As a personal trainer and weight-loss coach, I’ve been teaching people how to create better habits and helping them reach a healthy weight for almost 15 years.
My first success story was my own: I went from being 25 pounds overweight, riddled with anxiety and insomnia and living off of soda, chips and desserts to having a healthy relationship with food, a regular workout program, and a yoga and meditation practice that calms my mind. At first, establishing these habits took a lot of time. But over the years, I’ve perfected them and created tons of shortcuts not only for myself, but also for my clients.
Many people think that making your health a priority is time consuming. There was a time that I thought that, too! But the small changes we make really can have a big impact. Here are some of my go-to diet, fitness and mental health tricks that will help you prioritize your health without disrupting your daily routine.
1. Cook for a crowd — even if you’re eating alone
As many of us learned during the pandemic, preparing home-cooked meals every day can quickly become exhausting. It’s unrealistic to assume that you’ll be able (or want!) to prepare three nutritious meals each day. That’s why I recommend cooking a few extra servings every time you do take the time to prepare a meal to get the most bang for your buck.
If you’re worried about getting tired of eating the same thing, don’t be! There are plenty of ways to repurpose ingredients to make different meals. Pair roasted veggies with grilled chicken one night and salmon the next; enjoy beans over a whole grain for dinner and then in a breakfast burrito the next morning; or make a big batch of quinoa or brown rice and enjoy with different protein and veggie combos throughout the week.
Taking an hour to cook dinner on Monday doesn’t seem so daunting when you’re getting multiple meals out of it. This will make healthy eating easier and save you time in the long run.
2. Pre-schedule your workouts for the week
This tip seems simple, but it makes all the difference. With everything we have going on, if it’s not in the calendar, it won’t happen!
Treat your workout like a meeting at work or a doctor’s appointment, giving it dedicated space in your calendar. Yes, you should create an event in the calendar app on your phone — and add it to your Outlook calendar, too! This makes that time nonnegotiable and seeing it blocked out visually will help encourage you to follow through and not let other obligations or chores push your workout from the schedule.
I also suggest mapping out what each workout will be, whether you plan to head out for a walk, do a strength-training routine or join a virtual workout class. This will save you the time and mental load of picking a workout the day of. You can simply lace up your sneakers and go!
3. Go frozen
Chopping up fruits and veggies can become a chore, which makes it more likely you’ll skip right over them for the easily accessible bag of chips.
Eating frozen fruits and veggies has been linked to a higher intake of produce, which isn’t surprising! Because frozen produce is easier to purchase, lasts longer and cuts down on prep time, it helps increase the overall amount of produce we eat.
I recommend using frozen fruits in smoothies, stirring them into oatmeal or adding to your water for a flavor boost. Frozen greens are always stocked in my freezer. Spinach doesn’t have a taste in smoothies or sauces. I always add 1 cup of frozen greens to my daily smoothie to pack in an extra serving of veggies. For dinner, there’s nothing easier than heating up some frozen, pre-chopped veggies in a pan and pairing with a lean protein or whole grain.
4. Have meal-prep-and-a-movie Sunday
One of the biggest barriers to eating healthy is time. Shopping for fresh produce, chopping it up and cooking it can often take time we don’t have. The best solution to this problem is to pre-chop all of your veggies so that they are ready to grab and go throughout the week. But I get it, spending precious weekend time meal prepping doesn’t sound that appealing.
So why not pair it with activities you do enjoy and make it a fun ritual? Pour yourself a glass of wine or a mug of your favorite tea, choose a movie you’ve been meaning to see or press play on your latest Netflix obsession, and chop as you watch.
You won’t only have some relaxing “me” time to wind down the week, but you will be setting yourself up for a healthier week ahead. Pre-chopped veggies are super easy to toss together to make a salad, steam or bake to enjoy with a lean protein, or munch on raw!
5. Combine cardio and strength training into one
You only have 30 minutes: Should you spend your time lifting weights or going for a run? I used to find myself struggling to choose between cardio and strength training. Many of my clients want to burn calories and get their heart rate up, but also tone their muscles, and they have limited time. That’s why I recommend combining the two workouts into one.
By choosing activities that incorporate both strength and cardio, you’ll be saving time and getting a well-rounded workout that will deliver results.
For example, go for a speed walk while carrying light weights in order to get your heart rate up, improve endurance and also work your arms (throw in a few weighted squats and lunges too!). HIIT workouts that incorporate body-weight strength exercises like squats and planks are also a great way to get your heart rate up while also toning and strengthening.
6. Leave yourself love notes
Every week, I create a new mantra for myself. This gets written on a sticky note and placed on my bathroom mirror. In the past, when I’d look at myself in the mirror, the chatter of negative self talk was hard to silence. I’d often say something critical or mean to myself, like, “Why did you gain weight?” or “What’s wrong with you?” Can you relate? Many of my weight-loss clients struggle with their relationship with themselves and how they talk to themselves.
This can be a hard cycle to break, which is why I encourage people to practice positive self talk by writing themselves little notes. Without any extra time or mental effort, you will notice the notes and get that much-needed boost of positivity and quick mindset shift.
I still put the sticky notes front and center, even now after all of these years. Writing things like, “I am in control of my food choices!” or “My body is strong!” or even “Peace” helps remind me to talk kinder to myself and to accept my body where it is at.
7. Workout in the bathroom and kitchen
I love incorporating movement into other parts of my routine -- not just reserving it for "exercise" time. When I am getting ready in the bathroom or standing at the stove cooking dinner, I squeeze in a few exercises. Over the course of a day these short bursts of activity can really add up!
While waiting for the shower to heat up, do 10 inclined pushups using your sink to work on your core and upper body strength. While brushing your teeth, perform a wall sit to work on leg strength. Drop down into a plank while you wait for your coffee to brew in the morning. While stirring a pot on the stove do some calf raises. There are so many moves that you can fit into your daily routine that will make you feel more energized while allowing you to use your time more efficiently.