You don't have to be fit (or have even ever stepped into a gym before!) to get started with personal training.
"Kaz" is a perfect example of that.
A busy single mum in her 40's with a daughter under 3, Kaz developed a deep passion and goal of joining the police force.
With almost no history of gym-based training, Kaz knew she needed to do something in order to pass the challenging fitness test required to enter the police.
Nervous, but excited to get started, Kaz trusted that we were going to slowly progress her, and not try to push her too hard from day 1.
And that's exactly what we did.
Kaz started with one session per week. Soon enough, she was doing two sessions per week. Then three...
Over the course of her 15 month journey with us, Kaz lost over 10kg, but the most important thing is... she nailed her police fitness test!! Her strength, fitness and confidence went through the roof, which dramatically impacted all aspects of her life.
"What I loved the most about training at Evexia is that once I'd set the goal, the team planned exactly how I was going to achieve that goal. While I wasn't a 'gym person', the community was so friendly, everybody was in the same boat, and I never felt intimidated or pressured while working out."
Many people think that to start personal training, they have to be 'fit', or they'll feel embarrassed that they can't keep up.
This is completely the opposite of what we do.
Our job is to introduce you to exercise, work with your body's current abilities, and gently progress you to more advance exercises as you get stronger and fitter.
Exactly as we did with Kaz, this is a process that works you towards your goals, safely, and leaves you feeling stronger and more motivated to keep exercising.
If Kaz's story resonates with you, leave a comment below and show that we're all in the same boat, together. Well done, Kaz, we're so proud of you!
So what happened?
Kim approached me in 2015 declaring that she wanted to fit into a bikini one more time. At 55 years of age, she had spent the majority of her adult life fit and strong, but as she approached 95kg's, decided it was time to lose the excess body fat.
As a social person, getting her head around our long-term strategy was the only way we could approach this goal. So, we set a 12-month weight loss goal, and luckily, she believed enough in my process to get started (after all, who doesn't love the appeal of rapid results?!).
We began. Kim trained with me 4 times per week. What's more, we started to implement our nutrition coaching - we started off with basic habits including eating slowly, eating until satisfied, not full, and including protein at every meal.
There was never a "you can't eat this, you can't eat that" conversation.
By learning the fundamental habits within our program, Kim could remain social and eat out - however, we changed the way she ate, not what she ate.
The first 5kgs dropped off.
Next, we started to incorporate some more advanced nutrition coaching practices, such as waiting until she was hungry to eat, and limiting calorie-containing beverages. As a social person, alcohol was always going to be an issue. Instead of giving up alcohol, which isn't a sustainable practice, we teamed up and picked dates in her social calendar where alcohol would be a part of her event - and picked events where alcohol didn't need to be consumed.
After 3 months, we were 10kgs down.
Hovering just above 80kgs, a new Kim emerged. Even more energetic, motivated, inspired by her own actions than I'd ever seen before. The fire was raging. Her desire had grown so strong, because everything that we had done had been sustainable, do-able, and completely different to anything else she had tried.
Over the course of the next 12 months, Kim lost a total of 25kgs.
She did the extreme - competing in her very first figure competition at the age of 56 - to prove to herself that she was never 'too old', and challenge herself physically and emotionally.
Figure competition aside, her story is one of many - a woman who had tried everything in the past - who had never found a sustainable, suitable program tailored to her body's needs.
Anyone can lose a few kgs quickly. But losing large amounts of weight, and keeping it off - that's a skill. And a skill that coaches like us have - a vision that goes past restriction, excessive exercise, and pain.
Our only focus is on where you're going to be in 12 months time. 12 years time.
Whilst it may seem slow at first, like Kim, the tipping point happens about 3 months in. Suddenly, you're in a place you never thought imaginable.
Energised. Enthused. Proud. Determined.
Kim's story is one of many, many women who have taken the leap towards long-term, sustainable, manageable progress.
We hope you take the same leap.
