What do most diets have in common? They are short term fixes designed to help you lose weight, they all have an end point, for example – “the 6 week beach body diet” or “lose 10kgs in 4 weeks”
If you have tried one of these diets, you’ll know they typically work by cutting calories in one of 2 ways: either cutting out a food group or sub group(such as carbs or bread, or by cutting the volumes of food by extreme amounts. And lets face it, anyone will lose weight on 800kcals a day.
Either option requires a great deal of will power and, if you have other demands on your willpower – family, work stress, leisure activities, , and the rest, you quickly run out of the mental energy required to sustain the efforts needed for success
The other common trait amongst these diets is the short term nature of them, typically 4/6/8 or 12 weeks on length, they all have a pre-determined end point. What happens then?
Well, statistically, most dieters put all the weight they lost on the diet back on, most will add a few extra pounds on top too.
It comes down to creating habits. Most diets only address what you eat, not how or when you eat.
Habits are the brains autopilot routines for everyday tasks, everything we do – from brushing our teeth in the morning, to how we drive and to how we eat our meals is driven by habit. If you had to make a conscious decision on every minute task every day, nothing would get done so the brain takes out the decision making process and automates it.
Our dietary habits determine what, how and when we eat. If these habits are good ones, we give our body the right amount of energy at the right time and all the nutrients it needs for success, if they aren’t so good we over feed and under nourish ourselves, and it leaves us feeling tired, lethargic, weak and ill.
Changing bad habits to better ones isn’t easy, we have to overcome years of bad practice and create new neurological circuitry that only gets stronger with constant use and practice. I’m not going to talk about how to do this today, the topic of habit selections and implementation could take a couple of long posts to cover. What I am going to talk about is what habits you can start to build right now in order to improve your diet and get better health, better performance and better body composition.
This might be obvious but eat when you are hungry. Not when you are bored, not when you are watching tv. Let yourself get a little hungry, notice how it feels, realise it won’t kill you. If your goal is fat loss, then more than likely you’ve learned to ignore your natural appetite cues for a long time, hunger is just your bodys way to tell you that it is ready for food, but these signals can be confused with emotional triggers. Re-learning what your real appetite cues actually feel like and learn to respond appropriately.
After the first pangs of hunger strike, give yourself around 30 minutes to establish whether the feelings are true hunger or emotional triggers that tend to disappear within 20-30 minutes.
Eat slowly and mindfully.
How many of you eat in front of the tv? Or eat on the run?
If you do you may inadvertently be eating up to 30% more than you need to fill you up.
The reason comes down to the signalling that goes from your stomach to your brain. There are 2 types of signal, physical and chemical, the physical is the “full stomach” feeling you get when it’s filled with food, the chemical is when the digestive system sends a messenger to the brain to say there been enough food delivered and you can stop filling your face!
The problem with both of these is that they take time to spring into action and if we are eating quickly or not paying attention to what and how much we eat, we can easily push right past the point where this signalling kicks in and we miss our bodies telling us we have had enough.
Eating slowly allows you to better understand when you have eaten enough, using your bodys own ability to limit energy intake.
The habit here is a 2 parter, slow down your eating, for example putting down your fork between bites to chew and enjoy your food. The second is to stop eating in front of the tv, this makes it easier to enjoy your meals, eat more slowly and eat the right amount of food.
Protein isn’t only vital for good health, but also for increased feelings of fullness after a meal. Studies have shown that higher protein intakes not only increase fullness but also leads to better improvements in body composition.
Recent research has shown that you get bigger increases in lean muscle gain and more fat loss from high protein diets, with intakes of up to 3-4g per kg of bodyweight being the most beneficial.
Another study compared high and low protein meals of the same calorie total, and how many calories were consumed after the meal. They found the high protein meal group ate 700 fewer calories than the low protein group.
Basing all of your meals around a serving of protein such as fish or lean meat will help you give your body the building blocks it needs to maintain muscle mass and stimulate fat loss. If you are vegetarian, you should try to increase your intake of beans such as kidney or black beans.
Carbs usually get some bad press with low carb diets always proving popular. However for your body to function optimally some carbs are needed. The problem is that we tend to have way more than we need, and all too often they are from highly processed sources.
Your brain for example prefers glucose as its fuel of choice, and since glucose comes from digested carbs, you need some to keep clear headed and free of bad moods. Exercise performance is also driven by carbs, a drop in carb intake can often be what causes training to slow and become less effective.
The habit to work on here is to have most of your carbs from fruit, veg and small amounts of slower digested carbs such as potatos, rice, pasta and bread but keep the bulk of these options to around your training sessions. You give your body carbs to fuel your training session and refuel your muscles after you finish.
Sleep might be one of the most underrated factors in performance and body composition change.
If you sleep too little, you’ll eat more calories to get you through the day. In addition to that, your willpower takes a big hit and you are more likely to reach for foods that are less than optimal making it a double whammy – you eat more calories and are more likely to eat highly processed “empty calories” which provide little in the way of useful nutrients and plenty of calories that you cant use and end up storing away as fat.
By getting more sleep, 6-8 hours, you cut sugar cravings, boost your will power, reduce stress hormones and make it easier to loose body fat.
As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
Imagine the scenario, you have a bad nights sleep, work sucks and on the way home you realise there is nothing in the house for dinner, so you stop in at the supermarket and, tired and a little grumpy, you pick up something quick and easy for your meal. This something is more than likely going to be low protein, highly processed and ready to cook, lacking in any significant nutrient value and laden with fast digested carbs and saturated fats. Not an ideal end to the day.
Now think of the alternative, you still slept badly and had a crappy day at work, but getting home you open the fridge to everything you need to throw together a quick nutritious stir fry with a good helping of protein, lots of veg and some noodles if you want them. You finish the day giving your body what it needs to recover from your tough day, and help you sleep better that night and making it easier to get through the next day without reaching for sugary snacks.
The only difference here is you developed the habit of preparing a meal plan in advance with options for each of your meals throughout the week and you spent an hour doing the shopping for what you would need.
Those are my top 5 tips for incorporating healthier habits into your lifestyle, making sustainable and effective changes that can lead to better health, performance and body composition.