Weight loss obstacles: Is breaking bad habits the key to weight loss?

How, what, when and why we eat is largely dictated by our environment in response to particular triggers.

Given that most of our behaviour is habit-based, the obstacles we often face when it comes to weight loss goals are always linked to our habits. 

What are the most common obstacles to weight loss?  

1. Emotional

Habits are normally created through an association of a trigger (cue) and response (habit), they become very difficult to break. For example, “I feel low so I will eat some chocolate” – a habit like this requires so little thought that most of the time, we don’t even know we are doing it.  

2. Worry and stress

Habits are also formed by routine and taking steps to change them can leave some people feeling anxious or stressed, as disrupting a routine can be unpleasant.

3. Self-perception

From a young age, we develop a sense of “self”; who we are, our personality and traits. This can be problematic when it comes to food as we may have trained ourselves to believe statements like “I’ll always be overweight”, “I need wine to destress” or “I have an addictive personality”. Such beliefs make it harder to change habits because we set ourselves up for failure before we’ve even begun. 

4. Denial

Changing any type of behaviour inevitably means changing something we like doing.  Studies have shown that when people are told not to think about something, they nearly always think about it more not less. This can often lead to us giving in and consuming more than we otherwise would have. This is known as the “what the hell” effect.  

5. Challenged identity

Many overweight people are unhappy with their size and want to do something about it. The problem is that their habits and appearance often form a huge part of their identity. While they may be very happy with initial amounts of weight loss, this can pose a challenge to how they and others see them. This can be especially true of yo-yo dieters, who know they can lose the initial 10kg (22lbs) they’ve always been able to drop, but lose faith when they try and get beyond this milestone.

6. Food preferences

We strongly associate particular foods with specific occasions, people, places and times. A diet that conflicts with these considerations significantly is less likely to succeed. Similarly, if we believe we don’t like “healthy” foods, we are less likely to eat them.  

7. Coping mechanism

For many, food and drink are methods for managing stress and emotions. Some people know, for example, that if they’ve had a tough day at work, the bottle of wine at home will quickly relieve stress and tension. It can be hard to remove a coping mechanism if it is not replaced by a more positive one.  

8. Environment

Environmental triggers include anything in your environment that makes it harder for you to stay on plan. For example, the placements of items in supermarkets are explicitly designed to put high-calorie processed foods at eye-height and within easy grabbing distance, for those impulse purchases at the till. If you are tired, stressed and hungry, saying ‘no’ to these triggers when they present themselves becomes even harder.  

9. Social pressure

Nearly always our behaviours mirror those in our social networks and eating can form a core part of how we socialise. Changing our behaviours can lead to objections from others and pressure to revert to our former habits. 

Struggling to action your weight loss goal? Elliott Upton, our Head of Online Training, has put together a what, when and why guide, to help you start your journey toward your weight loss goal.