This post, 6 fat loss habits, could change your life.
I honestly believe that. Because everything discussed here, in just a few minutes of reading, has changed people lives. We’ve seen it over and over again. All you need to do, is read on, and apply the concepts. How would you feel if you were able to get healthier, fitter, and leaner, by following 6 simple habits.
Of course, it’s context dependent. Individuals will need different approaches. And long term, monitoring and adapting this will be crucial.
But for improving health and fitness (for most people generally- this is not to diagnose or treat anything), these healthy habits have proved to be a great starting point.
The information should be taught in schools. We should just know this. Speak to any health and fitness professional, and if they have at least a basic understanding of nutrition, they will probably agree with everything in this article. Now, with that in mind, let’s get to it.
Why do we need the 6 fat loss habits?
Over the years, we’ve used a lot of different approaches with people looking to improve their nutrition, and alongside an exercise plan, improve health and body composition. I can honestly say that for most people, the approach discussed here is HANDS DOWN the best. It’s simple, crazy effective, and sets you up to keep making progress after the initial changes. You can stick with the 6 habits and get results, or you can add to this to really optimise performance and body composition by adding a few extra habits into the mix.
But don’t worry about that just yet. Your next 2-4 weeks can focus simply on the 6 habits.
So, why do we feel this is better than other approaches?
You could follow a rigid diet plan, and see great results. There are hundreds out there. But the fact is, these often aren’t sustainable. That’s not a problem with you. You’re not expected to live life being hungry, and adding excessive exercise, but that’s what these diets tell you. Until you’ve had enough. It kind of worked, you lost weight, but you had no idea how to keep making progress AFTER the diet, hence putting it back on.
Hence, YoYo dieter. And limited progress long term (if you’re lucky, we tend to see most people with this approach get gradually WORSE).
Well, what about tracking calories and macros?
This can be great. Having a basic understanding of your energy requirements is crucial long term (although technically, this doesn’t mean you need to track long term). And even within the habits, you’ll see protein as something we want to get enough of, and SOME form of tracking as essential.
So, it’s about calories and macros?
Not so fast sugar, it’s about more than that. We’re not just looking to limit the calories you consume. We want plenty of fibre. Plenty of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc). We want you feeling good! And a numbers focused approach of food simply can’t ensure this on its own.
So, we needed a better solution, and a solid starting point for good nutrition plans. And the 6 fat loss habits are just that.
Fat loss Habit #1: Eat More Veggies
For most people, most diets starts by TAKING FOOD AWAY. From an energy perspective, this may make sense, so it’s considered within the habits. However, after working with REAL people looking to achieve fat loss success for more than a decade, here’s what I’ve seen.
When people cut down calories, they end up eating very little actual food. They’re hungry all the time, and now in addition to deficiencies in the QUALITY of the diet, they add an energy deficit into the mix.
So, let’s approach this a little differently. Job 1 is to eat more high nutrient dense, low calorie veggies. A lot of colours are great, but absolutely add more greens (If you’re not already getting at least your 5 a day).
Once this becomes a habit, you can be confident that your “diet” has a wide range of foods you can choose from, and isn’t a million miles away from your “normal eating routine”. Plus, you’ll be less hungry, and have a far higher quality of nutrients in your diet.
For most people, replacing some of your high calorie, low nutrient foods (such as chips, bread, pasta, etc) for veggies, means you feel just as full with less calories per meal! You’ll probably also get a much better control of appetite and energy levels.
Less hunger, more nutrients, better appetite control and less calories?! Not a bad start by anyone’s standards!
Fat loss Habit #2: Drink More Water
Most of us spend our life a little bit dehydrated. We drink huge amounts of coffee to keep us going, and far too many people include sports drinks for events that are a little less than athletic (such as typing emails), or tend to drink very little. The thing is though, fluid balance in our body is important, at every level.
How much to drink isn’t a fixed answer for everyone, but if you are a little dehydrated all the time (like most) then here’s some effects of that:
- Reduced energy production
- Poor nutrient transport
- Digestive distress
- Impacts on blood glucose control
- Impact HR and blood pressure
- Poor appetite control
- Reduced focus
- Reduced physical performance
Now, very mild dehydration will only produce very mild effects, and more severe dehydration will increase these effects.
Now, here’s some of the common complaints people have on a fat loss plan. I have no energy. I’m hungry all the time. I feel agitated. I’m less focused. And more.
If we can minimise the effect of dehydration on these complaints- which we can, very easily, then it’s an obvious place to start. Again, you’ll have more energy, feel more focused, improve overall performance, control appetite (and therefore find sticking to the diet easier) and more! Again, EASY WIN!
SIDE NOTE: Hydration is pretty tightly regulated in the body, and is impacted by not only fluid intake, but also electrolyte balance. Be aware of this, as too much water can also be an issue. We generally suggest somewhere around 2.5-5L per day of fluid for most people in a moderate environment, based on activity levels and body size.
Fat loss Habit #3: Eat More Protein
Most people should eat more protein to improve body composition. This isn’t for bodybuilders. Everyone looking to effectively lose fat and improve body composition, health and performance should consider this. If you have pre existing medical conditions, again, like everything else here- speak to your GP/ dietitian.
If you can build a diet around regular servings of protein (lean meat, fish, low fat cheese, tofu and other vegetarian and vegan protein options, even protein supplements, etc) with vegetables and healthy fats, that will be a great starting point. This will help you to recover from exercise effectively, and maintain more lean mass during your diet. In addition, this will lead to a higher calorie output due to not only the lean mass, but also the higher thermic effect of protein foods.
