Why is it that so many people find fat loss so elusive? One reason is that the diet industry doesn’t exactly have a reputation for honesty, clarity and simplicity. Another reason is that too many people are looking for the quick-fix, easy solution to a complex issue. Many wise people have told us that success leave clues. Instead of falling for the latest diet fad or quick-fix miracle promise, why not stop and look at what lean people do? Here are 7 important habits that lean people practice – consistently.
Who do you look to for leanness clues?
Assuming you are a regular person, you want to look for everyday people who are lean. In doing so, you want to exclude the following people:
- People who are naturally skinny. You know that friend of yours who can eat whatever he/she wants and is still not fat – he/she won the genetic lottery – you didn’t – keep looking.
- People whose full-time job is to be in amazing shape. Examples include: professional bodybuilders, physique stars, models, movie stars or pro athletes. These folks are in a different world than you and I.
- Young people – many folks in their teens and early 20’s are lean simply because they are young – not because they know what they are doing. Now, I know plenty of young trainers who do know what they are doing so don’t misunderstand what I’m saying – if young trainer can help middle-aged adults get lean, he/she obviously knows a thing or two.
To generate my list of habits, I looked at my own habits as one who is lean. I also looked to clients, colleagues and the many fitness enthusiasts I’ve known throughout the years who are lean because they work hard to be so.
I’ve also looked for consistency in the habits. You can always find a lean person who does some weird thing and claims that is the secret. Don’t be fooled. The secret to finding the right clues is to look at the similarities, not the differences. It’s the stuff that everyone who is lean is doing that you want to pay attention to.
Here are 7 habits of highly lean people…
Habit #1: Lean people know what they eat
Most people are “see-food” eaters. They see food, and it is in their mouth before their mind has a chance to ask that all important question, “Is this helping or hurting my goals?” Lean people know exactly what and how much is going in their mouths. They consciously think about the outcome of their food choices. They may use different methods such as a food journal, a photo food log or a diet tracking app on their phone. They may weight food, measure it or use hands for portion sizes (e.g. palm-sized serving of lean protein), but one thing is certain – they know what and how much is going in each day.
Your action step: pick on the methods listed above and develop the habit of consistently tracking everything you eat. At least a few times per week, go back and reflect on your records.
Habit #2: Lean people are consistent
In his book, “The 4 Hour Workweek”, Tim Ferris stated that the leanest people eat the same thing each day. My response was, “Yep, that’s me.” As I thought about that many times since then, I would also say that is true for of the lean people I know. They have a routine and they stick with it.
Now, as you read this you may be thinking, “Isn’t it good to have variety? What about nutrient deficiencies? What about building up an intolerance to certain foods by over-consuming them? It would be so boring to eat the same thing every day!”
Please understand that I’m not telling you to eat the exact same foods every day. That’s not the point. The point is consistency. I know what I need to eat to feel good, have lots of energy and reach my goals. That is what dictates my food choices. That’s what needs to dictate your food choices.
Variety is good and we all need more variety. However, the trick is seeking variations in your food selections without deviating from your optimal meal template. For example, leanness requires a diet that emphasizes lean proteins and veggies. This becomes the foundation of your meal template.
For example, let’s say for lunch you decide to have follow a Precision Nutrition meal template: 1 palm-size portion of lean protein, 1-2 fists of veggies, a cupped handful of fruit and a small amount of healthy fat. Great! This is your template. Stick with this template as long as it is producing the results you want. However, while this template doesn’t change, your food selection can. You can make a list of as many lean protein, veggies, fresh fruits and healthy fat options as you want and use any combination of them.
Lean people are also consistent with their training. Week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade they hit the gym like clockwork.
Your action step: strive towards consistency with your eating and training. The real secret with doing this is start where you are at. Don’t try to go all hard-core overnight. Instead, take slow, gradual consistent baby steps towards consistent lean eating and consistent hard training.
Habit #3: Lean people are evidence-based
Too many people evaluate their workouts on how they feel. If they left the gym feeling tired and sweaty and were sore the next day – well then it must have been a good workout. Too many people base their eating habits off a philosophy or the latest diet fad.
Lean people like to feel good after a workout and choose to follow intelligent eating habits. However, they know that no matter how good a workout feels or how good a diet sounds, if it doesn’t produce results the want, something needs to change.
