The 5 Pillars of SUSTAINABLE Weight Loss and optimal health

 By: Katie Lister

 November 1, 2023

Are you sick of fad diets, counting macros, and yo-yoing? Do you want to BE and FEEL your best and healthiest for the long run?  Keep reading to understand how you can lose the fat, keep it off, and maintain optimal health for years to come. 

Hi, I am Katie Lister, a practicing Registered Nurse and founder of Growth Gals. For years, both working in health care and in my personal life, I have observed people struggling to lose weight and simply feel good. After working in functional medicine, which addresses the root cause of disease, I have narrowed down my top general recommendations for sustainable and long-term health. Continue reading to discover simple shifts you can implement in your everyday life to become your healthiest self. 

Table of Contents

Katie Lister

Katie Lister

Written by Katie Lister, RN, BScN. An experienced Registered Nurse, Group Facilitator, Life Coach, and Community Leader. Read Katie's Full Author Bio

1. Mindset

Change your identity.

In James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, he differentiates between Outcome based habits and Identity based habits. Most of us focus on what we want to achieve rather than who we want to become. The goal should not be to lose 15 lbs, it should be to BECOME a fit & healthy person. “When your behaviour and identity are fully aligned, you are no longer pursuing behaviour change. You are simply acting like the type of person you already believe yourself to be”. “I’m trying to lose weight” becomes “Thanks for offering, but I don’t eat chips.”

Speak in the present tense, you will reinforce the identity of the person you are trying to become, until eventually you’ll believe it. And bonus, the more pride you have in a part of your identity (which builds over time), the more motivated you will to maintain the habits associated with it.

Outcomes Process Identity

Let go of all-or-nothing thinking.

Forget perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking. Even the healthiest fitness gurus or experts in their fields do not eat clean 100% of the time, workout 7 days/week, or have a perfect uninterrupted 8 hours of sleep per night. We are human, not robots.
Aim for 85%.

If you have an occasional gathering with friends and don’t get enough sleep as a result, don’t beat yourself up – it’s worth it sometimes! If you need to give up your morning workout to get that extra 30 minutes of shut-eye, then do it. If you’re crazy busy and need to eat out, just DO IT (try and choose wisely or course). We all are busy and have responsibilities. Expecting to count macros, log all your food, pre chop and prep everything in little tupperware, hit the gym, sleep like a baby, AND do everything else 100% of the time is just completely unrealistic.

When life throws you a curveball, which it WILL, you are going to fall off the wagon and revert back to your old self if you have this regimented thinking. Remember, you’ve learned that quick fixes don’t last. You need small but sustainable, long-lasting steps. Eventually you won’t even think twice about not buying the prepackaged food that you used to and you’ll be stoked to do your morning exercise routine because that’s just WHO you are. 

So, who do you want to be? What habits do you need to form and what behaviors you need to change in order to BECOME this person?

2. Sleep

Okay so you’ve decided who you want to become. Now what do you actually need to do in order to become this person?

It all starts with sleep. Prioritize getting a full, good night’s rest. If you’re not getting at least 7.5 hours of sleep per night, don’t even think about changing anything else in your life until you make sleep a priority.

Why is sleep so important?

Sleep deprivation increases hunger hormone (ghrelin) and decreases food satisfaction hormone (leptin). You’ll therefore consume more calories per day than those getting a full night’s sleep – in fact studies have shown those who get under 6 hours of sleep per night ate an average of 300 more calories per day than those getting 8 hours per night. That leads to 10-15 pounds gained per year. You’ll also crave more high calorie foods like sugary and salty snacks versus healthy protein or fats when you’re sleep deprived. And sadly, even if you ARE losing weight despite not sleeping enough, you’ll lose more lean body mass than fat. 

So you can meal prep, calorie count, and workout all you want, but if you’re sleeping less than 6 hours a night consistently, you’re FIGHTING your body’s system and impulses. We all know self-control only lasts so long.


How do you actually get a good night’s sleep?

  • Time: Give yourself a minimum of 8 hour sleep opportunity every night. Again, this needs to be a priority. Seems obvious, but allow TIME for enough sleep. You can’t go to bed at 11:30 pm and have your alarm set for 5:45 am everyday and expect to get a full night’s rest. 

  • Dark: Limit light exposure to your bedroom. Start with an eye mask and eventually invest in blackout curtains or a DIY solution to cover the windows. Avoid bright overhead lights an hour before bed. Soft-tinged lamps or red lights are best. 

  • Quiet: Use ear plugs,  white noise (like a fan) or quiet meditation music if you cannot control noise pollution in your environment. 

  • Cool: Open windows or use a fan to keep your room as cool as possible (18 degrees C is optimal). A warm bath or hot shower before bed actually helps your core cool down too.

  • Substances: Avoid caffeine 12 hours before bed and alcohol 4 hours before bed. Try camomile tea instead. 

  • Relax: Avoid electronics 1 hour before bed. Establish a healthy bedtime routine. Meditate or read a novel. 

  • Awaken: Buy an old school alarm clock rather than your phone. This will prevent you from doom scrolling or checking emails late at night or first thing in the morning.

