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Top 10 habits of people who don’t diet

Greg Kelland is a Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach based at Auckland’s Next Gen Health and Lifestyle Club. Since 2015 he’s been helping people change what they see and feel when looking in a mirror. Greg’s clients learn the skills to stay healthy while living busy lives and without restrictive diets.

We all know that person that looks like they have it all figured out. The guy or girl that has never struggled with their weight, despite appearing to eat whatever they want. They can sit across from us at a restaurant and order the biggest, carbiest, most delicious meal, and follow it up with a cheesecake while pounding cocktails the entire evening. 

What’s wrong with these people? Roaring metabolisms? Genetic blessings? Are they a different species? 

The secret is there is no secret. Individual metabolisms don’t vary as much as might you think. Most people of a similar height, weight, age, gender and muscle mass will have similar RMR (metabolic rate). Also, the laws of physics apply to everyone equally. If we eat more calories than we burn, we will store body fat. If we burn more than we eat, we will use that stored fat for fuel. 

So if they’re not defying physics then what’s going on? These people have discovered the 80/20 rule. As long as they do the “good stuff” 80% of the time, they can enjoy themselves with the other 20%. That means no guilt or self hate after a big restaurant meal with drinks. No “falling off the wagon” after a blowout, and appreciating food for its other qualities, like bringing us closer together with friends and family through a shared experience. 

So what is this “good stuff” that these people are doing 80% of the time? It has nothing to do with binging, purging or starving yourself. These habits can fit into anyone’s lifestyle. 

1. They make time to plan and prioritise healthy habits

Feeling time poor is the norm in the 21st century. If we don’t make time, it will be taken from us, and this includes time spent on health and fitness behaviours. 

People that succeed in living a healthy and balanced life choose the “goal friendly” option more often than not. They decide to go to the gym after work instead of heading home. Or they cook the chicken left out to defrost instead of getting McDonald’s on the way home. 

Remember, this isn’t about letting exercise and eating well take over your life. It’s about making better choices 80% of the time so that you can enjoy the other 20%. Meaning there’s plenty of time for the couch and maybe even McDonald’s when the time is right. 

2. They eat slowly and mindfully

Believe it or not, our bodies are good at telling us when we’re hungry and when we’ve had enough to eat. The problem is, most of us have lost the ability to listen to these little voices that are our bodies natural satiety signals. 

We continuously eat while distracted, with our phones in hand, in front of the TV, or caught up our thoughts. As smart as our bodies are, they are powerless over a brain that isn’t paying attention. 

Another annoying thing is that the signals our tummies send us take a while to go to our brains. How often have you finished a meal at a restaurant and not realised how stuffed you are until it’s time to leave? 

The solution is to slow down and pay attention. The benefits of slow eating include better digestion, better hydration, more effortless weight loss, and greater satisfaction with our meals. 

The added benefit of mindful eating is that it makes certain foods mind-blowingly delicious. You haven’t truly enjoyed a Lindt chocolate ball until you’ve put it on your tongue, closed your eyes, rolled it around for a while, and then focused intensely on the texture and taste of the explosion that happens in your mouth. I think I might give up coaching and write romance novels for a living. 

3. They have an eating routine

Whether it’s two big meals or six small meals, the research has shown that meal frequency doesn’t affect your metabolism as we once thought, as long as calories are the same at the end of the day. But from a behaviour point of view, humans work better with a consistent routine. 

It’s super common for busy people to go too long without eating, which can lead to overeating high-calorie food (or whatever is available at the time) when hunger finally catches up. An eating schedule can stop us from getting to that point. 

By regularly visiting the supermarket and implementing a meal prep schedule, you’ll be surrounded by good food. Get into a consistent routine, and you’ll never be caught without healthy food options again. 

4. They control portions

Food quantity is arguably the most significant factor when it comes to changing your body weight. All diets (that work) work by reducing the number of calories you eat each day. People that never have to diet are good at knowing how much to put on their plate, therefore controlling their calorie intake. 

If you’re anything like me, whatever you put on your plate is getting eaten, I don’t like to waste food. Luckily if you’ve been paying attention to your hunger and fullness signals, you’ll start to realise that it takes less food than you might think to satisfy your biological urges and you won’t put that much on your plate. You can tailor your portions to how hungry you feel at the time or how active you’ve been that day. 

