The journey of better health is often interrupted by… well.. life.
While conventional and pop diet culture wisdom tells us we just need a little old fashioned self-discipline and (insert latest diet fad) to slim down, there are easier, more effective and more long-term-friendly ways to get this done.
One of the most effective umbrella strategies of better health and fat loss is shaping your environment: setting your life up in such a way that nudges you in a particular direction.
In short, we want to automate as much of our daily lives as possible.
It is estimated that we spend about 275 hours a year deciding 3 things:
What to eat
What to wear
What to watch
11 days worth of our year. Let that sink in…
By setting up a few systems and strategies, you are much more likely to follow through on virtuous behaviors – breaking down the disruptors that can pull you off track. By taking a lot of the “think” work out of our daily lives, it frees up our brain’s “RAM” to focus on the tasks that matter.
Locking yourself into some helpful, healthful habits will greatly bolster your chances at long term success. The end game is to nudge you, free up time and free up cognitive energy.
The following “set it and forget it” tips for fat loss can help groove patterns and lessen our reliability on sheer willpower and help groove our brains wiring to form lasting habits.
1. Automate a grocery store delivery
Many grocery stores both deliver and gather your goods for easy pickup. Putting this on weekly or twice-weekly automation will save you a lot of time and mental energy. Decide on a couple of recipes, add some healthy staples and you’re off to the races! Just ensure you are only putting healthy stuff into the orders. This can save a good hour each week – time you can dedicate to actual preparation of meals/snack, workouts or other productive activities.
I prefer dividing grocery purchases into “Staples/recipe stuff” and “Healthy Convenience” categories, but you do you when it comes to how you prefer to organize your list.
Now, at the risk of being “no-fun-Mike-the-good-times-ruiner”, I do strongly recommend leaving empty calorie foods OFF your grocery list… and then out of your cart once you’re in the store – even when the snacks beckon.
“I know I’m not on your list, but I’m super tasty… SHUT UP, DILL PICKLE FLAVORED RUFFLES”.
If a day or 2 later you are truly craving something off-plan, walk to the store and get the smallest possible serving of that thing.
Below is a sample list of healthy staples you can use as a template.
2. Use a meal delivery service:
There will be days when you know you will be too tired to cook: Luckily, bigger cities now abound with healthy meal delivery services. These are easy-to-put-together meals that typically arrive at your door. You can customize orders for desired days per week to fit your needs/budget. A client of mine, Birgit says this of the benefits of meal delivery:
“My reasons (for choosing meal delivery) are threefold:
2. Control over the process = cutting out temptation to shop for grocery items that will not be conducive to progress, and
3. Comfort! Life has been so busy, and I am determined to stay on track. So my groceries will be delivered to the office, I take home my box for the week and (if all goes as advertised) will have 3 meals prepared and served up in no time..
And the benefits aren’t just anecdotal, either. A study found that 59% of participants who took part in an online meal planning and grocery delivery and meal kits lost weight over a 10 month period. A further 33% achieved at least a 5% weight loss after 2 year.
I find this best to use on days where you anticipate being busy and/or tired. Friday deliveries can be an excellent strategy as this might traditionally be the “pizza night” or another end-of-a-long-and-stressful week impulse take out decision.
Another tip for fat loss: You certainly could opt for a mainstream meal delivery service like Uber Eats, but ensure you have healthy options on lock. Give yourself 3-4 healthy restaurant options with sauces/dressings on the side, high protein, veggies and whole grains.
3. Leverage Technology:
The key is to leverage technology to work for you instead of against you.
Alerts, push notifications and other prompts can make for helpful prompting agents to remind you when it’s time to hit the weights, meditate or start your slow cooker: Pop your workouts/prep times in your daily calendar and consider a chime to nudge you when it’s time to get the task done. Having an alert to remind you it’s “you” time can help ingrain the habit.
Apple Reminders for IOS users or Pi Reminder for Android users are decent options. You can simply input tasks in your calendar and set it to chime at the selected time as well.
In addition to activity prompts, consider productivity or app blockers that restrict “mindless” scrolling. Productivity and other restriction apps can help free your time by limiting your time on social media and other distracting apps and sites.
Some options are:
It’s worth mentioning to be mindful not to overkill these types of apps. You will inevitably get annoyed and/or tune them out if they are “dinging” every few minutes and judging you for only having 5oz of water so far today. My advice: pick 1 or 2 things you want to be nudged towards. Could be a 7:15am meal prep reminder.. Or a 12:30 noon squat/push-up sesh at home.
