How To Use The 6 Stages of Behavioral Change To Lose Weight And Optimize Health

Jake TylerBy Jake TylerJul 30, 20170

Psychologists have defined 6 stages people go through to change their behavior. They can apply to the dietary and lifestyle changes needed to lose weight and optimize health. They can also help you assess if you are ready to make the changes needed to achieve your goals.


Stage 1: Pre-Contemplation

This is the period before you realize you need to change. Behavioral psychologists use it when making a diagnosis. As you are reading this article, you have passed this stage already.


Stage 2: Contemplation

At this stage you have realized the need for change, but haven't acted on it yet. As you contemplate the changes you wish to make to your diet and lifestyle, you should take time to assess your current habits. Consider the following questions.

  • Do you eat enough fresh fruit and vegetables? Dietitians recommend you eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. For example, you might have a banana at breakfast, an apple as a mid-morning snack, spinach with your lunchtime pasta, and two vegetable portions with your eggs, meat, or fish at dinner.
  • Do you eat too much junk food? Most people enjoy a burger, fried chicken, or nachos with salsa or mayo from time to time. But these foods are high in saturated fats and low in nutritional content. You should eat them only as a rare treat. They can never be a daily part of a healthy and balanced diet.
  • ​Do you drink alcohol? While studies suggest a small quantity of alcohol can be harmless, it may be better to avoid alcohol altogether if you are trying to lose weight. If you must drink, try not to exceed one or two units of alcohol per day. That's equivalent to only one glass of wine or one bottle of beer.
  • Are you sedentary or active at work? If you are a laborer or on your feet most of the day, you may already get a healthy amount of exercise. However, if your job involves sitting at a desk or driving most of the day, you need to do more exercise to support a healthy lifestyle.

Don't expect to make radical changes overnight. Changing your diet and lifestyle to lose weight and optimize health takes time and patience. You cannot change everything in one go. At the contemplation stage you decide which changes are the most important to make first.

Behavioral psychologists recommend beginning with a single aspect of your diet or behavior. Choose something easy to start. If you succeed with your first goal, you will continue. As you progress, building your confidence and self-discipline, you can tackle the more challenging goals. For example, you might realize you do not eat enough fruit. A simple first goal might be to swap your usual mid-morning snack for a piece of fresh fruit instead. If you spend all day sitting in an office, you might walk or cycle to work. All these small but achievable goals will add up over time to sustainable, long-term change.


Stage 3: Preparation

At this stage you make a concrete, specific plan of how to carry out the first change. The more specific this plan is, the more likely you are to succeed. For example, if you have swapped your mid-morning candy bar for an apple, think about how that will work. Can you get an apple in your workplace or should you take one with you? Do you need to buy apples ready for the week ahead?

Detailed plans are more likely to be realistic. A realistic, achievable plan is essential to success. If your plan is too vague, it may be more difficult to sustain your new habit.


Stage 4: Initiation

By now you have realized the need to change, identified changes you need to make, and created a specific, actionable plan of how to make the first change. The next step is to put your plan into action. The key to success is to sustain your first change until it becomes a daily habit. Make sure of success with one thing before attempting another.


Stage 5: Maintenance

Many behavioral psychologists agree it takes six to eight weeks to set up a new habit. By now you have realized your first goal, and you can make further changes. The maintenance stage is more about your attitude. To be sure the effort you have put in to achieving your goals so far does not go to waste, you should concentrate on maintaining your new habits and look forward to the long-term. Keep positive, congratulate yourself on your successes, and forge ahead.


Stage 6: Relapse And Recovery

Human beings fail. However realistic your plans and preparation, you will make an occasional mistake. The key to relapse recovery is to dwell on your achievements more than your failures. Recognize the overall direction is one of progress. Try to view lapses in a positive light. Each time you go wrong you have a new opportunity to improve.

Humans are creatures of habit. To make long-term changes in diet and lifestyle, you need to change your habits. The 6 stages outlined above can offer a useful and effective framework for starting and sustaining long-term changes in your behavior. Start the process now, taking one step at a time, to lose weight and optimize your health.

Jake Tyler

Jake Tyler

Hi all, I’m Jake Tyler, over the past decade I’ve been working strong on my personal fitness levels. From the age of 16, I have been a kickboxer, and I’ve built up an incredible passion for fitness & self-improvement. This experience has led me to a career in personal training and health & fitness.
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