My husband and I were drinking our coffee and watching CBS Sunday morning last week (our Sunday morning ritual), and they showed a stat saying that 81% of people have broken their New Year resolutions by mid-February.
I’m not a NY resolutions kind of girl, but I do like to set goals for myself at the beginning of the year.
When I’m successful in achieving them, it’s usually because I’ve put habits into place that support my goal. Because once it’s a habit, it always gets done.
This is especially true when it comes to weight-loss and health goals. If you make healthy behaviors a HABIT and part of your lifestyle, you’re practically guaranteed to be successful.
The power of habits is well documented, so this week I’ve put together a list of 17 simple habits that will help you get healthy and lean in 2017.
1. Plan your meals for the week.
It’s not glamorous or trendy, but planning your meals for the week is honestly one of the most important things you can do to set yourself up for success if you want to lose weight or get healthier.
Planning your meals will save you time and, more importantly, keep you on track with healthy eating when things get hectic and stressful during the week.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or overly time consuming. Just pick your recipes, check your pantry, fridge, and freezer for ingredients you might already have, and then write down the ones you need on a shopping list. Then go buy your groceries or set aside time in your schedule to do it (put it in your calendar if you have to!).
To save you time and give yourself a break during the week, wash, chop, and prep the ingredients as much as possible as you unload your groceries and put them away. Or you can make life really easy by doing some of the cooking for the week ahead.
Another way to make it easier and save time is to use a grocery delivery service. I used to spend two to three hours a week just buying groceries (admittedly, I’m kind of picky and would usually go to at least two different stores each week).
Now I use Amazon Fresh for my groceries and I LOVE it! I just order my groceries online and have them delivered right to my door. OMG it is the best thing ever. I was worried about having someone else pick my produce for me, but I’ve been really impressed by the freshness and quality of the produce. They even have a decent organic selection. If you’re lucky enough to have it in your city, I highly recommend it.
2. Stop eating 3 hours before bedtime
I’ll admit I struggle with this one, and it’s not always easy to work all day and get dinner on the table in time (another reason to prep and cook your weekly meals ahead of time — this is usually the only way I can get my dinner ready and finish eating by 7:00 p.m.).
But this one habit can have BIG weight loss, anti-aging, and overall health benefits, so it’s worth making the effort to fit it into your lifestyle (which is why I’m still at it).
Eating at least 3 hours before bedtime (and thereby having a longer “fast” between dinner and breakfast):
- helps your body to more efficiently burn fat
- protects against oxidative damage that ages you
- helps normalize your hormones (including the “hunger hormones” that control your appetite and feeling of fullness)
- can cause increased production of human growth hormone (which is a key player in burning fat and in anti-aging)
- and helps eliminate sugar cravings.
Plus, you’re likely to sleep better, which comes with its own set of weight-loss and health benefits (see # 6).
3. Drink more water
We all know drinking enough water is important, so nothing new here. But it’s worth repeating because so many people aren’t doing it! This is one of the things a lot of my clients struggle with.
Staying hydrated will:
- raise your metabolism
- act as a natural appetite suppressant
- aid in digestion and prevent constipation (which can lead to bloating)
- improve your focus and concentration (which helps you make better choices when it comes to your diet)
- flush out toxins from your system that can contribute to weight gain
- Improve the health and appearance of your skin
- and cause your body to burn more calories.
If you have trouble drinking enough water during the day, try these tricks:
- Drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up in the morning. After going without water all night, your body will be in need of it, and it helps wake up your system. I like to have warm lemon water.
- Determine the amount of water that’s right for your body (I usually recommend the Mayo Clinic’s 8×8 rule — 8 eight-ounce glasses of water daily). Measure it out in bottles in the morning, and then just be sure you’ve finished all the bottles by the end of the day.
- Keep a bottle or glass of water on your desk if you have a desk job. And be sure to finish the bottle or glass before refilling, so you can keep up with how much you’re drinking.
- Make it less boring and more fun by adding lemon, lime, slices of cucumber, or fresh herbs to your water.
- Set a timer to go off every hour, and drink water whenever it goes off (this is good if you just forget to drink it, which a lot of my clients tell me is the biggest reason they don’t drink more water).
