Home Court Habits: The Secret to Effortless Weight Control

by | Jan 13, 2014

Photo by *sean

This time last year I introduced the healthstyle Recalibration. Recalibration is an excellent way to help reset your healthstyle (especially if you were a bit derailed by the holidays) and troubleshoot stalled weight loss, but it is not intended as a method of prolonged weight control. For that you need something that lasts.

No human on earth can eat perfectly healthy for every meal of his life. And if you think about it, that shouldn’t even be your goal. Food is too good and life is too short to deprive yourself all the time of things you enjoy. Besides, nobody has an endless supply of willpower, so even if you try for perfection you will likely fail.

What’s awesome is that you don’t actually need to eat perfectly all the time. To achieve and maintain your ideal weight, all you need is to eat healthy most of the time. In other words, the secret to long term weight control is not restricting certain foods or ingredients, it’s changing your habits.

Over the years I’ve noticed there are a handful of essential habits that are necessary for me to maintain my preferred weight. For me these include eating breakfast, shopping at the farmers market (which translates into cooking more at home), eating vegetables daily, walking 10,000 steps per day, strength training 3-5 days per week, chewing my food thoroughly, drinking lots of water and limiting sugary or bready meals to 1-2 times per week.

I call these my Home Court Habits, and if I am able to do them consistently I can pretty much eat whatever I want the rest of the time. But if I miss any of them for too many days in a row without compensating in some way my weight will start to creep upward.

The beautiful thing about habits is that once they are developed they work for you automatically, without much thought or willpower. This means that if you can acquire the right set of Home Court Habits, weight control will be fairly effortless. Cool, right?

Things only start to get tricky when you are thrown off your normal routine for an extended period of time. This is one reason the holidays can be so difficult. With travel and special occasions every weekend, it’s easy to let cooking or exercise slip for a week or more. But when you return to your home court, your habits should put you back on track.

Of course, for Home Court Habits to work, you need to defend them. Birthdays, holidays and pressing work deadlines occur too often for you to rely on temporary diets or willpower to see you through your fitness goals. But if you have a set of Home Court Habits that you know you can depend on whenever you’re in your regular routine, these health-defying events won’t be strong enough to have a significant impact on your weight.

Because Home Court Habits are so essential, you shouldn’t trust yourself or your best intentions to maintain them. Track your activity and keep records to make sure your habits are working for you. Monitoring is a Home Court Habit as well.

To keep myself honest, I use a wifi scale (both Fitbit Aria and Withings are great) daily to track my weight. I know from experience that I fluctuate within a three pound window. If I start to veer outside of that I reexamine my Home Court Habits to make sure something isn’t being neglected.

To make sure I get my 10,000 steps per day I use my Fitbit pedometer and check it regularly. The app keeps a record of your daily steps and sends you an email every week summarizing your activity. Habit building apps like Lift are excellent for helping you track your eating and exercise habits and focus your efforts.

Home Court Habits do not need to be the same for everyone. If you don’t like the gym, find some other activity that helps you be active and reach your step goal (I do think everyone needs to take 10,000 steps per day). If you don’t like to cook, find a few prepared meals (at restaurants, grocery stores or wherever) that are healthy and tasty. Work on building the habit of portion control when you’re indulging in something sweet. This may require developing mindful eating habits so you enjoy food more and are satisfied with less.

Whatever habits you try to develop, make sure that you enjoy them. Habits are always associated with a reward (for more on habit building check out The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg). Though the rewards can be very subtle, if your new activity provokes a negative or even neutral emotional response it probably will not stick. So yes, you’re going to have to learn to enjoy being thinner and healthier. Bummer, I know.

By far the hardest part is identifying and developing the Home Court Habits that work for you, both physically and logistically. There needs to be enough of them to counteract all of your not-so-healthy habits (some of your Home Court Habits may involve reprograming these), and they need to be rewarding enough to develop into habits in the first place. Once formed, however, your Home Court Habits are the ultimate secret to lasting weight control.

What are your Home Court Habits?

Originally published January 7, 2013.

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45 Responses to “Home Court Habits: The Secret to Effortless Weight Control”

  1. Joe Garma says:

    My “Home Court” habits:

    1. Warm purified lemon water upon awakening, followed by
    2. Whey + Raw sprout protein drink w/ spirulina and several supplements
    3. Light mobility exercises
    4. Strength training 3x/week
    5. High intensity interval training 1 or 2 x/week
    6. Yoga 2x/wk
    7. Daily meditation
    8. Hourly push-away from the desk for 2 minutes of stretching and/or calisthenics
    9. Morning and evening affirmations

    Despite all this, alas, am still a work in progress.