And don’t forget that wearables are still valuable reminder tools. I have a pretty basic model fitbit and it has been a nifty little whispering voice – reminding me of how many steps I’ve taken, how many minutes I’ve had my heart rate up and how many hours I’ve gotten at least 250 steps. Research backs this up, as those who wear trackers get an average of 1850 more steps per day than those who don’t.
You can get fancy and get a wearable that measures sleep quality, heart rate variability and other such fancy features, but a baseline step tracker might be all you need as an awareness tool.
4. Join a class or sports league:
With Covid-19 restrictions mostly being lifted (as of this writing), it may be a good time to get connected or re-connected with a sport or a class. Pick a class or recreational sport that runs 1-3 times per week. Check in with local gyms, outdoor workout providers and local sports leagues.
Several years ago when my cardio reached abysmal levels, I joined a Muay Thai/MMA gym. It was great as I knew that at least 3 times a week I was going to get all the cardio I could handle (usually more than I could handle).
If you’re still not comfortable with the idea of being indoors and or amongst the masses, there are many online classes available. Try committing yourself into 1-2 active sessions per week at times you are routinely available. It may not be enough to just youtube some classes. Dial into a reputable group fitness class that runs on specific days and times and commit to those.
5. Hire a Coach or Personal Trainer
Having a coach can do wonders in helping you with your nutrition, fitness and various health related goals. A coach can help you take the guesswork out of your journey and the added accountability and support can help you break through some of your obstacles. There are plenty of group as well as individual options out there – depending on your individual needs and budget.
You may also opt to commit to personal training sessions. Even a once a week session can help give you some traction for the other days of the week. A trainer can also provide some accountability with your nutrition and your supplemental workouts.
When hiring either a coach or a trainer, ensure you have a consultation first to ensure it is the right fit. Be sure they have experience in working with others who have similar goals, needs and circumstances. Other aspects to consider;
Budget: Personal Trainers run anywhere from $50-250+ an hour. Online coaching varies greatly depending on the coach and what is offered.
Qualifications: Personal Trainers and coaches should have some form of education and/or certification plus some experience with their craft. There are plenty of certifying agencies – some of the larger ones being NSCA, ACE, ACSM, NASM and ISSA.
Personality: This is more important than one might think. Work with someone you get along with – particularly if you are seeing them in person. It doesn’t mean they have to be “friend” material, but you do need to feel comfortable communicating with your trainer or coach. Look for someone genuine, empathic and honest.
Take Home Message
We live in a turbulent and unpredictable world. To quote professor Edward T. O’Donnell:
“There is no new normal: Uncertainty is chronic, instability is permanent, disruption is common.”
The best way to thrive in a busy and unpredictable world is to create predictability. Automating as much as you possibly can will give you structure, create habits and give you a solid anchor from which to operate.
Even if all 5 strategies aren’t feasible, try implementing 1-2 of them. Even a little automation can help nudge you in the right direction.
– Mike Howard
PS. You can reach Mike personally here: https://leanminded.com/contact/
PPS. Announcing… If you’re looking for more comprehensive help with fat loss, and if you’re looking for a mindset-focused program for getting leaner (not a restricted diet), The new Lean Minded Fat Loss Course by Mike Howard has just opened for enrollment again for a limited time. Remember to use the discount coupon code “Burnthefat” Click here to learn more.
About Mike Howard
With over 20 years of in-the-trenches experience as a personal trainer, online coach, youth fitness specialist, author and presenter, Mike has orchestrated meaningful, individualized solutions to thousands of clients both in Vancouver and around the world.
Mike has gained national and international attention for his philosophies on body composition, youth fitness and matters relating to fitness and nutrition education. He has appeared on TV (CBC and Shaw TV), print (Vancouver Sun, IMPACT Magazine) and has penned over 400 online articles. He has also been the guest on numerous podcasts. Mike has authored 2 books: “Lean Minded: 50 Days to Mind and Body Transformation” and the e-book “Talking Back to Diet Gurus: An Un-revolutionary and Un-Sexy Guide to Fat Loss” and he is the creator of “The Lean Minded Fat Loss Course.” Click Here To Learn More (discount with coupon code “burnthefat”)