10 Habits to Lose Body Fat
Updated: Jun 3
My experience as a personal trainer has taught me that the most effective practice that leads people to long-term results is habit change. We are what we do everyday. All the little habits, good or bad, that we perform throughout the day are either pushing us towards, or pulling us further from, our health and fitness goals.
Many of us just need to continue to master the basics of nutrition. There is the tried and true way of counting calories and working to stay under your total calories so you end up in a calorie deficit. Stay in a calorie deficit long enough and you will start losing weight and body fat. This works, and can be a very effective strategy for weight loss. Hopefully, through tracking your calories/macros you develop an awareness of your eating habits and begin to naturally make adjustments.
This isn’t always the case. If you don’t naturally start making better habits on your own, then you may feel like you’re going to always need to track your macros and count calories for the rest of your life. You might feel that if you stop tracking, you’ll lose all your hard earned progress. This is where habit formation comes in.
I recommend working on mastering simple habits from the beginning. Often times, mastering simple nutrition habits will lead to fat loss without having to start tracking macros. Building these habits into your daily life will help good nutrition become part of your routine, and will last with you for a lifetime.
Here I list out 10 simple habits you can start working on. I recommend working on one habit on a time, working at it for 1-2 weeks, and once you feel you’ve gotten a handle on it choose another habit and start working on that.
In no particular order the 10 habits are:
1. Eat slowly
2. Take a multi vitamin
3. Take fish oil, 1g per percent body fat, up to 20g
4. Stop eating when 80-90% full
5. Eat 1-2 palm size servings of protein at each meal
6. Eat 1-2 fist size servings of veggies at each meal
7. Reduce caloric beverages (soda, alcohol, Frappuccino’s) within reason
8. Eat mostly whole foods
9. Reduce processed food (anything in a cardboard box, plastic bag, or has a cute animal mascot) within reason
10. Eat 3-4 meals per day, no snacking
If you want more information on the 10 habits I listed above, read on. Otherwise, pick one and start working on it today!
This habit has become increasingly popular within the diet world. I know that Precision Nutrition uses this habit a lot, and Georgie Fear in her book “Lean Habits” uses this habit to control hunger and food intake. It basically works like this: when you eat, your body doesn’t recognize that food is coming into your system right away. You have 2 main hunger hormones, ghrelin and leptin, that control hunger and satiety. From the time food enters your mouth these hormones go to work. It takes about 10-15 minutes before you start “feeling full” from the food you’re eating. I don’t know about you, but I can do some serious damage in 15 minutes, like 2 large pizzas type of damage. By eating slowly, you allow your hormones to ramp up and sense the food you are consuming. Allowing yourself to sense fullness, will help you eat less at each meal, and avoid that dreaded overstuffed feeling. This is another form of calorie control. If you never (or very rarely) overeat, and in fact eat less at each meal, your total caloric intake will be lower.
Take a multi vitamin
This one seems simple, but if you’re not eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis, then you’re probably not getting the full spectrum of vitamins and minerals from just your food. Also, if you’re in a calorie deficit (which you need to be in to lose body fat), you’re eating even less food on a daily basis. This habit is used to make sure that you’re not deficient in any micronutrient.
Take fish oil, 1g per percent body fat, up to 20g
I got this one from Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition. He recommends this because taking fish oil has been shown to increase fat oxidation in some individuals. Taking fish oil has also been shown to effect the motivation centers of the brain, making individuals feel more motivated. That’s pretty good. Improving your bodies’ ability to use fat as fuel and feel more motivated to workout and follow your nutrition plan? Sign me up.
Stop eating when 80-90% percent full
Pretty much any diet book or dietitian/nutritionist will recommend this one. Being mindful of your eating, and stopping at 80-90% full is a relatively effective way to control your total caloric intake. Now, this habit should be practiced at each meal. You’re essentially eating a little less at each meal, which should help put you in a caloric deficit. Think of your stomach like the gas tank of your car. You fill the tank to 90% full in the morning (breakfast), you drive around and burn the fuel down to 30% by the afternoon. Then you fill the tank back to 90% (lunch), and drive around some more until the evening. You fill it back to 90% (dinner) before settling in for the evening. You’ve created and maintained a 10% deficit in fuel throughout the whole day, and probably didn’t even notice it. It works the same way with your diet, maintain a caloric deficit over time and you will start losing weight. I say 80-90%, because everyone is a little different. Some people will start losing at 90% while others will lose weight at 85%. It just depends. Keep going until you notice about a 0.5-1 pound drop in weight per week.
Eat 1-2 palm size servings of protein at each meal
When it comes to weight loss protein is probably the most important macronutrient. Your need it to repair your body after a hard workout. It keeps you full between meals. It prevents you from losing muscle mass while maintaining a caloric deficit. General recommendations of protein range from 1.2-2.4 grams per pound of target body weight. That’s a pretty big range. For most people I recommend to eat more rather than less protein. Using the palm method to measure out serving sizes will make sure that you are getting within that range of recommended protein, without having to count grams or calories.
