How To Use Habits for Weight Loss (WITHOUT counting calories)

Guest post by Sean Flanagan

Often when Amber or I talk about how a calorie deficit is what produces weight loss and how a calorie surplus causes weight gain, people assume that this has to be achieved via calorie counting.

Being aware of calories is great and there can totally be value there, however 1) you’re not going to count calories forever (we hope), and 2) unless you’re in a tightly controlled scientific laboratory, your estimates for your calorie intake are always going to be exactly that – estimates.

So how can we create a calorie deficit without aiming for a specific number?  There are four different broad brush categories of habits that we use in the Habit Project to accomplish this – each category complimenting the other.

Category 1: Satiety and Eating Pattern Awareness 

I’m kind of cheating here since becoming more aware of your current patterns is essentially a built in “meta habit” that ALWAYS happens when focusing on changing your habits one at a time.  But specifically, we also have the “record what you eat” habit which is 100 percent focused on becoming aware of current eating patterns.

In addition to the increasing awareness of what you eat, there is also increasing awareness for your body’s satiety and hunger signals.  Learning how to identify true hunger from hunger resulting from boredom, as well as what “satisfied” feels like compared to “stuffed”, is critical for creating a calorie deficit without counting calories.  If you’re always eating when not hungry and eating until stuffed, your chances of creating a calorie deficit are not very high.

I put these in the same category as there is a lot of overlap – often when people record what they eat, they start becoming aware of times where they eat mindlessly and then start the practice of checking in with their hunger/satiety.  When we transition to habits on satiety awareness, we take this eating pattern awareness and we bring it to the next level.

Category 2: Food Habits That Maximize Satiety

Being aware of your satiety signals is awesome!  What happens though if you’re paying attention to your satiety signals but the foods you’re eating add a lot of calories without adding a lot of satiety?  This is where playing with the dietary variables that support satiety come into play.  It’s even possible that your time practicing your satiety awareness has taught you a few things about what types of foods make you fuller than others.

We have a few different food habits that we use to support satiety – but the big two are really our protein and veggie habits.  Most people can benefit from eating more protein, more veggies, or both.  And they make a huge impact on how full we get.

Some meal time variables that impact satiety are; 1)Fiber content, 2) water content, 3) protein content, and 4) slowness of eating.

Category 3: Physical Activity Habits

The benefit of physical activity for creating a calorie deficit is of course that moving more means burning more calories per day.  There are a few different ways we like approaching movement habits – mainly we like to create habits that help people find enjoyment in walking and their preferred methods of resistance training.

The important thing to emphasize here is that the physical activity habits on their own are ALWAYS still good for health, but it’s the appetite awareness and the maximizing of the satiety value of meals that enables the increases in movement to lead to a calorie deficit.  If increased exercise leads to increased hunger and increased hunger means more meals where you’re eating until you’re too full with mostly foods that don’t contribute much to your satiety, you could end up accidentally creating a calorie SURPLUS rather than a deficit.

Category 4: Habits That Maximize Your Chances for Success

The 4th category is essentially all of the behaviors that contribute to a calorie deficit in a less direct way, but are still powerful for creating the health and fitness that you are aiming for.  Our habit focused on self-compassion is the example we’re the most proud of from this category – as many Habit Project members have reported this habit had a strong impact on how they performed on every other habit.  Apparently self-compassion doesn’t burn many calories, but does impact a bunch of different components of your life to make the entire process less bumpy and more direct.

Other habits from this category would be sleep-related habits, as sleep helps to enable you to be more active AND become more aware of your satiety.  Food and lifestyle skills habits like planning and prepping can also fit into this category.

Want Help Making These Habits Actually STICK?

While of course coaching is helpful for making changes, the combination of coaching AND community is super powerful.  The more you support your team, the more they’ll support you, and the more you support each other the more you’ll feel accountable TO your team.  In other words, the amount of energy you put into your community will help determine the power of the community in helping you create change.

We’re incredibly proud of the communities we create in the Habit Project, and we hope you’ll be a part of our newest one.  On July 13th, we start our 12 Week Habit Project On-Ramp (exclusively on iPhone/iPad) and enrollment is now open.

Over the 12 weeks, we’ll be focusing on all 4 of the habit categories talked about in this article – spread over 6 different habits – to help you build a strong foundation in your habit-based approach towards fat loss success.

Registration closes Wednesday at 6:30pm pacific time/9:30 eastern – you can grab your spot here:
http://seanflanaganwellness.com/habit-project-on-ramp/

And we do have something for those without an iPhone! Our Facebook-based Habit Project has rolling admissions, check it out, and sign up for the next admission day here:
Facebook Habit Project

Talk soon,

Sean Flanagan