    Yep.

    -Joe

    • Jennifer M says:

      I do hot lemon water too (with a small dash of cayenne) and a spirulina/chlorella shake (with maca, kefir and chia) every morning without fail, I also usually do a shot of apple cider vinegar mixed with a little water. I feel like the whole process is a good routine that helps get me going and lays a healthy foundation in my stomach for whatever else I put in it that day. I found that eating breakfast in the traditional sense would usually just lead to me being hungrier earlier and more often throughout the day. I really feel like my program now energizes me, balances my blood sugar, and keeps my mind off food until the afternoon, sometimes even until early evening.

  2. Kdekay says:

    Thank you Darya, for this impeccably timed post. I have just started using Lift, and I love it. Here’s to good habits in 2013!
    -KD

  3. A says:

    Loved this post.

    The habits you mention are mostly the same for me. I think the absolute biggest two for me are: 1. *Whenever* possible, making vegetables a major portion of a meal, and 2. Recognizing sugar and carbs as nothing but a very special/rare treat (which means cutting through a lot of societal BS that says they are anything else). If these two things are there, it seems like the rest falls into place, and I have more energy to exercise, my body feels cleaner and leaner, etc.

  4. Dee says:

    Darya, I love that you gave this a label ‘home court habits’

    Mine are:
    1. Water first thing in the morning and during the course of the day 10x
    2. Exercise whenever I can 6 days per week, 1-3x per day (early morning, midday, evenings) +spontaneous ( yes alot)
    3. Everyday eat Vegetables (alot) – 1 Salad meal, 1 Cooked veg meal
    4. Daily Self coaching, reasoning and reading on skills on how to keep skinny for life, for example reading summer tomato :)

  5. Judi says:

    Thanks so much for this post! I’m currently battling those holiday pounds and need some inspiration to get back on track.

    Lift is now on my phone so I’m off to check it out :)

  6. Annabel says:

    I did pretty well establishing home court habits in 2012.
    1. I eat lots of veggies.
    2. I snack on fruit.
    3. I work out regularly (4 days a wk).
    4. I do yoga twice a wk.
    5. I’ve reduced my dairy intake.

    This year i aim to do more recipes and do strength training.

  7. Kate says:

    I religiously eat 1 kilogram of vegetables every single day

    • Kate says:

      By the time I fit in my staple kilogram of vegies (and fruits too) for the day, I think that this must automatically leave a lot less room for other foods which I don’t want to eat as much of, such as sugary or bready ones..

  8. Alexandra says:

    Why would you weigh yourself daily??? Isn’t that counter-productive? Sounds a bit obsessive to me…

    • Darya Rose says:

      I think it’s only obsessive if you’re obsessive about it. I don’t stress out, for me it’s just a data point to help my long term decision making.

      • Tracy says:

        It’s counter to what every weight loss plan tells you, but if you banish the emotions and simply use it as an instrument of measure to help you understand the effects of behaviors and what you put in our body, that’s all it is. A measuring instrument. Then make ‘scientific’ adjustments if need be, according to what the measuring instrument tells you. I still have to personally learn that for myself, but I understand the rationale behind it, and I’ll find it helpful. Your sushi “a-ha moment” is fascinating; if emotions had been part of the equation, you wouldn’t have learned that the sodium had caused the change.

      • Wendy Laubach says:

        Exactly this! I read comments all the time about how stressful it is to weigh yourself too often. I don’t understand the concept at all. Once you get used to the pattern you’re likely to see, it’s just useful data. It’s an early-warning system that helps you keep to a stable weight. In my case, while I’m losing, it’s an early-warning system that tells me if something’s gone off-track and I need to reduce food calories or raise exercise calories. If I’m afraid of the number on the scale, how am I going to learn anything? It’s like being afraid to measure your blood sugar when you know it needs attention. Sure, if you know it’s rock-steady you don’t bother. If I ever got to the point where my waistband never got tight no matter how little attention I paid, I probably wouldn’t weigh myself, either, but who’s at that point?

  9. Teri says:

    I do have a question about the 10,000 steps thing.

    I’ve personally found that I don’t have that much time in the day, so get around by bicycle rather than walking as it is faster. However, I found that the more I bike the less my fitbit step count is- when I don’t bike it’s pretty close to 10,000 but when I do it goes down to more like 7,000. I tend to bike at least six miles a day (I don’t have a car so it’s my main method of transport).

    Am I being less healthy because I bike instead of walk?

