7 Habits of the Perpetually Lean and Happy

“I hate her,” you mumble under your breath. “She’s just so fit and perky all the time. How is that even possible?”

Oh girl, let me tell you.

You think that being both lean and happy is a myth, that you can either be lean and miserable or overweight and jolly. And the chiseled chicks walking around smiling all the time must absolutely be lying through their teeth. I mean, obviously if you want to be beach-ready, you have to be munching on carrot sticks all the time and blacking out every fortnight from lack of carbs – and hell, you’re an angry b!tch because of it. And on the other hand, if you want to have energy, then you must be fueling yourself with donuts and sporting a comfy winter coat of insulation to so much as feel functional.

I don’t blame you. You’ve been brainwashed to think that you need to be a genetically gifted freak of nature to be endowed with such a superpower.

I guess in a way, the Lean and Happy (yes, we exist) are part of a secret society of sorts. Except that it’s not really secret, and it’s actually open to the public. Free open membership, if you will.

We’re not that different from the rest of the world. We don’t walk around popping super magic pills, nor do we collectively practice some obscure religion that absolves us of the desire to eat fatty food.

Rather, we practice good habits.

That’s it, really. We’ve spent some time mastering these habits, and now they’ve become second-nature.

Want to join the club? We’d love to have you.

Read on to find out what it takes. 

1. Your workout program is enjoyable and effortless.

But what do you mean you don’t do hours of cardio?! That just doesn’t make sense.

Oh, but it does.

Think back to the last time you tried to pick up a habit for good. Eating veggies on the regular, for example. Can you imagine how long you’d last if you forced yourself to choke down bland broccoli that happened to make you gag all the time? I’d give that three, maybe four days before you throw in the towel and replace it with French fries (they’re the new vegetable, haven’t you heard?).

The more resistance you face attempting to implement a permanent behavior change, the less likely you’ll stick to it.


Take a look at behavior change expert BJ Fogg’s model. I love this graph because it simplifies a concept that many of us struggle with. In order to do something that’s difficult to do, you need an extraordinarily high level of motivation. In contrast, [Tweet "easy tasks require low motivation and are therefore much more likely to be done."]

You want something to be both effortless (requiring little motivation) and easy to do. Applied to workouts, then, this means that the training regimen of the lean and happy probably look like not very much on paper. Likely they spend just a handful of hours in the gym per week and maybe sprinkle in some cardio from time to time. What’s more, they actually enjoy what they’re doing and they genuinely look forward to their training sessions on most days.

2. You don’t let external circumstances dictate your food choices.

You don’t rely on the clock to tell you when it’s time to eat; you don’t eat x and y specific foods day in and day out because that’s what you’re “supposed” to do. Instead, you rely on your internal clues. If you’re feeling particularly ravenous one morning, you may have an extra serving of protein or perhaps a good fat source for breakfast (eg. 3 whole eggs instead of 6 egg whites). If you have a hankering for a sweet, maybe a Reese’s pieces cup will do.

Or perhaps a whole handful! 
Or perhaps a whole handful!

This is important especially now. We’re surrounded by a plethora of fad diets that prescribe meals for us to chow down on with the promise of fantastic, earth-shattering weight loss results. And while intentions may at first glance seem innocuous enough – make the process so easy for you that all you have to do is shell out some money and mindlessly follow directions – ultimately doing so will throw you out of sync with your body’s inner voice.

I’m not trying to get all Namaste on you. I simply believe that following such rigid rules (ie. eat only this meal at this time and absolutely nothing else) doesn’t actually teach you anything about sustainable eating habits. Just think about it: what are you going to do when you stop prescribing to said meal plan? If you’ve been taught nothing except for how to blindly follow orders, will you fall off the deep end when your hand is no longer being held?

Your body will tell you what it needs.

(If you’re truly honest with yourself, then no, your body won’t “need” a sleeve of Oreos every evening.)

3. You indulge – every once in a while, and not too much.

There’s something about knowing that no food is off-limits that frees you of the urge to indulge in a treat solely because it’s been put on the “bad” list. With lean people, there is no such thing as a bad list. There are better food choices than others, sure, but prescribing a negative connotation with a food necessarily strings along guilt and temptation, and you ain’t having none of that.