Eat 1-2 fist size servings of veggies at each meal
This one tends to be tricky for most people. 2 fists of veggies is a lot, or at least it looks like a lot. However, while veggies take up a lot of volume on the plate, they usually have the least amount of calories. They’re full of vitamins, minerals and fiber, helping you stay full between meals. Eating enough vegetables is key to maintaining a caloric deficit without feeling like you’re starving yourself. Start with ones that you like and require little to know prep time. Carrots, celery, and cucumbers are great on the go or in a salad. I always say that simple is better. There are lots of vegetables out there, and it is important to eat a wide variety of colors. Eating a variety of veggies will also help you from feeling bored with your food choices, as there are lots of them to choose from and many ways to prepare them.
Reduce caloric beverages within reason
Reducing caloric beverages is a simple way to reduce your overall calorie consumption. Let’s be clear: you need to be in a calorie deficit to start losing weight. All calories count towards that total caloric intake. The teaspoon of sugar in your coffee, or splash of milk in your afternoon tea counts. It all adds up. I think it’s easy to spot it when you’re used to having 2-3 beers at the end of the day. The average calories in one IPA are 180-200 per 12-ounce bottle. Have just two IPAs at the end of the day, and you’ve added 400 calories to your daily intake. That’s as much as a small meal. Cut back on the nighttime drinking, and now you’ve created a deficit. I’ve seen many clients cut back on nighttime drinking, or weekend drinking, and notice a reduction in weight within just a couple days! The point is, be aware of your liquid calories. They go down easy, they taste great, but they’re not very filling and soon you’re going back for more.
Eat mostly whole foods
Whole foods are minimally processed and are generally free from artificial substances. You probably know theses as “healthy” or “clean” foods, such as raw vegetables, fruit, meats, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. The reason for eating mostly whole foods is two fold. In general, whole foods have more nutrients and less total calories than highly processed food. That means there is more bang for your calorie buck in a steak than a burger from McDonalds. Additionally, whole foods, especially fruit and veggies, have more fiber in them. More fiber in your meals will keep you fuller for longer, which means less chance of you snacking before dinner. An added bonus: whole foods require more energy to breakdown and digest than processed foods due to the thermogenic effect of food (TEF). That means you actually burn more calories digesting whole foods than you do processed foods. It’s not much, but every calorie counts.
Reduce processed food within reason
This is basically the opposite of the above habit: eat mostly whole foods. It’s not very scientific, but I tell clients that processed foods are anything from a bag or cardboard box, or anything that has a cute animal mascot. I think I actually heard that from Coach Dan John at one of his seminars. It was funny, so it stuck with me. I tell it to clients, they laugh, and it sticks with them. You know what processed foods are: chips, Cheetos, candy, soda, food substitutes, hungry man meals, Twinkies, cheat meals/foods. Reducing processed foods will help you bring down your total caloric intake, in hopes of putting you in a caloric deficit. In general, processed foods have more calories and less nutrients than whole foods, meaning you get less nutrition for the same amount of food, and more calories getting stored as body fat. I believe Dr. John Berardi in his early book Scrawny to Brawny mentions that processed foods are already broken down and are easier for your body to digest, so you end up absorbing more calories from a meal of processed food then you do from the same size meal of whole foods. Now, if you are tracking your total caloric intake, and paying attention to your macros, you certainly can eat processed foods and lose body fat as long as you’re in a calorie deficit. This is more for people who don’t want to track calories for the rest of their life.
Eat 3-4 meals per day, no snacking
A while ago it became common knowledge that it is better to eat 6 small meals a day for fat loss. It keeps you from overeating and helps keep your metabolism raised during the day. This has since been debunked. The number 1 precursor to losing weight and body fat is you need to be in a caloric deficit. Whether you eat 2 meals or 8 meals a day, if you maintain a calorie deficit, you should start losing weight. I learned this habit from Georgie Fear in her book Lean Habits. Eating 3-4 meals per day, no snacking, allows you to eat bigger, more satisfying meals. Eating a bigger meal reduces the chance that you’ll get hungry later. Feeling ravenously hungry from not eating enough is a slippery slope that can lead to mindless grazing throughout the day, putting you in a caloric surplus. Again, these habits are for people who do not want to track their calories using an app or pencil and paper. That’s also why there is the added, “no snacking” at the end of this habit. I think it’s easier to focus on eating 3-4 times a day, than to focus on 5-6 meals and what kind of healthy snacks should I eat and extra stuff like that. Keep it simple; eat 3-4 meals per day, no snacking. If you’re crazy hungry between lunch and diner, well then you might need to eat a little more lunch. Not a lot, just a little bit more.
To put this all together, I find the best way is to choose one of the above habits that looks interesting to you, or one that you haven’t though of before. Think about how you can incorporate that habit into your daily life. How much work will it take to start it? Does it require you to buy something? If you decide to start taking a multi vitamin, but don’t have any in the house, well then you need to go buy some. And finally, how confident are you that you can actually do the habit you’ve chosen? On a scale of 1-10, 10 being you can totally do that and 1 being that it’s not going to happen, I need you to be at a 9 or 10. If you’re not at a 9 or 10, you need to scale it down some. Make it simpler, more manageable. We want to build positive momentum, so that you feel accomplished after a week of taking your multi vitamin every day. Once you feel that you’ve gotten the hang of one habit, add the next one. Continue in this way until you’re doing all 10 habits.