And it probably went really well. Maybe you weighed and measured what you ate. You dropped a bit of weight and had more energy. And you built some really good nutrition habits… or did you?
If you ask people how long it takes to build a habit, everyone has an answer. But do you want to know a secret? It actually takes a lifetime to build a habit. A LIFETIME? Yep! Because once you break that habit, it’s not a habit anymore. A habit is something you can keep doing – something that runs on autopilot. Something you can do without willpower or conscious thought. Something that is easier to do, than it is not to do.
So did your 12 week nutrition challenge REALLY build good habits? Here’s how you can find out. If you’re still doing these behaviours today (and still expect to be doing them in ten years), then you built habits. If not, all you did was change your behaviours for a tiny, 12 week sliver of your life.
And not only did that 12 weeks fail to build lifelong habits, but it probably contributed to the familiar life-long pattern of yoyo dieting and yoyo bodyweight. And that familiar yoyo pattern can actually make future changes to your bodyweight more difficult. We explain why in “Why Your Diet And Weight Yoyo And What To Do About It“.
And that 12 week challenge was probably hard work. It took willpower. And discipline. And you were glad when it was over.
That’s not sustainable. Filling your days with decisions is exhausting. Should I eat that chocolate or abstain? Should I snack on a biscuit or a carrot? Should I order Uber Eats or should I make a home cooked meal. Exhausting. We talk about this more in “Is ‘Tracking Macros’ Sustainable?”.
There’s a better way. It easier, it requires less effort, it’s sustainable. And the best bit? It only takes 12 seconds. Instead of a 12 week nutrition challenge that stops being of benefit once the 12 weeks is up, this is the 12 second nutrition challenge that works for ever.
Modifying your environment.
To understand this strategy, we can look to the research.
Picture one of those ‘clear topped’ display fridges in a deli or petrol station. The ones with the sliding glass lids. The ones full of ice-cream.
Here’s what the researchers did. On some days they left the lid closed. The customers could still see the ice-creams, but they had to slide open the lid to get to them. In other days, they left the lid open – easy access for customers.
The results were astounding. The shop sold DOUBLE the number of ice-creams when the lid was open.
There was a similar result when looking at the snacking habits of Personal Assistants, who ate an average of nine chocolates a day when the chocolates were within reach on their desk, and only four when they were on a filing cabinet across the room. Over 100% more when they were accessible – equating to a weight gain of 3kg every year.
So what’s the difference? Accessibility. The environment.
And unlike willpower, which can be fatigued with multiple exhausting (and unsustainable) decisions every day, changing your environment only needs to be done once.
Changing your environment is easy.
And it only takes 12 seconds.
Changing your environment is your 12 second nutrition challenge.
Here’s what you need to do.
Identify some foods you want to eat less of. Then, make those foods harder to get to. Store them inside a container (or even a container inside a container). Move them to the top shelf in your pantry, behind the flour, where you need to stand on a chair to reach them. Store those sugary or alcoholic drinks out of the fridge, so you can only get them cold when you’re planning to drink one, not when you have a sudden urge or impulse.
Increase the number of steps you’d need to take to get them.
Then, identify some foods you want to eat more of. Make them easier to get. Move the carrots out of the crisper at the bottom of your fridge, and onto a shelf at eye level, so they’re the first thing you see when you pull open the fridge door. Maybe buy baby carrots so they’re a more convenient snack? Leave a glass next to every tap in your house to make it easier to drink more water. Have a fruit bowl on the kitchen bench so everyone in your family can access it.
Notice a common theme? We’re making it easier to be healthy.
Decrease the number of steps you’d need to take to get them.
Why does this work?
Two reasons. One, we’re naturally lazy (read: “Be Long-Term Lazy“), and often don’t want to go through the extra steps – even if there is a sweet reward at the end. And two, the extra time between impulse and response gives us a moment longer to question whether we actually need that treat. It gives us a moment to let the conscious part of our brain talk us out of it.
And this doesn’t just work for food – this works for any habits you might be looking to build or break.
If you want to do more of something, reduce the steps needed to do that thing. Make it easier.
If you want to do less of something, increase the steps needed to do that thing. Make it harder.
And there’s no better time to do this than now. As we talk about in “How COVID-19 Can Help You Build Habits That Will Last a Lifetime” we explain that a period of change is the best time to build new habtis.
By modifying your environment you can make health easy.