I recently returned from an eight day vacation in Dubai. I never thought I would visit the Middle East in my life, so I was determined to make the most of this unique opportunity.
Every meal we had was lavish and indulgent. Every day we drank champagne and cocktails.
And although I logged over 100,000 steps during the week and made great use of the gym at our hotel, there was no denying that my clothes were uncomfortably tight when I got home.
Naturally, I regret nothing. I don’t mind how I look when I’m a few pounds heavier (most people wouldn’t notice), but I wanted to get back to my normal weight because I am more comfortable there. My clothes fit better and I feel more myself.
But over the years I’ve noticed that there are certain habits I focus on more intently when I’m actively trying to lose weight.
None of these deviate from my normal Home Court Habits, I just adhere to them more closely and allow myself fewer (or no) exceptions than I would when at my ideal weight. I call this habit tightening.
It’s worth noting that habit tightening requires relying more heavily on willpower than I typically recommend, though it is still only a fraction of the amount you would use to get through a cleanse or more traditional diet. But using willpower in this capacity isn’t detrimental for two reasons.
First, habit tightening is temporary. I rarely tighten my habits for more than a week, and have never had to go two full weeks to get back to my normal weight.
Science has shown repeatedly that willpower isn’t reliable for long-term goals, but can be quite effective for short-term goals. Since habit tightening doesn’t last very long it is unlikely to result in a willpower breakdown and binge (the What-the-Hell Effect), as multi-week dieting often does.
Second, I only use habit tightening on top of existing habits that I already know work for me and are rewarding. That is, habit tightening doesn’t force me to do things I hate.
Instead I’m simply reminding myself of the importance of maintaining these habits––essentially forcing myself to do something that’s already easy, but that a more relaxed version of myself might waver on. Kind of like when you don’t feel like brushing your teeth at night but do it anyway because that’s gross.
In this sense, unlike dieting, the willpower used for habit tightening serves to reinforce and strengthen existing healthy habits. This is a good thing and a smart use of your limited willpower resources.
(Establishing health-promoting habits in the first place is another excellent place to focus your limited willpower.)
You likely have a different set of Home Court Habits than I do, but of my regular habits these are the ones I always tighten when I want my clothes to fit again.
Cook at home
This is the biggest one. I do everything in my power to eat all my meals at home for a week or so after I return from a trip. If friends want to hang I prefer to do it over coffee, a pedicure or a doggie play date.
Cabbage and eggs is my favorite quick lunch, because it tastes amazing and is really filling. But you can also make it for breakfast or dinner and be just as happy. I made it four times last week.
Beyond just cooking, I specifically try to eat vegetables for meals and snacks. Besides being uber healthy, veggies are the most satisfying thing I can put into my body.
Vegetables require a lot of chewing (I get stomach aches when I don’t chew them well), so I naturally slow down and eat less while enjoying my meal more. Their high water and fiber content also means they take up a lot of mass, pushing out room for other things.
After a week of indulgences eating tons of vegetables also just feels really good. It’s refreshing and purifying, kind of like a good shower after a long, sweaty hike.
I’m usually pretty good about getting my steps in since I’ve constructed my daily habits in a way that inevitably yields about 12K steps per day (just running errands, walking the dog, working out, etc.). But since I know extra walking is one of the easiest ways for me to lose weight, I do a little extra the week after a trip.
To make time for this I’ll sometimes grab some reading or other work I need to do and set the treadmill to 3.0 mph and a decent incline. I’ll barely notice an hour go by as I barrel through a bunch of emails.
Don’t drink calories
Again, I’m usually pretty good about not drinking calories. I have black coffee or plain tea in the morning and drink mostly water throughout the day. Sometimes I’ll have a glass or two of wine with dinner, and even though I love a good cocktail I try to avoid them (for lots of reasons).
Every once in awhile though I will enjoy a fresh green juice, coconut water or kombucha. I think these are wonderful and can be healthy, but I definitely find weight loss easier without them. I don’t miss them much if it’s just a week.
No sugar or flour
This one is probably obvious and pretty easy for a foodist (I don’t buy anything with these ingredients anyway), but those occasional exceptions I make for sugar and flour in my normal life outside my home don’t happen if I’m actively trying to lose weight.
After an indulgent trip habit tightening is a very welcome break and none of this feels like a sacrifice. It just takes a little extra thought and mental effort.
Have you used habit tightening to get back on track?
Originally published March 2, 2015.