We often make simple things complicated.
Nutrition is one of them.
Yes, there are certainly nuances and individual factors and disease states and preferences and environments that all play a role in the food we eat, the decisions we make, and the outcomes we achieve.
I respect that, because I work in that state every day.
Fundamentally, however, nutrition is simple.
Way beyond the individual nuances, there is the ugly burden of convenient, highly palatable, processed food.
If we steered clear of diets, counting the calories, trying the fads; and instead focused all of that energy on providing our body with whole foods, I know great things would happen to every single individual.
There's no question the causative effect processed food has had on our waistlines.
It's no secret that whole food, in its most natural form, is highly beneficial for our health.
So when asked the question, "just what the F*** do I eat then?", the answer is the same;
Whole foods. Vegetables, and lots of them. Fruit, legumes, lean meats, real dairy.
And we eat these foods in variety, we eat them slowly instead of just mindlessly stuffing them down, and we eat them in portions that align with our goals.
If you want to gain weight, eat a slightly larger portion. If you want to lose weight, eat a slightly smaller portion.
There really isn't any "secret". It's what we already intrinsically know. Now it's just execution.
My latest book, suitably titled "What The F*** Do I Eat?", visits these points in more detail.
For now, let move into some tactics.
How do you eat better?
1) Be more in tune with what you buy in the supermarket. What ends up in your cupboard, ends up in your mouth. Be aware while walking through the isles, that everything you put in the trolley, you'll be eating.
2) Make whole foods more convenient to eat. Chop carrots up into sticks and put them in an airtight container in the fridge, ready to eat. Keep bananas on the bench top, in sight for when you're looking for a snack. Pre-boil eggs and have them ready, wrapped in foil.
3) Set yourself daily targets. For example, create a target of eating 5 vegetables a day. Or, using a can of legumes in a dish. Or, having a vegetarian day during the week.
4) Audit your own food intake. This tip can be confronting, but it really works. Write down everything you eat and drink for a week, and when reading it back, imagine all of that food is laid out on the dining table infant of you. What's infant of you that isn't helping you get towards your goals?
5) Be prepared to make mistakes, and to fall off the bandwagon. Many of my clients get upset when they stuff up. I always say, "Did you really think you were going to be perfect everyday?". Prepare for, and embrace, mistakes. It's the only way you learn anything!
So, if you find yourself asking the question, "What The F*** Do I Eat?", here are some of your action points for right now:
1) Download my latest book, "What The F*** Do I Eat?". You can do that here
2) Register for my free 5 day weight loss nutrition video series. You can do that here
3) Ready for your own nutrition plan? You can get that here. Plus, I'll throw in a free 30 minute strategy call to talk you through it step by step.
4) Ready to start working with our nutrition and exercise team in the studio? You can do that here
As always in the field of nutrition, there are endless theories and opinions on almost everything and anything to do with food, nutrients and diets.
One topic that we can all agree on, however, is the effect of protein.
The first point that I try to emphasize when talking about protein is its effect on preserving your muscle whilst you are losing weight. (1) This is a crucial aspect of the weight loss journey, and should be prioritized, as muscle loss during weight loss is a real concern. (This is why we use the term fat loss, not weight loss).
Ensuring you are getting enough protein, at the right time, and of a high quality is an important area to consider when losing fat. This will help with muscle preservation, which will then serve a host of other health benefits.
The second point I make, and the most commonly known effect of protein, is its effect on muscle growth. When combined with resistance training, protein intake results in the growth of muscle tissue. (2)
Of course, intakes, quality and timing are factors in this equation, as is the quality of the resistance training you're completing.
One thing that I think is important to note; this does not mean you'll become a bodybuilder! In fact, growing just 1kg of muscle is tough, and takes really dedicated effort. When we say growth above, we mean small amounts of growth. (Unless you dedicate your nutrition and training towards hypertrophy).
