Why do some people never have to diet?
We all know that person that looks like they have it all figured out. The guy or girl that has never struggled with their weight, despite appearing to eat whatever they want. They can sit across from us at a restaurant and order the biggest, carbiest, most delicious meal, follow it up with a cheesecake while pounding cocktails the whole time. What's wrong with these people? Roaring metabolisms? Genetic blessings? Are they a different species? What is the secret?
The secret is there is no secret. Individual metabolisms don't vary as much as might you think. Most people of a similar height, weight, age, gender and muscle mass will have similar RMR (metabolic rate). Also the laws of physics apply to everyone equally. If we eat more calories than we burn, we will store body fat. If we burn more than we eat we will use that stored fat for fuel.
So if they're not defying physics then what's going on? Slim, healthy weight people that go to restaurants and enjoy themselves, have discovered the 80/20 rule. As long as they do the "good stuff" 80% of the time, they can enjoy themselves with the other 20%. That means no guilt or self hate after a big restaurant meal with drinks. No "falling off the wagon" after a blow out. And appreciating food for some of its other qualities, like its ability to bring us closer together with friends and family and share in an experience.
So what is this "good stuff" that these people are doing 80% of the time? It has nothing to do with binging, purging or starving yourself. In fact these habits can fit in to anyones lifestyle. I've broken down the top ten habits of slim, healthy people that never have to diet.
1. They make time to plan and prioritise healthy habits.
Feeling time poor is the norm in the 21st century. The world is full of things that are happy to distract us, grab our attention and pull us away from our goals. So, if we don't make time, it will be taken from us, and that includes time spent on health and fitness behaviours.
Every day we are greeted with decisions that can bring us towards or away from our body and health goals. People that succeed in living a healthy, balanced life with a lean body choose the "goal friendly" option more often than not. Like choosing to go to the gym straight from work instead of heading home to sit on the couch. Or choosing to cook the chicken you left out to defrost instead of getting McDonalds on the way home.
Remember this isn't about letting exercise and eating well take over your life. It's about making better choices 80% of the time, so you can enjoy the other 20%. Meaning there's plenty of time for the couch and maybe even McDonalds when the time is right.
2. They eat slowly and mindfully.
Believe it or not our bodies are really good at telling us when we're hungry and when we've had enough to eat. The problem is, most of us have lost the ability to listen to the little voices that are our bodies natural satiety signals. We constantly eat while distracted, with phones in hand, in front of the TV or caught up in thoughts about how we need to clean the blinds or the TPS reports our boss has been harping on about. As smart as our bodies are they are powerless over a brain that isn't paying attention.
Another annoying thing is that the signals our body sends us take a while to go from our tummies to our brains. How often have you finished a meal at a restaurant and not realised how stuffed you are until it's time to leave? Your stomach was full 30 minutes ago but the signal took a while to reach your brain and 30 minutes is plenty of time to cram more food in your mouth that probably wasn't necessary.
The solution: Slow down and pay attention.
The benefits of slow eating include better digestion, better hydration, easier weight loss or maintenance, and greater satisfaction with our meals. Meanwhile, eating quickly leads to poor digestion, increased weight gain, and lower satisfaction.
The benefits of paying attention are similar but with the added bonus of making certain foods mind blowingly delicious. You haven't truly enjoyed a Lindt chocolate ball until you've put it on your tongue, closed your eyes, rolled it around for a while, then focused deeply on the texture and taste of the explosion that happens in your mouth when you bite down. I think I might give up coaching and write erotic novels for a living.
3. They have some sort of eating routine.
Whether it's two big meals or six small meals, the research has shown that meal frequency doesn't really affect your metabolism as we once thought, as long as calories are the same at the end of the day. But from a behaviour point of view, we work better with a consistent routine. It's super common for busy people to go too long without eating which can lead to overeating high calorie food (or whatever is available at the time) when hunger finally catches up. An eating schedule can stop us from getting to that point.
This routine applies to regular visits to the supermarket and having some sort of meal prep schedule, both of which make it easy to be surrounded by good food. Get into a consistent routine and you'll never be caught without healthy food options again.
4. They control their portions.
Food quantity is arguably the biggest factor when it comes to changing your body weight. All diets (that work) work by reducing the amount of calories you eat each day. People that never have to diet are good at knowing how much to put on their plate and therefore controlling their calorie intake.
If you're anything like me, whatever you put on your plate is getting eaten, I don't like to waste food. Luckily if you've been paying attention to your hunger and fullness signals, you'll start to realise that it takes less food than you might think to satisfy your biological urges (not those kinds of urges) and you won't put that much on your plate to begin with. You can tailor your portions to how hungry you feel at the time or how active you've been that day.
