While it might seem like some people maintain their weight effortlessly compared to others, this isn't necessarily true, especially because you never really know what is going on with someone's health. Someone being "lean" doesn't mean they're always healthy, and someone not being lean doesn't mean that they're unhealthy. However, if your own goal is to lose weight and get to a place where you're personally comfortable, there are a few eating habits that can help you get a leaner body.
Weight loss and leaning out looks different for everyone, and each individual needs to find their own plan or way of doing things that is healthy and sustainable for them, but there are certain dietitian-approved tricks that can help across the board. Focusing on these tricks that most people can apply to their daily routine is going to get you to your goals a lot more sustainably than focusing on quick fixes or fad diets.
With that said, there is not a "get lean quick" fast-track to success. A lean body for life takes time, and there are certain habits that take time and energy to practice before they become a part of your lifestyle. But taking the time to work on them pays off in the long run! So, what are some of the eating habits that can help you get a lean body over time? Read on to find out—and for more healthy eating tips to help you maintain your lean physique for the long run, be sure to also check out Want a Lean Body for Good? Adopt These 8 Eating Habits.
Don't skip meals.
You may think that you have to eat a lot less in order to lose weight, which is a belief that can lead to skipping meals and not getting enough calories. However, those who are leaner tend to not skip meals, and they also eat when they're hungry.
"When we eat regularly, we give our bodies a steady stream of fuel," says Bess Berger, RDN. "When we skip meals, we're more likely to show up to the next meal too hungry. Then, it's that much harder to moderate portions or eat mindfully—making staying lean more of a challenge." So, if you find yourself overdoing it at night, you might need to bump up your nutrition game earlier in the day!
This tip applies to skipping dinner, too—something you may be tempted to do in order to cut calories and avoid weight gain by eating before hitting the hay. But, it can unfortunately keep you from achieving your goals. In fact, a 2021 study published in Nutrients found that skipping dinner was associated with more weight gain and higher chances of obesity in university students.
Have a mindful eating practice.
Instead of restriction, try eating your meals mindfully, which means you are engaging your senses while eating without distractions. When you eat mindfully, you are much more able to focus on not eating past your feelings of fullness. This helps prevent overeating, consuming too many calories, and eating out of boredom.
Jana Mowrer, MPH, RDN, CDCES, NBC-HWC, states that mindful eating can prevent moments of feeling starved and/or stuffed. "With mindfulness, the eating experience becomes more neutral and less charged, to help you maintain a healthy weight and a healthy relationship with food," she says.
One study published in Nutrition Research Reviews found that those who ate mindfully were able to slow down their eating, which led them to feel full, sooner. This then contributed to fewer calories consumed.
If you have a hard time staying present while eating, you can start small by eliminating dinnertime distractions, like having the TV on or staring at your phone the entire meal, to enable more focus on what you're putting into your mouth. Though this may feel strange or even uncomfortable at first, the more you attempt to practice mindful eating, the more natural it will start to feel over time—and the better you'll get at doing this.
Eat balanced meals instead of only aiming for low-calorie ones.
An eating habit to help get a leaner body is to eat balanced meals that keep you more full and satisfied for longer. An example of a balanced meal consists of a combo of all three macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fat—as well as a variety of food groups.
"Meals with balanced nutrients help promote leanness over time because they keep calories under control," says Jinan Banna, PhD, RD. "For instance, a balanced meal will often contain fruits or vegetables, which are rich in fiber and relatively low in calories to help you feel full while maintaining a healthy weight."
To incorporate balance, you might ask yourself questions like, "What can I add to this meal to make it more filling, nutritious, or satisfying for me?" Oftentimes, protein is a nutrient that people are missing in their meals; a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging found that this is especially true for older adults. Balancing out your meal with protein can help you lean out and achieve your weight loss goals by reducing appetite, improving levels of satiety during your meal, and reducing hunger-related hormones, according to a study from the Journal of Obesity & Metabolic Syndrome.
Have small moments of indulgences.
Yes, eating healthy is important, but so is indulging on some delicious treats from time to time—here's why: Oftentimes we think that we need to cut all of our favorite junk foods entirely in order to lose weight, but this rigid approach can leave us feeling defeated or even frustrated even before our weight loss journey can truly take off. But when you want to achieve a leaner build in ways that are more likely to stick, treating yourself on occasion (in moderation, of course) can actually be a better setup for long-term success. Though you don't want these treats to propel you too far off off track in your weight loss journey, allowing yourself an occasional less-than-healthy nibble can also help you avoid burning out on your overall healthy eating regiment too soon.
Truthfully, indulging in your favorite fun food now might even prevent you from craving it and overindulging in it later. In fact, a study published in Behavior Change by Cambridge University Press concluded that strict dietary restraint may be a contributing factor in binge eating. This doesn't mean that everyone who restricts themselves will start binging, but it does illustrate some potential pitfalls that can result from eating habits based on restrictive practices.
Find other ways to handle stress.
If notice that your appetite tends to increase when you're feeling especially stressed, angry, sad, or are experiencing other intense emotions, and you tend to keep eating even after getting your fill and no longer being hungry, it's possible that you might be what's known as "an emotional eater."
Using food to cope with negative emotions is very common, but it may mean extra pounds. One study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity states that emotional eating is associated with both weight gain and abdominal weight gain, and this connection is made more severe if there is a lack of quality sleep as well.
Instead of immediately turning to food for comfort, learning and practicing healthier emotional coping skills to help best address your body's response to certain challenges is the first step to overcoming emotional eating. If you need help in this area, you should speak to dietitian or an MD about helpful ways you can work on regulating these complex emotions without using food as a crutch.
A previous version of this story was published on March 18, 2022. It has been updated to include additional copy and proofreading revisions, additional research, and updated contextual links.
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