Maybe you treat yourself to half a cup of full-fat ice cream three nights a week. Maybe you have a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with a protein shake on the side after every training session as your post-workout meal. Maybe you splash some half & half into your coffee every morning before you start your day.

The point is, by indulging on a semi-regular basis, you curb any cravings you may have early and often so you’re not left feeling deprived. And because you don’t feel deprived, you never have to fight the urge to binge. Two slices of pizza instead of an entire pan for yourself; one slice of molten chocolate lava lake instead of the whole damn thing.

4. You don’t let yourself feel guilty about your decisions.

Did you coworker surprise you with cupcakes because it’s your five-year anniversary at the office? They’re not only homemade, but piled high with a full inch of your favorite frosting. Also, red velvet.

How could you say no? And really, why would you say no?

You happily oblige and take a sweet, decadent bite. Scrumptious. You don’t remember the last time you’ve tasted something so delightful. So you smile, chocolate frosting stained all over your teeth, and you go in for another bite.

And then what?

You move on.

You continue on with your life.

You don’t look back and beat yourself up for being weak-willed and falling prey to the evils of sugar. You don’t cut out your carbs at dinner or go for an extra jog in the evening to try and burn off those calories.

You don’t feel any guilt because you didn’t do anything wrong. You haven’t violated any rules because really, you don’t have any that forbids you to consume specific foods (remember?).

And consequently do not engage in compensatory behaviors.

5. You readily bend the rules.

Or better yet, you follow guidelines rather than strict black-and-whites. Why is this important? Because life happens. Unexpected happens. You can’t predict all the events that are going to unfold, and you certainly can’t plan for every single situation out there.

What you can do, however, is approach everything with an open mind and be willing to be flexible with your fitness guidelines when the occasion calls for it.

If you were planning on squatting tonight but a good friend of yours calls you out for a last-minute get-together, you realize that you haven’t seen some colleagues for a good minute so you decide to skip the gym. After all, you know that five years from now, you won’t remember that one session you spent alone sweating it out under the Olympic bar, but rather the friendships you solidified over cheese and wine. And as for your workouts? You’ll simply push your training schedule back by a day and pick right back up tomorrow.

No big deal, because you know that in the grand scheme of things, you’re all about enjoying yourself.

 So happy and lean and thoroughly enjoying myself in the middle of the tennis court. 
So happy and lean and thoroughly enjoying myself in the middle of the tennis court.

6. You see regular exercise and healthy eating as a privilege rather than a chore. 

You don’t haveto eat chicken and jasmine rice for dinner; you conscientiously make that choice. You getto treat your body right and fuel it with nothing but the best.

If you see yourself as a victim, your entire world will be painted with a shade of Suck. You’ll envy those who are out at Happy Hour on a Tuesday evening while you’re hip thrusting at the gym. You’ll despise every minute that you spend on the training floor, and even changing into your workout attire will seem like a formidable task. You’ll grow to hate greens more and more with every bite of Swiss chard that you choke down. You’ll think that your life is so difficult, so hard, and everyone else has it easier and better than you do.

On the flip side, viewing fitness as a privilege will add an extra spring in your step. To have the ability and freedom to move and sweat on the daily and nourish your body with quality nutrients is something that not everyone gets to do. You know this. With each meal, you respect your body. With every rep, you become better than you were yesterday.

You are grateful.

This is all attitude, folks. Is the glass half full or half empty? Do you harbor a mindset of abundance? 

7. You don’t have a timeline.

You go with the flow. You focus on your behaviors because you know that you can’t control the outcomes. So when the scale hasn’t budged in a week even though you’ve done everything right, you don’t panic – because A) the scale doesn’t necessarily mean anything without proper context, and B) you fully understand that as long as you’re working on the right habits, the results will eventually take care of themselves.

You also don’t feel any external pressure to be in a specific shape, bodyfat level, or bodyweight by a certain deadline. Which means you don’t get an anxiety attack when you’re not “on track” to shed 20lbs of fat by Christmas.

There’s no crash dieting.

You realize that ultimately, you’re in this for the long haul. So who cares if you don’t get six pack abs by the end of the year? You’ve got an indefinite amount of time to get to where you want to be.  

Sohee Lee, NSCA-CSCS is a personal trainer, online coach and writer. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in human biology from Stanford University, she interned at Cressey Performance before her current position at Peak Performance as a performance coach. She specializes in women’s fat loss and the fitness mindset.