Let’s start with why most of us fail with our new diet and exercise plan within a few weeks, if not a few days.
According to experts, the reason we fail is that we try to make too many changes at once. Leo Babauta, author of The Power of Less says that when we focus on only 1 change at a time our chance of success is about 80%. For those who choose to do 2 or 3 things their success rate drops to around 20% and those who attempt 3 changes at once succeed only 10% of the time. That’s why, “A high percentage of people stop exercising within six months,” says Kris Berg, Ed.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Nebraska. We become frustrated with trying to add all these changes to our already busy lives.
The solution itself is simple – switch from a quick fix mindset to a long-term health mindset by focusing on building healthy habits, one at a time. Of course there is a lot of information and suggestions out there, but I’ve narrowed it down to what I call the “Core 5.”
Obviously, there are more than 5 habits you’re going to need to implement over time. In my nutrition coaching program, we actually teach 24 different habits over the course of a year. However, for our purposes today, I want to give you the 5 that will have the biggest impact on most people.
One additional note before I give you more detail on each habit. You’ll notice that none of the habits are about taking anything away. We all know that water is better than soda, and we all know that fruits and vegetables are better for us than cookies and cake. We also all know that we hate feeling deprived and taking something away just makes us want it more. Instead our focus will be to add healthy habits. You’ll be surprised that your less healthy habits will naturally fade away once you start giving your body what it needs.
Back in my retail management days, I was petty proud of the fact that I could leave my store, grab something to eat, and scarf it down all in about 10-15 minutes flat. Turns out, that was a major part of why I weighed 245 lbs.
You might be asking why I feel that led to me being overweight. Well, it turns out that it takes about 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to react to the release of the chemicals that control our hunger signals. In other words, I could eat as much as I wanted in those first 20 minutes. Add to this the fact I was eating low nutrient-dense but high-calorie food from the food court, and it’s easy to see how I was overeating. Just simply slowing down, chewing your food more, and taking a break between bites gives your brain time to properly judge your hunger levels.
The idea of eating slowly helps you eat less is also backed by research. In a study at the University of Rhode Island, researchers served lunch on two different occasions to a group of 30 women – a plate of pasta with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese, yum!
For each meal the women were instructed to stop eating at a comfortable level of fullness. One meal was to be eaten quickly and the other slowly by putting their utensils down between bites.
When the researchers looked at the amount of calories consumed for each meal they found:
That might not seem like a big difference but assuming you did that for 3 meals per day, it would equal 73,365 less calories per year - that's roughly 21 lbs worth of calories!
Now that you’re slowing down and giving your brain an opportunity to assess your actual hunger levels it’s time to do a little portion control. Many of us, myself included, grew up with this idea that we should clean our plate and eat until we felt full. Instead, focus on eating until you’re about 80-90% full. You’ll stay satisfied until it’s time for your next meal and you’ll cut out a few unnecessary calories.
No matter your fitness goals you need to eat more protein. Although the amount you need will vary depending on your activity levels and goals, a range of 0.65-1g of protein per pound of body weight is a great starting point. For example: I weigh 180lbs and do strength training 4 days per week. This means I aim for approximately 180 grams of protein per day.What makes protein so great? I could write an entire article on that subject, but here are just a few reasons:
Everywhere you look there is a focus on steps, calories burned, and cardio-based exercise. Many people are under the belief that cardio is the best way to burn fat.
I lost 80 lbs and barely stepped foot onto a cardio machine or did any running. I had a client who lost over 50lbs and cut his body fat percentage in half without a single day of cardio.
I’m not saying you should avoid cardio – I personally enjoy jumping in the pool for a few laps, hitting the heavy bag, or working the battle ropes. What I am saying is strength training at least 3 hours per week will help:
According to Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD here are 5 reasons we should drink more water.
In order to get all the benefits of water and stay hydrated, aim to drink at least ½ your body weight in ounces of water. For a 180 lb person that would be 90 oz of water per day.
Now that you know the Core 5 habits and why each is so important, let’s talk about how to best implement them. As we discussed earlier, more is not better and even with healthy habits it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.Because the habits are meant to build upon each other I suggest keeping them in the order I gave them to you. Practice each habit for a week or two, until you feel you have a pretty good grasp on it. It’s not important that you have the habit mastered before moving on, only that you are able to do it more often than not and it’s becoming a part of your normal routine.
The goal isn’t to just do one thing at a time, it’s to only focus on the consistency of 1 behavior at a time. For example, you’re not going to wait until week 3 to start eating more protein or week 5 to add strength training. Instead, in week 1 you should aim to get in some strength training, drink more water, and add protein to each meal. However, the habit you’re concerned with is taking 20 minutes to eat your meals. If you accomplish that, you succeeded, even if you didn’t make it to the gym that week. Once you finish a habit it doesn’t just drop off and go away. You will continue to make that habit a part of your daily activity but for tracking purposes you will track your consistency with your new habit.
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I know exactly what it feels like to be overweight, stressed-out, and frustrated. It took me years to figure out the right formula to finally lose 80 lbs and keep it off but you don't have to go through that.
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My passion for fitness started with my own 80 lb weight loss journey. I love showing people that fitness and nutrition don't need to be complicated or restrictive. A good coach should be able to meet you where you are and help you get to where you want to be. I am certified as a fitness trainer through the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). Additionally, I hold certifications in exercise nutrition through Precision Nutrition and online fitness training through the Online Trainer Academy. When not serving my clients I am an expert media contributor for companies such as Men's Fitness, Men's Journal, Exercise.com, and many others.