I make reference a lot on Facebook about my habit based nutrition approach to losing weight instead of counting calories, tracking macros, or a few other complicated methods. By the way, I follow this approach myself while maintaining my weight so it’s not just about weight loss. Truthfully I’m met with lots of trepidation and worry from clients at first. What do you mean I don’t count calories? That can’t work!
It actually can and does. You see, people who are naturally at a healthy weight have behaviors that keep them at that weight. Not conscious ones, but little things they do without thinking about it. Out of habit. There have been all kinds of studies done on these behaviors. Like sitting facing away from the buffet at an all you can eat restaurant or looking the entire buffet over before grabbing food.
On the flip side, overweight people also have behaviors that they do to maintain their weight. Different ones like eating when they aren’t hungry and snacking between meals. So logic stands to reason that replacing some habits with others is the key to changing your weight. It doesn’t have to be a sudden change, but gradual over time makes it much easier and painless.
You shouldn’t do anything to lose or maintain weight that you can’t see yourself doing forever. Period. If you can’t imagine not eating bread for the rest of your life, don’t remove bread to lose weight. If you wouldn’t spend 6 days a week on the elliptical or in the gym, don’t do it. Same with weighing, measuring or using My Fitness Pal religiously.
I wanted to explain my initial approach so you can get an idea of how it works and how freeing it is from complications. LOL, the “problem” most clients have at first is over thinking and adding in their own complications to the simple habit steps. Simplify as much as you need to for this to become so easy for you to do. Food is too much fun to stress over.
The first habit I work with clients on is to eat 3 or 4 meals and cut out snacking between them. Yep, 3 or 4 larger meals like breakfast, lunch, dinner and maybe a snack. I know right! What crazy talk is that?! 😉 No skipping meals if at all possible, and no snacking between meals. If it has calories, it counts as snacking. No rules about how much, what to eat, when. Just 3 or 4 meals without purposely trying to stuff yourself. A simple first step.
The process of building the habit creates awareness of your eating and gets you to think about your choices to do so instead of just mindlessly munching. It puts you squarely in control of each decision and the outcome. That’s a pretty cool place to be. You control your own destiny, grasshopper. Because you have a singular focus, you don’t have to work on several things at once and give up in frustration. 3 or 4 meals, no snacking.
I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to eat 6 small meals to prevent hunger and stoke your metabolism. Studies have proven that it doesn’t do a thing to increase metabolism or calorie burning. If you are used to eating small meals, you’re probably adjusted to that in between state of not quite full and constantly just a little bit hungry but not quite hungry. Studies show that eating smaller meals leads to more snacking and less satisfaction. Not great for someone trying to lose weight.
That in between state of hunger/satisfied makes you more likely to have and to give in to snack cravings. When you’re full, it’s much easier to make a choice. Imagine eating larger meals that actually fill you up and satisfy you for a while. Crazy, huh? You can actually sit down three times a day, eat to feel full, and keep calories under control since you aren’t grazing all day. This is the biggest realization I hear about from clients who start this. “I can’t remember the last time I felt full!”
For many of us, snacking between meals drives up our calories. By eliminating the snacking, you open up a whole new world that you may find strange at first. Natural calorie reduction. If you find yourself reaching for something to eat, ask if you’re hungry enough to eat a meal. If yes, then eat one of your meals (not just a nibble) and count it as breakfast, lunch or dinner.
If you’re not that hungry or not hungry at all, the choice is yours and it’s not an automatic “can’t have this” restriction. You can eat it of course, or you can save it for later and have it with your meal. Like if cookies show up in the breakroom and you reach for one. If you aren’t hungry, save it for dessert after dinner.
Reducing the number of times you eat, makes life much simpler since you don’t have to make as many meals, less food to carry around with you. Less inconvenience since you won’t have to find something to eat as often. You can eat lunch, run errands for hours and not worry about hunting down a protein bar or starving before dinner.
