Habits > Willpower
I don't care who you are, what your background is or what your lifestyle looks like, make no mistake about it - getting and staying lean in today's modern environment in the western world is very very difficult. Obesity researchers have coined our current environment 'Obeseogenic' (1), meaning that the odds are entirely stacked against us when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle.
Think about it, it's so easy to drum up whatever type of food you could possibly imagine at the touch of a button..'Deliveroo' anyone? Let's couple that thought with the prevalence of online jobs, working from home and not needing to physically go to your place of work anymore for a lot of people. We know that excess calories and inactivity drive weight gain more than any other single factor. (2) So given all of this, how is it that some people even when the cards are as stacked against them as they are stay lean, fit and healthy?
They have habits set in place that make the task of staying lean an effortless part of their every day life.
The crazy part of this is that more often than not it's not something they consciously do! You will generally find that lean people have their daily routine down on lock by engineering their environment to be conducive to leanness by implementing some, or all of the following traits:
They often eat the same foods/meals day to day generally filled with single ingredient, minimal processed whole foods. You know, those annoying people who seemingly don't get bored of a chicken salad with an apple at lunch. There's good research to suggest that the less flavours/variety and tastes that are consumed per meal - the less likely you are to overeat. A phenomenon called sensory specific satiety (3)
They will often find an excuse to get up and walk around in the office or think nothing of walking to the next bus stop if there's a delay. Those people who are seemingly always on the move and on their feet. More on this later.
They don't find it difficult to say 'no' to the office donuts which are being passed around as it's someone's birthday/Friday/the wind blew in a certain direction and any other cause for celebration.
Often they get so caught up in their project at work that they genuinely forget to eat. *Yes, there are some really annoying people in the world that exist like that would you believe? He's definitely one of them below....*
Motivation for even the most dedicated of us comes in waves – it isn’t 100% 365 days
per year. (4) If you have to rely on it on days where you aren’t really feeling it, you're not going to succeed.
Let’s face it, the health and fitness industry on social media is alive and well due to people’s lack of motivation. I bet you can’t scroll down five posts on Instagram on a Monday morning without seeing an aggressive looking safari animal with a motivational quote telling you to #Hustle and #Grind... Bore. Off.
You know how you have that one friend who was just born with a fast metbolism? Can eat anything they want and they don't get fat? Picked the right cards genetically etc? Yea doesn't actually work like that...When two people are matched for bodyweight and all similar stats, the differences in metabolic rate are trivial (A measly 200-300 calories for the most part) (5)
Where there is a huge individual variance is when it comes to unconscious activity such as more standing, walking, sitting with a better posture, fidgeting, foot tapping etc. This unconscious moving has been shown in the research on the high end to account for as much as an extra 2,000 calories burnt in the most extreme cases. (6) This is huge!! Let's put this into perspective 2,000 extra calories burned every day via non traditional exercise would be 16 lbs of fat per month not gained or 192 lbs over a year - the equivalent to nearly 14 stones.
Whilst you personally might not be the type of person that naturally moves about a lot and can't sit still, you can learn a lot from this phenomenon. Investing in something like an activity tracker or fitbit purely as a reminder to get up off your arse from time to time, whereas normally you would be sitting on it for more than 3/4 of the day is a huge step in the right direction in getting and staying lean.
Remember the value of a fitbit or activity tracker doesn't lie in it's accuracy. It's value lies in the reminder to you to get up off your arse at regular intervals throughout the day and move.