Now if you are the analytical type and you love to count calories, then go for it. It can work really well. But pay attention! Having a calorie counter can cause us to lose touch with our hunger and fullness signals. There will be a day when you don't want to track calories anymore and when that day comes you'll need the skills to listen to your body for calorie control.
5. They choose higher quality foods more often.
By higher quality I don't mean organic, grass fed, paleo food, I'm talking about choosing whole foods over heavily processed food. Again most of the time, not all of the time. Whole foods are great at communicating with our natural satiety signals and help us know when to stop eating. Partially because whole foods are normally high in fibre, water and sometimes protein that helps us feel like we have a full tummy.
It also has something to do with a phenomenon known as "palette fatigue". Our body and brain have ways to stop us from overeating a particular food, it's the sensation when we've had enough of something despite not feeling that full. You might say something like "I'm sick of this" but then you'll perk up again when dessert is mentioned.
Heavily processed food on the other hand is designed to make us over eat. Its combination of tastes and textures can override our "palette fatigue" signal. Have you ever seen an ice cream eating contest? A guy is pounding litres of vanilla ice cream and reaches a point of not being able to eat another bite. Instead of giving up what does he do? He orders a bowl of salty fries.. has a few of those... and can suddenly fit in more ice cream.. Huh? The fries have helped him to override palette fatigue so he can continue eating, and win, whatever you win at an ice cream eating contest, diabetes maybe?
This does not mean whole food is good and processed food is bad. It's not that black and white. Think of it more like a spectrum of quality going from red to orange to green with lots of different shades along the way. A good step in the right direction would be swapping something heavily processed for something less processed, moving you towards the green.
6. They have a good balance of nutrients.
Ever felt like shit in the afternoon and just wanted something sweet to perk you up? You're not alone. Maybe you're crashing from your first 6 coffees? Maybe you stayed up late watching to many episodes of Love Island? Or maybe your body is low in essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
When we're giving the body the nutrients it needs it just functions better. Better energy, mood, digestion, cognitive function and sleep are just some of the benefits. Get all of this going and you're a lot less likely to crash and crave high calorie food.
Take fruits and vegetables for example. Colourful fruits and vegetables are natures pharmacy. They help us fight disease while controlling our mood, energy, digestion and more. High fibre fruits and vegetables are also low in calories and make us feel full. All good reasons to eat a broad range of high quality foods.
7. They move often.
This one is a no brainer. The more you move the more calories you burn. For most of us working out at the gym for 1 of the 24 hours in a day is a good practice. But people that never need to diet normally have a high amount of non exercise activity in their day. Walking, doing chores, chasing kids and working on your feet all burn calories, more calories than sitting on the couch.
8. They get lots of good quality sleep.
Poor sleep can make all decisions the following day more difficult, and that includes decisions about what to eat. When we are sleep deprived, even a little bit, our body can crave energy dense, high sugar foods. The benefits of good sleep? Better digestion, cognitive function, circulation, temperature regulation, mood, energy, blah, blah, sleep is good.
9. They create a supportive environment.
We've talked about a lot of habits so far in this article. One thing they all have in common is that they become easier to do with the right environment. A kitchen that's clean and organised makes it easier to prep meals. A pantry that has whole food in clear view and processed food hidden away makes it easier to make better choices. Having a gym bag in your car with shoes and a towel makes it easier to make it to the gym or go for a walk. Make sense?
But it's not just your physical environment. If you run with turkeys you'll never soar like an eagle. Couples that train together stay together. You're the sum of the 5 people you spend your time with. I've run out of cliches. Having people around you that support your commitment to eating well, sleeping well and exercising is a huge advantage.
10. They can regulate their emotions without relying on food.
It's easy to think that when you lose control and overeat all of the things, it was just a random occurrence, the food was there so you ate it. In reality there was probably a series of events that led up to that behaviour, that started hours before you smashed that packet of Tim Tams.
Every behaviour, even the worst, is your brain working to solve a problem. It may be that you binge drink on the weekends as way to cope with the stress of a hectic career. Or maybe you reach for the instant gratification of yummy food when you're feeling lonely. Your brain thinks it's being helpful by facilitating this instant relief, but when it becomes your only problem solving strategy, your eating behaviour and your weight can spiral out of control.
Disordered eating is way beyond the scope of this article, but if you can become aware of why you might reach for food as a way to cope, you can start looking at different strategies to fill the void.
So there you have it. Get these 10 habits down and you should never have to diet again. But remember the 80/20 rule. Giving yourself the freedom to enjoy life makes these habits sustainable for life and that's what makes them the key to being a "never dieter". Coincidently these are the habits and skills that we build during 16 weeks of Coaching with Greg. Funny that.