3. Water

Okay this seems way too simple, but SO MANY people are not adequately hydrated. Most of us need 2.5 – 4 liters/day – pending on body weight and activity level. 

Why does water even matter? 

Well if you’re dehydrated, you may actually THINK you’re hungry, crave food, and therefore eat more when in fact you just need to drink fluids. You’ll also feel more fatigued and low energy, which leads to grabbing easy, unhealthy snacks and sitting on the couch instead of moving your body.

How to drink more water?

  • Make it yummy: Add lemon or sugar-free electrolytes especially in the morning or with activity. Try carbonated water or herbal tea.

  • Drink AT LEAST 500 mL when you wake up (ideally with lemon and a pinch of salt or apple cider vinegar) BEFORE caffeine consumption

  • Buy a big water bottle. Make it a fun challenge every day to ensure you drink x number of bottles during the work day.

  • Drink at least 500 mL during and 500 mL after exercise

4. Nutrition

80% of weight loss is food intake vs. 20% is energy expensure (exercise). There is SO much information on what you should and shouldn’t eat, but really here are the basics to simplify it.

How do you actually eat healthy?

  • Avoid Seed Oils (Vegetable”, canola, soybean, sunflower, etc.). This is probably one of the most underrated but impactful change you can make for your health. If you can change one thing in your diet, do this. Seed oils are in almost all processed/pre-made foods and virtually all restaurants cook with them. They are high in Omega 6 which contributes to inflammation, disease, and weight gain.

  • Consume healthy oils instead. Cook with ghee, grass fed butter, or avocado oil. Extra virgin olive oil uncooked is so good for you (eg. salad dressing, on top of fish/bowls)

  • Cook/prep food at home as much as possible. This will help with the oils too. Limit processed foods. READ labels. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient or don’t know what it is, it’s probably crap.

  • FIBRE IS FUEL. Eat all the veggies.

  • Healthy habits start the night before. Take 10 minutes before bed to think about what you’re going to eat the next day.

  • Make healthy food visible and available, unhealthy food hidden/unavailable. Limit temptations. Store apples on the counter instead of chocolate.

  • Buy organic, non-processed, grass-fed meat and wild fish

  • Reduce simple carbs. Have a sweet tooth? Well you have BILLIONS of microbiome in your gut that CRAVE whatever food you’ve been eating. If you stop eating refined sugar, the cravings will be intense and you’ll feel terrible for a few days, but then guess what? Those microbiome DIE, and then you physically do not crave that anymore. Your mind still will because you remember the taste, but if you actually pause and listen to your body, you no longer desire it.  Prep complex carbs instead such as yams or quinoa so they’re readily available.

  • Limit alcohol to a maximum of 2 drinks/week. Ideally drink alcohol intentionally on a special occasion or gathering vs as a daily habit. Switch to carbonated soda water or the  occasional kombucha.

Again, remember the 85% rule. Above are the ideal recommendations, but it’s virtually impossible to do this all the time so don’t beat yourself up when you grab a snack on the go or want to eat out for date night. Enjoy celebrations guilt-free but make intentional food choices during typical day-to-day life. 

5. Exercise

Okay so you’re now a healthy person who’s sleeping like a baby, staying super hydrated, and eating  clean… Time to get moving! I’m not going to get into the WHY of exercise here, I think virtually everyone knows that it’s the best. The issue is actually doing it.

How can you consistently exercise?

  • Is there an activity that you enjoy doing? Start there. Guess what? You’re going to keep doing something that you actually like doing!

  • Take out your workout clothes the night before. Again, take a few minutes before bed to think about what you’re going to do for exercise and schedule it in.

  • Strength and resistance training to build muscle will be more impactful in optimizing body composition and weight loss than killing yourself doing cardio

  • Find a youtube channel / workout platform that you resonate with for convenient at home videos

  • Fit in movement in your daily life if you’re strapped for time. How can you make exercise convenient? Bike to work, take the stairs instead of the elevator. After a little while, squeeze in 2 laps! Do a short strength training or HIIT workout on lunch break. Hit the gym or class or activity on the way home from work (if you go home first the couch usually wins)

  • Hire a personal trainer if the gym is intimidating. The upfront, one time investment will help you learn, build confidence, and help you become more comfortable in that setting

  • Get outside whenever possible. Nature + movement = all the happy endorphins

  • Find workout buddies to stay accountable. Join a run club, weekly exercise class, sport team. Find friends who are interested in or already do the type of activities you want to do.


I know this sounds like a lot, but what is ONE THING you can implement starting TODAY?

Is it a good night’s sleep? More water? Simply repeating healthy affirmations? Replacing the type of oil you cook with? Squeezing in a morning pilates video? Just choose one. Commit. Make it part of your daily life and then it’ll feel second nature. Do it for a couple weeks then revisit this guide and add on the next thing and so forth. Before you know it, you’ll BE the healthy person you’ve been telling yourself you are all along! 


Please note that this is for educational purposes only. These recommendations are generalized and are meant for individuals without significant chronic illnesses or health challenges. Please consult a healthcare professional prior to changing your diet, activity level, or increasing fluid intake if you are uncertain about your specific condition. Consider a functional medicine practitioner and an integrative health care team when it comes to personalized lifestyle interventions. 

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