5 Things I Always Do When I Want to Lose Weight

by | Mar 29, 2016
Photo by angeloangelo

Photo by angeloangelo

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.

I’ve written before that I don’t believe in cleanses, detoxes or diets. Instead I rely on my Home Court Habits to get me back into my comfort zone.

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.

5 Habits I Tighten Up When I Want to Lose Weight

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.

Eat vegetables

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.

10K steps

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.

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63 Responses to “5 Things I Always Do When I Want to Lose Weight”

  1. Adrienne says:

    Hi Darya! Great article, but my question is this: if habit tightening requires more willpower than usual, and willpower always fails you for long-term goals, then what do you recommend for people who have more than 1-2 lbs to lose?

  2. Heather says:

    hi there! My question for you is, why is it obvious to foodists to have no flour? I thought breads or pastas in moderation were fine?

    • Darya Rose says:

      I don’t like the word moderation, but all foods are fine if you can work them into your healthstyle without negative consequences.

      Flour, sugar, industrially processed oils, and processed meats are what I mean when I use the term “processed foods.” I said that eliminating them for weight loss is probably obvious because processed foods/ingredients (especially flour and sugar, since they digest rapidly and disrupt healthy metabolism) should be first place to look/scale back when body weight is a concern.

      For myself personally most flour and sugar concoctions also make me feel parched, puffy, groggy, and fuzzy headed, and usually aren’t worth eating (I prefer meats and veggies, but I realize this is a personal preference). I’ve also tried baking my own bread, etc. and it rarely turns out as good as my local restaurants and bakeries. So I only ever eat that stuff when I’m out and feeling like having something indulgent, rarely at home.

      • Heather says:

        Thanks for the reply! I’ve read your book and love it. But I guess one of the things I took from it was that nothing is “restricted” or “off limits” as long as you I enjoy it in a mindful way (which is what I meant by moderation).

        Flour doesn’t affect me at all in the way that it seems to affect you. And I’m finding cutting it out is hard for me right now because I’m hungry a few hours after dinner every night without it. I’m also nursing…So I wonder if that has something to do with my hunger.

        I’ve tried lentils and mung beans as a way to feel more satisfied and less hungry but it doesn’t quite seem to be working as well as I would like. Any suggestions?

    • Darya Rose says:

      Everyone is different, so if flour is helping you then use it! Nursing could definitely be affecting your cravings and energy needs.

      Don’t stress out too much about it, if you are happier with a little bit of flour in your healthstyle then find another place to tinker if weight loss is still a goal.

      • Nikki says:

        Like you, I feel like bread makes a big difference in my satiation levels so I eat the highest quality bread I can find (I live in a town with a bakery that stone grinds its own wheat and only uses heirloom, organic grains. I realize everyone’s not that lucky) and am thoughtful about the amount I eat. I also know that there are a couple of foods that work as well for me – wheat berries and baked potatoes with their skin on (white or sweet work equally). Though I’m with Darya, if I feel like I’ve been splurging a lot I cut these things out for a very brief period.

  3. Moey says:

    Darya, I love your site 🙂 My question is: your HCH’s are my being-on-a-diet-forever. How does a person overcome the feeling that they are on an eternal diet? I love my flour and sugar 😉 and habit or not, it feels like a DIE-t without them. How to fix?

    • Darya Rose says:

      Thanks for your comment Moey, I’m sure many other people have this question.

      I’d recommend trying to reframe your mindset around healthy foods. Instead of focusing on what you don’t get, learn to LOVE seasonal vegetables and Real Food. I’ve talked to thousands of people who have told me when they start to love veggies and Real Food and eat them more often, they start to realize how terrible sugar and flour make them feel. They realize how the rest of their lives are worse when they eat them, so making room for more Real Food in order to feel better and have more energy gets way easier.

      When healthy = tasty it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Then you can just layer on the more indulgent stuff as a bonus, without relying on it daily.

      When healthy = DIEt, you’ll always lose.

