Building healthy habits for weight loss can feel daunting, leaving many people feeling in a paralysis mode where they don’t know what to start. If you are delaying your weight loss journey because you feel overwhelmed, consider a practice called habit stacking.
What is habit stacking, and how can it help you more easily gain momentum in your weight loss efforts?
Habit stacking is a practice of incorporating new habits around already established, automatic habits. As a sustainable weight loss dietitian, building consistent lifestyle habits is the most critical driver of long-term weight loss success.
Let’s dive into all things habit stacking, share a simple habit stacking formula, and share how you can start this simple practice today.
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What is habit stacking?
What is habit stacking, and how can you incorporate it to create healthy habits more seamlessly?
When trying to implement new habits to support your health and weight goals, it can sometimes feel like an enormous feat. Many of my clients often wait for the “perfect time” to start my weight loss program because they have the perception they’ll have to make several big changes all at once.
However, the concept of habit stacking (which I use in my practice) makes this more straightforward and approachable. It simply involves “stacking” your new habits onto your already established habits, which makes them faster to implement and easier to do. The habit stacking meaning originated from the book Atomic Habits by James Clear, where he introduces this revolutionary concept of habit building.
This doesn’t mean you’re stacking on multiple habits at a time to your daily routine – you are often adding just one new habit at a time that you’re “stacking” onto a current automatic habit you have.
Habit stacking examples
To put this more into real-life scenarios, here are a few habit-stacking examples that support weight loss:
1. Stack exercise planning onto your meal planning time.
Whenever you plan your meals and snacks for the next day, days, or week, plan your exercise at the same time. Tacking on exercise planning to your already established meal planning routine will ensure you don’t forget to schedule your exercise and prioritize it just as much as your diet.
This will save your mental energy and time because you’re already in “planning” mode with meals and just taking a small extra step to plan your exercise. This is one of my clients’ favorite habit stacks; I can’t tell you how many times they’ve said, “Wow, that’s such a good idea; I never thought of that!”.
2. Stack drinking a glass of water to the sound of your morning alarm.
Whenever your alarm goes off, start drinking a glass of water right after. Keep water by your bedside, as this will help make this habit easier to remember and implement and ensure it’s the first thing you do when you wake up!
3. Stack a cup of veggies with every meal.
You already have established meal times and foods you eat daily, and you don’t have to change everything you eat overnight (nor should you). Keep doing what you’re already doing, and stack a cup of veggies to your already established meals. This simple habit will automatically increase your fiber intake and keep you full of naturally low-calorie veggies.
4. While your morning coffee is brewing, do some yoga.
If you’re typically scrolling social media while your coffee is brewing, you’re missing out on a fabulous opportunity to sneak in a new habit. Practice a few yoga moves the next time you’re waiting for your cup of joe to brew.
One of my favorite yoga instructors is Yoga with Adrienne, where she creates yoga videos for all levels.
5. Do some cardio while watching your favorite show.
If your evening routine involves TV, why not combine it with some movement? Try a 15-20 minute walk, elliptical, or bike ride while watching TV. If you don’t have cardio equipment at home, you can lift weights or do bodyweight or ab exercises while you watch. This doesn’t require any extra time; you’re simply getting some movement in with your TV routine rather than sitting on the couch.
Benefits of Habit Stacking for Weight Loss
Habit stacking can be useful for building many types of habits, but is especially helpful for weight loss (and weight loss maintenance).
If you’re not yet convinced, here are five reasons why you should try habit stacking as a weight loss strategy:
1. Makes forming new habits easier
Habit stacking helps in creating strong neural pathways in the brain. When a routine habit consistently triggers a new, healthier habit, it becomes more ingrained and automatic.
2. Simplifies behavior change
Changing behaviors can feel daunting. By stacking them onto an already existing habit, the process becomes less overwhelming. This makes it easier to adopt new, healthier behaviors that will move the needle forward in your weight loss journey. One of my clients started seeing real changes once she tacked on her exercise planning to her already established nighttime meal planning routine!
3. Enhances consistency
By linking new habits to established routines, you’re more likely to perform them consistently. This consistency is what drives long-term weight loss changes, rather than sporadic action and yo-yo’ing in your habits.
4. Increases Efficiency
When you stack habits, you’re essentially multitasking in a healthy way. For instance, doing squats while brushing your teeth or listening to a nutrition podcast (like this one!) while commuting can save time, which is often a barrier to implementing weight loss strategies.
5. Provides Structure
If you’re like many people, you may struggle to maintain regular routines in your day. If you’re trying to add new habits to your day but you’re all over the place with when you practice them, it can be harder to keep them top of mind.
Habit stacking adds structure to your day, which can be particularly beneficial if your routine varies. One specific habit should follow another habit you already do automatically (like brushing your teeth), which creates a predictable pattern to stay on track.
6. Boosts Motivation and Confidence
Your confidence and motivation to make healthy choices increase as you successfully stack and maintain new habits. This positive reinforcement is crucial for long-term weight loss success.
7. Can help you break unhealthy habit cycles
Many of our eating habits are already intertwined, including bad habits. For example, you may eat a snack every time you watch TV at night. You probably did this a few times at some point, and then your brain established a connection between these two habits – watching TV and eating a snack.
But, just like new habit connections can form, these unhelpful habits can be unlearned and disconnected.
Habit stacking is a straightforward approach that involves stacking a new habit on top of a daily automatic habit you already have in place. if you’re embarking on a weight loss journey, it can be beneficial, especially if you’re feeling stuck, overwhelmed, or don’t know what habits to start.
A few habit-stacking examples include tacking your exercise planning when you plan your meals or drinking a glass of water when you wake up. These small but impactful steps lead to significant health improvements over time.
Habit-stacking supports weight loss in many ways such as reinforcing consistency, providing structure to your daily routines, and reducing the overwhelm of starting a weight loss program. As a sustainable weight loss dietitian, I help guide you in making small, manageable habit tweaks rather than a complete diet overhaul.
If you need help building healthy habits for weight loss, grab my FREE Grocery List Guide to Weight loss to get started.
- What is habit stacking? Habit stacking is the practice of tacking on a new habit you’re trying to create onto an already established habit. Doing this can make building new, healthy habits easier and more seamless into your day.
- What is an example of a stacking habit? An example is adding a daily walking routine every day after dinner.
- What is the habit stacking formula? This formula involves stacking one new habit to an already existing habit, then adding in one new habit at a time once the previous new habit becomes automatic.
- What is the number one habit you should break to lose weight? Eating out all the time can make it hard to lose weight. These meals tend to be much higher in calories and fat than home-cooked meals (and surprisingly, not always filling). Instead, make more home-cooked meals and utilize pre-chopped fruits, veggies, and kitchen tools to save time.