Nutrition is such a hot topic these days. From all of the quick fix diets and fads that have hit the market recently, it is so hard to decipher what is actually fact versus fiction. I don’t claim to be a nutrition “expert.” But what I can tell you is that I have worked with thousands of clients over the past 10 years and what I am finding are some common themes when it comes to the best advice I can give when getting started to figure out your minimum effective dose with nutrition. What we have actually found is that it really doesn’t even start with nutrition recommendations of what someone “should eat” but instead with the habits that you should start as a foundation that will help you become successful in promoting a healthy lifestyle.
What I am going to give you are some standard habits we use in the gym that have been shown to be very effective for fat loss. If your goals are fat loss and body composition change, then try these first. Some criteria to consider when starting a new habit are:
- They are all realistic habits and have a set timeline.
- They are super specific habits and are personalized to you.
- The habit is triggered by something in the environment and you have the ability to piggy back the habit on top of something else you are already doing.
Let me give you an example with a habit we love to start with at the gym. It is the habit of awareness. Yes, I said awareness! Actually being aware of what you are eating is a very important and valuable habit. As an example, we might have a brand new client come into the gym and we prepare a habit statement with them that looks like this, framed as a question to start, “Are you 90-100% confident that you can write down what you eat for dinner 3 out of the next 7 days?”
The way we framed this question is very important, and was done after an hour of figuring out what may work best for the client. We have set a very realistic habit based off of meeting the client where they are at currently, and we have also attached a set timeline to the habit. We have also made the habit very specific, as we said we will only record dinners three out of the next seven days. We can also trigger this habit to occur right after our client eats the meal, by making sure that they have their journal with them at dinner. Or, we can even piggyback this habit along with something else they are already doing – like they will write in their journal after they brush their teeth at night before bed. We are there to help in this process and are part of the accountability process.
I can tell you that when we set these parameters to a habit, we are 100% successful in finishing that habit to success. Then it is on to the next habit. Some other habits we use besides the habit of awareness are:
- Plan your meals – starting with breakfast
- Exercise for 10 minutes a day
- Having a to-do list with one thing on it
- Eat fruit instead of refined sugar
I know none of these habits look super sexy, but they are very realistic, attainable and customizable into becoming a very successful habit. You can think of these habits as the minimum effective dose for what you need to be successful when starting a new nutrition or exercise plan.
Here is another example when looking at the habit of having a to-do list with one thing on it:
Remember this is YOUR habit and we want to make sure it is personalized to you. Let’s make the “one thing” really yours. The thing that is most important, not the thing that you “should” do or are “supposed” to do. You can personalize this habit by making it the one thing this week that will set you up for success. To make this habit even less intimidating, try to make a list of the one thing you can get done in 5 minutes or less.
Second, the action must be triggered by something else in the environment (physical or social). So in order for your habit to become automatic, let’s make sure we piggyback your habit off of something you are already doing every day. Maybe it’s when you are taking a shower or brushing your teeth, you start to think about your priorities for the day. You can set a reminder in your phone or place a post-it note on your mirror. Or, you could even write down this one thing on an actual to-do list right before bed.
The action is your habit for the week. So, an example of your habit statement would look like:
“I am 90-100% confident I will [action] when [trigger] for the next 7 days!”
Or, “I am 90-100% confident I will write down one to-do item right before I go to bed 5 out of the next 7 days.”
So next time you look at making sweeping changes in your nutrition or exercise, remember to start with only one habit and to ensure it becomes an automatic recurring theme in your life you need to keep it simple and attainable to start. My challenge to you is to try one or two of these habits out and make sure to use the habit statement to keep yourself accountable. Remember, just use the minimum effective dose to start – don’t try to start with too much at once, that will usually set you up to fail and we want to set you up for a lot of little successes!