4. Schedule 2 weekly treats for yourself
This is a fun one! If you’re having trouble giving up your favorite treats like sweets, sugar-laden coffee drinks, or processed junk foods, the good news is that you don’t have to! I mean, that would be the ideal situation for your health, but I sure don’t want to give up my dessert or french fries.
Instead, I allow myself two “treats” each week. I generally eat super clean during the week, but I let myself have a treat at some point during the workweek (the middle of the week seems to work best for me), and then I have another one on the weekend. (Full disclosure . . . that’s when I’m really on point, which is not always the case . . . sometimes I may have more than one treat on the weekend … this is one of those do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do moments ;).
Your treat could be a vanilla latte or cheese fries or a dessert or a cocktail . . . whatever makes you happy. The one caveat is to make it a small treat — opt for the tall latte over the venti, or only have half the cheese fries. Keeping the portion in check is the key to having your treats without sabotaging your weight loss.
This habit works great because it keeps you from feeling deprived, and it helps you resist temptation. By having a middle-of-the-week and weekend treat to look forward to, it makes it easier to say no to other temptations that come up. Plus it’s empowering and puts you in charge of your diet, instead of the other way around.
5. Get 7 hours of sleep each night (even on the weekends!)
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re totally sabotaging your weight-loss efforts and making all that hard work you’re putting into eating healthy and exercising a lot less effective.
Not getting enough sleep causes increased levels of cortisol (the “stress hormone”), which leads to fat gain. It also jacks with your ability to make good decisions when it comes to things like food, because it affects your brain in ways that make you want to reward yourself, like, say, with a donut.
Lack of sleep also affects your ghrelin and leptin levels (the “hunger hormones”), making you feel hungry when you’re really not, and slowing down the signal to your brain that you’re full. So basically you’ll feel hungrier and not realize when you’re full. Now that’s a bad combo.
Being sleep-deprived also ages you, and has nasty effects on your skin and hair (more on that here).
If you can get into the habit of going to bed and getting up at the same time, it will go a long way to better sleep, easier weight loss, and glowing skin and hair.
Not a fan of going to bed early on the weekend? Research suggests that getting in a good nap can help you make up the deficit.
You can get ideas for improving your sleep here.
6. Take your lunch to work
This one bites, because those lunches out with coworkers are sometimes the only bright spot in an otherwise dreary day on the job. Unless you love your job (lucky you!).
Unfortunately, lunches out with coworkers tend to involve food that can be prepared quickly, which usually means processed foods that are surprisingly high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and calories. And in most cases you have no way of knowing the quality of the ingredients used.
Even “healthy lunches” often aren’t as healthy as they seem (not your fault, it’s all about deceptive marketing).
Making your own lunch and bringing it to work puts YOU in control of the ingredients you’re putting in your body and makes it easier to control portion size.
One of the easiest ways to bring your lunch is taking leftovers from the healthy dinner you cooked the night before. And as a bonus, it helps keep food from going to waste.
If I don’t have leftovers, I’ll make a big salad that I can have for two or three meals (like a quinoa or bean salad), so that I’m not having to make something for lunch every single day.
You can find healthy lunch recipes on my Pinterest board, or try these 7 quick + healthy make-ahead lunches for your work week.
And here’s another tip . . . make and pack your lunch the night before so it’s ready to grab and go the next morning. Because mornings are crazy enough (at least in our house) without adding one more thing to do.
7. Focus more on adding healthy foods to your diet and less on cutting out the foods you love.
If your diet needs a major overhaul, it can be overwhelming, discouraging, and just plain depressing trying to make all these changes at once and giving up all the unhealthy foods you love.
It’s also not a very sustainable approach, which is why so many people aren’t successful on diets, or they lose the weight while dieting but then quickly put it back on.
So a great way to start is to keep eating the things you’re currently eating, but add in more healthy whole foods, like vegetables.
We call this “crowding out” because eventually, the healthy foods will crowd out those unhealthy foods. Healthy whole foods are more nutrient-dense, so they satisfy your hunger better than processed foods, keep you full longer, and help keep cravings in check.
The best way to start with this is adding more greens to your diet everyday, like kale, spinach, Swiss chard, and collard greens. Greens are some of the most nutrient-dense foods on earth, so you’ll be getting a big bang for your buck with these. (Not a fan of greens? Don’t worry girl — I’ve got you covered in #8).
