The Essential Habits of Healthy Fat Loss
“To follow, without halt, one aim: There is the secret to success. “
— Anna Pavlova
Losing weight — specifically burning fat — seems to be the never ending, hot topic of health and wellness.
As long as two-thirds of the developed nation is overweight and obese, Google will be continuously asked, “How do I burn fat?”; box gym doors will be ever-revolving; and social media feeds will always be pumping out “ideal” body images.
With this article I wanted to keep simple and to the point. The objective was to be “action” oriented. Reading about intermittent fasting, ketosis, plant-based diets, or the new fad work out, and supplement won’t get us anywhere. They may help, they may harm, and may result in no change.
Reading up on new topics, or constantly flipping through more articles and books is what I like to call, “mowing the lawn when the house is on fire.” We have to work on the main issues at hand. Without a solid foundation of habits — the essential habits of fat loss — reading up on all of these trendy new diets won’t create sustainable, long-term results.
The answer is not in another diet.
The answer is not is another pill.
The answer is within.
Before I begin, I thought it might be helpful to break this article up into it’s core parts so you can digest, and understand things much better. I feel that sometimes articles can get lost in translation, because parts just seem to flow rather haphazardly from one section to the next, without clear breaks. It’s in the breaks that we can pause, reflect, and fully understand.
Part One: Understanding Your Foundation — Why the Big Rocks Must Go In First, The Power of the Basics, The Secret of Fat Loss
Part Two: The Story You Tell Yourself — Mantras to Live By for Your Fat Loss Journey. Build A Growth Mindset, Stay Dedicated, and Respect the Process.
Part Three: Essential Habits for Healthy Fat Loss Checklist — Principles of Part One and Part Two, Condensed Into Daily Actions
Part One: Understanding Your Foundation
Why the Big Rocks Must Go In First
The Big Rocks Principle states that the most efficient way to fill a jar is by putting in the largest rocks first, followed by the smaller stones, and then adding the sand. If you fill the jar with sand first, you can’t pack the jar properly.
What does this have to do with fat loss? Well, the “big rocks” stand as a metaphor for diet, exercise, rest, and stress management. What about the sand? Worrying about wether a protein shake sipped on 13 minutes after a work out increases protein synthesis more so than 15 minutes.
But if I just left you with the big rocks, I’d just be another well intended person saying,
“You just have to eat less, and move more!”
Maybe even add this on as well because hey, I’m nice:
“You just have to sleep more, and stress less!”
I’m not sure how many of you can stop here, and then proceed to know exactly what to do. But if you literally took that advice, and followed it to heart, you may actually notice incredible change! But that’s only if you know how to eat better, how to move best according to your body, how to improve your sleep, and how to best cope with stress.
Do you have the required skills?
Are you ready, willing, and able to make these changes?
Most of you will probably continue to read on now. I hope so anyways.
The Power of the Basics
Do the basics. Do them well. Do them often.
This is how we build a strong, robust, and adaptable system that can handle our ever-changing lifestyle. Doing another ten day cleanse, while not understanding what whole foods are, how to properly eat, or sleeping enough, is just watching the proverbial house burn down.
The issue with following a habit-based approach to nutrition is that it doesn’t sound sexy. Unlike the new diet, it isn’t wrapped in a shiny sales pitch, topped with a glittery marketing campaign.
But it should get attention.
What we become, is a result of our repeated, daily behaviours. Thus, everything must be treated like a skill. Deliberate practice of the essential fat loss principles, consistently day-in day-out, will yield you tremendous results.
There’s a saying that neuroscientists love:
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
We must reinforce who wish to become with the habits that our ideal version of ourselves would carry out on a daily basis. Before continuing, I highly recommend reading my last post about understanding your identity before changing your habits.
This means adjusting our perspective.
Quit thinking in terms of calories in and calories out. Yes, overall increase in calorie consumption is the largest contributor to weight gain. But by thinking our bodies work in such a transactional way, grossly simplifies what is happening, “beneath the hood,” so to speak.
When we start thinking about food and exercise this way, it’s easy to get caught up in calorie counting programs. This is such a dangerous, and superficial way of looking at food. It completely undermines the importance of understanding our bodies internal cues, and how we interact with our environment. It’s a slippery slope which leads to food and exercise being built into a reward, punishment system.
“If I do this exercise, then I get this food.”
“If I eat this food, then I must do this exercise.”
By doing so, we create a toxic relationship with food. We constantly worry, and get anxious about what we’re doing, and we cease to enjoy the journey.
Note: It only becomes, “toxic” or, “negative”, if we perceive these programs to be so. If you have made it this far, and you are intrigued as to where this article can go, I bet you’re fed up with the superficiality of the health and fitness industry as well.
I’m all for promoting whatever makes people stay consistent, and happy, all the while helping their communities, and planet. If counting calories makes you incredibly excited, and you never complain to anyone about it, and you are making a positive impact on those around you, continue on. Just understand that this article may not be for you. Although with humility, you may see how adding some of these perspective changes in addition to your current routine can benefit you.
