Think back to a time in your life when money was a little tight…
Chances are you were forced to get uber creative with your budget.
Maybe you wanted to figure out how to pay your rent and still get a manicure twice a month because you work with your hands?
Maybe you didn’t want to stop driving your car, but had to figure out how to afford increasing gas prices while continuing to save for vacation?
Either way, you figured out how to afford the things you wanted, without altering your lifestyle too much.
Creative strategies like those aforementioned can be directly applied to your fat loss journey. You see, anyone who decides to lose weight must make dietary changes that ultimately affect their lifestyle. And, I argue if the dieter makes strategic, sustainable changes (which help them find an enjoyable lifestyle midst dieting), hard habits are created and the weight lost will stay off, due to the new way of life.
I’m writing this piece today because I realize that there are parts of my lifestyle which are normal to me, but maybe not so normal sounding to others.
These “lean habits” have helped me stay fit since high school. The choices that keep me lean are habitual for me, but choosing greens instead of toast didn’t happen over night.
For instance, I used to frequent O’Charley’s restaurants in Indianapolis , Texas Roadhouse restaurants etc. and eat two or three dinner rolls without thinking twice, washing them down with Dr. Peppers or Mountain Dews.
Getting dessert after dinner always sounded like a great idea and therefore exercising everyday was mandatory for me. I constantly tried to out run a bad diet.
As I learned more and more about nutrition, (via my high school job at Lifetime Fitness’s Life Cafe), I started to realize just how bad some of my nutrition decisions were and I began to combat them with even more exercise. That strategy grew exhausting after a year or so.
After years of trial and error with certain tactics, I’ve found some things that *always* work for me. They may not work for you, but perhaps they will open your eyes to some other changes you could potentially make, in order to slowly but surely decrease your waistline and maintain your progress.
- Keep it simple.
This is a very broad concept, but I’ll try and demonstrate how it applies to my habits.
First, I try to eliminate extra sauces, seasonings, and ingredients as often as possible. I also keep my meals simple, often times choosing only two *main* macros per meal.
For instance, an apple with a scoop of protein powder in a shaker cup maybe be a snack for me, (protein+carb). Or, I do eggs with avocado and salsa. (Fat+ protein). Or sushi with rice (protein + rice +minimal fat).
Keeping it simple makes tracking easier. Fewer things to tabulate or track. I can pretty much wrap my brain around how much I’m eating without even tracking with an app, when I simplify my meals.
Second, I use fewer ingredients when I cook, saving lavish recipes only for special occasions.
The more complex a recipe is, the more ingredients (calories) I’ll be adding. And, the longer it takes to cook, the more likely it is that I’ll find myself snacking while I cook.
Finally, the more decadent or complex the recipe, the more I eat, compared to if I simply had cereal with turkey bacon and greek yogurt for dinner. Not to mention, the left overs will induce me to eat more of a meal I wouldn’t normally eat days following the lavish meal.
You don’t need to try and fit *all* the micronutrients and macronutrients into every meal, nor every day. Try looking at what nutrients you get throughout the week instead.
In example, on Mondays I have time to “cook” (aka I sauté mushrooms and cod) and I make blended protein shakes with spinach. It’s a vitamin packed day for me.
I also eat a whole egg at least two times a week, not necessarily everyday, but at least I know I am getting the good fats from an egg on a weekly basis. As for more exciting vegetables or veggies that are more difficult to prepare (like fiddleheads, spaghetti squashes, dressed up brussels sprouts etc.), I look for those at nice restaurants on special occasions.
2. The “every other week” rule.
As a woman who lifts three to four times a week, I’ve found that I can have a refeed day about every 10 days. For my own personal example, a “refeed” day means I eat more than my maintenance calories. Because I am on my feet often and I have a lot of muscle mass, when I keep my calories at maitenance level, I stay fairly lean. Without taking refeed days I lose weight pretty quickly.
The beauty of the refeed day is that I can eat pretty much whatever I want (or have a few cocktails) every 10-ish days and not worry about gaining weight. Instead of counting every 10 days I simplify the rule and allow myself to indulge every other week.
For example, two weeks ago was Memorial Day Weekend. On one night I indulged in bread at Barcelona and had part of a cocktail. I ate menu items I couldn’t really track what I was eating. I simply listened to my hunger cues and made sure I enjoyed every bite, fully aware this was my refeed day.