And thirdly, and probably the least recognized reason protein is an important macronutrient, is its effect on appetite and satiety.(3) Protein rich foods help to keep us full in between meals, and they also help to keep us more satisfied in between meals . As we know, the less hungry we feel, and the more satisfied we feel, the less likely we are to compensate and therefore over eat in that particular day.
And, finally, a bonus point: protein has a high thermic effect, meaning it requires a high amount of energy to digest. The suggested figures are around 20% of the energy the protein contains. In other words, if you consume 100 calories from protein, 20 calories will be expended during the digestive process.
Perhaps not a sole reason for increasing protein intake, but a fun fact none the less.
To most people, getting in great shape is all about exercise. As in crunches, push ups and cardio. The harder, and the more often, the better - right?
What people tend to forget is that there is so much more to the human body than 'workouts'.
I've always been fascinated by this little calculation:
Provided you sleep for 8 hours per night, you are left with 112 waking hours per week. If you train for, say, 3 hours per week - what's happening in the other 109 hours?
As humans, we have been designed to move. However, in 2019, physical activity has been engineered out of our lives - we are literally constantly searching for ways to make things easier, less strenuous, faster. What an amazing paradox.
We sit in a car on the way to work. At work, we sit at a desk for much of the day, then come home to relax on the couch. Sure, we may throw in a 45 minute boot camp training session into that - but aren't we missing the point?
Unfortunately, this current focus on exercise, and not movement, results in a few negative side effects;
1) Adherence issues, particularly long term adherence.
2) Niggling injuries - you know, like the creaky knees, sore shoulders and that lower back pain.
When we aren't focused on movement, and instead on just making it to the next gym class, we aren't actually learning how to become more active throughout the day. We aren't actually taking advantage of those 109 hours in the week - and it's what we do in these hours - not in the 3 hours that we 'work out' - that will determine our result.
Surprisingly, there's nothing magic about the boot camp style class or the latest trendy training method.
For some, they work wonders.
But for the majority, it leaves them in a negative headspace, exhausted, and injured.
Your result isn't about what you do in your 3 hours per week in the gym or in your boot camp.
It's about what you do in the other 109 hours.
I am so excited to be launching our 6 Week Shake Up Program on the 3rd of June.
We have done 24 months of "testing" on real clients to see what works, and what doesn't.
The final product is the best I could ever imagine. Teaming up with amazing nutritionists, coaches and fellow clients, this program is designed to teach you the fundamental skills to mastering your long-term weight loss journey.
Most people think that to get in shape, they need strong willpower or they need to find their shining light of motivation.
Over the years, I've watched first hand as clients rebound after losing weight. Initially, the natural response was to blame the client. How could they give up everything they worked so hard to gain, I'd think to myself.
But as my coaching progressed, and the more I learnt about human psychology and behaviours, the more I understood that long-term change has little to do with willpower or motivation.
Your environment is by far the most important determinant of whether you will succeed long-term, or not.
You see, all the clients I mentioned above had one thing in common - none of them actually changed their environment or habits. They kept buying the ice creams and putting them in the freezer. They kept the cookies in a cookie jar on the counter. While they were highly motivated, they relied on willpower to say no to these treats. But when that motivation slipped, they were in an environment where they could easily access these 'bad' foods.
They never changed their environment.
To explore this point further, let me tell you about a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Anne Thorndike and her colleagues conducted a six-month study that secretly took place in the hospital cafeteria and helped thousands of people develop healthy eating habits without changing their willpower or motivation in the slightest way.
Thorndike and her team utilized a concept known as “choice architecture.” Choice architecture is just a fancy word for changing the way the food and drinks are displayed, but, as it turns out, it makes a big difference.
The researchers started by changing the choice architecture of the drinks in the cafeteria. Originally, there were three main refrigerators, all of which were filled with soda. The researchers made sure that water was added to each of those units and also placed baskets of bottled water throughout the room.
The image below depicts what the room looked like before the changes (Figure A) and after the changes (Figure B). The dark boxes indicate areas where bottled water is available.
