Summer is coming (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, at least). That means April is a lovely time of increasing cardio, counting macros, and booking nice vacations.

 

It’s a healthy thing to have different body composition goals at certain times of the year. However, many of us make it more stressful than it needs to be. Cramming in cardio and crash dieting a week before vacation is like doing your homework in homeroom. Let’s make it easier on ourselves to get that beach body.

 

Recognize the Power of Your Environment

In my system, I always look to see what environmental changes we can make first. We spend most of our lives on autopilot. Since we have so many decisions to make each day, our brain puts a lot of our routines on automatic. For example, I always wake up and turn hot water on for green tea. I don’t even think about it.

 

Breaking Muscle Shop

 

Our routines are affected by what is around us. The plates you eat from, food packaging, lighting, television, dinner companions, and kitchen layout are things that shape how much we eat. In fact, a lot of research has been done in this area by companies looking to enhance food consumption and sell more product.

 

You may be thinking these sorts of changes are only for people new to exercise and eating better. Without a doubt, these changes are key to the beginner’s success. But I have found that tweaking external cues is an underrated way for the experienced dieter to turn things up a notch before an event. So in reality, this strategy works great for both ends of the spectrum.

 

"It will be helpful to take a step back and evaluate your surroundings and see what is making things harder for you to achieve your goals[.]"

The reason making external change works so well is because when we increase the intensity in a training program or diet, something else has to give. Let’s say you add in an extra workout, a food journal with a macro plan, and a little extra food prep. Since you already have a job or go to school, have social events, and have family obligations, these changes just add more to your schedule. More importantly, they force you to make more decisions. We only have so much free will. What to wear, what route to drive, and saying no to the office birthday cake all are little decisions we make without even noticing.

 

For some of us, those extra decisions will derail a program. Other people may do the program, but their stress level builds up. Both scenarios aren’t exactly the best way to go on vacation with both the body you want and the relaxation you desire. So I’m going to share with you what I have found to be the best external autopilot changes. Perhaps this will give a bit more clarity in terms of why this approach is helpful for success.

 

7 Habits to Success

1. Have Two of Your Favorite Tools

Whatever you use the most to prepare food, having a few on hand will help. Let’s use a slow cooker as an example. Steel cut oatmeal in the crockpot is a great breakfast, especially with some berries and protein. Unfortunately, cleaning can be an issue. On a busy day, the last thing you are going to want to do is clean the pot to make a new batch by the next morning. Having a second slow cooker available means it is more likely you are going to make a good breakfast. The other pot can be in the dishwasher in the meantime.

 

 

Protein shaker bottles are another big example of how having more than a few can come in handy. There are few things that smell worse in this world than a dirty shaker bottle that has been baking in a gym bag.

 

2. Rearrange Your Kitchen Cabinets

Make the things you need to succeed readily available. You only have to do this once, and the rest of your program will be easier without any thought required. If you are using Tupperware pieces for meal prep, make sure they are in the shelf that is at eye level and they are easy to grab. There is a reason supermarkets sell premium shelf space to food companies - because people are more likely to grab something that is convenient and catches their eye.

 

"We only have so much free will. What to wear, what route to drive . . . [f]or some of us, those extra decisions will derail a program."

You may have heard that eating from smaller plates can help lower portions. It’s true, and if you think that is important, take your bigger plates and move them somewhere you can’t easily get to them.

 

3. Keep Your Dining Table Free of Clutter

We all know that eating in front of a television can lead to poor eating habits. However, if your dining room table is cluttered, and you just came home from work, where are you going to eat? We know eating in a distraction-free environment is better, so make it happen automatically by having the dining room table always available.

 

4. Don't Deny Yourself

If you have a sweet tooth, package your dark chocolate or small daily treat in a small baggie and make a point of finishing it, even if you can do without it. Sounds counterproductive, but doing this can save you a lot of stress. When you walk by a candy jar in the office, every time you don’t eat a piece, you are making a decision of saying “no.” If you walk by twenty times in a day, you say “no” twenty times. When in a calorie deficit, this decision is tougher. By having your fix, that decision will be easier without conscious thought.

 

5. Spend the Extra on Precut Veggies and Fruit

This does two things, saves you time and helps you fill up on good stuff. By leaving the tray out, you’ll graze on them a bit more. The same is true for any food, by the way - if it’s visible and convenient, you’ll consume more than you think.

 

 

6. Park Your Car Farther Away

I know, how many times have you heard this? While not a completely mindless environmental change, it has had a huge impact on my advanced clients. The benefit isn’t from the extra steps, although that isn’t a bad thing. For anyone who is already busy, driving can increase stress. Being late to work and fighting for a parking spot is the worst. By committing to parking farther away, you will subconsciously leave a little extra time to get to your destination by procrastinating a little less. No more stress of fighting for a spot. This leaves you with more room to make better decisions during in the day.

 

"I have found that tweaking external cues is an underrated way for the experienced dieter to turn things up a notch before an event."

7. Free Will and Success

The concept of free will is important when turning things up in your training and nutrition. Even if you don’t eat poorly, eliminating the choice to do so can relieve stress. The above suggestions are just what I have seen work the best for people. It will be helpful to take a step back and evaluate your surroundings and see what is making things harder for you to achieve your goals and think about ways to make your environment an advantage.

 

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Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.

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