Eventually, you’ll need to cut out the majority of those unhealthy foods (sorry), but the good news is that adding in the healthier foods makes it easier for you to give up sugar and processed foods (really!).
For more on the best healthy foods to add to your diet, my article on how to clean up your diet and lose weight for your wedding without counting calories will help!
8. Have smoothies for breakfast
Smoothies are a GREAT (and sneaky) way to get in those greens we talked about in #7 (perfect if you’re not a fan of greens).
But not just any smoothie will do. In fact, most of the smoothies you’ll get from the smoothie stores (especially the chains) are high in sugar and often contain processed protein powders.
A much better (and cheaper) option is to make them yourself. That way you’re in total control of the ingredients.
You’ll want your smoothies to have a healthy helping of greens (any type of greens are fine, preferably organic), a smaller amount of fruit, a healthy fat, and a protein source.
My favorite healthy fats are avocado, flax seed, and chia seeds. Favorite protein sources are hemp seed and nut butters, and the healthy fats I listed also have protein.
Most people use milk or some sort of nut milk for their smoothie. I tend to just use plain water, unless I’m feeling a little worse for the wear (like maybe I had one too many glasses of wine the night before or if it’s after a really intense workout), and then I’ll use coconut water for the natural electrolytes it contains.
9. Drink green tea
Green tea is loaded with antioxidants and other compounds that can boost your metabolic rate (think burning more calories while you’re on the sofa watching Stranger Things) and increase fat loss by helping your body break down fat so it can be burned for fuel (instead of being stored).
And there are so many other health benefits of drinking green tea.
It’s suggested that you’ll need to drink about 3 cups of green tea per day to get the weight loss and health benefits.
It’s really important to drink a high-quality tea (the quality varies drastically by brand). Poor quality teas won’t have the amount of health-boosting compounds in a higher quality tea, and they’re often flavored with toxic artificial substances. Even the tea bag material in some brands contains toxins.
I drink this bagged tea and this loose leaf tea. They’re good quality and don’t have artificial flavors. Plus the flavor is milder (i.e., doesn’t taste like grass) so they’re a good choice if you’re new to green tea.
Green tea has to be steeped at a lower temperature than other teas. If the water is too hot, it can destroy the healthful compounds. To make the perfect cup of green tea, steep at 176 for 1 minute or boil the water and let it sit 10 minutes before steeping.
You can step up your green tea game with matcha, which has a higher concentration of healthful compounds because you’re consuming the entire leaf in the form of a powder.
I unfortunately haven’t developed a taste for matcha yet, but I’m working on it!
If you decide to give matcha a try, be sure to get this special whisk for making matcha. Yep, you really do need it. I know from experience that if you don’t use it, your matcha will come out clumpy.
For the perfect cup of tea every time, use this electric tea kettle. It’s one of my most favorite things in my kitchen!
10. Have a plan when you’re going out to eat
If you know the restaurant you’re going to ahead of time, pull up their menu and pick what you’ll have before you get there.
Seriously, this will keep you from making some really unfortunate impulse decisions at the restaurant. And if you’re a little indecisive like me (or Chidi in The Good Place), all the more reason to decide ahead of time.
If it’s a special night and you’re splurging, that’s a different matter. But for your normal going-out meals, pick your healthy items before you arrive and you’re less likely to cave and order the least healthy thing on the menu, or make a poor choice because you were rushed or distracted.
11. Keep track of what you’re eating for a week to help identify unhealthy habits or foods that aren’t serving you.
While I’m not a fan of obsessively tracking everything you put in your mouth on an ongoing basis (because it’s not sustainable and creates an unhealthy relationship with food), I do think it can be really helpful to do this for a short time (like a week).
Keeping a food journal for a week can:
- Give you a good picture of your eating habits
- Identify triggers for emotional eating
- Let you know if you’re eating a balanced diet
- Show what your diet is lacking or what you’re eating too much of
- Determine how different foods affect you (many people discover that they have a sensitivity to one or more foods just by keeping the journal for a week).
Ideally, track everything you put in your mouth for an entire 7 days. Grab a handful of M&Ms from the receptionist’s desk in your office? Write it down. Ate a sample of potato salad at Costco (which is pretty delicious by the way)? Write it down.