What happened? Over the next 3 months, the number of soda sales dropped by 11.4 percent. Meanwhile, bottled water sales increased by 25.8 percent. Similar adjustments and results were made with food options. Nobody said a word to the visitors who ate at the cafeteria. The researchers simply changed the environment and people naturally followed suit.
Again, nobody said a word to any of the subjects about what was going on, or that there was a study even being conducted. The fact that the environment had changed allowed the cafe visitors to naturally choose healthier options because they were simply more available.
Choice architecture is even more important when you're already stressed, tired, or distracted. If you're already worn-down, you’re probably not going to go through a lot of effort to cook a healthy dinner or fit in a workout. You’ll grab or do whatever is easiest.
So making sure there are healthy options within your environment is possibly the most important driving factor towards long-term success.
"Make healthy choices more convenient, and less healthy choices less convenient" is a mantra I use to get clients to understand that what you have available is what you're going to eat.
If you have Tim Tams in the cupboard, you're going to eat those Tim Tams. You're not going to let them go to waste.
The environment we shape will reflect the results we see.
We've all been there. Starting our new diet, motivation sky-high, convincing ourselves that this time, is it. We're never going back to how we were, and this diet of no diary, no gluten, no pasta, no fruit, no alcohol and no coffee is going to last forever. I mean, how hard can it be?
As we all know, this lasts a couple of days. Then, life gets on top of us, things happen, and we reach for the foods we love.
This is because we haven't actually learnt anything about our own eating patterns, behaviours and habits.
And, fundamentally, this is the only way we can truly change for the long-term.
Introducing to you the 'Diet Danger Zones', and how you can identify these Danger Zones in order to begin to change your habits and behaviours.
The 'Diet Danger Zones' are traps that catch all of us at one time or another, but most people fall into only one or two on a regular basis.
1) The Meal Stuffer.
Stuffers eat primarily during 'main' meal times, but then they eat to excess, cleaning everything on their plate. They often eat so quickly that they're uncomfortably full after they finish. They often take second helpings at home.
What can you do?
- Pre-plate the high-calorie foods in the kitchen and leave the leftovers there. Do not serve "family style", unless its veggies and salad.
- Use smaller plates and glasses
- Manage the pace, slow down, so appetite can catch up with the amount you've eaten. Remember, 20 minutes is the recommended eating timeframe.
- Avoid having too many foods on the table. The more variety there is, the more people will eat.
- Get into the habit of leaving something on the plate.
- Eat fruit for dessert instead of more indulgent choices.
- Adopt the Half-Plate rule. Half the plate is filled with veggies and the other half is protein and smart carbs.
2) The Snack Grazer.
Grazers reach for whatever food is available, typically about 3 times per day. While they love the 4C's (candy, chocolate, chips and cookies), convenience is usually more important to them than taste. They rarely pass up a lolly jar. For these people, snacking can be a nervous habit, something that gives them an excuse to get up and walk around, or something they can do with their hands while watching TV or reading. They might be hungry when they snack, but its almost done more out of habit than hunger.
What can you do?
- Think 'back'. For all those foods that aren't good for you, think 'back'. Put them in the back of the cupboard, in the back of the fridge, or in the back of the freezer. Keep these tempting goodies wrapped in aluminium foil.
- Do not 'pre-buy' snacks for a future occasion. If you must buy snacks, buy those your family likes but you don't.
- If you get a craving, think of a substitute. Crunchy things like fruits and pre-cut vegetables work for some people. Each week, buy a colourful variety of veggies, pre-cut them, and store them on the first or second shelf of the fridge.
- Chewing gum can distract you away from the 4C's.
- Only eat at the table - the one in the kitchen or the one in the dining room. Don't wolf things down over the sink or in front of an open fridge.
- Keep the tempting foods out of sight and out of mind. Store them in out-of-the-way cupboards.
- If family members want different foods, have separate cupboards that are assigned to them and off-limits to you.
