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Using Replacement Behaviors to Achieve Weight Goals

What is a replacement behavior? It is simply a behavior you strive to exhibit or to use to replace a behavior you want to eliminate.

The truth is, we expect too much of ourselves when we simply seek to eliminate a behavior that is not helpful with weight loss.

For example, let's say you have a morning routine of driving through a local coffee shop for a mocha latte that is around 400+ calories. You know it is setting you back in your effort to control your caloric intake and you realize a new (replacement) behavior would assist in attaining that goal.

Here is how it usually works out:

I know I need to stop driving through for the mocha latte so I do. Now...

1) I am in caffeine withdrawal, have brain fog, and feel tired all day

2) I am hungry because the latte was actually giving me a sense of fullness

3) I have cravings like never before and actually obsess about a mocha drink

4) I feel bummed because I miss my favorite drink that I so look forward to in the mornings

Not many good things are accomplished by simply telling ourselves we are giving up something we love and have been doing (eating or drinking) for a long period of time. Sure, we hear stories of others putting down cigarettes and never smoking again or simply quitting sodas. But, how many times did those people try to quit and fail before they were able to finally kick the habit?

Depriving ourselves of the foods we love has its consequences. It can lead to those intense cravings that eventually cause us to cave but also cause overeating in other areas or binging on what we have deprived ourselves of.

This is where replacement behaviors come in.

It starts with understanding our behaviors. If you have been following me and my posts, you are familiar with the ABC's of behavior management: Action, Behavior, and Consequences

Action: We are rushing in the morning getting the kids ready for school and ourselves prepared for work. We just need a little surge of caffeine and sugar to give us that get up and go because we did not get a good nights rest and are dragging our feet this morning.

Behavior: We have no time for a nutritious protein rich breakfast and coffee at home so we run through the local drive-through coffee shop after we drop the kids off and grab that mocha latte on our way to work.

Consequence: We have feelings of guilt, disappointment, or defeat the remainder of the day because we blew our calorie goal.

So, how do replacement behaviors fit into this and how do we even start?

#1 Stop labeling foods

There are no "good" foods or "bad" foods. We should never say something is "off-limits" or "I cannot eat that". However, it is totally acceptable to say, "I choose not to eat that".

Foods should not be demonized. Some simply provide more nutritional value than others. While others provide more calories and/or carbohydrates.

The important question to ask ourselves in regards to food: What does my body need at this moment?

For example, if you have just completed the Boston Marathon, a huge bowl of pasta from Olive Garden would be logical as you have burned a great amount of calories and need to replenish them. But, if you are a diabetic and striving to lose weight to improve your health through calorie reduction, that big bowl of pasta is not going to benefit you.

#2 Mindfulness

"Mindful eating helps us become aware of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations related to eating, reconnecting us with our innate inner wisdom about hunger and satiety."

Mindful eating involves paying attention to the 5 W's of eating behaviors:

  1. What time we eat

  2. Why we want to eat

  3. What we eat

  4. With whom we eat

  5. What amount we eat

Through this, we understand what is going on not only inside ourselves but also around us and what factors are influencing our decision making when it involves food.

We can better understand our thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with food and the role they play in our food choices.

And, mindful eating helps us control impulsive choices and habitual patterns.

I highly recommend you check out The Center for Mindful Eating website for more information on being a better mindful eater.

#3 Moderation

Just as I stated above, foods are not good or bad. They must be assessed based on your current nutritional needs and weight goals.

But, occasionally we all just want a piece of cake. And, that is okay!

The key is moderation. Whatever your "vice", it does not have to set you back on your weight loss journey if you practice moderation.

Make a pact with yourself to have half the slice you would normally eat. If it is ice cream, eat only one scoop instead of two or three.

Maybe you are still craving that mocha latte? Order it "skinny" next time you go through the coffee shop or get the smallest size cup. Another option would be to choose just one day a week to treat yourself to a mocha latte and not every day.

The point is, you can have your cake/ice cream/mocha latte/(insert whatever you crave here) and lose weight too, if you practice moderation.

#4 Adaptation

The definition of adaptation is "the change or process of change in which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment".

To quote the great Albert Einstein,

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

Adaptation happens when we realize what we have been doing is not working for us. When we realize we must make changes to our eating behaviors in order to achieve our goals, success occurs.

I would venture to speculate that any failure in life is mostly because one failed to adapt.

How does this apply to food choices and what we eat? Well, since we are beating the mocha latte with the proverbial stick, let us use it as an example:

Let's say that mocha latte at the local coffee shop is about 400 calories and you are on a restricted calorie diet in order to lose weight. That 400 calories is taking a huge hunk out of your daily allowance and you just cannot afford it if you are to be successful, but you just cannot live without your morning cup of flavored joe.

****Life hack: there is this thing called Google and you can search for the ingredients in that mocha latte... then, you make your own, lower calorie version at home!

There are adaptions to just about anything you might want to eat but do not want to spend the calories on. I will add links to some of my favorite websites that offer some of our favorite indulgences for less calories below.

It takes some forethought, planning, and creativity but it can be done. And, will your homemade mocha latte taste exactly like your favorite barista's version? No, it will not. But, you adapted to skim milk and diet soda, so you will adapt to this as well.

Activity Challenge:

Think of a behavior you have been working to change. Now, using the ABC model I demonstrated above, write down the Action, the Behavior, and the Consequence that leads you to fail to change that behavior:

Action: the events or circumstances that occur before the behavior (ex: something stressful?)

Behavior: the thing you wish to change but keep doing despite your efforts (ex: eating something that is not benefiting you or too much of something?)

Consequence: the feeling or emotion you have after the behavior and how it impacts your weight loss journey

Now, using the replacement behaviors we discussed, write down how each of these can help with eliminating that behavior or help you to adapt that behavior to a healthier choice.

I know you will find this exercise to be much more beneficial than simply waking each day with the intention of not doing whatever it is you are trying to stop doing.

I think you are all awesome but even super heroes need a plan of action!


Here are some of my fave go-to websites when I want to create a healthier alternative to calorie heavy foods:

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1 Comment

J.T. Gàcsi
J.T. Gàcsi
Sep 21, 2021

So on point! GREAT information....

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