Two weeks ago I was home in Indiana and I didn’t have any alcohol or indulge in anything. I ate what I was hungry for, made sure I didn’t stuff myself and kept tabs on what I ate, generally speaking. I planned to have pizza last weekend but my little stint in the hospital kept me from indulging. Nevertheless, if you follow my CROF weekly update you know that about a month ago, I ate pizza, sweet potato fries and had cocktails in ONE sitting at Met Bar. Life is about balance. Refeed days help you keep your sanity.
3. Keep drinking to a minimum.
This piggy-backs off of my last point– I do not drink a lot. There were two weeks in May when I drank two weekends in a row–one of those weekends I drank three days in a row. I was sick to my core! When you don’t drink often, it really throws you off.
The benefit of not drinking every weekend (except for my BENDER in May), is that you keep a low tolerance, so when you do drink, it doesn’t take much alcohol (or calories) to get a good buzz.
Also, you are able to stay consistent with your training because you don’t habitually deal with hangovers on Saturdays and/or Sundays. You stay hydrated, fueled and in good shape.
In all honestly, I either have one cocktail a week, or have a few cocktails every other week–it really depends on my social schedule. But let me tell you, it IS possible to be social and not drink. I order drinks and leave them half full all the time.
I’m not trying to be a downer, but if you are going to try and stay lean drinking (generally speaking) must be kept to a minimum. If you want to drink it takes good strategy. For instance, to allow for a glass of wine in your day, you have to cut out other things (which I’d rather have the extra carbs from food) from you day.
4. Owning my rest days.
In order to truly lift heavy when I train, I have to be recovered from the previous lift. You cannot lift heavy every day. This means I do not workout every day.
It’s very easy when you first get started with fat loss to be highly motivated to diet AND crush 5 to 7 workouts in a week.
But let me caution you– the more you workout the harder it can be to stay lean. The less you do, the easier it is to eat less, and abs are made by eating less… not by doing more.
In most cases, and scientifically speaking, doing more increases appetite; maybe not in one week, but over time your appetite will increase from increased activity. It’s science. Therefore, I make my rest days my day to really crush it in the kitchen.
To “crush” my rest days I do the following:
- keep protein on the higher end 40-45%
- sometimes increase my carbs for energy to get through the lower calorie day
- OR forgo macros and only worry about calories: if I’m craving something carb-y or fatty I’ll eat it– just making sure my calories stay in check! #icecreamfordinner!
5. Prioritizing protein…. or not!
Keeping protein high is crucial for fat loss.
First, high protein levels correlate with higher satiety… basically more protein keeps you feeling more full. When you feel full all day, it makes strategically eating *slightly* less than you need (to lose fat) really easy!
You don’t want to eat anymore!
Adding to that, protein directly fuels your muscles so that while you create a caloric deficit you spare the muscles, in hopes to not lose muscle while you lose fat. (Side note: fat and muscle will both be lose during a caloric deficit and the rate at which you lose both is largely determined by your genetics and muscle mass).
However, if we can help encourage muscle to grow and/or stay on the body, we will, by eating more protein. But here’s the thing, creating a caloric deficit over time gets tough. You start to crave things. You start to get sick of some of your go to meals…
So, while it is important to prioritize protein, every now and then it’s better to GO WITH YOUR GUT and eat what you’re craving– even if it’s macaroni and cheese– as long as your calories stay in check, than to eat a huge serving of chicken only to then go on to eat Macroni and cheese later because you’re still craving it and ending up eating a surplus of calories.
I often tell my clients, if it’s a matter of filling a craving and eating a 300 calorie brownie on your low cal day…. I’d rather you eat the 300 calorie brownie and say under or at your allotted calories for the day, than eat greek yogurt and chicken because you need more protein, only to later binge out on a 300 calorie brownie and feel guilty about it.
I once lost 6 pounds in six weeks in France, eating bread, wine, cheese and peanut butter. I might have looked a little bit skinny fat, because I wasn’t lifting, but I still lost the weight with majority of my calories coming from carbs and fat.
6. Understanding hunger
I’m hungry all the time. But, figuring out what my hungry feelings mean has taken time.
When I wake up really early, I always feel hungry because I’m actually so tired, my body is like, “Damn it, Garrett, if you’re not going to give me rest, you better feed me because I have no energy!”
So, if I’m getting up to teach, workout and coach more hours, I’ll eat at 3:30 a.m. because I know I need the fuel. However, if I’m headed to an airport at 3:30 a.m. and feel hungry I’ll drink water instead and wait until I land in the next city to eat my first meal.
If it’s 2 p.m. and I feel ravenous, I drink some Sprite Zero or seltzer water and take a nap…because more often than not I’m tired, not hungry.