- The only food that should be out on the counter are the healthy foods. Substitute a fruit dish for your cookie jar.
- Never eat directly from a package. Always portion food out into a dish so you know exactly how much you'll eat.
3) The Party Binger.
Parties - buffets, dinners, nights-out - these are high-distraction environments where the food is the backdrop for either business or fun, and its easy to lose track of how much they've eaten or drunk. Party bingers are often professionals who frequently wine and dine, or single, stay-out-late young people.
What can you do?
- Stay more than an arm's length away from the food tables and snack bowls.
- Put only two items on your plate during any given trip to the table.
- Use the volume approach to make yourself feel full. Chow down on the big healthy stuff (like veggies and salad) and then see if you have room for the rest.
- When you think you'll be distracted by an important (or fun) conversation, set the food down and give the conversation your full attention. Remember, the more you focus on people (and distractions like sport on the TV), the more you'll tend to eat.
- If you plan to attend a cocktail party or a buffet, arrive late or leave early. If you arrive late, most of the good stuff will be gone by the time you show up. Leave early and you'll make it easier to avoid a second (or third) helping of dessert.
4) The Restaurant Indulger.
While many of us eat lunch away from home, the restaurant indulger also eats dinner out at least 3 days a week. Like party bingers, restaurant indulgers are often on an expense account. They may also be affluent gourmets or professionals in their 30's.
What can you do?
- Use the Rule of Two. Limit yourself to two of the following: an appetiser, a drink, or a dessert. Pick any two.
- If the bread basket is on your table, you are going to eat bread. Either you ask the waiter to forget it or to take it away early.
- Before you start to eat, ask the waiter to pre-wrap half of your entree to take home. That way you will not be tempted to polish it off as soon as it arrives.
- Ask for water and alternate glasses of water with glasses of whatever else you're drinking.
- Sit next to the person you think will be the slowest eater at the table. Use them as a pacesetter. Always be the last one to start eating, and put your fork down after every bite.
- If you want dessert, see if someone will share it. The best part of a dessert is the first two bites.
5) The Desktop/Dashboard Diner.
Both speed eat while multi-tasking at their desk or in their car. Desktop diners eat at their desk partly to save time, but more often to save the hassle of getting a real lunch. It's not that they're overly busy - they're under-motivated. If the right person were to stop by to ask them to lunch, they'd probably go. But more often, they snack out of the vending machine or grab some bickies from the lunch room.
What can you do?
- Brown-bag it. Remember the brown lunch bags you used to take your lunch in at school? The same principle applies here, we want you to pack your own lunch a couple of times per week to start. This way, you're more in control of your food choices.
- Stock your desk or the lunch room fridge with yoghurt or cans of tuna. Protein will take the edge of the desire to snack.
- Turn off the computer or pull the car over while you eat. If you focus on what you're eating, you might even discover that you don't really like vending machine food anyway.
- Replace soft drinks with water. Offices tend to be dry. We often think we're hungry when instead we're simply thirsty. Fill up your water bottle a number of times each day.
So there you have it - these are the most common 'Danger Diet Zones' that people fall into. As I mentioned, most people fall into at least 2 of them - the trick is to identify which 2 you fall into, and use the tips provided to begin to change your habits and behaviours relating to them.
How to make each meal just a little bit better, and why this is the strategy towards long term results.
I like to think as health, wellness & fitness as a continuum.
At the left end of the continuum, is the worst state of health possible. The worst imaginable. African communities with no access to food and water, in extreme poverty, would be towards this end of the continuum.
At the right end of the continuum, is the best state of health possible. The best imaginable. I picture this as the happy people somewhere in the Swiss alps, living with no technology, only fresh, seasonal, organic produce, fresh air, living off the land, in a supportive, loving community. Of course, I've never been there, but it seems like my idea of great health.
You sit somewhere in between these two points.
And your position will move either way along the continuum, perhaps monthly or yearly.
