It’s January. For many that means new year resolutions. One of the more popular resolutions that people tend to have is to prioritize their health and fitness. For many this translates to wanting to lose weight, drop body fat, and tone up. The typical way people go about accomplishing these goals is to jump on some sort of diet. A major problem that many people seem to make in this regard is they jump into an overly restrictive diet approach. Being too restrictive with your eating can cause you to feel deprived, which will virtually guarantee weight regain once your willpower gives out. A much better approach that will make you more successful and be easier to maintain long term is to add key behaviors into your day. Eventually these behaviors will become habitual (if done regularly for long enough). Stacking 3-5 of these key habits on top of each other is all most people need to significant, sustainable long-term changes.
Protein: Ensuring optimal protein intake is in place is important for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly is that protein is a very satiating nutrient, meaning it tends to fill you up quicker and keep you full longer than carbohydrates or fats. Protein will increase your metabolic rate more as it is harder for your body to digest and requires more energy to break down. Roughly 20-30% of the calories ingested from protein are lost in the digestions process compared to 2-8% with fat or carbohydrates. Lastly optimal protein intakes help to support muscle mass. This could equate to retaining more lean body mass while losing weight, or possibly increasing lean body mass if weight loss is slow and a good training plan is incorporated. When it comes to choices for protein sources you want to prioritize lean protein sources. In other words, protein content of the food should be more than double the fat in the food, and more than the amount of carbohydrates in the food. Behavior Practice: Eat 1-2 palm sized portions of lean protein at each meal, shooting for 4-6 servings per day. If using low fat dairy or vegetarian/vegan sources, your fist may be an easier reference point for serving sizes. If you are currently under this number simply try to increase your protein intake by 1 serving/day each week until you get to the optimal range of 4-6/day (1-2/meal).
Fruits and Vegetables: “Eat your veggies' ' is probably one of the most common pieces of advice many of us heard from our parents growing up. In spite of how poorly we are doing as a country with nutrition, this one piece of advice is spot on. Unfortunately, many of us don’t take it seriously. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (which technically are derived from vegetables) are the only source of fiber in our diets, and a primary source of micronutrients. Micronutrients include vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. All of these micronutrients, along with adequate fiber, are vital for optimal health, performance, and body composition. Vitamins are essential as they act as coenzymes for all of the chemical reactions (metabolic rate) that take place in our body. Without them we function much less efficiently. Minerals act as building blocks for bone, teeth, enzymes, co-factors in reactions, and as enzymes themselves. One of the biggest roles of minerals is that of acting as an electrolyte, forming a concentration gradient across cell membranes which enable fluids and nutrients to pass from one side of the cell to the other. Electrolytes allow muscle contraction, regulate fluid balance, and generate nerve impulse. Without the proper amounts, all of these functions can be hindered. Phytochemicals are relatively new to research, but at this time they are believed to act as antioxidants, improve hormone function, protect DNA from carcinogens, and display antibacterial and antiviral effects. Behavior Practice: Strive to consume 2-3 fist sized portions of fruits/veggies at each meal totaling 6-10 total servings per day. For bonus points shoot for a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of veggies/fruits.
Water: Most of us know water is important, but we might not realize just how important and critical this substance is. Water acts as a solvent, transporter, catalyst, lubricant, temperature regulator, mineral source, and assists in anabolic processes throughout the body. It brings nutrients to cells and removes waste. It’s used in the production of proteins, and glycogen. It facilitates and speeds up many chemical reactions (which is a fancy word for metabolism, many wouldn’t occur without). It lubricates joints, and acts as a shock absorber for our eyes and spine. Inadequate water intake or being dehydrated can have dire consequences.: A 0.5% fluid loss increases the strain on heart. A 1% fluid loss reduces aerobic endurance. A 3% fluid loss reduces muscular endurance. A 4% fluid loss reduces muscular strength and motor skills, while also increasing cramps. A 5% fluid loss can lead to heat exhaustion, cramping, fatigue, and reduced mental capacity. Most people are served well to shoot for 1/2 ounce/pound of bodyweight each day. Behavior Practice: Drink 500ml of water with every meal. If you struggle with appetite control or eating too large of portions, try to consume all of that before starting to eat. Otherwise sip it throughout the meal, making sure to get at least 500ml in.
Slow, Mindful, and Satisfied: We live in a busy and distracted world. We try to multitask, eat quick, and be efficient. Unfortunately, this often leads to us eating too quick to realize that we are full. Ghrelin is one of our bodies primary hunger hormones, and it takes about 20 minutes for our stomach to produce this hormone and communicate to our brain that we are full. We often eat when we are distracted. In several studies, researchers have found that we eat significantly more when we are doing something else (such as playing video games) while eating. Lastly, we tend to eat until we are physically full, instead of just satisfied. This can lead us to feeling sluggish. When we combine all these things together, it’s an easy recipe for chronic overeating. Behavior Practice: Eat slow, target 20-30 minutes for a meal. If You are significantly quicker than this initially, simply try to extend your meals by 2-4 minutes every few days until you hit this mark. Reduce distractions in some way, putting the focus on your food. Stop eating at 70-80% full. You should feel like you could carry out some form of semi rigorous activity after eating.
These basic (not easy) behavior skills when done correctly will be all that most need to feel, look, and perform at their best potential. All without focusing on what you can't have, helping you to avoid the feelings of deprivation that many do when dieting. Give these a try mastering one habit at a time.