    • Leah says:

      I’d also like to chime in and recommend that you watch some food documentaries (Netflix is a great place to start) to really find out where your non-healthy foods are coming from. I was a former junk food lover and it was a huge turning point for me to realize that unhealthy food is truly disgusting.

    • Robyn says:

      Moey –

      Were you ever able to change your mindset? I am still in the “feeling deprived” stage. My vegetables are delicious and all, but not having sugar-laden chocolate to end my day feels like torture to me!

  4. David says:

    Much of what you espouse In your blog articles Darya makes rational sense which readers will find helpful. I have been following ST musings for a while. But this article raises eyebrows and causes slight concern about what you are advocating.

    Why on earth would a couple over an 8 day period travel half way round the world, take 2 days to get over jet lag (x 2 when returning to C.A) enjoy some culinary indulgences, and then counter the guilt by working out at the hotel gym plus notching up 12,500 steps a day in the heat? Did you really “maximise cultural opportunities” inside a gym? It all sounds rather obsessional.

    Surely there is merit in deep, restful, active as well as meditative holidays (the terms are not mutually contradictory) away from screens and hard-wired work activities that we perform on a daily basis? A little overindulgence on holiday is quite normal for many; a couple of pounds gained over a few weeks away can be redressed fairly easily over the following month by the usual means, exercise and a return to healthy eating. A restrictive post-holiday diet centred around vegetables accompanied by ‘acronym topping’ to return to your desired BMI reinforces the whole negative guilt trip about ‘letting go’ which is potentially damaging. Well to my wife anyway.

    If you feel genuinely recharged after your whirlwind tour to the Middle East Darya then you really must be superwoman. Most mere mortals would feel totally knackered following your ‘holiday regime’. Come and visit Australia next time for a month and have a decent holiday. Switching off is a national art form here.

    • Darya Rose says:

      Haha! I can see your point, but you misunderstand me. I would agree with you if what I was doing to drop a few pounds felt restrictive, but it feels GREAT.

      First, I LOVE working out. I feel way worse when I don’t get to. The gym in our hotel was fabulous and I viewed it as a treat (did you see the view?), like a day spa. Also, I typically went at 6am because I was up from jet lag and had nothing else to do. So it’s not like I was taking time away from cultural experiences.

      For me, the relaxation and reward isn’t being sedentary. For me it’s the opposite, not having to sit on my butt writing blog posts and looking at email all day long. Being active, for me, feels like an indulgent luxury. I’m not sure why you associate it with guilt.

      Second, I wasn’t jogging around the city to burn calories in the heat. The steps were a natural byproduct of our exploration of the city (there were 2 couples and we all did the same amount of walking–no one thought it was punishment). Honestly though, most of the steps were done in the mall, just because we got lost in there so many times (and the malls in Dubai are EPIC).

      As I said, my main motivation is to feel comfortable in my clothes. Skinny jeans (which I live in) don’t feel good when they’re cutting into your skin. There’s nothing wrong with actively trying to lose weight to be more comfortable at your proper size. I also have another big 10 day trip coming up in a couple of weeks (as happens often given my travel schedule of late) so have additional motivation to get my body back to normal sooner rather than later.

      My trip was absolutely amazing and I do feel recharged (I’m finding it surprisingly easy to sleep 9 hrs a night since being home, very unusual for me). It was one of the most wonderful cultural experiences of my life. I’ve never been to Australia, but I’m sure I’d have a great time there as well.

      • Hannah says:

        Darya, I’m really glad you took the time to respond to this comment, because I often feel like I’m in a similar position. When I’m on a trip with friends or coworkers, they give me grief or act like they feel bad for me because I go to the gym or to a spinning class if one is close by. I do it because I LOVE it, and (for a work trip) it’s often the highlight of my day. It’s hard to explain that to someone face-to-face, though, without feeling like an asshole preaching from her high horse. As a person who has formed strong HCH’s but (like everyone) has ebbs and flows and needs a boost sometimes, your tips such as these are my favorite posts. xo

    • David says:

      I am really glad that you’ve interpreted my comments in the positive light in which they were intended Darya. But in your advocation of creating a healthy lifestyle to readers, just be gently aware of the possibility of some over zealously interpreting your ‘habit-forming’ principles. In other words the ‘O’ word that I alluded to. More about which follows below.


