Need to lose weight? Pick one habit.

The question I receive most often when people learn I’m a personal trainer is “What’s the best way to lose weight?”

Such a simple question. And the answer can be so complex. My answer used to always be, “Move more, eat less.” And in some ways, that’s still a good answer. But most people already know that. Most people know they eat too much, and exercise too little. Yet, they still struggle with their weight.

So, I want to break it down for you a little more.

If you have weight issues, I can say with much certainty that it’s probably your diet. I see people at the gym day after day, year after year, whose bodies never change or don’t change much. No matter how often or how hard they exercise, their weight stays basically the same. Which means it’s their diet.

As much as it pains me to say this, diet is at least 80% of the equation when it comes to weight loss. Dammit. I’d much rather work out hard every day than change my eating. Eating is fun. Life’s too short to be on a diet all the time.

Wait. Did I say ‘diet’? Bad, bad trainer. Diet is a four-letter word. Diets are meant to go on and off of. Stay far away from them. Just say no.

Let me clarify. When I say “diet” I just mean “way of eating.”

If you want to lose weight (and keep it off!), you need to change your way of eating. And the easiest way to do this is by working on your habits one at a time. Some people like to go cold turkey and change all their habits at once, but this can be overwhelming.

I suggest picking one habit and mastering that before moving on. How do you pick a habit to work on, how do you know which one to choose? I suggest picking your worst habit, the thing that’s holding you back the most.

Here are some habits that could be holding you back.

Eating for reasons other than hunger—this is the big one for me. I eat when I’m happy, sad, mad, frustrated and just because the food is there. I rarely eat just because I’m hungry. If this is a problem for you, too, then try waiting until you feel hungry before you eat. Before grabbing something to snack on, ask yourself this simple question: “Am I hungry?” If not, choose not to eat right then.

Eating until you’re stuffed—You might be eating only when hungry and choosing healthy foods, but if you’re eating until you’re beyond full/satisfied, chances are good that you’re over-eating. Our empty stomachs are about the size of our fists. Think about that. It doesn’t take a lot of food to fill it. Our stomachs are also very flexible and will stretch. Flexible bodies are a good thing. Flexible stomachs can lead to over-eating. At your next meal, try stopping when you’re satisfied, not full. And certainly not stuffed. This is easier said than done, especially if you’re eating something really yummy, and if you’re used to eating until you’re full. The Japanese call this “hara hachi bun me” which means, eating until 80% full.

Eating too much processed foods — What are processed foods? Anything that comes from a factory and not the ground or the earth. Anything that has a label or a long list of ingredients. That diet frozen meal might be low on calories, but have you taken a look at the ingredient list?  Focus on whole foods. If it has a label with more than just a few ingredients, you should choose that food less frequently (notice I’m not telling you to never eat it. Just limit it. Moderation, baby!). Make at least 80% of your diet unprocessed foods.

Not drinking enough water — If you’re dehydrated, you’re going to feel tired, depressed, grumpy and out of sorts. You’ll be less likely to make good food choices or exercise because you’re… well… too tired, depressed, grumpy and out of sorts. LOL. You’ve probably heard some rules—drink 8 glasses of water a day or drink half your weight in ounces. Those are fine rules, but here’s an easier way to stay hydrated: Drink 16 ounces of plain water each morning when you first get out of bed. Then look at your pee throughout the day. If it’s dark yellow or gold, you’re dehydrated so drink up. If it’s almost clear or pale, you’re hydrated. Try drinking 4-8 ounces of plain water before each meal and whenever you’re hungry to stay hydrated throughout the day.

Not eating enough fruits and vegetables — This is probably the fastest and easiest way to improve your diet. Most of us eat only one or two servings of produce a day, if that. And don’t be afraid of fruit. Unless your doctor has told you to avoid or limit it, remind yourself that the world isn’t getting fatter because we eat too many bananas or apples. Take stock of your diet now. How many fruits and vegetables are you eating each day on average? Unless you’re eating 7-10 servings, it’s not enough. So eat more. One piece of fruit or salad at a time.

I could go on and on about habits and food choices, but those are the biggest issues I see (and struggle with myself). So start there and good luck!

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