  10. Darya,

    I am finishing the first week of recalibration and it is not as hard as I thought. I was pretty low on the wheat and sugar already.

    I usually do eat a lot of dairy, however – yogurt and cheese especially, and some milk. I would assume that my weight would at least go down a little eating mostly veggies and fruit. It has stayed the same.

    Am I doing something wrong?

    Marianne

    • Darya Rose says:

      As long as you’re following the 4 rules you aren’t doing anything wrong. Remember the goal is to normalize blood sugar, not weight loss specifically. I could give you something that would make weight drop faster, but it wouldn’t stick so there’s no point. I’d just be patient and continue focusing on real food, mindful eating, and not being sedentary. Keep a good journal about your healthstyle habits and data points, and tweak until you figure out what works for you.

  11. Liv Zech says:

    My Home Court Habits:

    1. Waking up early to eat breakfast and drink lots of water. (Preferably this smaller meal is a rice cracker with almond butter spread on top.) This is my favorite part of the day.
    2. Doing an empowering combo of mostly weight training, cardio, and yoga to stay sweaty & empowered 5-6 days a week. (Just starting to train for the spring Vegas Tough Mudder.) I’ve also found that having a combo of both group and individual workouts is beneficial to me, in order to feed off my own energy and other people’s skill/concentration.
    3. Going to Whole Foods weekly to buy a cart predominantly with no labels. As I learned in Foodist, having the goal to buy as much as possible in the fresh produce and meat sections is imperative, and also encourages my (new) love for cooking. Whole Foods is like Disneyland to me.
    4. Keeping a specific “Healthstyle” journal for not only food and workout documenting, but to use the space for whatever’s on my mind. I also learn to see patterns, such as how having a glass of wine definitely makes me more inclined to gorge on greasy Chinese food. It’s nice to be able to point out and learn specifics, and to formulate habits from fact.
    5. Continue to read blogs and new health-oriented authors I enjoy. For instance, I can’t wait until Michael Pollan’s “Cooked” arrives. Hooray. I’d like to read a book per month concentrating on this subject. And to be a bad ass cook.

    Thanks, Darya. Downtown Las Vegas says hi. :)

  12. Mrs. Wilk says:

    I’m nowhere near the level of these folks. I gained a lot of weight after my husband died, because, mostly, because I was shell shocked for awhile.
    I went from about 115 or 120 to about 160 now.
    I had my thyroid tested to make sure there’s nothing that will get in the way of me eating.
    Mostly, the only “home court” advantage I have now is to drink more water (i like the ionized water),and I “try” not to eat after 7 (i just quit a retail job of 71/2 years where I developed awful eating habits) and I am taking carcinia cambogia that really does curb my appetite. I also try to walk about a mile and a half every other day. I’m trying to get my house on the market so that takes a lot of time. My home court advantage is to take baby steps and try to identify why i am gaining so much weight. I signed up for weight watchers, saw how expensive it was, read you blog, and cancelled my meeting.

  13. Mrs. Wilk says:

    I’m nowhere near the level of these folks. I gained a lot of weight after my husband died,mostly, because I was shell shocked for awhile.
    I went from about 115 or 120 to about 160 now.
    I had my thyroid tested to make sure there’s nothing that will get in the way of me losing weight.
    Mostly, the only “home court” advantage I have now is to drink more water (i like the ionized water),and I “try” not to eat after 7 (i just quit a retail job of 71/2 years where I developed awful eating habits) and I am taking carcinia cambogia that really does curb my appetite. I also try to walk about a mile and a half every other day. I’m trying to get my house on the market so that takes a lot of time. My home court advantage is to take baby steps and try to identify why i am gaining so much weight. I signed up for weight watchers, saw how expensive it was, read you blog, and cancelled my meeting.

    • Darya Rose says:

      I think you have a great attitude and can totally figure it out. Sounds like you’ve been through some tough times, but I’m sure you can get back on track. I bet Foodist would help you a lot.

  14. Rebecca says:

    Hi Darya,
    I am obsessed with this article especially since I feel like I am in the “danger zone” when I eat sweets and carby food.
    I love my daily meal plan and daily exercise routines. What started off as a journey to a better “me” has become my life. I love it.
    At times though, when something out of my control is not right (ie. stress at work or even a cancelled exercise class)I indulge in the sweets and carbs that are not part of my regular routine.I am in a very dark place when this happens.
    I guess I am an emotional eater -but why those foods when I hate the way they make me feel?
    Any tips on how to overcome these situations? I need a new action plan to prevent myself from leaving my Home Court Habits.

