Most of us are looking for ways to improve our lives or make them more manageable. Self-help books, classes, gurus, and products are trendy, generating billions in sales every year. Who wouldn’t want to improve their life? Everyone wants to make their life better somehow, and of course, they can! One method for achieving this is gaining popularity, known as habit stacking. You can use habit stacking to improve almost any aspect of your life and particularly your health.
What Is Habit Stacking?
Habit stacking has gained popularity after author James Clear wrote the New York Times Bestseller Atomic Habits. The basic concept is to build new habits by “stacking” or pairing them with habits you already have. For example, if you are a daily coffee drinker, you probably brew coffee every morning. This is a habit. It may take a minute or more for your coffee to brew. You could build a new habit by stacking it with your current habit of making coffee every morning. Let’s say you want to work on building more physical activity in your daily life. You could do squats while you wait for your coffee to brew. This is habit stacking. You are pairing the habit of waiting for your coffee to brew with exercise. This helps you build more physical activity into your daily life and eventually becomes second nature.
The Science Behind Habit Stacking
James wrote in his book about a phenomenon called synaptic pruning. Synapses are the connections or links between the brain cells, called neurons. He found a research study that showed that adults had fewer synapses and neurons than babies. As we age, our brain gets rid of the synapses between neurons that we don’t use much and builds up the synapses we use most often.
For example, if you practice math skills every day but tend to ignore reading, the synapses used for math will be strong, while those used for reading will be weak. Another way to look at it is that the synapses for math will be faster and more efficient while the synapses used for reading will be slow.
It is thought that synaptic pruning occurs with every habit we acquire. Our brains support our habits. That is one of the reasons unhealthy habits like overeating and under-exercising are so hard to break – our brains make it difficult. To build new habits, we can use habit stacking to make it easier for our brains to adapt to the new routine we want to develop.
How to Apply Habit Stacking to Help With General Weight Loss
The belief behind habit stacking makes sense, so people are starting to apply it to help with weight loss and other life goals. There are several ways to do this. Some simple examples to use habit stacking during your daily life to help with general weight loss include,
- March in place while brushing your teeth
- Go for a walk during your lunch break
- Lift weights while listening to a podcast or audiobook
- Eat something green and from the earth with every meal
- Do stretches while you watch your favorite TV show
These are just some general examples you can use for weight loss. They may not produce instant results but building these small habits into your daily routine will have a cumulative effect and improve health. Now let’s dig a little deeper for people planning to have weight loss surgery.
Habit Stacking Before Weight Loss Surgery
Contrary to popular belief, weight loss surgery is not the easy way out. There is a lot of work that must be done before and after surgery. Our bariatric surgeons want to see the dedication and focus on your health. After all, your success is ours too!
Once you’re approved and scheduled to have weight loss surgery, we will have you start a pre-op diet about two weeks beforehand. This normally involves small meals, protein shakes, and good hydration habits. A great habit of habit stacking before surgery is to get up and walk around every time you take a drink of water to get to your ideal hydration status. If you are drinking a few ounces at a time throughout the day, this will force you to get up 10 or 15 times a day when you otherwise would’ve been sitting sedentary.
Habit Stacking After Weight Loss Surgery
Say your meal plan incorporates protein shakes. Build this into your daily routine by having a protein shake right before a daily walk. Link them and walk every time you have a shake. Another example is that your healthcare team will want you to stay hydrated and drink at least 64 ounces of water a day. Pick a habit you already do very often, such as sending emails. Every time you send an email, drink an ounce. This will incorporate your new practice of drinking water into your existing habit of sending emails.
Another habit you’ll have to build into your daily routine after weight loss surgery is taking a multivitamin. With a smaller usable stomach, it’s more difficult for your body to absorb all the vitamins and minerals it needs from food alone. To help you remember to take your daily multivitamin, pair it with a habit you already have. For example, keep your multivitamins next to your toothbrush and take the vitamin right after brushing your teeth in the morning.
The Bottom Line
Building new habits and making changes can be difficult, but there are ways to make it easier. Habit stacking is just one method to help you improve your life and build the habits you want for long-term weight loss success. Get creative and use it in various ways and in many aspects of your life.