The point is, we aren't going to be able to shift the African communities to the health of the Swiss communities straight away. In fact, perhaps we'll never be able to help them achieve that kind of health status. And that's ok, as long as we focus on notching them along the continuum towards better health.
While not as extreme, you're exactly the same.
There appears to be an expectation to move from where you currently sit on the continuum, to 'perfect' straight away.
You know, going from a fast-food lunch, to 100g of grilled chicken and 1/2 cup of broccoli, now. We've all seen and tried the meal plan.
Put into perspective, it's a ridiculous expectation.
Your focus should be simply notching yourself along the continuum towards better health.
To do this, we use exactly the same ideology with your meals.
How can you make your meal just a little bit better, moving you towards better habits and behaviours and better health?
Here's where we play the meal transformation game.
Let's say your go-to breakfast is a large, full cream coffee with 2 sugars, and a piece of banana bread on the way to work. This is your starting point. It's not "bad", it just no longer working for you. The meal isn't holding you until lunch, you're feeling awfully low on energy mid-morning, and that excess weight isn't shifting.
Now your process is to improve your breakfast just a little bit, starting with what you already have or do.
You might replace the banana bread with a whole grain muffin. While the calories may be the same, the wholegrain muffin will sustain you for longer, leading to less food consumption later in the day. You might switch from a large, full cream coffee with 2 sugars, to a small size.
Some days, the banana bread looks too good. But you're trying it, and feeling better on the days you do. You're noticing a change. This is an awesome start. Well done.
A few weeks go by. You look to improve your breakfast even more.
You're noticing the wholegrain muffin is getting a bit tasteless, so you try a packet granola with some yoghurt. Every now and then, you slice a banana on top, for a nice touch of sweetness. Suddenly, the small sized coffee is too sweet with 2 sugars in there, so you go down to a small sized with one sugar.
Over the course of a month, you've simply adjusted what you're used to eating, and made it a little better.
Meal transformation is not about reaching perfection.
If you’re at stage 1, all you have to do is shoot for stage 2. Or stage 1.5.
If you’re in stage 2, play with getting to stage 3.
And if you’re stage 3, heck, you can stay where you are.
You might never get to stage 4. Or it might only happen at times when you’re relaxed and have a little extra time.
Stage 4 might only happen on Sunday night, whereas the rest of your week is a mix of stages 1, 2, and — if you’re super lucky — 3.
And that’s OK. nHow far you progress along the continuum all depends on what YOU want, what YOU need, and what YOU can reasonably do, right now.
Over time, things can change. Play YOUR game.
4 egg whites, 10 almonds, 150g of chicken breast, 1/2 cup of broccoli... could this be the recipe for getting fat?
We've all seen it before;
Meal 1: 1/2 cup of oats, 4 egg whites
Meal 2: 10 almonds
Meal 3: 100g of chicken breast, 1/2 cup of broccoli
Meal 4: Large salad with can of tuna
Or, even better;
How could these meal plans make me fat? They are all calorie controlled, and my personal trainer gave them to me!
Stay with me.
The meal plans above look great when they are written down on paper, with your name nicely placed on the top, colour-coded and fridge-ready.
But beyond the promises, spreadsheet tallies and "personalisation", it can get ugly.
A strict, regimented and detailed meal plan like these often don't translate to real life for most people. Most people don't enjoy eating the same meal, at the same time, in the same quantities, every day for the rest of their life.
Here's how we have found meal plans to REALLY play out for most people
1/2 cup of oats, 4 egg whites
MEAL 1B: (I'm feeling deprived and restricted)
This is when the day starts. Work has piled on the desk. You just received some stressful news.
Coffee is needed. And maybe some sugar. The cafe downstairs does yummy banana bread.
Shit! I can't! The meal plan! Boy it's restrictive... Nope, I need a coffee. I don't have time to worry about the meal plan... Besides, I had my perfect breakfast this morning. I deserve one coffee. And banana bread. I'll think about it later.
