Habits are the backbone of our daily lives.
Both the good and bad qualities we have are tied back to our daily habits.
Smoking, exercising, food choices....habits, habits, habits.
One of my favorite quotes on habits comes from Jim Ryun (American Track and Field athlete) who said:
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
It's easy to stick to a new exercise and diet regimen in the beginning. Your motivation is strong enough to fight through any discomfort you may experience.
The real challenge comes in continuing your healthy exercise and diet protocols once your motivation starts to lessen or even work against you.
This is where habits come in.
By forming healthy habits, you make the journey towards losing weight far easier than relying on motivation alone.
While there are hundreds of healthy habits, to save you some time–and my sanity–I've settled on 28 of the most impactful ones I know of for creating a healthy life and a successful weight loss journey.
What makes these habits unique is that they are keystone habits.
Keystone habits differ from regular habits in that they have cascading benefits throughout your life. That is, one keystone habit leads to more beneficial habits in life.
Here are 28 habits to help improve your health and consequently improve your weight loss success!
1. Go to Bed on Time - sleep is incredibly important for improving performance, mood, and overall health. Bedtimes shouldn't be reserved only for the kids–set your own bedtime to ensure you get a quality 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
2. Do Mobility or Stretching Every Morning - Stretching, foam rolling, therapeutic massage and core workouts can all help to improve your flexibility and posture. If you want to avoid unnecessary back pain and tightness, do some form of stretching or mobility each day.
3. Eat Breakfast, or Don't- Some people wake up feeling ravenous while others wake up already feeling energetic and ready to go. If you feel like eating, eat. If you don't feel hungry, don't eat. The rule I follow is to only eat when my body is hungry.
4. Read for 10-20 Minutes - Whether it's about health, self-development, or a particular area of interest, read something (other than the news) for 10-20 minutes every morning.
5. Meditate for 5 minutes - Mindful meditation has been proven to improve focus and creativity as well as reduce stress. All you need is 5-20 solid minutes of meditation a day to receive benefits. Here is a great app to help you get started.
6. Write Down Your "Do or Die" Goal for the Day - physically writing down your goals creates a stronger neurological connection with them. Write your goals down and keep them with you throughout the day.
If one of your goals is to lean down, this could be what helps you from overeating or reaching for a snack out of boredom.
7. Plan Your Meals - I believe in diet flexibility, but I've also found that there can be benefits in having a plan for your daily meals.
I recommend finding a meal frequency and timing that fits best into your life and reduces stress. Whether you eat 2 or 10 meals should be up to you and your preferences.
8. Listen to a Podcast/Audiobook in Transit - Whether you are commuting to work, going for a walk, or just passing some time, listening to an educational podcast or audiobook can help motivate you and accelerate your learning.
9. If You Don't Want to Do It, Do It - We all have things that we hate doing. Identify the one or two things you dread most and work on them first thing in the day.
How does this help with losing weight? Getting the most stressful and annoying things out of the way early can ensure your willpower doesn't run out (which could lead to overeating or binging).
10. Drink to Thirst - I have a semi-unique position on drinking liquids. While it is important for health, I've found that overhydrating can lead to bloating and tiredness. Aim to get at least 8 cups of water a day and only drink when you feel thirsty.
11. Hungry? Have a Glass of Water - To go along with the above habit, try to drink a glass of water anytime you feel hunger (especially when you know you probably shouldn't be).
We often mistake thirst for hunger and eat when a glass of water was what we really needed.
12. Get Some Sunlight - Sunlight accounts for around 90% of our Vitamin D needs each day. Being deficient in this nutrient can lead to depression, increased risk of cancer, and general lethargy. Try to get 10-15 minutes of sun exposure each day.
13. Eat Fruits and Vegetables - Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables helps ensure we are getting the vitamins and minerals needed to perform optimally and avoid unnecessary bodily stress. Try to include them at every meal.