      • NE says:

        I have to agree with you here David. I love the blog, but reading this brings to mind the years I struggled with an eating disorder. How does this differ from the obsessional thoughts there?

      • Deb says:

        Really, David? Have you read Foodist, or Darya’s blogs and newsletters? She shares intelligent information and offers balanced approaches to health, with an essential and sound focus on weight loss and maintenance. I don’t see any correlation to the linked article. Darya is one of the few nutrition savvy practitioners available. Please respect her, as many do.

      • Deb says:

        NE, I sincerely feel your pain, as I too have struggled deeply for many years with this issue. However, I believe it important, to not devalue, but, to VALUE, those like Darya for teaching us more reasonable and absorbable approaches to health through food and exercise and emotional wellbeing. Moreover, I believe the author of this linked article is over-reaching a bit, don’t you? Perhaps she is not understanding of what people have gone through to attain health, translating our attempts as just another disorder. It’s insulting to me, quite honestly.
        I’m still working on my commitment to myself and my personal health goals. It’s still hard, but have not given up, and I’ve been able to let go of whatever ‘obsessions’ That may have had a hold on me. When they try to creep back in, I instantly recognize them and reform my thoughts.
        This letting go is true because of what I’ve learned from Darya, and others like her. I now believe, that a more gentle, habit forming approach is more akin to who I am and will continue to use Darya’s generous information as I move forward. I look forward to doing the best that I can and wish the best for you NE.

  5. Holly M. says:

    Hi Darya! I was just wondering if you’re still using and prefer the FitBit. You’ve inspired me to start tracking my steps 🙂

    Thank you and have a beautiful day!


    • Darya Rose says:

      Yep! Every day. I use the Fitbit One, because I find the bracelets uncomfortable.

      • Emily says:

        I have the little zip for the same reason (I had a jawbone up for a while and it bothered my wrist). I’ve been considering the One for a while now. Do you find a lot of benefit from being able to count stairs and sleep? I keep waffling on whether or not I will find that helpful.

      • Darya Rose says:

        I never use the sleep stuff. I live on a hill so I like the steps data, but mostly to boost my ego 😉

  6. donna renner says:

    I love to go on a vacation and the indulgences this provides. I was in Mexico in the Fall and now that I am 60 I found out that I must keep to the homecourt status more and more even on vacation. My blood pressure and asthma stay put and normal this way.
    Here’s the plan: For every “drink” I have the equal in water with it to stay hydrated. For every salty dish I have something raw with it, like salad and fruit. I still have small servings and “tastes”of all the splendid ganaches[desserts],deep fried food, bacons, hams.Portions are so hard to limit.I think of the “plate” in those awesome buffets.
    Walking is mandatory but , like you, I totally enjoy a good exploration so I actually walk more on a vacation.
    Yes,yes,yes to all the spa treatments!! Those are my new treats too!
    All the best…

  7. Sherry A. says:

    Hi Darya,

    Hope your trip to Dubai was an amazing experience. When one is looking to tweak or tighten up after a trip or over indulging. Would bone broth be a good addition to meals? And, are the nutrients any different if you roast bones prior to making the soup? The bone broth in cold weather is a nice way to start a meal – would love to know how to pack most nutrients for my body. I’d love to know your thoughts on this topic. Thank you!!

  8. bonnie says:

    When you say no sugar does that mean no fruit?

  9. Jane says:

    Hi Darya! I also wished to visit Dubai and knowing you already went there makes me want to go there asap! I am also wondering about how to lose weight and reading your easy tips is really a great help. No sugar or flour is the most difficult for me but I’ll do my best so that I can achieve my goal to lose weight. Thanks for this post Darya!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Hi Jane,

      I wouldn’t recommend cutting out sugar and flour completely for more than a week or two. That requires willpower, is a form of dieting, and will fail in the long-run. Check out my post on Home Court Habits if you have a significant amount of weight to lose.