And a final bonus. Protein is more satiating, so a focus on protein and veggies with enough good fats will be a great starting point for most diets. Less hunger, better performance, and better maintenance of metabolic rate. Winner winner.
Fat loss Habit #4: Cut Down on Junk Food
Here at habit 4, we start to look at the dreaded part of diets: restricting some foods! Here’s the thing. You ABSOLUTELY CAN include eat any food you want and be in great shape, and healthy. Once again, You ABSOLUTELY CAN include eat any food you want and be in great shape, and healthy. Twice so it sticks.
However, junk food- take-aways, chocolate, crisps, chips, cheeseburgers, etc, will all be something to include occasionally at most during a fat loss plan. Not only do they generally contain a LOT of calories (often very high amounts of “bad fats” and sugar), and low nutrient density, but they also tend to leave you feeling no-more satiated than the other, far lower calorie, nutrient dense options. In fact, you’ll probably find that for several reasons, your calorie intake and appetite is FAR HIGHER not just from this one meal, but also the meals around it, which will slow, halt or even reverse your fat loss.
These foods are easy, and your brain will tell you to grab them if you let yourself get too hungry or stressed, so good planning of healthy snacks and meals is crucial here.
Fat loss Habit #5: Cut Down on Alcohol
Alcohol is actually a big issue when it comes to successful dieting. If you feel like you need support with this for more than general fat loss habits, again, it’s beyond out scope.
But for a lot of people we work with, these relatively “normal” drinking habits can have a huge impact on your diet. So, if you’re 1-2 small beers at a weekend often becomes 5-6 (or more), then this information is important.
Here’s what I hear a lot from those looking to diet and include alcohol. “What if I do more exercise, or fit it into my calories?”.
Let’s address those two questions.
Firstly, adding additional intense exercise to make up for drinking alcohol is a bad idea. Alcohol will reduce recovery, so even if you do the extra calories first, you’re body isn’t getting a normal recovery from the session. If you try to “sweat it out” the day after, that’s actually pretty dangerous due to effects of alcohol on dehydration, heart rate and more.
However, for A FEW beers, on occasion, adding some additional low intensity exercise to account the calories may not be a bad approach. Again though, this is a low amount of alcohol. If you feel hung over, make sure you’re not putting additional stress on your body.
So, can you just manipulate calories to account for it?
From a direct perspective, it kind of makes sense. Keep protein high, and reduce carbs or fats to account for a small calorie increase through alcohol.
BUT ALCOHOL isn’t just about the calories.
To be clear, low to moderate drinking is generally not too detrimental to fat loss, and can be included in healthy living. However, heavy drinking shouldn’t really feature in fat loss plans. Here’s some of the effects, even if you can “account for the calories”:
- Effects on heart rate
- Effects on blood glucose regulation
- Increased appetite
- Reduced recovery
- Poor sleep
- Nutrient usage (we burn more sugars and alcohol, less fats)
- Lethargy/ sickness
- And lots more
On balance, these effects make fat loss much harder to achieve, so low alcohol intake is pretty vital during a fat loss plan- particularly when we look at the impact over several days at a time.
Fat loss habit #6: Track Your Nutrition
The final of the fat loss habits we ask you to focus on early on is tracking your nutrition. Do you need to track calories to be in an energy deficit? Absolutely not.
But here’s the thing. We want you to know what’s working. Tracking in the early stages could be a simple written log or photos, just to get a feel for the overall diet.
You could use a calorie tracking software, and go all in, weighing food and working out what’s in it. That’s a great approach, and this knowledge will help you to make informed choices long term. But this is absolutely not essential from day 1.
We want a log, so you can see that you’re managing the first 5 habits. Tracking, either via software, pen and paper or photos, will give you an honest overview of how you’re doing with the habits.
Don’t get hung up on “targets” here though!
From day 1, focus on tracking for the purpose of habits. If the nutrient information (calories, macros, etc) is there, great, but we can look at the EFFECTS of this on bodyweight after a few weeks. You may have a ballpark figure, but don’t try to hit targets gram for gram. If anything, be somewhere near your protein target, and somewhere near your estimated calorie target. This, alongside sticking to the 5 habits, will be more than enough.
But as mentioned, don’t panic about this in the early stages. The purpose of tracking is to identify what’s working, and where you need the most support, so simply find what works for you. Be honest and consistent, and then you can identify the biggest things that may need to change if and when either fat loss slows down, or any other issues arise.
And that’s it.
And that’s it. Our 6 fat loss habits. Sounds too simple to work? Try it.
This is the foundations. Most people get great initial results, and find this a highly sustainable approach. It may be something you stick with long term, without the need to add anything else!
This isn’t no fat, or no carb. We’ve not even really mentioned that, but it’s considered. Simply put, you’ll reduce excessive carb/ unhealthy fats intakes for added protein and veg, and include healthy fats in your diet with your main meals (this is one benefit of having a calorie ballpark target, so you don’t cut too much out).
The thing is, if we look long term, we can add more to these fat loss habits- more food options, more flexibility and more complexity if required. But these 6 habits are the basics.
They work now, they worked in the past, and they will work in the future. Get these looked after, and go from there.
These 6 fat loss habits are the perfect starting point for a healthier, fitter and leaner you!
Josh Kennedy MSc, ASCC, CSCS