14. Weight Yourself Each Morning - A scale is a great tool for tracking progress, however, it's not the end all be all. Instead of looking at daily weigh-ins, take a rolling total every 7-10 days and track progress weekly. This will provide a more realistic look at your fat loss progress.
15. Exercise - While exercise isn't as important for weight loss as many may think, it still has its benefits. Daily exercise is linked to improved physical, mental, and emotional health. Aim to get at least 60 minutes each day.
16. Use Resistance Training - In my opinion, resistance training–from either lifting weights or body weight training–is the best form of exercise for a dieter.
You'll retain more muscle, which in term will result in more fat loss and help avoid the "skinny-fat" look that results from dieting and cardio alone.
17. Push Yourself - Whether it's in the gym or with your diet, push yourself. Change comes from making small & sometimes uncomfortable choices each day. This is what will ultimately lead to a happier and healthier life.
Some examples would be adding in an extra serving of vegetables or going for one more rep in the gym.
18. Eat Enough Protein - Protein is an essential macronutrient that primarily repairs and builds lean body mass in the body (muscle, organs, bones, etc.). If you don't get enough protein while dieting, you'll risk losing muscle (which ain't good).
You don't have to get as much as fitness magazines would have you believe, though. Aim for 0.6-1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight.
19. Take Small Breaks - If you find that you are getting frustrated at work or during an activity, take a short 5-10 minute break. This can help alleviate stress and avoid compromising your willpower.
20. Avoid Mindless Snacking - Mindless eating plagues most of us and we don't even realize it. Mindless snacking is commonly created through unhealthy habit or boredom.
Be mindful when you are eating food and identify the real reason why you're eating or snacking. Are you hungry? Or are you bored and trying to suppress a thought?
21. Track It Before You Eat It- If you are serious about losing weight as quickly as possible, you should be tracking your food intake. Before eating a meal, make sure that you track the calories and macros in it to ensure you aren't accidently overeating or going over your daily goals.
22. Allow for One Small Splurge a Day - I have found that my clients and I find it helpful to allow for a small indulgence daily. This might be 100-200 calories from chocolate, ice cream or a light beer at the end of the night.
The only rule is that it fits in your calorie goals and helps you de-stress and avoid temptation.
23. Take 10-20 Minutes to Eat Your Meals - Eating too fast can disrupt proper digestion as well as increase the chance of overeating. Instead, take 10-20 minutes to eat your meal so that your body has time to process the food and send appropriate fullness signals. (This is easier said than done, I still struggle with this from time to time!)
24. Stand Up Straight - Practicing good posture has been shown to have many psychological and physiological benefits such as improved confidence, increased testosterone, and greater perceived happiness. Any time you feel like you're slouching, fix it.
25. Avoid Chronic Sitting - Chronically sitting has been linked to multiple adverse health consequences. If you work a desk job, opt for a standing desk or try and move around every 40-60 minutes.
26. Avoid Bright Screens at Night - Bright lights (especially blue light) from iPhones and televisions can disrupt your body's natural circadian rhythm.
Limit your exposure to these lights at least one hour before bed. If you have to work on the computer, download an application like f.lux to dim your screen.
27. Read Fiction Before Bed - Reading fiction before bed can help to relax you and eliminate build up stress from the busy day. If you're new to fiction, I highly recommend anything from J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, or the Harry Potter Series.
28. Take It One Day at a Time - Forming habits isn't about making large changes all at once, they're about making small (stupid easy) changes consistently.
If you screw up one day, forget about it and start the next day fresh. You shouldn't strive to be 100% perfect but rather 80-90%.
Will following these habits guarantee success?
Nope, but they can definitely help.
Habits take time to form (research says 21-60 days), but the reward and benefits your get from them make it worth the upfront commitment!
Once you've established healthy habits, losing weight becomes more enjoyable that ever before.
If you want to read an excellent book on the science and formation of habits, I highly recommend the book The Power of Habit