It’s kind of a drag, but it’s only for 7 days and I promise you it will be enlightening and really help you clean up your diet – which will then help you lose weight and get healthier.
You can track it on an index card, a note in your phone, or a little notebook in your bag. It just needs to be something you keep with you at all times because you have to write it down AS SOON AS YOU EAT IT.
Writing it down after the fact just doesn’t work, because you’re guaranteed to forget some things (it’s funny how we’ll always remember the broccoli we ate, but that candy bar somehow slips our mind).
For the full benefit, you’ll track:
- what you ate (or drank)
- the time of day
- the amount you consumed
- any physical sensations and emotions you were experiencing at the time you ate or right before or after
- your hunger level when you ate
- and what you were doing + where you were.
I know that’s a lot, but I swear it’s not as bad as it sounds — and it’s only for 7 days. It will help you get a quicker start on your weight loss when you’re clear on what you’re doing well with your diet and what needs to change. Otherwise, you’ll just spin your wheels guessing what you need to do, or following the latest weight-loss fad that everyone else is doing (and those rarely work, at least for the long-term).
12. Do more full-body workouts and functional exercises.
Functional exercise is exercise that works multiple muscle groups at the same time and trains them to work together in a way that supports your body’s natural movement. It focuses on movement patterns that you use in everyday life, so it’s a great way to support your body in all its daily activities.
Take squats, for example. When you’re doing a squat, you’re simulating a movement you do everyday — sitting down in a chair and standing back up. And you’re working multiple muscle groups.
Working multiple muscle groups in your workout is more efficient and gets faster results than doing lots of isolated workouts.
Not to say there’s anything wrong with focusing a workout on one area, like your arms, just make sure you’re not doing that with every workout.
13. Walk more
Walking is one of the most underrated forms of exercise out there. It’s another example of functional movement because it’s (obviously) something our body does everyday. It works your legs and glutes (no surprise there), but also works your core and if you swing your arms or carry something, you’ll even get some arm work in.
If you’re new to exercise, walking is a great way to get started. Do it everyday at a brisk pace, and this alone will start shedding fat and strengthening your muscles. Then you can start adding in resistance exercises and other workouts.
Even if you’re not a beginner, walking more is a terrific habit to cultivate. Even in little ways like parking farther away and walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or getting up and walking around the office several times a day (which will also help with #17).
Other great things about walking: you can do it pretty much anywhere, it doesn’t require any special equipment (though a good pair of walking shoes is recommended), it’s free, and doing it outside gives the added benefits of fresh air, Vitamin D from sunshine, and time outdoors. (And you’ll probably come across people walking their adorable dogs, which is always a plus in my book!)
14. Set out (or pack) your workout clothes the night before
You’d be surprised how something as simple as this can help you follow through on your workouts.
If you go straight to your workout from work, pack your workout clothes, sit them by the door and have them ready to go the next morning. If you exercise at home, lay out your exercise clothes before going to bed.
This saves time in the morning and keeps you from missing a workout because you forgot your workout clothes, but it also works on a mental level because you’re setting the intention that you will work out the next day. Surprisingly powerful stuff.
15. Plan and schedule your workouts for the week
Just like planning your meals for the week, having a workout plan in place sets you up for success.
Here’s why this habit works . . . first, it’s a big time-waster if every day you’re trying to figure out what workout you’re gonna do. Time is already one of the biggest obstacles to exercise, so this just adds to the problem. By having your workout planned, you can get right to it, whether you’re doing it at home or at the gym.
Second, your workout routine will be more balanced if you plan it out ahead of time so that you get a good mix of resistance, high intensity, flexibility, balance, lower intensity training, plus a variety of high and low resistance (heavier weights versus body weight or lighter weights).
Third, you’re more likely to mix it up and try new workouts if you’re taking time to take a look at your workout options and plan them in advance. You’re less likely to get bored with your workouts or plateau from training the same muscles in the same way day in and day out.
If you’re doing workouts at home, like DVDs or online workouts, pick the ones you’re gonna do, and then literally put them in your planner for whatever time you plan to work out.
