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Behaviour Changes to help lose weight and keep it off

Category: Healthy eating, healthy weight and dieting
Healthy eating, healthy weight and dieting

People often say that losing weight is only half the problem – keeping it off is the real challenge.  Although you can lose weight in lots of different ways, keeping it off means changing some habits for good.

We all have habits around what we eat, how we eat, how we cook, how we relax and all of these habits will have an impact on our weight.  Becoming area of your habits and working to change them can help you to be successful long term in keeping your weight off. 




A food diary is always a good place to start.  Food diaries can be boring to fill out but even doing one for a few days can help highlight some of your habits.  Use the food diary to see what your eating triggers are, the times you are most likely to eat and the people you are most likely to eat with.  A food diary can help you to see what gets in your way when you are trying to avoid eating.  For some people it is the biscuit with the cup of tea, the cream cake when you are out with friends or the few pints on a Friday night.  Once you have an idea of your triggers then you can start to tackle them and make changes.

Something that can help is adding a line to your food diary that asks “why did I eat?”  This is a great way to think about what the trigger was for that meal or snack. 

  • Did I eat because I was hungry?
  • Because I was bored?
  • Did I eat to be polite?
  • Because I was upset? 

This is a great way to see what might set you off.  Being aware can help you be ready for these times and you can learn to make changes. 

If you are an emotional eater, can you get into the habit of exercising instead of eating? Calling a friend? Clearing all the junk food out of the house so you have to binge on carrot sticks instead (well done if that works for you…!).  It’s not about being perfect but it is about being aware of what sets you off and asking for help.

Click here to see our factsheet on keeping a food diary. 




If you have tried to lose weight in the past, think about what worked and what didn’t.  Even if you put weight back on, are there any good habits that stuck? What stopped you the last time? Is there any way to avoid that trap this time?


Some simple habits to work on are:

1. Eat slowly.  This gives your brain a chance to realize that you are eating and you will often find you eat less. You need to take 20 to 30 minutes to eat a meal.

2. Chew each mouthful 25 to 40 times. This also helps you to eat less.

3. Use a smaller plate. Your plate should be 9 inches or smaller.

4. Only snack if you actually feel hungry, rather than out of habit or because everyone else is eating.

5. Don’t be afraid to eat if you do feel hungry.  Starving yourself never works for long.

6. Don’t give up if you have a bad day.  You are only human, it happens.  Just get back to it and the more you do, the easier it gets.




No matter how much weight you have to lose it is a good idea to set a target for yourself.  1 pound or ½ a kilo per week is really good going.  This turns into about 4 stones or about 24 kilos in one year, which is fantastic weight loss.  Break your weight loss down into what you want to lose each week and then each month until you reach your target.  Although it is not good to weight yourself everyday, it is good to weight yourself once a week or even once a month so that you can keep on track.




This is important!  If you 3 stones to lose, don’t set a target of being 3 stone lighter in time for that wedding next month… If you set goals that are way out of reach, you will fail and then you feel like you can never lose weight. Set smaller goals that you can actually reach.




Just like giving up smoking, setting a date to start to lose weight can help.  Your goal doesn’t even have to be weight.  You might set a date to start using a smaller plate or to start eating slowly.  Pick whatever works for you.




This can be frustrating, as our bodies don’t always do what we want them to do! 

  • Check is your goal realistic? 
  • Do your food diary again for a week or two and see what is going on. 
  • Did you start to exercise?  Sometimes you will gain muscle, which weighs more than fat due to its higher density, so when you exercise, the changes you see will be in your body size and fittness rather than on the scales. 
  • Maybe your goal needs to be about your waist size rather than the scales. 
  • Keep going!  Sometimes it takes a while to see what works for you or to see the changes you want.  Patience is crucial here but maybe you need some extra help.




Some people prefer to lose weight on their own and that is fine.  However, lots of people do better if they have some support.  Weight loss groups can be a great help.  You get weighed every week and most have good healthy eating plans that you can follow.

If you are really struggling, you can get some one-to-one advice from a dietitian.  Ask your GP to refer you to your local HSE dietitian or you can find a dietitian here.



Updated by members of the weight management interest group July 2016.Review date: July 2019.

© 2016 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided the source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with a dietitian.  It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.

Printer friendly PDF: pdfIts not just food; changing behaviour to change your weight

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