behaviour change goals weight loss

Successful Behavioral Strategies for Sustained Weight Loss

Gad Saad is an evolutionary psychologist And Professor of Marketing at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada). He’s written over 75+ scientific papers as well as writing for psychology today, and publishing several books.

He writes on a broad range of evolutionary psychology disciplines including consumer behaviour, marketing, advertising, psychology, medicine, and economics.

Gad recently shared some of the behavioural strategies he used to help him lose a large amount of weight.

I’ve organised these into 4 simple recommendations

1. Chunk Down Goals Into Small Wins

Perseverance is probably the most important aspect of sustained weight loss.

Take one day at a time, and persevere. The small wins add up over time into big wins. 

Don’t overly focus on the total weight loss goal. Instead, break it down into small manageable chunks or goals.

This is less overwhelming, and helps to keep motivation higher over the long run.

2. Be Specific With Behaviours

Be specific when it comes to your behavioural weight loss strategies.

For example, just saying “I’m going to try and eat less” is too vague, and doesn’t give a consistent reliable measure.

Here are some examples of more specific behavioural strategies:

“I won’t eat more than X calories per meal / day”

“I won’t eat after 7pm”

“I will only eat 3 meals a day with no snacks”

“I won’t drink alcohol all week, but will allow myself 2 drinks on a Friday”

3. Create Feedback Mechanisms

Create feedback mechanisms by measuring and tracking regularly. E.g weighing / measuring daily or weekly.

Failing to regularly measure and track progress is metaphorically like an ostrich burying it’s head in the sand.

Weight gain usually occurs gradually over a long period of time, and without regular monitoring it’s easy to ignore it, and avoid taking action.

Weighing & measuring regularly is a mechanism to intercept this process, and auto correct at more regular intervals.

This recommendation is also one of Layne Norton’s 5 evidenced based habit and behavioural strategies to lose weight that I wrote about previously.

4. Work Around Obstacles

On the weight loss journey, there will be obstacles, such as  injuries, emergencies, distractions, work changes, holidays, parties, etc. 

Cultivate a mindset that expects obstacles and works around them. Don’t allow obstacles to become excuses.

For Example:

With a shoulder injury, walk instead.

Having to work late, do a small workout in front of the TV before bed.

At a party where there will be lots of cake. Eat a large healthy meal before going.

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behaviour change habits weight loss

Five Top Habits For Weight Loss

All Diets Work

In one sense, all diets work. No one diet is the ultimate best diet! E.g. Low Carb, Low Fat, Keto, Paleo, Primal, Plant Based etc. When studies equate for calories, all diets do about the same.

The best weight loss diet is really the diet that we prefer, and can stick with the most.  This will be different for many people. Some will thrive on low carb, some on low fat, some prefer counting calories, others macros. And so forth. 

“Find the method of restriction that feels the least restrictive to you”

The adherence rate for all diets is pretty appalling, and studies show that more people regain lost weight than keep it off. This illustrates that diets alone, are not always enough.

Habit and Behaviour Based Weight Loss

Ultimately, changing behaviours and habits is fundamental for long term weight loss & maintenance.

Below are five habits and behaviours from Dr Layne Norton for successful weight loss and maintenance. Studies show that these behaviours are very prevalent in people who successfully lose weight and keep it off .   

Layne Norton has a BS in Biochemistry and a PhD Nutritional Sciences with honours, and has published several studies, in areas such muscle protein synthesis and leucine. He’s also an author of several books including his recent “Fat Loss Forever”.

He’s also been a pro natural bodybuilder and pro powerlifter. He’s now bodybuilding & physique coach.

  1. Cognitive Restraint

Successful dieters who lose weight and keep it off employ some type of cognitive restraint.

For Example, Calorie Counting, Fasting, Carb Restriction, Fat Restriction, Points System, Macro Counting.

2. Regular Self Monitoring

They employ some type of regular self monitoring such as regularly weighing or measuring themselves.

This provides very rapid or instant feedback to help keep them on track.

3. Regular Exercise

They exercise regularly.

There is good evidence that exercise sensitises us to satiety signals, and may also help lower our body’s set point as we lose weight. 

4. Structured Programmes

They follow some sort of structured programme, such as hiring Weight Loss Coaches, or Nutritionists, or joining groups such as Weight Watchers, etc.

These people on average perform better. Dieting without a structured plan doesn’t often work out very well.

5. Low Recency

People who did better at weight loss and keeping it off, also considered the effects of their momentary actions against their long term goals.

Considering long term goals into their decision making process, made it easier to decline foods that were not on their plans, and complete their planned exercise activities.

People with low recency would choose their long term goal over their short term feelings.

When I see clients for weight loss in my hypnotherapy practice, a large component is helping them to change their underlying habits and behaviours.

We spend time in our first session, working together to identifying the habits & behaviours that they want to change, then using hypnosis and other techniques to make that process more automatic.

There are other areas we work on too, such as boosting confidence, self worth, and self belief.

This can really help boost motivation and determination to stay the course and engrain the new healthy habits.

Read more articles here


The Power of Friction To Stop Bad Habits and Create Better Ones

Wendy Wood is the author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Change, and a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California.