Carrying on, it’s important to understand that ultimately, we are trying to create a shift in calorie expenditure. We must burn more than we ingest. However, I am going to show you methods that teach you about food, our relationship with it, and how our internal cues, and perspective of our behaviours give us much more power and control over achieving our goals.
What’s the Secret to Fat Loss?
Want to know what the number one factor is when it comes to burning fat and losing that unwanted weight?
Now, in order to be consistent, there must be some prerequisites that get met, and most of them involve mindset.
You have to want to burn fat more than you want most things in life. You have to look deep down, and honestly ask yourself,
“Do I really want to lose this weight?”
“Why do I want to lose this weight so badly?” and,
“Am I willing to do what it takes every single day?”
Most people that take the time to investigate this deeply realize:
a) they don’t want it badly enough,
b) they don’t know the deepest reason for wanting to lose the weight,
c) they aren’t sure of what it really takes to follow through.
You see, you need to first know why it is what you are doing. And then you need to bring awareness to your mindset every single day.
“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
The magic three ingredients for success:
You need to be aware of where your mind is at all times. Are you staying positive, grateful, and showing appreciation and compassion to your daily behaviours, and yourself?
You have to be focused on putting deliberate effort into you new daily habits. You can’t “kinda” want it. Wherever the focus goes, the energy flows.
Finally, you have to stay the course, no matter what. Fat loss is not a steady decline until you reach your goal. Like any journey to a subjective version of defined success, there are peaks, valleys, bumps, turns, plateaus, and cliffs. It’s a squiggly, messy route, not a straight line to the promise land.
“Everyone’s got a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.”
— Mike Tyson
Do humans wish it were the other way? Absolutely. But we must come to terms with life, and the fact that life is ever changing. It’s fluid, adaptable, and always in a state of ebb and flow. We must show respect to this fact of life. Then show respect to ourselves. Because now we are deciding to change, and when we try to change, we will experience pushes and pulls in other directions.
This is why consistency is important. It’s compound interest. Your habits, executed every day no matter what, eventually trump any sort of trivial mood, action, or thought of a moment that tries to pull you back to old habits. You must stick to the plan, at all costs. Don’t let emotions override you. This leads us to part two.
Part Two: The Story You Tell Yourself
“What you seek is seeking you.”
I could have easily put this as Part One, as I personally believe that mindset, identity, and values are some of the most important areas we need to understand before starting any endeavour. However, this article didn’t seem to flow right when I started with it. It seemed beyond even myself, as I was trying to jump right into things that usually get met with a lot of resistance. It’s much better to start with what we can easily understand, and move from that point.
So here we are, at Part Two.
Below is a list of my favourite daily mantras, that will help you follow the number one factor when it comes to fat loss — staying consistent. Why should you be so focused on mantras? Here is a favourite quote of mine to summarize why:
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
— Carl Jung
Mantras help to reinforce our identities and the stories we tell about ourselves, and the world. By looking within, and changing the way we see the world, and feeding thoughts that promote growth, we become an unstoppable force.
These mantras help you instil what psychologists call a growth mindset —believing that your innate abilities can grow and expand through hard work and dedication. They aren’t fixed, and set in stone.
They also help to shape your perspective into being more focused on what is in your immediate control — your thoughts, actions, and effort. By doing so, and showing appreciation for what you can control, you let go on needless anxiety of what you can’t control. Some say, “Respect the process,” whereas I like to quote the title of a great book, “The Score Takes Care of Itself.”
“Standardize before you optimize.” — You can’t change something that hasn’t been started. Make moving constantly a daily behaviour before you choose what specific exercise program you should follow. Establish a baseline of positive gains, and stick to it before making changes.
“Consistency before intensity.” — Like the first mantra, you need to stay consistent, as you know. But keep this in mind before you want to start adding on more intense, and difficult challenges. It’s better to exercise at a moderate intensity everyday for 30 minutes doing activities you enjoy, rather than crushing yourself in an hour spin class and not being able to walk for a week — resulting in you missing more training sessions.
“Feedback, not failure.” — This is a powerful mental shift that promotes a growth mindset. Viewing what most people would consider as, “failures” instead as, “feedback,” shifts you from negative self talk, and loss aversion, towards opportunity, growth, and information on what you can do in the future to change. There are lessons in even the worse of times.
“Progress, not perfection.” — There is no such thing as the perfect time. The only time that exists, is right now.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
— Chinese Proverb.
Focus on taking action, not reading more information and creating excuses about why right now isn’t the best time. Generally speaking, the scientist who studies fat loss, and knows the so called “best way”, but who sits in his office 24/7, is less healthy that the person who just gets up an walks everyday for 30 minutes.
“One percent better, every day.” — Think about how you can create a marginal gain, in one are of your life. Then think about how you can improve that again the next day, or seek to create a positive gain in a new area.. Set the bar low, and celebrate every small win you accomplish. You will be surprised at how quickly you are leaping over a bar you though insurmountable.
