21 micro habits that make weight loss stick #13: Make a plan every 24 hours
Food psychology coach Laura Lloyd talks you through one of the lynchpin tools of the habit-change and mind-management method she uses to coaches people to lose weight, and end their overeating for life.
OMG I don’t even know how to tell you what a game changer this is.
It has literally changed my life in ways that go miles beyond my eating. I’ve gone from someone who thought she had to be spontaneous or life would be boring, to someone who has plans – her food, and other stuff too – and very often does what she says she would.
Sounds ‘dietish’ to have a food plan? I get that. After all, all diets involve following a plan.
The thing is, each one argues for why the food crafted on their plan is the exact nutritional combo that’ll burn fat best, build muscle, end inflammation, balance your hormones, or keep your calories in check.
There are basically two kinds of diet food plans – the kind where every meal is specified and you follow set recipes, and the kind which are measurement systems – points, grams, calories, whatever. OK, some are probably hybrids.
The truth is, they all work for the time that you’re able to stick to them.
And they’ll tell you – it works because THIS combo of macronutrients is the key to weight loss, or because excluding THESE ‘toxic’ foods is the effective element.
But the truth is, they work not because of the food, but because you have a plan.
Any plan. Literally, any plan at all.
But in my book, a plan where you like and want to eat the food, is a better plan than one where you hate and resent the things you’re not allowed to have.
Which is why, when I make people plan their food for the next 24 hours, I really don’t care whether they plan fried chicken or vegan pumpkin smoothies.
The bottom line is, planning your food is proven in repeated psychology studies to be a key factor in creating weight loss, and maintaining weight loss (here’s one, they call making a plan ‘self-monitoring’ in studies by the way).
Making a plan every 24-hours is effective for various obvious practical reasons:
- It forces you to get a step ahead and prepare your food so you’re not missing meals and then trying to nourish your jittery body from a station vending machine
- The more you cook your own food, the less processed junk you’re eating.
But that’s not why I offer people who are on a journey to overcome their weight or overeating struggle the ’24-hourly plan’ suggestion.
I ask you to plan because it allows us to see what’s going on in your mind.
By making the decisions ahead of time about what the food options today (fine to put a couple of options on the plan), we reduce or eliminate the decisions that need to be made the moments right before eating.
That means, the only decisions we need to make before we eat aren’t confused with “should I have this or that”.
Our brain hates making decisions, by the way, they can be very tiring! We need to save our decision-making faculties for the key questions:
- Am I going to now choose to eat the option on the plan? It’s a simple yes or no.
- If you’re hungry, eat it. If not – why are you wanting to eat it right now?
- Why is your brain giving you the urge to eat, if you’re not actually hungry?
- Is it emotional – are you bored, lonely, telling yourself your current task is hard?
- Is it habit – same time of day you had something yesterday?
- Is it social, opportunistic?
- Are you telling yourself you’d better eat now to avoid getting hungry later?
- And then, what are you going to do? It might feel like you usually go ahead and put things to your mouth on autopilot, but in reality, this is the moment where you’re making a choice, albeit unconsciously.
- So, are you going to reinforce the habit of eating when you’re not hungry, or strengthen your muscle of allowing the urge to ripple through you and dissipate without reacting by putting food in your mouth?
When we reduce the number of choices we have to make in each moment, we’re able to see our impulses for immediate comfort and relief come up, and work on them.
Our thinking becomes apparent to us. Our excuses and justifications.
We can work on it.
And that’s really the point of having a plan.
It’s not so that you have something you have to ‘stick to’ – that’d be like having a diet, where you succeed or fail.
It’s not like having a corset – some strict decisions to keep you in check.
Your plan is, and always will be, your choices. You choose in advance, and then you re-choose when the moment comes.
Each time you want to eat, you’ll choose whether to honour the choices you made when you weren’t tired and had your long-term ideals in mind, or to react to urges.
Once again, it really helps if you plan things that you’ll be able to do when it comes to it. You need to be really realistic.
Most diet plans are pretty ambitious. This isn’t.
This is the opposite.
Most commercial diet food plans and apps will allow you on average 1200-1500 calories a day to try to get rapid weight loss happening for you, so you’ll feel encouraged.
But, it’s doomed. It’s hard to stick to a reduced amount of food for long. It’s certainly not a lifelong solution.
I don’t want people to plan what they want to want to eat. I want them to plan what they’ll probably end up eating. Maybe with one or two choices that are just shy of total indulgence.
Trust me, if you have a brain that’s used to emotional eating and overeating, and not-when-hungry eating, your brain will come up with plenty of ‘reasons’ why it’d be a great idea to eat something you haven’t planned and aren’t hungry for, without even any initial intention to rein in your appetite in the mix.
