Habits, even if tiny and seemingly inconsequential, when done repeatedly over time can add up to enormous results (both good or bad).
The one habit that we’ve found to be an absolute game-changer for our Sleekgeek Coaching clients is helping them get into the habit of drinking less calories.
This means either reducing their intake of drinks that contain calories, or making swaps and substitutions for lower-calorie or zero-calorie alternatives.
Why are calories in drinks a problem?
Most people that we work with at Sleekgeek are looking to either lose weight or maintain the weight that they’ve recently lost.
This means being in some kind of calorie deficit to lose weight or not eating too much above maintenance calories in order to maintain their weight.
Swapping out calorie-dense drinks for similar but lower-calorie alternatives is an easy and powerful win as it’s usually fairly quick, easy, and cheap to do (whereas healthy food substitutions are often a lot more complicated, time-consuming, and expensive).
Other factors to also consider are:
- Most people don’t realise just how many calories are actually in the drinks that they drink, so they end up overconsuming calories without meaning to.
- It’s easy to drink more calorie-dense drinks than we mean to (especially when it comes to things like coffee or alcohol).
- Most of the calories that we consume from drinks are unhelpful and “empty” of useful nutrition.
- Calorie-dense drinks are usually loaded with sugar, preservatives, caffeine, and alcohol which can be counter-productive to our health and goals when consumed in excess.
- When you drink calorie-dense drinks, you displace (or replace) healthier drinks that are better at hydrating you or healthy food that you would otherwise have eaten instead of those calories.
- Some calorie-dense drinks can impair your future judgement or make you more likely to make additional bad choices. Alcohol is an easy one to understand with its intoxication effects, but even just a sugary drink may make you more likely to crave other sugary high-calorie foods in the future.
For many, drinking too many calories on a daily or weekly basis is often one of the limiting factors that are holding them back from achieving their health and fitness goals.
If you’re in the habit of drinking your calories, you’ll find this journey so much harder.
On the other hand, if you’re in the habit of drinking calorie-free or low-calorie drinks, you’ll find this journey so much easier.
Do your drinks add value?
To be clear, calories in drinks aren’t “bad”.
You’re not a bad person for drinking fruit juice and a good person for drinking water.
But calories in drinks can often be unhelpful and counterproductive to your goals, which is a shame. Especially if you’ve done our 5 Whys exercise to understand what’s really at stake.
We’d like to encourage you to pay attention to the quality of what you’re drinking and how that contributes to your life.
A saying that we like to use at Sleekgeek is “Drinks should earn their rent.”
Do your drinks:
- Support your weight loss or health goals?
- Hydrate you and help you replenish the nutrients that you’ve lost?
- Make you feel physically good and satisfied?
- Make you feel happy and proud of your choices?
- Add significant meaning and value to your life?
Each drink should be a conscious choice, rather than a mindless one.
As an adult, you’re allowed to choose to the tradeoffs (we just encourage you to make it a conscious choice where you’ve carefully considered the consequences).
So what should you drink?
Rather than labelling certain drinks as “off-limits”, we suggest that you look at drinks on a continuum from worse choices to better choices.
As a general rule of thumb, the better choices will be:
- More natural
- Minimally processed
- Less added ingredients
- Less calories or be completely calorie-free
If we were to split this continuum into 3 practical categories, it might look like:
Drink More (better choices):
- Water (still or carbonated)
- Naturally Flavoured / Infused Water (soaking pieces berries, citrus fruits, mint, ginger, etc)
- Tea / Coffee (plain – no milk, sugar, cream, etc)
Drink Some (neutral or in-between choices):
- Vegetable Juice (eating whole vegetables is always preferable, watch out for added sugar or fruit juice)
- Water – Artificially Sweetened / Flavoured
- Soda – Artificially Sweetened / Flavoured (such as Coke Zero, Sprite Zero, etc)
- Tea / Coffee – Artificially Sweetened / Flavoured
- Tea / Coffee – Lightly Sweetened and / or Lightly Milky (1tsp or less of sugar, honey, etc and / or 50ml or less of milk)
- Kefir (fermented milk, rich in probiotics)
- Kombucha (fermented tea, rich in probiotics but can be high in sugar)
- Milk (high in calories and sugar / carbs so may want to limit if trying to lose weight)
- Plant-Based Milks – Unsweetened (can be high in calories and sugar / carbs so may want to limit if trying to lose weight)
- Protein Shakes (ideally aim for protein shakes that provide only protein and very little added carbs or fats)
- Coconut Water (unsweetened, unflavoured, etc)
Drink Less (worse choices):
- Fruit Juice
- Soda – Sweetened / Flavoured (such as Coke, Fanta, Sprite, etc)
- Juice Drinks and Cordials (Oros, Amila, Mazoe, etc)
- Sports Drinks (Energade, Powerade, Game, etc)
- Energy Drinks (RedBull, Monster, Coca-Cola Energy, Power Play, etc)
- Tonic Water
- Tea / Coffee – Heavily Sweetened and / or Heavily Milky (more than 1tsp or sugar, honey, etc and / or more than 100ml of milk)
- Milk Shakes
- Milk – Sweetened / Flavoured
- Plant-Based Milks – Sweetened / Flavoured
- Alcohol (beer, wine, hard liquor, etc)
- Anything with a significant amount of added sugar or calories.
Taking this kind of realistic and sustainable approach has been proven to be more successful than being “all-or-nothing” about your behaviours.
Ideally, we want you to be aiming to:
- Drink mostly the better choices, because they will make you healthier, leaner, and happier.
- Drink some of the neutral or in-between choices, because they’re a good middle ground, don’t have much of an impact either way and will help make drinking lower-calorie nutrient-dense drinks more convenient and sustainable.