If you’re going to the gym, pick the classes you want to take and write them in your calendar. If you’re doing your own workouts, put them in your calendar along with the time you’re going. That way you know exactly what you’re doing, your time is protected, and you’re committed to it — a triple win!
16. Read labels
Eating a clean, whole foods-based diet is the best way to get healthy + lean in 2017. But even when you’re trying to eat the right things and be healthy, food companies don’t always make it easy.
Being more aware of what you’re putting in your body gives you more control and lets you make more informed decisions.
I promise you don’t have to spend hours comparing labels. Just look at the ingredients and the amount of sugar.
As a general rule, the fewer ingredients an item has, the better. And real food ingredients always trump ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Then check the amount of sugar — the less the better. There can be big differences in the amount of sugar between similar products.
To give you an example, let’s look at a jar of spaghetti sauce . . . seems like a healthy choice, right? Eat it over some spaghetti squash, spiralized zucchini, or whole grain noodles, and you’ve got a quick and easy healthy dinner.
But all spaghetti sauces are not created equal. We have a jar of Victoria marinara sauce in our fridge. Its ingredients are:
- Olive oil
- Calcium chloride
A one-half cup serving has 4 grams of (naturally occurring) sugar.
Compare that to the ingredients in a jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce:
- Tomato puree (water, tomato paste)
- Diced tomatoes in puree (diced tomatoes, tomato puree, calcium chloride, citric acid)
- Soybean oil
- Dehydrated onions
- Garlic powder
A one-half cup serving has 10 grams of sugar — more than twice as much as the other sauce, plus it’s added refined sugar.
Some other things you can take a quick look at are the type of fat used in the product. Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil are good choices. Canola and grapeseed oil are fair, and soybean oil should be avoided. Avoid anything that contains any amount of trans fats.
Using the example above, the Ragu uses soybean oil, which is a really unhealthy oil with no nutritive value. The Victoria uses olive oil, so that fat is actually ADDING nutritive value.
If you’re shopping for grain products, check the fiber content. Whole grains should have higher amounts of fiber. Also look to see that it is truly made with a whole grain. If the first ingredient is “wheat flour” or “enriched wheat flour,” they’re probably scamming you and it’s not much better than white flour. If it says “whole wheat flour,” then it’s probably legit.
So to recap, pay attention to:
- Amount of sugar
- Type of fat contained (is it one of the healthy fats?)
- Trans fat content
- Fiber (especially for grain products)
17. Sit less and stand more
This one is HUGE, and it’s definitely one I need to work on in 2017.
The negative effects that too much sitting can have on your body are scary! Seriously. It’s been compared to smoking in terms of how harmful it is.
Sitting too much causes your muscles to burn less fat, and has been linked to:
- Digestive problems
- Posture problems
- Organ damage
- Brain damage
- Varicose veins
- Blood clots
- Weak bones
- Shortened life span
I’ve been reading a lot about this lately, but Dr. Mercola has one of the most convincing articles I’ve come across.
It’s important to note that even if you’re an active exerciser, your workouts won’t undo the risk and damage from prolonged sitting.
Here are some simple ways to make sure you sit less:
- Track your steps with your smart phone health app or a tracker like this fitbit, set a goal for yourself of at least 10,000 steps a day, and make a commitment that you will not go to bed before getting to 10,000 (make sure these steps are in addition to your exercise).
- Walk instead of sit while meeting with coworkers at the office
- Spend part of your lunchtime going for a walk
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Set a recurring timer to remind you to take standing breaks during the day. I just downloaded this Stand Up! app to test on my iphone.
How often should you stand? According to an article on CNN.com, you should only sit 20 minutes out of every half hour at work, stand for 8 minutes, and move around for at least 2 minutes.
If that seems too intrusive to your workday, just try standing for any regular intervals to get started, and then you can build up from there.
So those are 17 healthy habits you can incorporate into your lifestyle to get healthy and lean in 2017 (and for your wedding if you’re a bride-to-be!).
And the good news is you don’t have to do all of them to start seeing results. I recommend starting with the one you think will be easiest for you. Once you’ve made it a habit, then move on to some of the others. This will give you a quick win (always a good thing!), helps you gain some traction quickly, and will motivate you to keep going.
Cheers to achieving all your health and wellness goals in 2017 — you can do it!!