Creating new healthy habits can be extremely difficult, especially when losing weight requires long-term changes to your diet, fitness, sleep schedule and more. But other habits — like brushing your teeth, eating three meals a day and winding down before bed — come so automatically you don’t even have to think about them.
That’s why combining the two, also known as habit stacking, may be the secret to making healthy habits a permanent part of your daily routine.
Habit stacking is a method of building new habits on top of already established habits, like making coffee and booting up your computer in the morning. “Linking a new, desired habit to an already established habit is a way of cueing yourself to complete the habit, which can be more successful than trying to link it to a particular time of day or other cues,” explains Rachel MacPherson, a certified personal trainer and weight-loss health coach at Radical Strength.
Weight-loss efforts take time and planning, but if they disrupt your life too much, you likely won’t stick to them. Habit stacking can help you make habits that support weight loss part of the structure of your day-to-day life as it exists already. Unlike fad diets and extreme workout regimens, scheduling sustainable healthy habits helps you build a lifestyle that contributes to weight loss and maintenance for the long haul.
1. WHEN YOU’RE GETTING DRESSED, PREP YOUR WORKOUT CLOTHES
“When you’re getting dressed for work in the morning or getting into pajamas at night, use this cue to get out your gym clothes and set them aside,” suggests MacPherson. To prioritize your workout (and make it harder to skip), pack up your gym bag and place it in plain sight beside the door.
2. WHILE YOUR COFFEE BREWS, MEDITATE
“When you start your coffee machine, take time to meditate while it brews,” says MacPherson. “Mindfulness meditation is beneficial for reducing stress and creating a positive start to your day.” Since high stress levels are linked to a thicker waist line, making time to relax and check in with yourself helps support your weight-loss efforts and overall well-being alike.
3. DURING YOUR BREAKS AT WORK, ADD IN MOVEMENT
“If you struggle to move because of a sedentary work environment, set an alarm to go off every 15–30 minutes to stand up and move around,” says Eric Bowling, certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance in Los Angeles. After you turn in an assignment or finish a meeting, go for a brisk walk or do a couple of bodyweight exercises.
4. ON YOUR LUNCH BREAK, GO FOR A WALK
When it’s time to break for lunch, squeeze in a 10–20 minute walk, depending on how much time you have. “Walking helps prevent issues caused by too much sitting and sedentary behavior and helps build activity into your day,” says MacPherson. Since long hours at the desk are linked to metabolic dysfunction, lowered insulin sensitivity and obesity, the more you can move, the better your health. “Try to walk after you eat if possible, as this helps to manage blood sugar spikes from meals which, in turn, help manage weight,” explains MacPherson.
5. WHILE YOU’RE PLATING FOOD, USE HEALTHY PORTIONS AND LOG YOUR MEAL
“When you fill up your plate for meals, place produce items (fruits and vegetables) on your plate first and fill half of the plate with them,” says MacPherson. Eating more produce adds low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods to your diet plus fiber, which helps keep you full and manage your weight. Take this time to log your meal in an app like MyFitnessPal, which will help you measure healthy portions and track your intake.
6. AFTER WORK, PUT ON YOUR GYM CLOTHES
If you’ve scheduled an evening workout, it’s all too tempting to ditch your commitment after a hard day at work. The fix: “Put on workout clothing at work if possible so that you’re much less tempted to drive past the gym,” says MacPherson.
7. DURING YOUR WORKOUT, LISTEN TO SOMETHING NEW
Sticking to a workout routine can be a challenge, especially if you need a new playlist. “But if there is something you’re excited about listening to, like a podcast or audiobook, pairing the two could help amp up motivation,” says Bowling.
8. WHEN YOU’RE SHOPPING, PARK FARTHER AWAY
It’s a simple trick, but the extra steps add up: “Park farther away so that you will have to walk a longer distance, increasing your activity,” says MacPherson.
9. BEFORE AND AFTER GROCERY SHOPPING, DO SOME SIMPLE MEAL PREP
Meal prepping can take some time to get used to and requires planning. Here’s how to schedule it in: “Keep a pad of paper attached to your refrigerator or in your purse with your keys. Before you go to the grocery store, take the time to plan out some healthy meals for the week that include abundant fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates and healthy sources of fat,” says MacPherson. Then, as soon as you get home from the grocery store, immediately chop up and store produce in manageable sizes for snacking and meal prep.