They Never Miss Twice
'You are what you consistently do, not what you sometimes do' - Sharif Lawton *in pretty much at least 1 x blog post per week. Seriously though...*
No one got fit from eating a salad... and no one ever got fat from eating a single donut
We are all human. We all enjoy highly palatable, calorific foods that go against our goals of wanting to be lean and sexy from time to time. What's the fun in one cookie? Sometimes you just have to indulge your caveman side and have a good old feed up with the foods you love. After all, a life without pizza, wine, cheesecake and oatmeal raisin cookies is no life I want to be a part of. Saying this however, you will often find that lean people don't let this one indulgent meal lead into a binge, or a bad day, week or month. They get right back on track ASAP and this is key in their success. Think about it, if you dropped your phone on the floor and put a tiny crack in it, you wouldn't then continue to stamp on it until it was so wrecked that you could no longer read the screen - that self sabotaging behaviour makes no sense yet is exactly what people do when it comes to food. If however you can adapt a flexible approach to your diet strategy and mentality when it comes to food in general, you will find far greater longer term success than those who see the whole diet and healthy eating thing as an 'On' or 'Off' switch. (7)
Protein As The Priority
Lean people eat more protein. I don't need to bore you with the importance of having sufficient protein in your diet now do I? You should be aware of it's abilities to help you gain/maintain muscle mass so that you look great naked and help recover from training. However, you may not be aware that protein is the most satiating macronutrient (8). Basically meaning that out of all the three macronutrients we eat (protein, carbs and fats) protein is the most filing and satisfying, leaving you fuller for longer and therefore you'll be less likely to snack on crap in between meals. Not only this, but protein has the highest thermic effect as well, meaning that in terms of digestion it takes more calories for your body to digest protein than it does carbs or fats. Another win for protein. (9)
So in terms of how much, it seems that when eating at maintenance or a surplus calorie intake, 1.6 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight seems to maximise the muscle building effects of protein (10), whereas in a deficit or whilst actively trying to lose fat, there is certainly an argument to push protein intake up a little higher - probably to the tune of 2.2 grams per kg or 1 gram of protein per lb of bodyweight. (11)
If you're really trying to eek out every last drop of potential muscle gain, there is also evidence that a) pre bed protein might be a good idea (12) and b) spacing out your protein feedings fairly evenly out over 3-5 meals per day may be best (13). Saying all this, the key takeaway really is that good quality protein source should be at the forefront of your meals. For more information about protein, different sources and how to increase protein intake if vegan/vegetarian etc, check out my protein article.
Sleep and Stress Management
Good quality sleep and relaxation tactics are not only vital to a decent quality of life, nailing these two areas of your lifestyle could indeed help you get and stay leaner. In fact, getting better sleep at night could potentially lead to you seeing a 55% increase in fat mass lost during a diet, compared with if you have crappy sleep. (14) However, this is an area of fitness and self development where coaches often give misguided information and get the wrong end of the stick. Let me make this very clear, just because you are stressed or sleep deprived - this in and of itself cannot stop fat loss in the face of an energy defecit. All you have to think about is the morbid example of those unfortunate people in some third world countries where food and water is scarce and they are literally starving to death. Clearly they are in some of the most chronically stressed situations ever, yet they aren't putting on weight. The same could be said for prisoners of war. They come out weak, and emaciated, not with full bellies just because they were living stressful lives.
What high levels of stress and poor sleep does do however, is make it drastically more difficult to adhere to a fat loss plan and cause you to overeat. It's been shown that as little as a couple hours of sleep deprivation wacks up your hunger hormones and increases appetite. (15) Let's face it, no one's appetite for fruit, veg and all the healthy stuff increases...it's the pastries, cookies, and crap that we all crave when tired and cranky. Clearly this can be problematic. You will tend to find that lean people have great coping mechanisms when dealing with life's stressors and prioritse their sleep to ensure that they are at their very best the next day, not crying into bowls of ice cream at night.
Honourable Mentions ...
I wanted to keep this articles to 5 key points so that you could a) action some or all of the above immediately without being overwhelmed and b) these were the ones I felt were the most important when it comes to the habits of lean people. However, there are a few other habits and traits that I haven't highlighted here that I feel deserve at the very least a mention, with the likelihood that I'll get into each of them in more depth as we move forward with the articles here on the site. So here we go:
Don't drink their calories
Are good at planning and preparing their food choices in advance
Don't go to food for short term pleasure in stressful times
Do not snack between meals
Have 'fun foods' in moderation and in control, not on a daily basis
Fruits and veggies as a staple (as well as protein) in each meal
Understand that the scale doesn't just weigh fat mass
Understand that consistency over perfection is key
Don't compare their progress to others
Are process focused rather than outcome focused
- Develop lean habits you can take with you no matter where you are in the world or whatever life throws in your way.
- Be a NEAT freak and move whenever you can.
- Get your protein in.
- Make sure you prioritise your sleep and manage your stress levels just like you prioritise your training and nutrition. Meditation, yoga, stretching, getting to bed on time all help.