Bridge the intention-behavior gap to lose weight and keep it off

What’s the hardest part of trying to lose weight? For most people, it isn’t figuring out what to eat and what to avoid—you know you need to scale down your portion sizes; focus on fruits, veggies, and whole grains; and hold off on the chips, donuts, and other high-calorie treats. The biggest challenge for most dieters is the “intention-behavior gap.” That’s the disconnect between knowing what you need to do and actually doing it. Or, as one of my friends once put it, “I know I shouldn’t eat an entire bag of fudge caramel gourmet popcorn. But it tastes so good!”

One way to bridge the intention-behavior gap is by using smaller plates and eating slowly. Another tried-and-true technique is writing down everything you eat each day, or recording it on a weight-loss app like Lose It! or Intelli-Diet. Doing this makes you more aware of what and how much you’re eating.

Another approach involves creating a behavior chain. This is a tool counselors sometimes use to help people recognize how a series of seemingly minor events can lead to an unfavorable outcome, such as overeating.

Sample behavior chain

In the behavior chain I’ve posted here, notice the little missteps that lead to overeating and what can be done to break the chain, such as packing a lunch for work so you don’t need to hit the fast food restaurant down the street.


You can print out a blank behavior chain and fill in your own dietary downfalls. Think back to a time when you blew your diet and jot it down in the last red oval in the chain. Next, fill in the other red ovals with other circumstances earlier that day that might have played a role. Finally, brainstorm your own chain-breaking strategies and put them into the yellow ovals. Need some more suggestions? See this sample behavior chain diagram from Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

You can read more behavior-focused changes in the 2011 edition of “Healthy Solutions to Lose Weight and Keep it Off.” At this link, you’ll find an excerpt and a Table of Contents for this new Special Health Report from Harvard Health Publishing.


  1. hCG

    If we were just more aware of what we were putting into out bodies. Most people dont even know whats in the food they are eating.

    Such a shame.

    Great post.

    I add all kinds of weight loss articles to my site daily. I wouldn’t mind using some of this stuff.

  2. Pine

    Thank you for the great tips you have shared to us, its quite good!

  3. Howdy, good day! Your operate is really impressive. I never considered that it was probable to try and do something like that until right after I checked out your write-up. You undoubtedly offered an outstanding perception on how this kind of entire method performs. I will make sure to check out for far more info. Thanks!

  4. Phillip & Charlotte Locke

    If you really intend to lose weight and keep it off, you have to be committed to a working program

  5. fitinthemiddle

    We have an abundance of information on what we should eat but very little information on how to consistently eat it. Your suggestions are great. Perhaps they could be placed where the behavior begins such as a post-it note on the refrigerator or television.

  6. Jon

    Fantastic post. . . getting your butt of the couch and starting is hard. Here is a great article I found about the most common mistakes new runners make that lead to them stopping.

  7. Jay Jenkins

    Actually taking the first step is not the hardest part of dieting. Actually sticking to one is. Temptation is around every corner but if you want to lose weight then you just have to push through.

  8. J. Duncan McNeill

    Great post. Weight loss has always been a problem for most people but there are easy ways to lose weight if you look for them.
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  9. Garland Kociolek

    I believe that avoiding highly processed foods would be the first step to lose weight. They may taste good, but ready-made foods have very little nutritional value, making you try to eat more simply to have enough energy to get throughout the day. When you are constantly eating these foods, moving over to whole grain products and other complex carbohydrates will let you have more electricity while feeding on less. Good blog post.

  10. Peter

    Nice post. I really think the behavior chain is quite useful. I am from the netherlands an lost weight using a diet called “Mental diet”

  11. Beryl

    We all have different body types. Some people are carbohydrate sensitive, others are Protein sensitive. The idea is to find what body type you are then you will know what foods are best avoided.

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  12. Roland Nemeth

    Thank you Julie Corliss for this informative post.
    I realy like the behavior-chain concept, I already printed out a blank behavior chain. Will be usefull for my clients.From my point of view is the best way to lose weight is with proper nutrition and exercise.There is no “magic pill” for weight loss I suppose.One of the most effective ways to pursue weight loss is to change your eating habits and lifestyle. To do this, a person should eat more fresh foods,and not chips, prepare meals from scratch instead of in a microwave or take away and exercise on a regular basis.By eating 5-6 small meals and healthy snacks a day, the body is forced to burn calories around the clock. This new eating regimen keeps your metabolism active and also prevents overeating in one sitting.The most crucial foods for weight loss are every day fruits and vegetables. Adding more of these into your meals and as snacks not only gives your body the nutrients it needs but contains natural properties that help with weight loss.

    Roland @ Weight Loss Diet Watch Tips

  13. naya

    definitely agree with you. many dieters find it is so hard to stick on the rules.

  14. Barry Jarvis

    The weight loss issue is always a controversial one with most people as some broach it in a sensible manner while others just because of desperation and pressure will try any fad that’s making the latest news rounds.Ie, The Dukan Diet
    Losing weight can be as simple as you make it. As a general rule, you must engage in some form of minor exercises daily( walking, jogging, etc) and try to balance your calory intake daily.