  10. Terry says:

    Many thanks for this. Very helpful. A question I have is regarding wine versus cocktails. Is there a difference when talking weight loss and calories (assuming that the measurements are such to have the same calories.) Kind thanks! Best, Terry

    • Darya Rose says:

      Sugar (sucrose) and alcohol are digested differently, so the calories are not equal. I’ve heard that the calories from alcohol have about 70% of the impact as calories from food. Also, cocktails in general have way more calories than a glass of wine, on the order of 2-4x more (depending on the cocktail and depending on the wine, of course). Most cocktails are so sweet, I avoid them whenever possible.

      • Terry says:

        Kind thanks, Darya. I think we’re on the same page. An average glass of red wine such as a merlot, about 5 oz. will be about 100 calories. When I want a cocktail, it’s usually a martini and without any fruits or juices. At about 2.5 oz it still runs about 180 calories which are more than the wine but sometimes it’s worth the difference. If it’s a matter of calories alone, then I can make that call from time to time but if there are other factors, then I would love to know those as well. Thanks for all you do. Have a lovely weekend. Best, Terry

    • Darya Rose says:

      You’re after my heart! Martinis are my cocktail of choice as well, since they aren’t very sweet (I still order them “very dry”). But yeah, more than 2 of those and I’m in hangover territory so it’s hard to over do it on calories there.

  11. Love the concept of “habit tightening”: of your recommendations the most difficult for me is the ‘no sugar-no flour’, I can go without beer or wine for a couple of weeks and I certainly am eating more vegetables than a few years ago (I am in the restaurant development business and love to cook), that said, my moto360 keeps reminding me how I haven’t met my goal of 10k steps from time to time, I am averaging about 7k in these past few weeks and that is with the thing on my wrist so there might be a few more to the mix since I don’t wear it all day.

    And of course, my guilty pleasure is chocolate… it’s very tough to stay away but I manage.

    Great of you to share this. Cheers!

  12. My biggest problem is cutting out the calories from drinking. I love water, but I love flavor too! Luckily I’ve found a drink that I like that is healthy and doesn’t have calories!

  13. Trish says:

    I’ve always been an athlete, but not a super fit one. I’ve been on and off diets since I was 12 (I’m 40 now). I have three kids and to see me you wouldn’t be surprised. Lately, I’ve been feeling so big but uninterested in restricting and tracking everything I eat. Like you, I can lose weight easily on a diet – but end up gaining it all back.
    Last night, I sat down and made myself a flowchart of what my non-diet plan will be going forward for the rest of my life – still lose the extra weight I’m carrying right now and keeping it off. I made a sticker chart and I’ve been awarding my self stickers throughout the day for the little things I do – walk, drink more water, make a great choice, skip coffee, avoid the samples at Costco, etc.
    Today, somehow, I stumbled upon your website – and it literally outlines everything I was thinking yesterday. Gives me hope that there really is another way to live and to make this work. Thanks!

  14. Dee says:

    Yea when I was feverishly trying to get rid of 2 lbs from my vacation eating I realized I was pregnant… b

  15. Sharon says:

    Why is it such a chore to be healthy? We all want to feel good, weigh within a healthy range, and look our best. But reading this just proves how obsessed everyone has become, and I mean everyone! Eliminate sugar and flour? Come on, nobody can do that for very long. If it feels like you are on a diet, you are!!!