Translation: Cappuccino and a piece of banana bread, toasted with butter.
150g of chicken breast, with salt and pepper, 1/2 cup of broccoli, and 1/2 cup of greens.
MEAL 2B: (I'm bored at work)
Lunch wasn't very satisfying because you didn't eat what you wanted. Plus, work is kinda slow and you're bored. Nothing like some processed food to relieve the boredom! Someone has baked some yummy choccy biscuits and left them in the kitchen. One will do the trick.
Oh man, these are good! I better try one more, while I'm waiting for the coffee machine to finish my second cappuccino. A little extra choccy sprinkles on top, it's been a long day.
Large salad and a can of tuna
MEAL 4B: (I'm lacking stimulation right now)
This is about the time when lack of stimulus kicks in. TV is boring, it's dark, your guards are down, and you can always start the meal plan again tomorrow.
So how about getting those cravings out of your system? I mean, you might as well. Those foods will be off limits again at 6am tomorrow, I promise.
And besides, the only food I have in the house is "healthy".
3 handfuls of wholegrain crackers, a handful of natural trail mix, and a slice of bread with butter and some popcorn... now I'm good.
Boy, I did well today! I stuck to the meal plan! My trainer is a genius!
Translation: I white-knuckled through food I don't enjoy - but made it enjoyable by adding:
1 piece of banana bread
2 chocolate biscuits
3 handfuls of crackers
a handful of trail mix
a slice of bread with butter
... into the meal plan.
Someone films a documentary of you, 24 hours a day, for one month.
When you watch the documentary back, what do you think will be the big things that stand out that are holding you back from your goals?
Many people will say anything and everything, except for the big stuff we conveniently overlook.
It’s finishing the kid’s leftovers (even though you just ate)
It’s snacking on crackers while hovering over the sink
It’s downing the granola bar while standing in front of the pantry
It’s the extra spoonfuls of “light” ice cream in front of the freezer
It’s the chocolates at work
It’s the coffee shop fare
It's all the stuff we block out. And another month goes by, yet we are still not any closer to you achieving your goals.
It's not the meal plan (that you were never able to stick to anyway).
Besides, the meal plan in certainly something we can put the blame on for being "flawed".
It's the fact that we are looking for a band-aid fix in a meal plan, without actually learning what, why and how we are eating. You know, the stuff that actually matters.
Perfect, regimented meal plans have their place for elite figure athletes.
But for the other 99.9% of us, they teach us nothing, they result in yo-yo behaviours, and they lead us to the exact position we are in now.
As many of you may know, the past 2 years of my career have been heavily focused on understanding and learning about human psychology and behavioural change.
Over a decade of coaching people - I finally realised that something just wasn't right. Results weren't so hard to come by - calorie restrict a client and get them moving. Yet, maintaining those results was frustratingly challenging.
I discovered that I wasn't actually teaching people HOW to change. I was simply giving them the 'rules' they needed to obeyed by in order to get results. But as we know, these 'rules' have a shelf life - usually the end of the 8 week challenge you're completing!
Recently, I have had discussions with clients who have been told it takes '21 days to break a habit' - in fact, one facility based an entire paid weekend on this very point.
Unfortunately, this simply isn't correct.
Think about it. Let's say you want to quit snacking after dinner. You white-knuckle your way through 21 days of forcing yourself away from the fridge, then, by day 22, you no longer need to snack after dinner, ever again!
Habit's aren't changed through amazing acts of willpower. Habits are changed through identifying the cues, the routine, and the rewards from the associated habit.
More on that later.
So why does everyone say it takes 21 days to break a habit?
This number comes from a popular 1960 book called Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who noticed his patients seemed to take about 21 days to get used to their new faces.
Nowhere did Maltz say this is how long it takes to break a habit, nor even create a habit.
The "21 days to break a habit" quote has unfortunately been misunderstood and twisted into a 'rule' for clients. Luckily, I'll relieve you of some of the misunderstanding now...
