How many of us have tried to lose weight in the past but struggled? Or are you still putting it off and waiting for the perfect time to start something new? We’re only human but people typically journey through a series of levels before they’re ready to make lasting changes. In this article, I’ll walk you through these phases so you can work out where you are and how to take that next step.
Even though we might think that we either decide to make a change or not, its not quite that simple, although there is a psychology model which breaks this down for us in to five distinct stages. The work of DiClemenet et al (1982) looked in the the behaviour of cigarette smokers to initially decide to quit and then the steps they followed to actually break the habit and keep it up. Drawing comparisons to the habit-based nature of sustainable healthier eating, we can use this research to work out where we are in the process and what we should be thinking about doing next to move us forward.
Here are the five stages, spend a bit of time reading each and if you’re wanting to look and feel better, think about where you’re currently at: -
Pre-contemplation: This first stage is where we don’t seriously consider the idea of change. This could be you right now, reading this article, having not really thought about making a change to what you eat. Not seriously anyway.
Contemplative: Whilst reading this article (of whatever it might be), you might start to think about change and ‘contemplate’ what it might take to make a few amendments. But this is still only the second stage of change, so don’t worry, you’re not going to take any active steps yet.
Determination: Having thought about making a change but not doing anything about it, you now determine you’re going to take some kind of action. This could be something small like buying some healthier foods or as big as joining a gym. But, although you’ve decided to take action, you don’t take it. Yet.
Action: At last, you take your first physical action step. You buy the healthier foods you were thinking of, you start going to the gym a few times a week, you eat fewer takeaways.
Maintenance: You’ve taken action and have been able to maintain it for a few weeks now. Its seems like you’ve done all the hard work but sooner or later, you fall off the wagon. You start buying our old favourite and less nutrient dense foods, you rarely go the gym and those takeaways some back with vengeance. At this point, you’ve reverted to the first or second stage and the process starts again.
You might be thinking, I’ve spent all that time moving through the stages but have failed. How can I stay in the maintenance stage for life? Well once we are taking action, we really need to focus our efforts on creating regular success and positive feelings of achievement through daily achievable habits. Ask yourself - can I do this new thing/skill/habit everyday? If its on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being definitely not and 10 being hell yeah), and you’re at less than an 8, you need something simpler. Break things down in to smaller chunks. Take things one day at a time. Don’t beat yourself up if you do the new thing only 50% of the time - that’s great and so much better than making no change at all. Just get back to basics as soon as you can, refocus and take a step forward.
So whenever you come up against a moment of change, think about where you are in the stages above and how you can move to the next phase or maintain the action. Once you’re in the zone of taking action regularly, try to be conscious of when you fail and spend time understanding why that was. Make improvements to your routine and simplify if need be. Taking things slowly with daily practise is the best way to create long term habitual behaviours and a better version of you.
Written by Ben Lawrence, Precision Nutrition Certified Coach