Road trips and vacations are a breeze since you don’t have to worry about macros or calories, or always be in search of food. Heck, you don’t even have to be off a diet while traveling. You just follow the habits and things fall into place without knowing a single calorie content. I could go on and on. Also once you reach goal weight, you don’t have to worry because nothing is changing. You’ve built the necessary healthy habits.
Like I mentioned, some clients are so ingrained with tracking this and that or eliminating foods to lose weight that they start shouting reasons this won’t work before they even get started. Here are a few of the most common ones that I hear:
I don’t want the restriction of not being able to eat a snack if I’m hungry.
That’s not what this is about. If you’re hungry, eat but consider what you can do the next time to not be hungry as quickly before your next meal. Maybe you could eat more so you can go long enough. Having a snack or eating more than 4 meals doesn’t equal failure. It’s a learning experience and there’s no right or wrong way. Everyone has days where they misjudge hunger and it’s not a make or break case if you need to eat.
If you reach for a snack and you realize you aren’t hungry, you can still eat it but it’s a choice that you’re making. Not being hungry means that your body isn’t lacking in calories, so eating at this point means that those calories have the potential to be excess that you don’t need. If you want it, you can always save it for later and eat it with your meal. You might even naturally eat less of it by doing that, or maybe you change your mind completely.
Three or four meals won’t work with my schedule.
It’s not about a rigid schedule and set eating times. Remember, habits are all about no stress. If you’re eating 6 meals now, try 4 or 5 and see how that goes. Then go from there. Maybe start by dividing your waking hours up into evenly spaced chunks and just eat. For example, if you’re up 15 hours and eat 3 meals, divide your day into 5 hour blocks and use that as a loose guide.
Treat it like an experiment. I ate breakfast at this time and didn’t get hungry for hours so I ate enough. I notice I get hungry in the afternoon well before dinner, so let me see what happens if I eat more at lunch. If you’re worried about giving up tracking completely, follow the 3 or 4 meal guideline and track for a bit to reassure yourself that you aren’t going off the rails.
I’m worried about being hungry so I eat too much at a meal just in case.
That’s OK. This first habit isn’t about how much, how little or what you’re eating. If you don’t eat enough and you get hungry, no worries as you can have a snack to tide you over. You’ve learned a bit about what your body needs so you can eat a little more next time and see what happens. Similarly with eating too much. You’ll find that you don’t get hungry for a longer stretch so you naturally space out your meals further and you might even eat less at the next.
I’m going on vacation, away for the day, or out to eat so I can’t track the habit.
That’s the beauty of this. Times when you can’t track, don’t feel like it, or don’t know what’s in the food you’re eating are the times when you can rely on this habit the most. You don’t need to track anything and can stay in control even with the great vacation unknown. Just eat your 3 or 4 reasonable sized meals of anything you’d like, and keep snacking at bay. How much easier could that be? You can do it laying on the beach, stuck in a conference center, out on a golf course. No nutritional info, macros, internet connection needed.
If you keep an open mind and you’re willing to give this a try, I think you’ll be surprised at how simple it can be. Resist the urge to overthink it and make this first step complicated. Three or 4 meals, no snacking. LOL, notice I keep repeating my mantra to talk you off the complication ledge. Habits are meant to be effortless and not a set of rules and restrictions. Once you’ve mastered this, you can move on to building other eating habits.
There’s more behind the larger meal habit than this but I’ll spare you the leptin and ghrelin science-speak. Most people just tune out at that point, but if you’re interested I’d be happy to go into more detail. Not everyone has the same goals, history, and lives so their habit needs are different. My one on one nutrition program covers 4 basic, core habits and then we focus on more individual needs.
We’ll simplify wherever possible and establish lifelong behaviors to make this sustainable and not just another diet. If you’re interested in learning more, contact me at email@example.com and we can talk about getting you away from complicated methods and build a few sustainable habits for weight control.