So just how long does it take to break a habit?
Well, you might be shocked to know that we never actually truly 'break' a habit.
"Breaking a habit really means establishing a new habit, a new pre-potent response. The old habit or pattern of responding is still there (a pattern of neuron responses in the brain), but it is less dominant (less potent)", says Associate Professor Timothy Pychyl, of Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa.
Dr. Thomas Plante, Adjunct Clinical Professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, adds "Behavior and habits (especially when long-standing) are very hard to change. All the stars must align to make it happen. Attending to biological, psychological, social, cultural, and other factors can help. But in the end, to answer your question, it all depends."
So, the answer to 'how long does it take to break a habit' is "it's impossible for anyone to say".
But really, the timeframe it takes to break a habit is completely irrelevant. This isn't a competition, nor a game with a defined start and finish. What matters - and the only thing that matters - is that you're putting the processes in place to change.
Now we've established that the 21 day timeframe is incorrect - and, well, irrelevant - let's have look at how habits are actually changed.
Habits are essentially automatic behaviours that have been developed over the course of our lifetime.
We experience habits as patterns of thought and behavior imbued with automaticity. Automaticity — a sort of internal momentum that no longer needs overt, conscious fuel to keep going — is the result of learning. And in effect that's exactly what a habit is: the logical outcome of learning something, whether or not that something is beneficial or dangerous.
Habits involve what is know as the 'habit loop'
The first part of the habit loop is the cue, which is the trigger that tells your brain to go into cruise control (automatic mode) and ushers a specific routine. The cue can be a person, place, thing, or emotion.
The routine is the second part of this three-part loop. The routine is an action that can be mental, emotional, or physical. This is what really makes a habit, a habit.
The reward is what makes doing the routine worthwhile, in your brain’s opinion. A reward may not seem like a “reward” on its surface, especially if your habits cause you financial, physical, or emotional pain. But your brain thinks of it as a reward; and rewards are what keep habits going. It’s that shot of endorphins you get every time you perform the routine. The reward is what helps your brain figure out if this loop is worth remembering and repeating in the future.
Now that we know what habits are, and how they are formed, the lesson here is that you can disrupt a habit by replacing the routine in the habit loop, while keeping the same cue and reward.
That is how you “break” habits. You keep the cue and the reward essentially the same; all you have to do is replace the routine.
It is important to note that though the process of habit change is easily described, it does not mean that it is easily accomplished. And it certainly doesn't mean that it will be achieved in 21 days.
Genuine change requires work and self-understanding of the cravings' driving behaviours.
It requires accepting that the cue(s) are always going to be there. You cannot remove the cue(s).
Once you've identified the cue(s) for your behaviour, it's time to understand what reward you are gaining from the routine (habit).
Let's work through an example:
Say you want to stop snacking at work. Is the reward you’re seeking to satisfy your hunger? Or is it to interrupt boredom?
Often, clients snack at work to interrupt boredom or to distract them from the work they don't want to do.
First, there is the cue...
“Whoop, it’s 3pm! I’m kinda bored sitting at this desk...”
Second, there is the routine...
“The kitchen usually has some snacks I can distract myself with... let’s go check it out!”
Thirdly, there’s the reward...
“Ahh, those biscuits and coffee distracted me perfectly!”
Above, this individual went to the kitchen for a distraction, not hunger. The reward of the routine was escapism from working.
We could probably collectively think of 100 different routines this person could do to distract themselves, and offer the same reward.
The secret to habit change is understanding the cue’s won’t change. You can’t stop 3pm from coming around. You can’t stop emotion, boredom, whatever.
The secret is changing the routine, that achieves the same reward.
This is how habit change works, and identifying the cues, then changing the routine, is the secret to success.
Drew is a personal trainer and nutritionist and is the co-founder of Evexia Wellbeing. Drew specialises in long-term habit change, body composition training, and mindset.