7 Powerful (But Simple) Habits That Will Help You Live a Healthier Life
In partnership with Atkins
Have you ever noticed how often your relative, coworker, or friend goes on a diet, loses weight, and then gains a lot of it back? Of course you have. (Maybe it's even happened to you.) Because that's how most diets "work." And that's because most diets focus heavily on calories rather than lifestyle changes.
Without making the right lifestyle changes—and turning them into habits—you'll never be able to lose weight or get healthier long-term. When new behaviors reach a level of automaticity, you no longer require conscious effort to perform them. (Think: Brushing your teeth before you go to bed, brewing a cup of coffee every morning, or going to the gym on your lunch break.) And this is what makes good habits so powerful: a little effort up front to incorporate new habits into your daily routine produces long-lasting results.
The power of habits is scientifically proven: When overweight participants who volunteered to test a new weight control program were instructed to incorporate 10 weight loss habits into their daily lives, they lost an average of 4.5 pounds in eight weeks. The control group, which did not receive the habits from University of College London researchers, lost an average of less than a pound over the same timeframe.
To help you harness the power of these practices, we put together a list of easy-to-implement, sustainable habits that will set you on the right path to leading a healthier lifestyle.
Wake up at the same time every single day (even on the weekends).
Few things feel better than sleeping in on weekends. During the week, you might have an alarm set as brutally early as 6:00 a.m. But during the weekend, in an effort to mitigate what experts call "sleep debt"—when you miss out on the doctor-recommended seven to eight hours and catch up later in the week—you might hark back to your teenage years and rest until noon.
Unfortunately, all you're doing is kneecapping yourself.
See, by staying up late and sleeping in on weekends, you're knocking your circadian rhythm out of whack—something that can take days to reset back to normal. Studies show that those who stray from their workweek sleep patterns are more likely to have lower dietary quality, higher alcohol consumption, and poorer overall pattern of lifestyle behaviors than those who keep a consistent sleep schedule. That's why the National Sleep Foundation recommends you "vary your wakeup time by no more than an hour on weekends." It sounds torturous, but after a few weeks, you'll feel more energized and well-rested than you would by sleeping until lunch every Saturday.
Allow yourself an indulgence now and then.
Feel free to think of your body as a machine all you want; you're still human. And humans need treats. If you're on a diet and stick to it like glue, never allowing yourself a small indulgence, you run the risk of letting up on your diet and binge-eating a whole bunch of unhealthy food. To safeguard against that, treat yourself to a decadent treat, like the Endulge Peppermint Pattie, which has just 1 gram of sugar and 2 grams of net carbs—and still tastes just as chocolatey and delicious as any other candy bar. When you reframe a cheat meal as an indulgence or treat rather than feelings of guilt, studies show this can better support healthy eating behaviors and self-regulation long-term.
Make meditation part of your schedule.
The benefits of meditation cannot be overstated. It helps you focus. It boosts your mood. It even, according to one study, helps you make fewer mistakes. But best of all, it takes just ten minutes. If you can't find just ten extra minutes in your schedule—before work, during your lunch break, right when you get home—then you're definitely someone who could benefit from a daily session.
Also, according to a 2019 study in the Journal of Business Venturing, a meditation session is worth 44 minutes of sleep (in terms of brain-boosting benefits). So, if you really can't fit it into your schedule, just wake up ten minutes earlier than usual. That way, you're really gaining half an hour of sleep. Win-win!
Keep workout gear at your desk.
The number-one excuse for skipping out on workouts is: "I don't have the time." Well, we're here to tell you that, yes, you do—because you needn't sweat for 60 to 90 minutes to reap the benefits of exercise. Research suggests that getting even 30 minutes of daily exercise can lower your blood pressure, reduce your triglycerides, improve your circulation, speed up digestion, and even give you more energy. On your lunch break, take half an hour for a quick HIIT session. And to ensure you actually take the time, keep some essential gym gear—clothes, shoes, a shaker bottle—at your desk.
It's no secret that Americans, for the most part, live sedentary lifestyles. Spending 40 hours (or more!) per week glued to your desk is by no means great for your health. Deploy the famous Pomodoro Method—for every 25 minutes of work, take a 5-minute break—to get up and get moving. Go for a walk around the block. Walking keeps your muscles limber and is scientifically proven to both lower stress levels and help with blood sugar regulation when you stroll after a meal.
Also: Invest in a standing desk. Try to spend half the day standing up. Roughly four in five Americans experience lower back pain at some point, all as a result of a sedentary lifestyle. The easiest way to combat that is, simply, to sit less.
Stock your desk drawer with nutritious snacks.
So there's a pizza in the breakroom. Tempting, right? Well, as everyone knows, the easiest way to resist temptation is to have an alternative—something that's quick and easy to eat but still distracts you from the apple (or pizza, in this case) of your eye. Spiced nuts, cheese and crackers, and chopped veggies and hummus all make great options. But we also recommend something nutritious and pre-packaged, like Atkins' Chocolate Almond Caramel Bar, which has 15 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, and 180 calories (the perfect amount for filling you up without making you too full).
Eat one fruit or vegetable at every meal.
Make no mistake: We're not saying you should eat less. We're also not saying you should swap out those fries for a side order of Brussels sprouts. We're saying you should add Brussels sprouts to your meal. Most Americans eat diets that are heavy on animal protein and simple carbs. But getting more plant-based foods in your diet is healthy for many reasons—it may help you lose weight among other benefits—so turning this into a habit is one of the best moves you can make for your health.
In other words, yes, you can still have that pizza. But just make your plate a bit more green.