by Tony Gjokaj May 04, 2020 5 min read

2009 was a rough year for me in high school. Being overweight, I was picked on constantly and picked last in sports. Since high school was very impressionable, depression was at an all-time high.

It was not until I forced myself to exercise more often, that I realized something so simple: in order for me to be more fit, healthier, and happier... I would have to simply change my lifestyle.

About Habits

We believe the diet is not the only difficult factor when it comes to having a healthier lifestyle... it's also the habits that we have built over the course of years.

Recall that habits are created by making small incremental steps and our environments. This is how we create bad habits as well: poor environments and decisions can lead to bad outcomes overtime.

All is not lost, however... while we can't completely obliterate bad habits... we can replace them. 

In this article, I am going to introduce strategies that we have utilized to change our lifestyle to one that emphasizes exercise and proper nutrition.

Let's dive in!

Habit Changing Tips

The following habit-changers are very practical and complement one another. We recommend putting each one of these strategies into practice so that you can take control of your habits.

1. Cue, Routine, Reward: The Habit Loop

According to Charles Duhigg's book, The Power of Habit,habits are formed as a result of something known as the habit loop. A habit loop is, quite simply, a loop developed by our brain (through repetition) that manages various habits that we have.

The loop consists of three components: a cue, a routine, and a reward.

I. Cue

The cue is our trigger: our habit starts as a result of this. In our previous articles, we mentioned that leaving your gym clothes out will make you realize you need to work out. This is essentially a cue to ignite your habit.

II. Routine

The routine is the physical or mental task we do as a result of the desired cue. In our previous positive example, your gym clothes motivated you to take action and exercise in the gym. As soon as you get in the gym, your body (AND environment) signals it's time to WORK!

III. Reward

The reward is the deciding factor as to whether or not this loop is worth it. One way to influence a fitness habit is to introduce a satisfying post-workout shake as a reward.

A great flavored protein powder mixed with fruits would be a great reward after an intense workout, as it helps our body feel nourished. This is also the perfect opportunity to introduce healthier food options during this meal, which really compounds overtime.

Now that we understand the Habit Loop, we can now apply it to both nutrition and exercise, starting with my favorite strategy: The Habit Sandwich.

2. Familiarity: The Habit Sandwich

I love game-ifying nutrition, supplementation, and exercise.

According to the Power of Habit, familiarity is a habit strategy that can either create or change habits. The reason why it works is because we are creatures of habit: we dislike change.

Remember that our brains are against us when forming a new habit, so we have to "trick" it in a sense. How we do this is by modifying our "routine" in a specific habit loop.

For example, one way I was able to create healthy habits for myself is by implementing a metaphorical "habit sandwich".

Let me explain:

  • The Habit Sandwich is when you take your previous eating habits and introducing a nutritious meal in between.
  • Metaphorical Slice of Bread - Another meal you typically eat.
  • Metaphorical Cheese - A new, healthier food option/Meal
  • Metaphorical Second Slice of Bread - Another meal you typically eat.

After you start with the 2 slices of bread and the cheese... you can add more toppings. Add a metaphorical slice of ham, introducing another healthy meal. A week or so later, introduce a metaphorical tomato slice, introducing another healthy meal.

You will keep adding toppings until you space your favorite junk foods or meals so far away from each other. As a result, you're eating more nutrient-dense foods rather than high-calorie foods. If done right, this can introduce weight loss and/or a significant lifestyle change.

The reason why this strategy works is because of familiarity: you don't change the cue. You essentially "trick" your brain's habits by changing the habit loop's "routine".

THIS, is exactly how I changed my lifestyle when I started exercising.

3. Compounding Habits

For some reason, exercise has been shown to psychologically improve/change other habits in our lives: we make better nutrition choices, we practice mindfulness, we introduce exercises like meditation, and more.

One great example of this is a study that found that people who were more active tended to have a reduced-fat or calorie intake. This is a result of a variety of factors, but we can argue through experience that we prefer to eat better after a workout! 

This is the compounding effect that we are talking about: exercising typically does a great job of replacing our negative habits with more positive ones.

Habit Stacks

To take this even further, habit stacking is another way to compound habits that you can use to your advantage as well.

As previously mentioned, habits typically are looped through a cue, routine, and reward. After you follow the routine and acquire your "reward", use the reward as a cue to do another habit.

For example, your goal is to work out in the morning... however it's so hard to. I would propose something like the following steps:

  1. Place your gym clothes and car keys (car keys on top) on the floor by your bed, or on a drawer in your room before bed.
  2. Wake up, see your keys and gym clothes ready to go, telling you it's time to drive to the gym or the nearby park.
  3. Grab your keys, change your clothes, and drive. Don't look back.

Simple things like this can prime ourselves to move towards accomplishing our goals, by helping us take small incremental steps and modify our environment!

Conclusion

Understand that these strategies may seem very simple. While they are practical, it could be very difficult to change habits.

All is not lost, however: while you may not be able to fully eliminate bad habits, you can replace them with better ones.

I'm a fat kid at heart: I still have my sweet tooth; I still give in to junk food. However, I prioritize my health & nutrition for performance above these. The way I do it is I replaced my junk food triggers by not keeping them in my home.

We do want to help you along the way with our free Fit Habit Facebook group. While it is currently growing, we are looking to add an engaged audience in it looking to change their lives.

If you want to join it, send a request by clicking on the link below:

Thank you for reading Reforged Legion!

If you have any questions, comments, or insights, throw them in the comments below OR email me at tony@reforgedperformance.com.

Until next time, Reforged Legion!

Tony Gjokaj
Tony Gjokaj

Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help bridge the gap between physical & mental health through fitness.



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