How to change habits to lose weight

By Ilse de Graaf

One of the hardest parts of losing weight is not to eat healthy, but to change your behaviour, which goes hand in hand with your habits. A change of lifestyle and mindset must be accompanied by new habits that will support your new goals. Therefore, you will have to say goodbye to the old, unsustainable ones that aren’t supporting you and are holding you back from achieving what you want. But no worries my dear ninja, in this blog post, I will teach you how to set yourself up for weight loss habits success!



A habit is an automated act that you apply often in your life. If you want to learn a new habit, then you’ll have to apply the actions that go along with it often. Just so you know, habits are good. Without them, we would get exhausted every day by everything we do. Do you realize how many things we do on autopilot? Like driving a car, or getting up in the morning. You automatically take a shower, dress, eat breakfast, put on makeup, jewellery, and so on. Imagine if we had to think about every step. We would be tired before the day had even started!

There has been much research done concerning how much time it takes to acquire new habits. One study says it takes 30 days (rather short, I would say), while another study says several months. On average, it takes just over two months to form a new habit – 66 days, to be exact. I didn’t make this up. It appears in a study done by psychologist Dr Phillippa Lally. I experienced it myself! I kid you not, during my journey, I felt I had created a new habit after just 10 weeks. At the time, I had no knowledge of this study. So, 66 days. An average of course, because I believe that no habit is the same. Sometimes you need a little more time to get it fully under control, sometimes less. But with this, you have kind of a ballpark figure. 😉 And 66 days…doesn’t sound impossible, does it? It should be doable, don’t you think?

Whatever habit you want to create, use a step by step approach. Perfection in one go is not going to happen. Start with the first step. It’s also important to work on your habits consistently, regularly, and for longer periods of time. This means every day, not three days for a week and a half. But most importantly, you can only overcome old habits if you recognize their root cause. Only then can you take action to mould them into a new and better habit!

A habit consists of three parts: it starts with a trigger, followed by an action, and ends with a reward. The English researcher Charles Duhigg calls this the 3 R’s of Habit Change – Reminder, Routine, Reward. The trigger (also called stimulus) is caused by a particular factor in your environment, like an event, or something you do yourself. That stimulus causes a particular action (routine), and that results in a reward, which is the positive feeling you get after the act.

I’ll give you an example… It may even be something you can relate to.
— You’ve had a busy day and crash on the couch. You turn on the television to relax. You get comfortable (whether you’re wearing comfy pants or not). Next, you think, um, I would like some more comfort and would be cosier if I ate some munchies, like a bowl of chips.

The couch and the television after your busy day are your triggers. After that, you walk to the pantry to get the chips. You take the chips back to the couch. This is your action following your trigger. You crash back on the couch and watch your favourite show. The chips you just got from the pantry are in a bowl in your lap, or on the table in front of you, ready to be eaten! Hmmm, nice! (The great feeling after the action is the reward.) “Just relaxing after my busy day,” you think, and in the meantime, you munch away. You may even get a second helping because that bag should be empty!

In the example above, you may have read a scenario that many budding ninjas go through. Instead of the chips, you may insert “a piece of chocolate became a whole bar”, or something else you like but isn’t particularly good for you.

If you’re still battling a habit you’d rather be rid of, write it down! What did you do? What happened next? What was the result? By putting this on paper, you gain more awareness of your tendencies. You not only gain insight into the trigger but also into its cause. Does the scenario above happen primarily on busy days? Does it happen every week, or maybe even every day? Or is it more like a monthly habit, right at that time when your female hormones reign supreme?

When you have mapped out your triggers, you can come up with solutions. ALWAYS think in solutions and not in problems. Also, think outside the box – there is always a solution, even if it’s not self-evident. When necessary, ask your inner circle for help!

How do you get rid of those triggers? Well, you must create a solution. There are two options: either you make sure the trigger doesn’t recur in your life (or happens as rarely as possible), or you create a new habit to replace the old one.

Option 1:
You had a busy day. But instead of crashing on the couch, you go outside to catch a breath of fresh air – you go for a walk to renew your energy.

After a busy day at the office, you look for relaxation. By taking a walk instead of crashing on the couch, you have found a different form of relaxation.

You take a nice walk for about half an hour, organize your thoughts and take a moment for yourself. This walk is your new routine or act that follows your trigger telling you to relax after a busy day.

You come back home, refreshed and relaxed. Oh, and you feel extra good because you’ve done your daily exercise. So, you can cross that off your schedule for the day as well! Yes! Oh, that was nice. During my walk, I was able to let go of the busy day, and I’ve also taken care of my daily exercise!

Option 2:
You had a busy day at the office, and you crash on the couch. You want some munchies to go with that. The couch and turning on the television after a busy day at the office is your trigger to get some “munchies”. Normally you would walk to the pantry to get chips. But because you’re on your way to your ideal self and want to create a new habit, you cut up an apple and bake it in a frying pan with a touch of cinnamon. You know that chips are not good for you, and you’d prefer to save them for the weekend. On weekdays, you’ve decided to eat fruits, after all, they’re also tasty. 😉 This is the foundation of your new routine or act following your trigger.

You crash again on the couch, and you watch your favourite show. As of now, with a bowl of freshly baked slices of cinnamon-dusted apple. (Well, on weekdays, because you have to take it step by step. ;-)) Oh, yum! “This is actually really good,” you think to yourself. Of course, it’s not the same, but I know it’s beneficial for my body and the goals I want to achieve.

Maybe you want to create a habit you don’t yet have. I often hear from my ninja squad that they don’t drink enough water. To form a new habit, you can use reminders. For example, remind yourself to drink a glass of water after every time you visit the bathroom. (Stick a post-it on your bathroom door!) Just like your habit of removing your makeup after brushing your teeth (or vice versa), you can make drinking a glass of water after every bathroom visit into a habit.

If you repeat it often enough, it can become a new habit within three months.

Do you have a lot of problems with forming new habits? Keep repeating your affirmation and look at your vision board at least once a day. Each time think about why you want to accomplish your goals. Motivation boost guaranteed!

Celebrate every step you take! Give yourself a pat on the back whenever you eat an apple instead of a bowl of chips. Every success, great or small, needs acknowledgement.

You’ve learned how to curb bad habits and turn them into better ones. But what if you want to learn a completely new habit? Search for triggers in your daily life you can pair with your new habit. What’s something you do every day without even thinking? Take out your contacts, brush your teeth, start the kettle for your morning tea, check the time? What’s happening in your daily life? A traffic light turns red, the news on the radio, the sunset, commercials on television. These are all things you experience every day. And they’re perfect for attaching a new habit! For example, every time the commercials are on television, you start your new habit of […fill in the blank…]. Precisely because you attach the new habit to an old recurring event, you learn to do it frequently. In this way, it will become one of your new habits! Are you still afraid of forgetting? Put a reminder on your phone! No more excuses!

I knooowww, long blog post! But jam-packed with lots of tips isn’t it?!
I’m convinced that if you implement what I’m teaching you in this blog post you’ll be super successful in unlearning bad habits and learning new and supportive habits and by doing so this will get you towards your weight loss goals! YAY!

Ps. This blog post actually is a piece of the chapter “Overcome” from my book & program ‘Lose Weight with POWER’ so if you like what I shared here, you will love love looooove my book! Click here to grab yours & start your journey as a real WEIGHT LOSS NINJA!

Have a great week lovely!
xx Ilse

Founder & Coach
Weight Loss Ninja