- Drink less of the worse choices, because while they might be counterproductive to your health and fitness goals, you may still want to drink them in small amounts for other goals such as pleasure and enjoyment.
How to build the habit of drinking fewer calories:
When it comes to the habit of drinking fewer calories, there’s actually two opposing habits at play here:
- The habit of drinking high-calorie drinks.
- The habit of drinking calorie-free or low-calorie drinks.
You’ll need to work from both ends, reducing the amount of high-calorie drinks that you consume as well as increasing the amount of calorie-free or low-calorie drinks that you consume.
1) Don’t be “All-Or-Nothing”:
You don’t have to overhaul your entire lifestyle overnight.
Rather, look at what small tweaks and changes you can start making that you can be consistent at over a long period of time.
2) Help “Future You”:
Borrow some time and energy now to make it easier for yourself in the future.
- Stock up on calorie-free or low-calorie drinks so that they’re conveniently on hand and easy to drink.
- Do the opposite for high-calorie drinks. Get rid of them, stop buying them, or at least put them away out of sight and make them more inconvenient to drink.
- Invest in things that will support your habit, such as a nice water bottle, a new coffee mug, or even something like a water cooler / dispenser.
3) Use a Habit Tracker:
The Sleekgeek Healthy Habit Tracker is a simple way to measure how consistent you’re being with your habit.
Each day you check off “yes” or “no” as to whether you did or did not do your habit.
Some of the benefits of tracking your habits:
- It’s visible, noticeable, and prompts you to take action every day. Be sure to print out your Sleekgeek Healthy Habit Tracker and put it somewhere that you’ll see it often (mirror, fridge, desk, etc).
- It’s motivating and encouraging. Progress can take time, so it helps you have a way to immediately see that you’re moving forward towards your goals. As you fill up your Sleekgeek Healthy Habit Tracker with ticks or crosses, you’ll get a clear view of whether you’re doing things that move you forward or not.
- It holds you accountable. We tend to be really good at remembering the times that we were “good” and really bad at remembering the times that we were “bad”. The Sleekgeek Healthy Habit Tracker gives you a Bird’s-Eye View of your current habits so that you can see what’s actually going on.
- It’s satisfying. Checking off your habit each day in the Sleekgeek Healthy Habit Tracker feels rewarding and satisfying. You can even take things up a notch by building winning streaks and challenging yourself to tick off as many days in a row as you become more and more consistent.
4) Never Miss Twice:
Consistency is the DNA of habits.
Even the most successful people have a bad day from time to time, but what sets them apart is that they get back on track quickly.
While the “amateur” might have one bad day and then “fall off the wagon” for weeks or months at a time, the “professional” gets back on track the very next day.
- If you have a drink that’s worse for you and your goals, try to make the next one a drink that’s better for you and your goals.
- Similarly, ff you have one unhealthy meal, try to make the next one a healthy one.
Things happen. Life is messy. Sometimes we can’t help but miss out on doing our good habits once in a while. But don’t make THAT the new habit.
Never miss twice.
5) Use Implementation Intentions:
Implementation intentions are a plan you make beforehand about how you intend to implement your habit.
When you make a clear and specific plan for when and where you will do something, you’re much more likely to successfully follow through.
There are two ways that you can design Implementation Intentions:
Method 1: When [EVENT] happens, I will do [HABIT].
- When [I FEEL HUNGRY], I will [FIRST DRINK A GLASS OF WATER].
- Or, when [MY AUTOMATED REMINDER POPS UP], I will [MAKE A PROTEIN SHAKE].
Method 2: I will [HABIT] at [TIME] in / from / at [LOCATION].
- I will [DRINK WATER] at [8AM] in [THE KITCHEN].
- Or, I will [DRINK WATER] at [5PM] in [WHILE DRIVING HOME FROM WORK].
The more specific you can be with your implementation intentions, the better.
Other than being clear and intentional about your habits, another advantage is that it helps you to prioritise. You’ll need to protect that time as if it was an important appointment (which it is) or you’ll have to priorities it over doing anything else when your trigger event happens.
6) Use Habit Stacking:
Piggyback new habits that you want to build on top of existing habits that you already do.
Remembering to do new habits can be difficult, especially in the beginning. So look for an existing habit that you already do frequently to stack your new habit on top of.
- After [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].”
- After [I PUT THE KETTLE OAfter [I PUT THE KETTLE ON], I will [DRINK A GLASS OF WATER WHILE WAITING].
Some other examples for other contexts::
- After [I SIT DOWN FOR DINNER], I will [SAY ONE THING THAT I’M GRATEFUL FOR].
- After [I GET INTO BED AT NIGHT], I will [GIVE MY PARTNER A KISS].
- After [I CLOSE MY CAR DOOR], I will [PUT ON MY SEATBELT].
- After [I CHECK FACEBOOK], I will [DO 10 SQUATS].
While the existing habit and new habit don’t have to be related, it can help if they are somewhat similar in nature.
After a while, you can take advantage of the momentum being created by stacking a third habit on top of the existing habit stack.
Know Your Why:
One of the most important things that you can do to help yourself build healthy habits is to figure out exactly why you are wanting to change.
Having goals like wanting to lose 10kgs, run 5km, look good on the beach, etc, are great ways to get started.
But what happens when life gets “messy”? You know, when work is stressing you out, you’re sleep-deprived, finances are tight, emotions are all over the place, and willpower is at an all-time-low?
It’s times like that where you need something deeper.
For most people, the 5 Whys exercise usually leads to something like wanting to:
- Be thinner, so that they could feel more respect and loved.
- Be fitter, so that they could live long enough and be well enough to play with their grandchildren.
- Be better looking so that they could have a better relationship with their partner.
- Be more comfortable in their clothes so that they could have a successful and fulfilling career.