5 Stages Of Lifestyle Grief – Mourning Your Old Habits To Embrace The New

Lifestyle transition is a big deal. I know this because I’ve been through it myself. But sometimes I forget because I’ve been transitioned for so long. Every once in a while I’m reminded of the difficulty, though, when I see a veil of sadness descend over a Friday client’s face as we discuss her plan around ‘ the weekend food’.

As humans we are very accustomed to our routines and habits around our eats. We get grooved into those habits and build an enormous nest of comfort along its cozy contours. I always used to say that I could sleep on cheesy garlic bread. Because it was warm and soft and cushy. It just made me feel so good. Being ripped suddenly off that doughy slice and hurled headlong into twigs-and-berry-land-with-no-cheesy-bread-or-margs-or-doughnuts can feel very harsh and sad.

Our relationship with foods can be a complicated story, and closing chapters from that book should be treated with due respect. Most people liken the end of a relationship to a death. Not so unlike saying goodbye to foods that are bad for us. It’s not that you’ll never see that doughnut again, but the harsh truth is that future encounters with that glazey hunk will be awkward, and you won’t still be friends after it’s all over.

Psychology Today identifies 5 stages of grief when ending a relationship. Let’s examine just how relevant they can be as you contemplate breaking up with your old lifestyle.



This initial phase allows you to believe that it will all work out, and you can still somehow reach your goals despite daily slip ups. You do this primarily by not acknowledging your intake (“I took 2 bites. Well I actually ate the whole thing and half of another one because I just couldn’t stop. I felt too bad putting it in there, and how do you figure fractions in myfitnesspal anyway?”) or literally ignoring the weekend (when calories are free because you deserve them). The weekend can leave you especially vulnerable when you’ve ‘been good’ for 5 days IN A ROW.  This is where you rationalize that wine is actually a meal.



This is the phase where you may have actually started eating healthier, but you feel deprived. And you’re PISSED OFF about it. Your age, your stupid-shoddy metabolism, your mom and her crappy genes, the evil food industry and even the people you pay good money to help you can all be targets. Doughnuts are literally everywhere, and YOU can’t have any. And it’s just so UNFAIR.


In this phase you take up new ways to reach your goals so you don’t have to say goodbye to your crap food. You’re even willing to throw big BIG money at the options because the fitness industry has SO many ‘cures’. They know you’ll do just about anything to avoid eating healthy and exercising. This is where you may adopt acupuncture or hypnosis. You’ll send off for a rare spice or super-berry-of-the-week from Cambodia. You attend a party at your friend’s house where they slather goo all over your belly and shrink-wrap you in plastic. Anything you can find that will get the job done. All while still eating pie.


Young girl sitting on the grungy floor crying

It sounds terrible, but this is a very powerful phase because you have taken the first step toward your goals by finally grasping the reality of the situation. You really won’t be getting back together with the nachos. And that sucks. This is where you retreat from friends, family and social events. You may even take a break with your trainer because you feel like a failure, and you’re tired of showing up with the same measurements.


This final phase is actually the beginning of your transformation. It’s where you finally accept that you will have to eat, move and think differently if you want to reach the goals you’ve set for yourself. This is where some of my favorite quotes come from, and where you will slowly begin to get used to and even embrace the idea of change. It may happen all at once, or in small stages, where you gradually adopt new habits while clinging to some of the old. The key here is that you have chosen a new path, stop quitting closeupand you are willing and READY to keep taking steps forward instead of stepping back, stalling or arguing about it.

If you recognize yourself in any of these phases, just know that you have to be firmly entrenched in the final stage of acceptance to do the work you may have only SAID you were willing to do before. I have had clients come to me in every stage. Only those who’ve made peace with the need for change, and are actively adopting new habits, become successful in the long haul.

Identifying lifestyle transition as a dynamic process, and giving yourself the time and space to grieve about it may give you hope and understanding about where you are now, and how you’ll arrive at a solid stage of readiness.

What phase of lifestyle transition are you in?