Like most of us, I am a creature of habit. Each morning I wake at around the same time, make coffee with milk (2 cups), take my diabetic medications together with meds for cholesterol and hypertension and wait for my good lady of forty-seven years to rise from her slumber, usually at around 8am. Then we have coffee  together (mine black now from a Nespresso machine, 2 cups of a long black coffee) and two slices of whole-wheat toast with bitter orange marmalade.

By 8:30 am I have consumed something in the order of 102gms carbs and very little fat – just 52gms (mainly from milk and coffee). Anyone trying to get into a state of ketosis with this diet has blown it before nine am.

It gets worse. Our traditional Saturday lunch is also heavily bread based – bagels with full fat cream cheese and smoked salmon, with tomato and cucumber. Getting better you think – after all, cream cheese is fatty! Not really. My carb intake at this point of the day is 104gms and my total fat is a paltry 57gms. I have consumed 436 calories.

I got excited by the idea that I made a mistake. I should not be looking at total carbs consumed, but at net carbs (total carbs consumed minus the fibre consumed), but since the fibre count is almost zero (4.1gm per bagel and 3.3/slice for multigrain bread), it didn’t help. I still ate 93.3gms of carbs by 1pm.

The recommendation is that carbs should be no more than 20gm per day (not per meal) to get to a state of ketosis – the key to being successful in using a low carb / high fat (LCHF) diet to lose weight. I should also watch carefully the water intake. So far, not so good.

What is challenging here is not that I don’t know what I could be eating instead of what I have always eaten – I am surrounded by five Keto Cookbooks and LCHF food recommendations from friends and colleagues. That’s not the problem. It is the difficulty of breaking the habits formed over thirty years.



Habit Breaking

You would think I would know how to break habits – I am a psychologist after all. But “helping oneself” is more difficult than helping other people. The five keys to habit breaking are these:

This is what I tell clients (and am now telling myself):

  1. Know why you want to change and convince yourself that you want to.
  2. Understand the habit – why is it there and what is inhibiting you from stopping it?
  3. Set some reasonable goals which push change but don’t make it feel impossible.
  4. Track behaviour against the goals.
  5. Seek advice, support and coaching.

Now let’s look at this in more detail.

1. Know why you want to change and convince yourself that you want to.

I need to change for my health and wellbeing, even though I don’t feel at risk. I am 67 and diabetic conditions are not friendly. While my meds are doing a good job of “managing” my Type 2 diabetes, it would be better to be rid of it. I also have sleep apnea (modest, but real) so I can either spend $3,500 on a C-PAP machine and tie myself up with tubes at night, or lose weight and get rid of it. (This would also stop the snoring without having to put strange things in my mouth, like a Zyppah). I know this. I understand this. What I have to do is believe it.

I also need to ensure that my partner of forty-seven years supports me and believes this too. She needs to be supportive enabling, not passive and critical.

2. Understand the habit – why is it there and what is inhibiting you from stopping it?

It’s easier to do what you have always done and not change than it is to do different things each day. Change is tough, even for small things (milk in coffee, less coffee, no toast and no marmalade).

Taking a first step – finding suitable, easy breakfast items – and doing it consistently for a week is the challenge. Breaking the habit means breaking the mindset that says “morning = coffee with milk + toast + marmalade” and replacing it with “the new morning = boosted coffee (coffee with coconut oil), egg and bacon bake”.

Doing the same again – breaking the habit – the next day and the day after requires the new mantra to be repeated and believed.

Some things can help – sticky note reminders on the milk (saying “Oh no!”) and putting the coconut oil by the coffee maker – but the real help is commitment.

3. Set some reasonable goals which push change but don’t make it feel impossible.

I gave up sugar in tea and coffee (and in everything where you add sugar yourself) many years ago by going “cold turkey”. I did the same with salt – only using it very occasionally, even when cooking. But there are few habits one can break this way – ask anyone who has tried to give up smoking.

I weigh 95.6 kg (210.76 lbs) and have done so for the longest time. A reasonable goal for a man of 67 who is 5’10” tall would be a weight of  79 kg (app 175 lbs) with a body mass index of around 24 – according to various authorities I have consulted online. So that’s the goal: get rid of 35lbs and do so largely by a combination of a LCHF diet and increased activity (I’ll come back to the activity bit).

It is not impossible. After all, I used to weight just 8lbs 4 oz (on the day of my birth) and have only been at this weight for the last twenty five years ( I used to weigh around 170 lbs – I was slimmer).

If I set a goal that was a real challenge – loose 50 lbs for example – I would know that I would be both unlikely to achieve it and, even if I did, not be able to sustain it. Knowing that a goal is do-able and keep-able is the key here.

I have two secondary goals:

  • Improve the amount of REM sleep (quality sleep) I get each night – it averages around 5.5 hours at the start of this work. My target is 7 hours.
  • Increase the amount of physical activity I undertake each day every day. Some days I walk 12,000 steps or more; others, I am lucky to hit 3,500. I commit to 8,000 a day every day.

These are the big goals – weight loss (35lbs), sleep improvement (1.5 hours/day of better sleep) and hitting 8,000 steps x 7 days a week. But they need to be broken down a little.

For example, to get to ketosis I need to:

  • Massively reduce net carbs for 4-5 days so that they are around 20 -30gms/day.
  • Increase good fat intake.
  • Watch the proteins –  these should be between 20-25% of the intake of calories.
  • Take external ketones – Taking exogenous ketones can help signal the body that you’re now using ketones for energy instead of carbs. I still need to be eating a low-carb, ketogenic diet, but supplementing with ketones can help induce ketosis faster and reduce the amount of time you could be dealing with “keto flu”.

I may also need to try fasting if ketosis is not happening – so I need to understand more about what this looks like and how to do it.

4. Track behaviour against the goals. 

“If you’re not keeping track, you are not taking it seriously”.

All my sports advisors in my youth told me this and they were right. My bowling in cricket improved when I started to track what happened to every ball I bowled; my writing improved when I track both how many words I wrote and how much time I was spending revising the writing.

For diet, I am tracking using a simple diet app (MyFitnessPal) and for exercise I am using a FitBit – I also use the FitBit for sleep tracking. I intend to be religious in entering what I eat and tracking carbs, fats.

5. Seek advice, support and coaching.

Breaking habits are tough – really tough. Look at trying to get Donald Trump to stop tweeting or Justin Trudeau to wear decent socks! Having a mentor or coach can really help.  They are not there to set goals (that’s my job) or to challenge me to do more (unless I am not meeting my goals). They are their for confidence boosting, meal suggestions, encouragement, empathy and support.

So, I am Starting…

All journeys begin with one small step. Changing how I start the day and then sticking with the plan is my small step. Simple things matter. Let’s go!

– Dr. Stephen Murgatroyd

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