Getting a handle on how many calories you’re eating each day will help you understand if you should eat that extra snack or not. If you’re close to eating what you need for the day, an additional snack might not be in your best interest (a time when calorie counting can really help).
Another question I ask myself when I’m hungry is, “Am I actually thirsty?”
Many times I feel hungry, I’m actually just thirsty! As soon as I drink a big glass of water I feel better. Then I wait ten minutes and see if I still feel hungry. One of the best ways to avoid this trap is to constantly drink water throughout the day.
The third question ask myself is, “do I want to eat because I’m hungry, or because it’s habit?”
For instance, I often eat right when I come home from running errands.
When I began working from home and I’d step out to run an errand for 45 minutes, sometimes I’d come home and want to snack, more out of habit than hunger.
Also, when it’s noon and I see restaurants filling up on Newbury St. etc, I all of the sudden want to eat, because I see other people eating. If you’re like me and you have to eat meals at untraditional meal times, it’s important to remember that you already ate, when you see other people eating at the more typical times.
If you find yourself giving in at more traditional times, perhaps it’s a sign that you need to change your meal times.
Finally, if I’m feeling more hungry than normal, I double check my calendar because my hunger correlates with my hormonal cycle like clockwork.
For ladies, knowing your cycle well is to know your hunger well.
The first week of my cycle is meant for fat loss strides. I can workout more and eat less. I’m like machine. I’m rarely hungry. The second week is my status quo, the third week I am ravenously hungry and the fourth week I am hungry, more tired, moody and feel weak in the gym. I have to do things to boost my mood so that I do not want to emotionally eat.
7. Walking after dinner
This is a great stagey. It helps me digest better. I makes me feel better before bed. I don’t always get to walk but summers are great for this because it stays light outside later in the evening.
I’m not talking about power walking for cardio, either. It’s anything but cardio. I put on some good music and take a relaxing walk just to move and get out for a little bit.
8. Measuring things
This habit came from my #bikiniprep. It’s one of my more recent lean habits. If you didn’t read “5 Fat Loss Takeaways from Bikini Prep,” check it out.
I used to just wing it when it came to peanut butter, jelly, protein powder chicken etc. and I probably ate double servings of everything.
Measuring things for 16 weeks made it become a habit which I’m very thankful for. No more eating 500 calories of peanut butter on accident!
9. “Am I in my own kitchen?”
This is something I try an ask myself when I travel for work.
It’s easy to be convinced to eat things you wouldn’t typically reach for when you’re in a group setting or at a restaurant. Unless it’s a celebratory dinner or I’m on vacation, I imagine myself in my own kitchen, to visualize what I’d be eating if I was home.
Chances are it wouldn’t be creme brûlée or wine…
This trick helps me make good choices 9 out of 10 times.
10. Go with your gut
When you are constantly counting calories you can fall into a trap of eating just because you have calories left OR feeling anxiety when you think about eating something other than your perfectly portioned chicken/broccoli etc.
In order for me to practice flexibility and freedom with my diet and to keep a sustainably lean lifestyle I try and leave dinner unplanned!
Yes, leave dinner unplanned, when you can.
What happens when you leave dinner unplanned, is that you can go with your gut! If you want to have chicken, you make chicken. If you feel like Arctic Zero and protein powder, you can have that!
This strategy helped me stop eating things I didn’t truly want to eat. For a few months right out of college I started hating certain foods due to repetition. I knew something needed to change when I realized I was getting anxious about actually having something else for dinner, even though my standard ground turkey dinner didn’t sound appetizing.
Dinner should always be enjoyed.
And even better, if you aren’t feeling hungry don’t force feed yourself! If you’re a calorie counter and you know you were 300 calories under your plan for the day, no worries! You can add those on to your Friday night dinner, chances are you will be hungry by then… your body is a brilliant machine and it will notice the lack of calories sooner than later.
Hopefully some of these lean habits have given you a new frame of reference for sustainable fat loss strategies. Losing weight for good is a matter of forming hard habits that make life comfortable, not an uncomfortable chase of out running a bad diet, or eating plain, boring foods.
But you can’t have your cake and eat it too; to effectively lose fat, you have to make some slight compromises.
These changes are subtle and if you can apply just a few of them, perhaps in six months you’ll be down a pant size without feeling like you even dieted. The secret, if there is one, is TIME… consistent effort over time.
If you have any questions about these habits, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Also, if you want to pre-register for my next group nutrition program beginning August 1st, shoot me an email and you will be considered for the program at the discounted, early-bird rate!