One of her underlying principles on how to manipulate habits is by adding or removing friction.

Our habits are automated and rarely involve much decision making. Using willpower alone has proven time and time again to be really ineffective in breaking habits, and creating new ones.

People who are successful at reaching their long terms goals are very good at structuring their environment to make it as easy as possible to do the habits they want to do (removing friction), and more difficult to do the habits they don’t want (adding friction).

Adding Friction To Break a Habit

An example of adding friction to break a habit can be demonstrated with an experiment at a cinema involving stale popcorn.

Two groups of people were selected to watch a film at a cinema, one group were selected because they rarely ate popcorn, and the other selected because they often ate popcorn.

Both groups were given boxes of popcorn, some boxes contained fresh popcorn, and some contained stale popcorn.

The group who rarely ate popcorn, ate plenty of the fresh popcorn, but as expected didn’t really touch the stale popcorn.

However, in the frequent popcorn eating group, 70% of the popcorn was eaten regardless if the popcorn was fresh or stale.

When asked afterwards about the taste of the stale popcorn, the frequent popcorn eaters described it as tasting awful, yet they still ate 70% of it.

Their behaviour was so automatic, that they mindlessly consumed stale popcorn, even though they didn’t enjoying the taste at all.

Interesting, they ran the experiment again, this time, right handed people were directed to use their left hand to eat the popcorn, and left handed people directed to use their right hand.

After adding this small bit of friction, and interrupting the habitual popcorn eating, much less stale popcorn was consumed. The group had become much more mindful when eating, and were able to stop eating out of habit, and make a more effortlessly decision not to eat.

The British business magnate Alan Sugar, published a book many years ago entitled “The Tiny Fork Diet”. He basically exchanged his regular fork for a tiny fork, even going as far as taking it to restaurants with him to eat with.

His thought process was that it slowed his eating, and therefore, allowed enough time for him to feel full and not overeat. This is also a good example of adding friction to an unwanted habit to disrupt it.  This disruption allowed him to be more conscious and mindful, and build better long term eating habits.

Remove Friction To Create Habits

Just as adding friction can help to interrupt and break unwanted habits, removing friction can help to make it easier to form new desired habits.

The easier a desired habit is to do, the more likely we are to do it.

An example of removing friction might be to leave vitamins or medication by the kettle, as a reminder when we have our morning coffee or tea.

Another might be to the leave weighting scales at the bottom of the stairs at night, so they are seen first thing in the morning when coming downstairs.

Another classical examples might be arranging the fridge so that the “good/desired” foods are easier to get. Or leaving workout clothing by the bed, so that when we wake there is less friction to putting them on.

The key to breaking and making habits isn’t just to use willpower alone, but to set up our environments in our favour to help us succeed.

This involves removing as much friction as possible for the habits we want to do, and creating as much friction as possible for our unwanted habits, to allow us to make more mindful decisions, rather than automated ones.

Related Articles

RAIN Method to Break Unwanted Habits and Cravings


Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits

“Your outcomes are a lagging measure of your habits. Your net worth is a lagging measure of your financial habits. Your weight is a lagging measure of your eating habits. Your knowledge is a lagging measure of your learning habits. You get what you repeat” – James Clear, Atomic Habits

Establishing and maintaining good habits is probably one of the best skills to us to develop.

Relying soley on motivation is setting ourselves up for failure.

Establishing and maintaining good habits allows us to repeat desired behaviours even when we don’t feel like it. Thus, increasing our chances of long term success where we want it.

Anxiety habits

RAIN Method to Break Unwanted Habits and Cravings

R.A.I.N Method

The following is a basic outline of the R.A.I.N method to Break Unwanted Habits and Cravings.

It was developed by neuroscientist Dr Judson Brewer who is director of research at the Centre for Mindfulness and associate professor in psychiatry at the School of Medicine at Brown University.

This technique really brings into play his long experiences with mindfulness.

First of all, just think about the habit you want to stop. Spend a few minutes really thinking about that habit and what it does for you, what you get from it. 

What does it feel like in your body, what are the rewards? Dr Jud says it’s imperative to understand why we do the habit.

R.A.I.N is a simple acronym that makes the technique easier to remember, and simpler to apply.


  • Recognise
  • Accept
  • Investigate
  • Note

Four Step Process for cravings and unwanted habits

Now anytime we feel a craving or unwanted behaviour, we should apply the following fours steps.

  1. Recognise: First of all, we just need to recognise when we are doing the habit. Otherwise, we are just on autopilot.
  2. Accept: Rather than pushing away the craving or habit we just accept it.
  3. Investigate: Now, we investigate those feelings and notice where we feel them. This should be playfully curious and light without judgment or criticism. Is there a feeling in the stomach? What does the mind do?  What are the feelings involved? We want to be really curious and look deeper at the craving & behaviours, and their effects on our bodies.
  4. Note. Finally, just note down those feelings and experiences for a minute or so.

Dr Jud recommends using this technique for cravings, or unwanted thought patterns. Repetition is key.

Every time we repeat the process the cravings will get weaker and we will gain more control.