    • Deb says:

      What? Obsessive focus in a persons desire to be something they are not, simply, does not equate with success. No matter how ‘thin’ they become or focused they seem to be, my past self included, this approach is riddled with illusion. Why people (very few) look at what Darya has offered to us as anything like that the latter is beyond me. Moreover, it has taken me awhile to decide to respond to this because I don’t want to give this “obsessive” thought process, showing up in this blog, any more false weight, (pun intended). Look: what a contemporary, intelligent and practiced neuroscientist is offering to those of us that want to lose weight, is to stay off of flour and sugar. This suggestion is basic metabolic science, not false, not illusion-based and certainly not obsessive. Darya is offering so, so much more than this, but it IS virtually impossible to take weight off successfully when simple sugars and flour are in our food. I read these blogs, I read what Darya has to share, and doing so helps me grow inner strength and unselfish awareness, and compassion both for myself and others. It helps me achieve my goals, daily and longterm and helps be to easy on myself when needed. For those struggling like myself, those thriving, and the naysayers, I hope your that your inner most dreams for health and well-being are realized and sustained. Thank you so much to Darya.

    • Deb says:

      A reply below.

  16. Carmen says:

    Hi Darya! I´ve been reading your posts for a while and decided to buy Foodist.
    I´ve decided to start a Recalibration period and currently on day 4 of it. Have a quick question though: are nuts excluded from it? I know they carry carbs but normally on lower amount and they’ve been helping me quite a lot.

  17. Robert says:

    I agree, the secret to long term weight loss is to change your eating habits.

  18. Natalie says:

    I drink a lot of fizzy juice and have sweeteners in my coffee . I am desperate to over haul my over eating and other eating habits . is the fizzy juice and sweeteners bad for losing weight

    Thanks 🙂

  19. Elizabeth Clayton says:

    Hi Darya –

    This is such a great article and a perfect read for a quick break at work, which is why I hope you never stop writing articles because I can always fit those in. (Actually, that’s not the only reason I hope you don’t stop writing, but it’s the reason I’m writing this comment right now.). I think it’s fantastic that you are branching out with video blogs and interviews and such, but these are just not as easily accessible for me among my various pockets of opportunity to fit in the things that are important to me. Plus, you are a fantastic writer. You’ve never written a thing that hasn’t been of interest and value.

    Thanks so much for your valuable contribution to the public good and knowledge base!


    • Darya Rose says:

      Thanks Elizabeth! Getting the podcast launched has taken a lot of energy, but I love writing and definitely plan to maintain my regular schedule. I appreciate your kind words 🙂

  20. Laura says:

    Hi Darya!
    Forgive me if I’m asking a question that has already been addressed:
    Where does fruit fit in to the ‘habit tightening’ scheme? Should I just consider it a sugar and avoid?

  21. Hi Darya. I am reading this a year after you wrote this blog and I love it. Having just gotten back from vacation, I agree with working out during a trip and the value it can add to your travels. I love trying out new classes, teachers, and workouts that I might not have time for at home. It is a “treat”! For example this past vacation I was able to take a spin class at sunrise on a beautiful deck overlooking the ocean. Not my daily routine!! Loved it. When home, tighten up for a week….that’s never the fun part but when you enjoy vacation it’s all worth it. Please keep writing. I love your book, and love your blogs. You are great!

  22. In a population of 318 million in America, more than 1 in 20 has extreme obesity.With people of all age groups suffering alike, Obesity and weight gain is the problem faced by every American household. While those expensive weight loss pills are heavy on your pocket, they might as well be of little or no use and even if you manage to shed some pounds, it won’t take long to gain back. On the other hand, centuries old domestic tips coupled with some workout always do the magic and provide long lasting benefits. When it comes to food, there are no super food items to do the trick, however maintaining a balanced diet is the key..

  23. Cavakia says:

    I’m jealous you didn’t take me to Dubai with you but glad I decided to read your post because I’m always looking for fitness tips and tricks to help me and my personal training clients achieve optimal leanness.

  24. Hi Darya,

    Very impressive site, and great advice. I believe that neuroscience is going to reveal the science we need to be more healthy in our attitudes and behaviours. I look forward to seeing this in your blogs.

    when I want to tweak my weight after a period of indulgence, I go back to fasting on Mondays for 2 weeks. Works well.

  25. Abdou tabti says:

    Thanks this post really helped
    Keep up the good work darya

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