    Thanks so much!
    Rebecs

    • Darya Rose says:

      It’s because stress makes you need comfort. Simply acknowledging that it’s comfort, not food that you need can help you choose a healthier path to get it. Sometimes warmth can help, like a cup of herbal tea or a hot bath. It’s also helpful to remember that just because you want to eat badly doesn’t mean you have to.

      http://summertomato.com/surfing-the-urge-how-to-quench-cravings/

      Your brain fools you into thinking you need a dopamine based reward (e.g. sugar), but these types of rewards are never actually satisfying. Real satisfaction comes from activities that stimulate serotonin, like spending time with loved ones, exercise, meditation, spiritual practice, etc.

  15. Maya says:

    So Darya,

    What are your Home Court habits?

  16. Samantha says:

    I’ve been really consistent following these habit this past year and I feel better than I ever have before. I love the idea of putting them together in a list and calling it Home Court Habits!

    1. Daily IF from 8pm to 10am except lemon/ginger water, coffee, or tea.
    2. Pre-plan and eat 2 c fruit and 2.5 c veggies per day :-)
    3. 10k steps a day and exercise 4 days a week
    4. Monitor weight 1x per week
    5. NEXT meal after a cheat meal or treat must be real, clean, and wholesome.

  17. Monica says:

    Maybe I’m wrong but it sure seems like the vast majority of dr’s, health bloggers, etc live in warm climates (i.e. CA, etc). I can’t help but wonder how well they’d do in the northeastern region.

    Plans are in the works to move south as I no longer thrive in cold temps-just the opposite. Combine that with menopause (no hot flashes for me) equals weight gain and depression. We’ll be in the 40’s this week and I’m good with that. Got a new bike to try out. :)

    • Darya Rose says:

      I think I would find a way to figure it out (my brain can’t help but solve problems, it does it while I sleep). That said, I admit to a strong aversion to cold climates, even to visit.

      • Monica says:

        I welcome Any and All suggestions. I’ve lived in my present location for 15 years and there’s a steady downward spiral. For myself, there isn’t enough spring/summer warmth to gain back the lost ground during winter. My tried ideas took the form of vit d3 (8,000 i.u.), Philips brite light (30 min), amino acids, multiple other supps all to no avail. It’s like climbing a mountain with increasingly fewer resources~I inevitably *crash* by January. I can’t wait for your brain to get back to me. :)

    • Darya Rose says:

      I would have to be in your shoes to give specific suggestions, feeling what you’re feeling and doing what you’re doing. I keep asking “why?”, look for limiting beliefs, then systematically test solutions until I find what works.

    • Barbara says:

      Monica,
      I live in Chicago and suffer the same every winter. I wish my budget and work would allow me to be a snowbird. Maybe I would be more active if weather was more predictable. Here are a few things that help me, however — but I struggle even with these. Thankfully, Spring is here.

      My doctor prescribed a weekly dose of vitamin D2 50,000 IU. I notice if I forget to take it. OTC vitamin D doesn’t do enough for me.

      When I can’t bare to go out, even for groceries, I take advantage of grubhub.com to order in from ethnic restaurants that normally don’t deliver and where lots of veggies are available, (Ethiopian, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese) and I always order extra veggies and then I portion it all out for several meals. We have great CSA’s and other farm fresh delivery options, but my schedule is too erratic for those to work for me, unfortunately.

      When I’m up to getting out, I visit the greenhouses at our botanical garden, or just visit my favorite garden center. The humidity and green, lush environment pick me up.

      My farmers market has a monthly indoor market — if I can’t make it I give my husband or a friend a list. Getting fresh eggs, sprouts, and mushrooms will usually inspire me to cook a healthy scramble.
      Good luck!

    • Annie says:

      I live in a cold climate (northern Wisconsin), and have just learned to love the cold and snow. Get the right outdoor gear (breathable inner layers, windproof outer layers, Yaktrax or other grippy things for boots/shoes), and it’s just so much fun to be out there! (If you’re out after dark, don’t forget a reflective vest with blinky lights as well, of course!)

      There’s nothing as fun as going for a walk (or run!) while it’s actually snowing… the snow acts like a “muffler” and makes everything quiet and peaceful. And the snow on the ground is like walking in sand… burns more calories per step, so is a very efficient way to exercise. If the snow is super deep, snowshoes are really fun too!

      Getting out there regularly when it’s snowy is a great way to combat the winter “blahs”… even better than those bright “sun lamps” – they just can’t compete with real sunshine. I try to get out there every morning for at least a 15 minute walk to keep me happy.