Now, if you are the analytical type and you love to count calories, then go for it. It can work well. But pay attention! Having a calorie counter can cause us to lose touch with our hunger and fullness signals. There will be a day when you don’t want to track calories anymore, and when that day comes, you’ll need the skills to listen to your body for calorie control. 

5. They choose higher-quality foods more often

By higher quality, I don’t mean organic, grass-fed, paleo food. I’m talking about choosing whole foods over heavily processed foods. And again, most of the time, not all of the time. Whole foods are great at communicating with our natural satiety signals and help us know when to stop eating. This is because whole foods are high in fibre, water and sometimes protein, to help us feel like we have a full tummy. 

Heavily processed food, on the other hand, is designed to make us overeat. Its combination of tastes and textures can override our “palette fatigue” signal. Have you ever seen an ice cream eating contest? A guy is pounding litres of vanilla ice cream and reaches a point of not being able to eat another bite. Instead of giving up what does he do? He orders a bowl of salty fries, has a few of those, and can suddenly fit in more ice cream. Huh? The chips have helped him to override palette fatigue so he can continue eating, and win whatever it is that you win at an ice cream eating contest. 

6. They balance nutrients

Ever felt like shit in the afternoon and just wanted something sweet to perk you up? You’re not alone. Maybe you’re crashing from your first six coffees? Perhaps you stayed up late watching too many episodes of Love Island? Or maybe your body is low in essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients. 

When we’re giving the body nutrients it needs, it just functions better. Better energy, mood, digestion, cognitive function and sleep are just some of the benefits. Get all of this going, and you’re a lot less likely to crash and crave high-calorie food. 

Take fruits and vegetables, for example. They help us fight disease while controlling our mood, energy, digestion and more. High fibre fruits and vegetables are also low in calories and make us feel full—all good reasons to eat a variety of high-quality foods. 

7. They move often

This one is a no brainer. The more you move, the more calories you burn. For most of us, working out at the gym for one of the 24 hours in a day is a good practice. But people that never need to diet usually have a high amount of non-exercise activity in their day. Walking, doing chores, chasing kids, and working on your feet all burn calories. 

8. They get lots of good quality sleep

Poor sleep can make decisions the following day more difficult, and this includes decisions about what to eat. When we are sleep deprived, even a little bit, our body can crave energy-dense, high sugar foods. The benefits of good sleep? Better digestion, cognitive function, circulation, temperature regulation, mood, energy, blah, blah, sleep is good. 

9. They create a supportive environment

We’ve talked about many habits in this article. One thing these habits all have in common is that they become easier to do in the right environment.

A kitchen that’s clean and organised makes it easier to prep meals. A pantry that has wholefoods in clear view and processed food hidden or removed makes it easier to make better choices. Having a gym bag in your car with shoes and a towel makes it easier to make it to the gym or go for a walk. 

But, it’s not just your physical environment. If you run with turkeys you’ll never soar like an eagle. Couples that train together stay together. You’re the sum of the five people you spend your time with. I’ve run out of cliches. Having people around you that support your commitment to eating well, sleeping well and exercising is a huge advantage. 

10. They regulate emotions without relying on food

It’s easy to think that when you lose control and overeat all of the things, it was just a random occurrence, the food was there, so you ate it. In reality, there was probably a series of events that led up to that behaviour, that started hours before you smashed that packet of Tim Tams. 

Every behaviour, even the worst, is your brain working to solve a problem. It may be that you binge drink on the weekends as a way to cope with the stress of a hectic career. Or maybe you reach for the instant gratification of yummy food when you’re feeling lonely. Your brain thinks it’s being helpful by facilitating this immediate relief. Still, if it becomes your only problem-solving strategy, your eating behaviour can spiral out of control. 

Disordered eating is way beyond the scope of this article, but if you can become aware of why you might reach for food as a way to cope, you can start looking at different strategies to fill the void. 

So, there you have it. Get these ten habits down, and you will never have to “diet” again. But remember the 80/20 rule. Giving yourself the freedom to enjoy life makes these habits sustainable, and that’s what makes them the key to being a “never dieter”. 

Greg Kelland

If you want to learn more about how to transform your body using simple daily habits, visit coachingwithgreg.com.

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