If there’s one thing fit and healthy people have in common, it’s the ease with which they make healthy choices. For them, bypassing McDonald’s for a soba noodle salad is a no-brainer and getting to the gym is as straightforward as having a morning shower. A big part of a healthy lifestyle is making food, exercise and mental health choices effortless – and the good news is there are plenty of tricks to get you there.
1. Temptation bundle
If you struggle to get to the gym but have no problems finding the time to watch Married At First Sight, then why not tackle them together by temptation bundling? The term was coined by Katherine Milkman, a University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions, who says "bundling" activities you love with things you struggle to get motivated to do could be just the ticket to kicking life goals. "Valuable healthy behaviours could be increased, while guilt and wasted time from indulgent behaviours decreased," she says. You can apply the theory to TV watching and the gym, eating your favourite snack only while studying or only letting yourself listen to the new Beyonce album when you're cleaning the house.
2. Drink coffee
You might think of your morning caffeine hit as a little life luxury, but sipping it could be doing your health wonders. If you drink it black or with more water than milk, accredited practicing dietitian Lauren McGuckin says you’ll keep yourself hydrated. “It will actually count towards your daily fluid intake,” she says. A lot of people think caffeine is a diuretic that promotes dehydration, but McGuckin says that the volume of water in a coffee cancels out that effect. “Every cell and organ in our body requires water to work effectively, therefore hydration is essential to life and assists with vital bodily functions such as temperature regulation and waste elimination,” she says.
Research also suggests that caffeine can help improve endurance for a workout. “I love coffee and always have one before I go for a run in the morning,” says dietitian and nutritionist Rebecca Gawthorne. “I’ve trained myself to want to go for a run early in the morning because I get to have a coffee before it.”
3. Make a secret sauce
We don’t often think of pizza and pasta as the best choice if we’re watching our waistline, but Gawthorne says that blending vegetables into the sauce makes an easy way to get your five a day. “Try blending pumpkin, zucchini, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, capsicum, onion, garlic and tomato into sauces,” she suggests. “You will feel like you’re having a pasta meal but really you’re having a big serve of veggies with it.”
4. Go crockery shopping
Treat yourself to a fancy new dinner set with small plates and bowls and your meal size will diminish without you thinking twice. “Research shows that people tend to over-serve themselves when they use larger plates,” McGuckin says. “Given people consume about 92 per cent of what they put on their plate, larger plates tend to lead to larger food intake. Reducing portion sizes can assist with weight management and lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels.”
5. Make healthy cookie dough
Unlike the cookie batter of yesteryear that was chock-full of butter, sugar and white flour, Gawthorne’s special cookie dough tastes almost like the real thing but gives you a hit of protein and fibre. “Simply blend one cup of chickpeas with one teaspoon of vanilla, two tablespoons of honey and a third of a cup of dark chocolate chips,” she says. “You can hide fruit, veggies and beans in fruit and savoury muffins as well.”
6. Only schedule active catch-ups
If you’re trying to fit more exercise into your schedule then combine socialising with sweating to kill two birds with one stone. “Whether it’s going for a walk or finding a gym buddy for a bike ride or a yoga class, doing something active together makes it enjoyable,” mindset coach Alyce Pilgrim says. “It’s a great way to move your body and feed your social needs as well.”
7. Sleep longer
You might feel like you’re benefiting your health with a 5am daily workout but if it means you’re getting less than seven to nine hours’ sleep a night, you could be counteracting your sweat sesh. “When we don’t get enough sleep we have an increased appetite, due to increases in the hormones that make us feel hungry,” explains sleep scientist Dr Carmel Harrington. “To satisfy this increased appetite we can end up eating up to 500 calories more per day compared to days when we have sufficient sleep.” Sleep deprivation also drops our metabolic rate by up to 15 per cent, reduces our exercise motivation and makes our bodies more likely to burn lean muscle than fat.
8. Fake it ‘til you make it
Find motivation to be a healthier person by using the “as if” principle. “Act as if you already were a fit person at their ideal weight,” suggests Dr Marny Lishman, health and community psychologist. “Be the thing you want to be, even if you aren’t quite there yet and your subconscious will start to believe it’s true and it becomes a natural thing to do.”
9. Make cauliflower your friend
Whether you’re serving up a stir-fry, curry or bolognaise, McGuckin says you can dramatically drop the calorie count and improve the antioxidants by serving it up on cauliflower instead of pasta or rice. “A serve of cooked pasta is half a cup so if your bowl doesn’t look full enough, serve it with vegetables like cauliflower because it soaks up the sauce really well,” she explains. “You can even fluff it to make cauliflower rice, and because it has lots of fibre, you’ll find it fills you up but doesn’t make you feel sluggish.”
10. Bust stress first
One of the fastest ways to derail a healthy eating or exercise plan is to be strung out. “We have bad coping mechanisms for stress,” Dr Lishman explains. “We might binge on TV instead of exercise or eat poorly, smoke or drink alcohol.” But if you can keep on top of your stress levels by checking in with yourself regularly and winding down when you need to, you’ll be much more likely to make it to the gym or the kitchen to whip up a healthy stir-fry. “If you are feeling stressed, stop for a moment and do some deep breathing, go outside or watch a movie,” Dr Lishman says. “You will find you can control yourself a bit better.”
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Words Kimberly Gillan