“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.”
— Jordan B. Peterson
“Polish before change.” — A student of mine shared an article with me about thinking of your actions in terms of “polishing.” This helps, especially if you struggle with a lack of motivation, or feeling that change in any form, is negative resistance. The analogy comes from polishing old silver, in which the shining silver is always there, it just needs to be uncovered through constant attention and cleaning.
After she told me this, it reminded me a lot about the story of Michelangelo’s David statue. When asked how he was able to form such a magnificent piece of art from such a massive hunk of marble he replied,
“It was easy. I simply removed everything that was not David.”
Here is a friendly reminder to end on:
We are all human, and we are all trying to win our own battles. And deep down, we know what we have to do. We simply have to uncover it.
It just takes awareness, effort, and time.
Part Three: Essential Habits for Healthy Fat Loss Checklist
This is probably what you were waiting for. If you made it this far, then I applaud you. It takes a special someone to read through a bunch of information on mindset, and consistency, without looking for the new quick gimmick.
Again, notice that these habits aren’t anything “special” in the conventional sense. You can look into these all you want, but remember that action trumps everything. Before you can optimize these areas, you must standardize the behaviours.
Ask yourself honestly,
“Do I take action on each of these, every single day?”
Kinda doing them, is not doing them consistently. The best place to start is by picking one thing, and mastering it wholeheartedly. This usually takes a two to four weeks for most people. Don’t do too much at once. Remember the mantra, “One percent better everyday.”
1. Sleep 7–9 hours per night: Aim to get to bed two hours before midnight, try not to use electronics an hour before bed, and sleep in a cool and dark room. Going on a calorie-restricted diet while sleeping less than 7–8 hours a night, and/or having disrupted sleep will result in greater loss of lean body mass (muscle), rather than fat. (Read Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep for more info).
2. Eat whole, nutrient-dense foods: If your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, then it’s not food. If it comes in a box, bag, can, or has more that five ingredients in it, it’s probably not food. (Read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food for other amazing eating principles).
3. Eat only when you are physically hungry: Listen to your body carefully. Are you really hungry, or just bored and trying to distract yourself? Could be that you are dehydrated too.
4. Eat slowly, and only until you are satisfied (80% full): One of the most important fat loss tips: eating slowly and mindfully, only until you feel satisfied, not stuffed. Stop when you feel good, not necessarily when your plates empty, or when others are done eating. Focus on you. Learn which foods make you feel best, and satisfied. (Read Thich Naht Hanh’s short guide on eating, How to Eat).
5. Drink plenty of filtered water, and limit coffee to one-two cups prior to noon: Hydration can’t be overstated, and coffee should not be abused. If you feel that can’t you function optimally without caffeine before noon, you may be self-medicating chronic sleep deprivation. To take this a step further, aim to consume only zero-calorie beverages. The most simple way: Only drink water. Sparkling water is good too, and if switching to diet drinks helps get you off regular soda, then that’s good too.
6. Reduce/eliminate added, processed, and refined sugars, grains, etc: Alcohol, sweets, chips, granola bars, snack foods, most protein bars, fast food, soda, breads, pasta, cream & sugar in coffee, yogurt with added “fruit,” etc. Note: Honey, agave nectar, and maple syrup are all natural, sure. But they are still added sugars nonetheless, and most of us don’t portion these foods accordingly, and we eat them in conjunction with an already high sugar intake.
Remember about “mowing the lawn when the house is on fire?” That’s what it’s called when you eat honey and say it’s “healthy,” after eating pizza for dinner every night this week. Focus on the big rocks — the essentials — first. Your great grandmother would recognize honey as food, but more so treated it as a delicacy, in reasonable dosages, every so often.
7. Exercise 4–6 times each week, doing only what you love: A blend of strength training, cardiovascular activity, stretching (yoga, dynamic mobility, foam rolling), sports, and leisure activity. The idea is to sweat/move every day. Remember, “consistency before intensity.”
8. Build your social support network: You are the sum of the five people you see the most. Let your friends, family, and coworkers know about your goals. Surround yourself with those that lift you up and make you happy. If you don’t know something, ask for help. Find a coach or mentor. Don’t wait!
9. Reduce stress through through various techniques. Deep breathing, meditation, daily mantras, warm salt baths, reading light fiction before bed, massage, etc. How you perceive the world is extremely important for fat loss. Increasing stress which goes unmanaged can build up, leading to a cascade of hormone imbalances in our body. This means more stress, more anxiety, and possibly, more fat. Replenish your body with anything that helps you relax, and calm down.
“It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.”
— Marcus Aurelius
I sincerely hope this article helps you take action today. Never underestimate the power of small actions, taken every single day. This is how you become healthy. Fat loss and health is less of a destination, and more of what you decide to do right now. It’s this string of mindful actions — this moment — that will lead you to your goals.
Thank you for reading my article. I hope you found it helpful or at least thought-provoking. If this post did help you, consider sharing it with someone you think it would help too.