Science of Habit Change for Sustainable Weight-Loss Part II

In our last discussion we identified the four stages of habit (habit loop)4 and analyzed how they affect and are affected by one another. Now we will take a look at how changing just one component of one of the stages in turn changes the whole trajectory of all subsequent stages and vice versa. Consequently; before you know it, you have established a new and hopefully healthier habit!  Seems easy enough right? Well hopefully after reading the following it will be! 

If you recall from Part 1 of Science of Habit Change for Weight Loss Success; we discussed why habits are formulated, which is due to the brain’s need to conserve space and energy for processing new information.3 As such; whatever tasks the brain can simplify- it will, hence habits are born. These habits devised of a cue, craving, response and reward eventually becomes a part of our daily norm and sometimes even our identity. 

In order to disrupt what has been coined as a “habit loop” different cue, response and reward associations need to be assigned. That said, in order for these changes to be accepted by the brain they also need to be relatively easy to process and carry. Remember the brain in all its ability wants to work as little as possible!1

So how would this look in a real world scenario?  Well let’s take the example of the coffee and doughnut habit from Part 1 of Science of Habit Change for Weight Loss Success. For this particular example the individual desires to break the habit of giving in to the need to indulge in a sweet and savory treat with their daily coffee. The first thing they would want to do is identify the cue which for this scenario- is the smell of coffee. Just the smell alone- taste buds AND brain begin to anticipate the sensations of the expected sweet treat. To prepare or better yet prevent this craving we can approach it a couple of ways. One preventative and the other responsive. 

In the first approach, it is quite likely we can prevent the craving if it is a response to a nutrient deficiency.  Many times we crave either sweet, salty or savory foods due to low availability of the daily recommended vitamins and minerals necessary for maximum cellular processes. So just by doing something as simple as eating a balanced breakfast we can reduce and even eliminate cravings.  Ensuring our meals consist of lots of protein, fiber and healthy fats we essentially keep our blood/sugar and hormones leveled thus staving off cravings. As such, by the time the smell of coffee registers in your brain; because your body and brain is satisfied you eliminate the desire for the donut!

Now, let’s imagine you aren’t a breakfast person, but you absolutely MUST have your cup of Joe (or two) before getting your day started.  Then one must be prepared to approach the craving another way, such as instead of grabbing a doughnut or pastry, now armed with the knowledge of how it will affect the body; you choose to pair it with a whole grain toast with almond butter!  Some may say, “but that’s not going to taste the same” and you would be correct. But believe it or not over time you will either forgo the morning snack all together OR your taste-buds will change. Either way, one thing that can’t be disputed is the fact that not only are you satisfied for hours to come, you’ll also have sustained energy until your next meal as well. Hopefully that alone will be enough reason to stay the course long enough to become a healthy habit.

So as we enter into the second month of the New Year, remember it took days, months and years for your bad habit to formulate and it will take just a long to change it. That said remember in order to break a habit you MUST replace it with another one.  As with goal setting, by addressing each step individually you can successfully create your new habit by first identifying the trigger, then preparing for the craving and how you will (or won’t) respond and lastly reassigning your reward system. 

Habits may be hard to break, but if it’s preventing you from being your best self; then so is staying the same.


  3. Duhigg, Charles, author. (2014). The Power Of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  4. Clear, James (2017). Atomic Habits. Place of publication not identified: RANDOM House BUSINESS

Science of Habit Change for Sustainable Weight Loss – Part 1

Year 2020 is finally here!  And if the idea of starting the New Year with resolutions of grandeur to finally break that bad habit wasn’t motivation enough, the fact that we are embarking on a whole new decade sure is! 

That said, while 77 percent of people who commit to a New Year’s resolution, stick to it for at least a week, research conducted by the University of Scranton1 reveals that only eight percent of people who make New Year’s resolutions will actually fulfill those goals in a timely fashion—if ever. Research from Athletic social networking site Strava2 reveals that January 12th is the most common day for the formerly resolute to start waving the dreaded white flag of defeat.  So, what is one to do when willpower stops being enough? 

Two words…Establish Habits. 

Think about how many tasks you do daily without thinking about it. Brushing your teeth, tying your shoes, showering, and even more potentially dangerous tasks such as driving to work, school or your favorite restaurant and back home only to realize you don’t even remember how you got there!  And this isn’t a matter of mindlessly driving; for in the case of danger your reflexes would kick in to avoid danger. But in those moments where the brain is able to predict possible outcomes based on past stored information, it does so to conserve energy for processing new information efficiently.

When it comes to habits it is recommended that one adopts the mindset of “forming good habits” vs “quitting old ones”. The idea of focusing on the positive aspects of change instead of the negative is a pivotal paradigm shift towards goal achievement. Once you tap into that mental frequency, “the process of building a habit can be divided into four phases of what has been coined a “Habit Loop3.”  They are cues, craving, response and reward. Breaking it down into these fundamental parts can then allow us  to understand what a habit is, how it works and then devise a strategy to improve upon it4.” 

So let’s analyze the four stages of habit starting with cue.  A cue is anything that triggers a specific behavior or emotion; usually as a result of a remembered reward or feeling.  Being quite primal in nature, it is vital to identify triggers that initiate unhealthy choices and rewards associated with them before you can successfully establish healthy habits.  

Example: Smell of coffee cues you to start thinking about the familiar taste and feeling associated with it.

The next phase of habit is cravings which is the feeling experienced as a result of actions taken on cue.  It is also the body’s way of signaling to the brain it’s desire to establish homeostasis or feeling of security. One of the most encouraging things about this stage is the fact that cravings can be redirected or rewritten based on changing the meanings of the cues associated with it. 

Example: Starbucks/Coffee = craving for something sweet

The third phase; response, is the action or thought that is carried out in order to satisfy the craving. And get this- we normally focus on responses only IF the action does not require more energy than you are willing to expend. We’ll discuss this concept in more detail later, so for now just understand a response is basically about what we have become comfortable with based on a perceived reward.

Example: Without even thinking you order a donut (or two) to compliment the bitterness of your coffee.

Finally, the coveted reward. Rewards are an important part of the human experience. When you think of mankind’s evolution,  primal rewards such as sex, food, shelter and tools were and still are a part of survival and everyday decision making. So it goes without saying, establishing a reward system is a must for habit change.  And as with cues and cravings; rewards are dependent on an individual’s perspective according to their personal experience and can be changed. But until a new reward association is assigned, we will automatically respond to the previous phases of habit according to past experiences. 

Example: The euphoric feeling you experience as you bite into your soft sugary donut, washing it down with what feels like warm hugs of sunshine.

See how the different stages of habit feed into and from one another? With this understanding, we are now able to start developing a strategy to break the “habit loop” and create a new ‘healthier’ habits which we will address in Part II of Science of Habit Change for Sustainable Weight-Loss! 


  3. Duhigg, Charles, author. (2014). The Power Of Habit: Why we do what we do in life and business. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks
  4. Clear, James (2017). Atomic Habits. Place of publication not identified: RANDOM House BUSINESS