Your action step: choose a way to evaluate your progress. Avoid just looking in the mirror or standing on the scale. Instead, this might be snapping a quick selfie (same conditions each time), doing measurements, seeing how you fit a certain pair of jeans or getting more official body composition testing. Re-test every 2-4 weeks. You won’t see massive changes but you will know if you are on track or not. Adjust your nutrition and training when things are not moving in the right direction.
Habit #4: Lean people strength train
Try this experiment: go into any gym and look to see where the lean people are. They are the ones doing strength training. Yes, you can do some appropriate cardio, but you want to emphasize strength training. Strength training increases your metabolism and builds hard, lean muscle. Gyms are filled with people who slave away on the cardio machines month after month and still don’t get any leaner. Sure there are naturally skinny people who run all the time and are skinny, but we are talking lean here – not skinny (and if you don’t have this naturally skinny body type, it won’t work for you).
Your action step: emphasize strength training in your training program. If you want complete fat loss workouts that emphasize strength training, check out my book Athletic Training for Fat Loss.
Related post on cardio:
Habit #5: Lean people don’t require “something new” every time they train
Now more than ever people want new, innovative and creative changes to their workouts every time they train. While this is fun for your mind, it doesn’t help your body. Your muscles don’t need to be confused. Working out is not what gets you in shape. Progressing a workout is where the magic happens.
Lean people don’t come to the gym to be entertained, they come to get the results they want. They stay with a program and focus on getting better.
Your action step: instead of hopping from one program to the next, pick a program and stick with it for at least a month or two. Get a training journal. Always start a training session by looking back at your previous session and trying to beat that with an extra rep or a little more weight.
Habit #6: Lean people are okay with psychological hunger
Getting and staying lean means you will have to say “no – thanks” to treats a lot more than you want. Lean people try not to get hungry by emphasizing protein and high-fiber foods like veggies. However, they know there will be times when they are tempted and have to say “no” to reach their goals. They understand that there is a different between true physical hunger (which they try to avoid) and boredom or psychological hunger (e.g. I’m hungry and all I want is Chips – do you really think this is your body telling you it has a Dorito deficiency?) which they push through and devote the focus to something non-food related.
Habit #7: Lean people separate from food from social gatherings
Yes, of course it is good to relax and enjoy a special treat once is a while. However, for most people the frequency of celebrations in today’s world are many and close between. Sure you have your standard Christmas day, Thanksgiving dinner and of course your birthday. These are not the problem. The problem is the countless other social events (e.g. kids piano recitals, board meetings, donut day at work, your dog’s birthday, etc.) each week that all provide boat-loads of fattening foods. If you indulge at every opportunity, you will never reach your goal.
Lean people don’t avoid family gatherings or parties because they know there will be junk food there (that would be a symptom of Orthorexia – an eating disorder where you have an unhealthy obsession with healthy food). Instead they go to social events not to pig out, but to be with people they care about. They are okay to nurse a water bottle at a party or pass on dessert at the family dinner. They will go to restaurants with a group of friends and order meat with extra veggies instead of starch with their meal.
Your action step: decide ahead of when you are going to treat yourself. You will have to experiment to find the amount of cheat meals you can eat and still reach your goals. While some people like the 80/20 rule (remember this came from economics) your goal and body type may require you to go 90/10. When you are going to treat yourself, try to have a good meal of meat and veggies before you go. Then, enjoy a moderate amount of treats without feeling guilty. Outside of these times, stay the course so you can reach your desired goal.
Some people make look at these habits and say, “That’s not normal!” I agree. However, we have to remember that about 54% of Canadians and 69% of Americans are overweight or obese. That means if you live in North America, it is normal to be overweight or obese. If you want to be lean (i.e. abnormal) it will require that you do things differently that the norm.
Remember that you don’t have to choose between obese or ripped. There is a continuum of leanness. You don’t have to go as far down the continuum as someone else does. Find a level that is healthy and reasonable to you. Just remember that the farther down you go, the harder and stricter things become. I’m happy to help people get lean, but I’m just as happy to talk people out of a goal that is not a good fit for them and help them find a more reasonable goal.
|How far do you want to go?
If your current habits are very different than these, don’t worry and please don’t try to change everything all at once. Just take one habit or action item and work on it until it feels normal to you, then move to another one. Forget trying to get ripped by Tuesday. Instead, progressively adopt the leanness lifestyle with these habits.