behaviour over and over again we have these neural pathways in our brain that get stronger so it is easier to perform that habit.

“But if you change that behaviour to do something different you actually change the structure of your brain … so that you are building new neural pathways that make it easier to do the new behaviour.

“So consistency makes that new habit easier to perform until it seems like second nature.”

Dr Cleo said it was hard to break habits “quickly” with study participants taking anywhere between 18 days and up to a year to kick a series of habits.

“It depends on how complex the behaviour is that someone is trying to change,” she said.

“It takes willpower in the beginning to change any kind of behaviour but then that willpower is taken over by automaticity, which is like when you brush your teeth — something you do automatically without thinking about and that is because they are your habits.”

Program to be rolled out around the world

The Sum Sanos program, which is Latin for “I am healthy”, is about to be rolled out nationally as well as in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Singapore.

Queensland cardiologist Dr Geoffrey Holt said with two in every three adults overweight or obese and one out of every four children overweight or obese, the burden of disease, particularly diabetes, has increased dramatically.

“The question is what can we do about it? We have been spectacularly unsuccessful to this point,” he said.

“What it needs is a consciousness that something has to change.

“And there is no question that if you establish a relationship with an individual they are much more likely to go in the direction you have agreed.

“I think the strength of her program is that people are consciously doing things that create the sort of behaviour that is going to lead to the results we need.

“So losing 6 kilos in a year by developing the right habits which hopefully you will continue indefinitely, that’s when we should see positive results.”

Mr Fitzgerald has lost about 5 kilograms — he walks everywhere including to the pub, buys fresh food and makes his own meals.

His life coach will continue to text, call and visit once a month over the next year.

“I sleep so much better, my resting heart rate has dropped from 76 to the mid 50s in the morning,” he said.

“At the beginning of the month I was on blood pressure tablets, heart tablets, gout tablets, depression tablets.

“Now I’ve dropped one and the dosage on two. And I feel accountable.

“I am aware of the cues, the triggers which lead to bad habits. Those cues now have no power over me.

“It is like a magic trick once you know a magic trick it does not have the power to amaze you.”

Topics:

diet-and-nutrition,

womens-health,

mens-health,

adolescent-health,

health,

heart-disease,

qld,

brisbane-4000,

coolangatta-4225

First posted

September 08, 2018 08:14:22



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