The reason for a goal is to bring our thinking and our habitual ways of behaving into the spotlight.
A snippet from my story:
I used to think I couldn’t plan anything.
I didn’t dare – I couldn’t think it through, and I thought it’d set me up for failure, and I thought I’d feel constrained and unspontaneous.
As someone who considered herself a creative genius, I liked to do whatever I had motivation for, enthusiasm.
I never delayed gratification for something I wanted to have or do, and I never did something that was planned if I didn’t feel like it.
This didn’t work out for me very well in my adult life.
For example, I used to have a to-do list, which was basically a wish list, and then just dive in somewhere and start doing it, machine-gun style.
Many things, like folding washing or organising car insurance, never got done until they were intolerably stressful or close to a deadline.
I’d clean up if my mum was coming over. I’d do the car insurance the night before it expired at midnight. And I’d probably be pretty horrid to the people around me as the pressure mounted too.
At work, I was scared my chaotic nature would be discovered. I wondered if I had ADHD or some kind of procedural brain difficulty.
I always hoped my colleagues and clients wouldn’t mind I didn’t check my emails, because my creativity and enthusiasm would make me valuable regardless.
As an eater, I just ate whatever came into my mind to eat.
I dared not try to control it, after overcoming binge eating in my teens – I’d learnt it wasn’t worth the backlash.
So, I didn’t say ‘no’ to myself for fear I’d be restricting and create a binge urge. I just put on weight, and often grazed through the day, not getting properly hungry nor properly satisfied.
Then I started to make a 24-hour food plan.
I made it a ritual, same time each day.
At first, I’d do it first thing in the morning.
If it was summer, I’d make a coffee and sit on the window-seat in my kitchen, watching the dawn, choosing what to eat in the day, and thinking through any obstacles or tricky things in my schedule that I’d need to anticipate to make choosing the things on the plan really easy.
I’d also take a look at yesterday’s plan, and figure out what went on in my mind if I didn’t do what I’d set out to.
I did it every day and it was my most luscious, peaceful, resetting experience.
I did it when I was living in a tent on summer holiday for two weeks.
I did it when I had messed up and overeaten, I did it when I was on a roll.
As Winter came, I changed my routine.
I forget why – maybe it was too tricky with the kids back at school, or maybe I kept waking them up trying to sneak to the kitchen early – then I’d be trying to write my food journal with a 5-year old on my lap. Nice cuddles, but not so productive.
So then I switched to doing it in bed the night before.
That feels delicious too, very peaceful. Reflecting on the day, what I did right, what I’m grateful for, what thoughts led me from my long-term intentions, what I can learn from for tomorrow.
I loved planning so much, I started planning my time more.
I even made a spreadsheet at work the other day – stop the press!
My plan is different to my to-do list – in both work and food – it’s realistic, less wishful, more honest.
Because I learned the obvious:
that a plan is not just what you want to happen (that’s just the result you want!)…
… it’s thinking through all the actions you’ll take today to get there…
….anticipating all the obstacles that might get in the way, all the self-doubt and perceived lack of capability…
… and what you’d do if the day changed direction…
to still honour your long-term choices over your short-term urges to seek comfort and distraction.
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Just a little side note from me:
Self-judgment is never even slightly helpful, people, if you want to lose weight.
It will stop you in your tracks. Self-judgment creates inaction.
I mean, we think it’s failure that’ll stymie success. That’s not true.
As Brooke Castillo says, failure is not the opposite of success. Inaction is the opposite of success.
Essentially, feeling like a human car crash because you have a lot of thoughts that aren’t helping you, and a lot of habitual behaviours bothering you, just makes it painful to look at what you’re doing, and analyse it.
Which is why we put off leaning in and looking at what we’re really doing when we’re messing up.
But when we do look at it with curiosity, it’s SUCH a relief!
It’s your ability to go into ‘data analysis’ and 'I'm learning new skills' mode that takes the drama out of your weight loss journey:
Scale gone up? Just data – which habit or skill do I need to learn next?
Mum make a snide remark about how you’re ‘getting too thin’? Just data – how can you let other people’s opinions wash off you like water off a duck’s back?
Notice that you ‘can’t’ sit down to work without a road snack to get from the kitchen to your desk? Just data – what am I thinking and feeling about my work?
Go all-out on chocolate one day, and body feels sick and jittery afterwards? Just data – what was I thinking and feeling that day? Does this information from my body change how I think about ‘how much I love’ chocolate?
Self-doubt creates overwhelm. Overwhelm stops you starting. And, once again – that inaction is the opposite of success – not failure.
Failure is very informative. Failure means you’re trying things. It increases your probability of hitting on a solution.
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