  15. Roger Sah

    One thing to be careful of eating too many raw vegetables is that they can bloat you. A cooked portion can provide the same nutrients and takes up less space in the digestive tract.
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  16. Jay

    I work with a prominent nutritionist and exercise physiologist who has treated more than 10,000 patients for weight related conditions, in his private practice. Many of his patients are referred to him by doctors. Apart from stressing to them the importance of adopting a physically active lifestyle, he gives them the following nutritional advice:
    avoid missed meals or prolonged periods between meals
    avoid eating an increased amount of simple sugars
    avoid large food quantities per meal
    avoid double carbohydrate intake in one serving
    More information about this can be found at
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  17. Diana Jo Rossano

    Great tips — eat fresh fruit, veggies, whole grains, nuts, and beans! I would like to add one more thing to your list that has helped me tremendously. Stay away from foods that have more than four ingredients in them. Why? Well, all those chemicals interact with each other, and no one really knows the chemistry that happens when you mix chemicals.

    Eating fresh is always a better choice than eating foods that can stay on the store shelves for months. The way food stays on the shelf for such a long time are all the ingredients you cannot pronounce.

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  18. Pam Trivedi

    If you think about it, it’s so obvious. Ofcourse there’s a link between behavior and weight. However most people don’t think about it, but then atleast now they can come here and read this. Good article.

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  19. Grant C.

    I like the behavior-chain concept, we all would benefit from using that concept in more than just eating habits. I take exception with the portion control idea. My own experience is that by placing focus on portion size as opposed to food content, we rarely stay the course permanently. By learning how the body works and viewing food as merely “fuel for the body” has worked very well for me. I found the writing everything down policy to be invaluable for personal accountability and actually changing habits.
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  20. J. Duncan McNeill

    Excellent ideas, well thought out. May I suggest an easy weight loss plan? I have been studying weight loss for ten years and have made a remarkable discovery. Most people are aware that any food, drink or sauce that is made in a factory is loaded with additives but most people assume they are harmless. In fact, these additives are dangerous to your health and are seen as toxins by your body. This means they cause disease and also cause weight gain. My simple weight loss plan is based on superb nutrition and nothing else. When you have that, (with no toxins) your weight seemingly falls off by itself with no effort on your part. Never in the history of weight loss has there been such an easy and effortless way to shed weight that is absolutely safe. I invite you to my website for more information at htp:// Thank you for allowing me to post here.

  21. Francis

    Yeah, this intention-behavior gap is what trips up most New Year resolutions. The behavior chain approach is very interesting. Looks like it could be very useful. A controversial approach, of course, is hypnosis. It seems to work for some as far as implanting new thought patterns that dictate behavior.

  22. oren

    Very Important post tx

  23. mike

    Sometimes the hardest part to keeping a consistent exercise routine is getting there. A workout partner may help as you can motivate each other. If you work out after work, bring the gym clothes with you and go straight to the gym instead of heading home first.
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  24. Marie

    very helpful – to see the connection between emotion and behaviour is extremely enlightening. Thanks for a great post.

  25. Tim Tom

    I have never thought of the little missteps as a “behavior chain”. This ties it together. When my triglycerides spiked, I had to get my diet under control. I recognized that when I drank alcohol, I also ended up eating fatty, salty foods. Had to quit that behavior. The little tricks help, but bottom line is that you have to consume less calories than you expend. There is no magic cure. See the below website for additional insight:

  26. Jhonatan Versteege,( almost) Bsc Nutrtion & Health Wageningen UR

    People should not adjust themselves to the Diet but adjust the Diet to their body’s. The human body is a body with a timing system. Timing to eat sleep and wake up. Here’s the problem. People are really focussed into what to eat that they forget all about how and when to eat. The body has a 3 times a day eating moment.When your insulin and leptin and pyy are the lowest and when ghrelin and glucagon are the highest which translates in an empty stomach. This happens in most indivuals 8am 1 pm and 7 pm. The empty stomach is the sole indicator that you have to eat untill this feeling is over, that means eat until right before the time you will start bloating. When you eat on time and regularly you get a regular stool. The mmc complex will start to work. MMC Migrating motor complex is one last sweep to rid the gut of any waste after digestion. Secondly mastication/ If you chew your foods properly then its easyer to digest your food in the stomach and your stomach doesnt need to make so much acid and work so hard so youll feel more energetic.
    Ps Fruit Juices are a bad Idea because of the fructose which circumvents rate limiting steps of digestion and there for easily stored as liverfat. They didnt say for nothing that morgan spurlock had an alcoholic liver when he had his mcdiet. On food scarcety issue. Remember that there goes 20 appels into one carton of applejuice. While an apple contains more fiber and vitamin C. So It would save you around 19 apples to be good for your health and more people would have food.. Same goes for all processed foods.. Processing means wasting and reduction of healthy effects of food..
    Anyways Hope this helps

  27. Julien Dear

    really nice post and pretty well explained …. i will have a look “Healthy Solutions to Lose Weight and Keep it Off” looks really interesting…thank you again for this post

  28. Jennifer Tinsdale

    I love using the intelli-Diet app you mentioned in the article!

    The app seriously CHANGED my life… for the better!!

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