Twenty years ago, conventional wisdom held that the best way for people to lose weight was to radically alter their lives. Doctors would give people strict diets and tell them to join a gym, attend regular counseling sessions, and shift their daily routines by walking up the stairs. Only by completely shaking up someone’s life, the thinking went, could their bad habits be reformed.
According to Charles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit, follow up research studying the effectiveness of these methods proved that they were failures. Piling on so much change at once made it impossible for any of it to stick.
Starting with one thing, however, has been proven time and time again to be powerful.
As a high performance coach and lifestyle designer, I work with dozens of entrepreneurs, entertainers, and in-demand badass human beings who battle their health on a daily basis to achieve a nearly impossible standard of success.
I coach my clients to create lifestyles for themselves in which they’ve taken willpower and decision-making out of their diet. Instead, by being strategic and planning proactively for their food options throughout the day, they develop habits which they can rely on forever – as opposed to relying on willpower and decision-making, both of which are finite.
Want to change your diet? Here’s one habit that will change everything. Take a photo of everything you eat.
This is what I coach my clients to do.
My theory, which has now been proven by countless individuals, was that by merely taking a photo of your food, your entire relationship with food would change. Those were my instructions: take a photo of your food, no matter what you’re eating, and don’t change anything else.
I suggested they not even try to change their diet, at least at first – I just wanted them to commit to taking a photo of their food and sending it to me, their coach.
It took a while for my original beta clients to get used to it, but eventually it became a habit.
Then something unexpected happened. My clients started looking at their photos and found patterns they didn’t know existed.
Some noticed they always seemed to snack at about 10am, so they began to keep a Quest bar or bag of almonds with them at their desks (as opposed to going to the office pantry for whatever cookies or left-over donuts remained).
Others started getting dismayed at how ugly their photos were and started taking great care to make the presentation look nicer, which typically resulted in more balanced meals and naturally colorful foods.
Others started using the pictures as a calendar, which helped them plan for future meals and reference which dishes they really enjoyed at different restaurants.
Soon, the motivation for taking photos became an extension of their day, and a representation of the people they wanted to be.
Read that again, because it’s fucking powerful.
Junk food and unhealthy choices weren’t reflections of who they were…or who they are. The long string of rewarding photos in a row served as a constant reminder of the version of themselves they wanted to be and a source of inspiration that they really could do it.
The best part? I didn’t even suggest they were on these sort of displayed behaviors or personal way of relating to the photos. I just wanted to see what taking the photos would do.
But this keystone habit—taking photos of what you eat—created a structure that helped all the other habits flourish.
Here’s what one client said:
“I started thinking about meals differently. It gave me a system for thinking about food without becoming obsessed. It was like a relationship I had with myself…or with the food… I can’t tell. But it was positive. Healthy. Not obsessive, just encouraging. Like we’d take care of each other.”
Add to this habit the constant feedback of a coach or community who can then help guide behaviors toward new directions, who can help redirect energy and make simple dietary changes here and there, and, most importantly, who can keep you accountable to your goals—and all of a sudden you have a very powerful world of change.