  18. Robert says:

    Good tips Darya. Many people don’t realize that the cravings for fast foods and junk food come from habit as well. As soon as you form a new habits, the cravings for the old ones fall away.

  19. JOANITA FERNANDES says:

    Hi, I have swelling and pain in the right knee and diagnosed with osteoarthritis. I also get pain in my thighs, shoulder, low back and walking for more than 20 mins is very painful and my knee swells and my whole body pains. I do some physiotherapy at times.I weigh 80 kgs. I eat a lot of brown bread sandwiches with butter and cheese. I have decided to cut down on these. My morning begins with 4 glasses of warm water. one sandwich after an hour and a cup of milk with womens horlicks. 1 cup of tea at 10.30 with 2/3 biscuits. 1 fruit at 12pm. 1 pm lunch. 1 bowl of rice or two chappatis with vegetables. 3.30 pm 1 cup of tea. 5pm fruits 2 portions. 7pm soup or green tea. 10 pm dinner same as lunch.

    • Alex says:

      Hi Joanita. It sounds like you are already trying to be mindful of what you eat. I love bread and cheese but I switched to open sandwiches (one slice of bread with less cheese), and using a homemade mustard mayonnaise instead of butter, and sometimes a smidgen of pesto. You could replace the biscuits with cruskit-type crackers to get the crunchy feel and fewer carbs and calories. Also I suggest that you measure out your rice as it is very easy to eat more than one portion. You will need to do exercise for many reasons, but think of yoga or swimming/aquajogging to spare your joints. Good luck!

  20. Kayla L. says:

    This is the first place I’ve ever written this down. Good idea: keeps me accountable! I’m generally a “everything in moderation” kind of gal and I don’t weigh myself, but I try to aim for this (especially when my jeans feel tight or I feel particularly sluggish).
    1. Drink a lot of water
    2. Have a biggish breakfast and then yogurt (or something light for lunch)
    3. Exercise (or walk) 3x/week
    4. No eating or snacking after 9pm
    5. Small dessert (chocolate kiss or similar) once per day – fruit, veggies and nuts for snacks the rest of the day
    6. Limit alcohol
    7. Sleep at least 6.5 hours per night

  21. LC says:

    My HCH are:
    1- Breakfast every morning (sometimes it’s a smoothie, sometimes oatmeal, sometimes whole grain toast with peanut butter)
    2- Lots of water (I keep a big glass at my desk and refill it every 2 hours)
    3- Make half of my plate vegetables
    4- Pack my lunch for work days (Salad with chicken, a greek yogurt, a piece of fruit)
    5- Go to bed at least 8 hours before I need to wake up (don’t always get 8 hours of sleep because of the baby, but at least I’m doing what I can control!)

    I’m a new mom, so my exercise is basically walks with my daughter, or kiss-ups (push ups and when I’m by her face I kiss her cheeks).

  22. Nicole says:

    Darya, I’ve given this one a lot of thought and have come up with a partial list that makes sense and sounds true to me. But I am struggling with one habit: the need to track my food in a journal.

    When I track my food I lose weight. When I don’t track, I eat uncontrollably at some point. It’s binary. I am more accountable and mindful. HOWEVER, it is the one useful habit that I totally resist even though I know it’s “good for me”.

    My question is, how can I (or indeed should I) consider something a home court habit if it’s not “pleasant” to me. My other habits (weighing in weekly, exercise 4-6 times, planning my meals for the day in the morning) don’t feel onerous. But tracking my food does. Any advice?

  23. Meagan says:

    I just came back from a 3 week trip to Puerto Rico, which I went on almost immediately after 2 weeks at home for the Holidays! I am so relieved to get back into my Home Court Habits – I was thinking of this article the whole time I was away!

    (1) I have a good breakfast and coffee daily, (2) hit the gym 5 days per week, (3) have my go-to healthy meals that I could make in my sleep, (4) drink hot water with ginger, (5) walk everywhere.

    So glad to be back!

  24. Katie says:

    Smoothie breakfast of fruits/greens, almond milk and flax meal
    Salad lunch
    Bringing 3 or so fruits to work for snacks
    Dinner- whatever my generally healthy thing my family is eating but skip any grains
    Go running 5X a week, over lunch and one long run on the weekend
    Overall, being a vegan
    Tracking what I eat

    This all sounds like I’d be perfectly fit, but really I break in to the cereal, nuts, treats in the evening and on the weekend. I need some good habits for those times too. That seems like a good approach, figuring out how I can make alternative habits for those times

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