Health and Fitness

Gretchen Rubin: Habit Hacking | Fat-Burning Man

Today’s show is with the blockbuster bestselling author, Gretchen Rubin. You may have seen her on Oprah or listened to her hit podcast, The Happiness Project. On the show, you’ll learn why low carb diets work, simple tricks to be happier, and how to hack your habits to kick butt in health and life.

Before we get there, did you catch the premiere of our new show on ABC last night? I’m starring with celebrity trainers including Shaun T of the hit workout program, Insanity. Don’t forget to tune in at 9 pm Eastern, 8pm Central Thursdays on ABC to see my ugly mug on national television. You may even catch me dressed like a piece of bacon.


Now, on the show with bestselling author and podcaster, Gretchen Rubin, you’ll learn:

  • Why the low carb diet works
  • One simple thing you can do to get exercise in every day
  • How to set up your surroundings to make success automatic
  • Why you should get a puppy
  • And much more…


Abel: Today we’re here with Gretchen Rubin, the author of several books, including the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, Better Than Before, The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. Rubin started her career in law and was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized she wanted to be a writer (I freaking love that). We’re going to talk today about how you can upgrade your life by tackling your habits… and joining us is your new puppy!

Having a new puppy has a lot of effect on your habits. Barnaby seems to be a willing participant right now, so let’s hope he stays mellow.

Abel: One of the reasons I got a puppy about three years ago is that I wanted to destroy my life and let that be okay. When you come into adulthood, you tend to want everything to be perfect. You get a puppy pooping everywhere and destroying things, how has that changed your habits?

Now I get up at 5:30am!

With a puppy, you really have to be aware of when he needs to eat and drink and go out—you have to be very aware of another creature’s needs. It’s funny that you mention that desire to keep things simple and clean and orderly.

The pros of getting a puppy are that dogs make people happier and healthier. It’s statistically true! The cons are that you give up your freedom, they cost a lot of money, and then there’s the pooping. When we were thinking about getting a puppy, I decided I would choose the bigger life. That’s something I ask when I can’t decide which way to go. The bigger life for me was to get a dog.

Abel: Why is that a bigger life?

I like that question because it forces you to ask what is true for you. For some people, not having a dog would be a bigger life. It would mean more flexibility to travel, more time, more money, etc. For us, getting a dog was the bigger life. I have a sixteen year old daughter and a ten year old daughter, and the puppy gives them something they like to do together. They can learn how to train him and it’s fun for all of us. It’s a whole new relationship.

If there’s anything that makes people happier, it’s relationships. @GretchenRubin Click To Tweet

Abel: Having a puppy discourages bad habits. We tried going out late when we had a puppy, and what we came home to was an absolute disaster. It keeps you compliant with a good life.

A dog doesn’t want excuses, doesn’t accept your justifications. He just wants what he wants. Click To Tweet

From a habit perspective, how many people know they need to take a dog for a walk and they do it. But if they’re just supposed to go for a walk or run for themselves, they skip it.

“People who have dogs get exercise more and enjoy it more than people who belong to gyms.”

Accountability is really important for a lot of people. If they’re only accountable to themselves, they won’t do it. If you’re one of those people and you’re on a team, no problem. But you wouldn’t work out if you didn’t have that.

But if you know your puppy is going to be mischievous without his walk, you’re more likely to do it.

Abel: People don’t realize that if we don’t go for that walk, we’ll be restless, too.

So many people make the excuse that they’re too tired to exercise. What you may not realize is that exercise actually boosts your energy, unless you’re doing something super-rigorous.


Abel: You read the book Why We Get Fat, and it was a lightening bolt for you. Why?

I identified 21 strategies to effectively build habits. Some work for you, but not for me. The strategy of the lightening bolt stands alone. It’s something that happens to us. It comes to us when we have an epiphany—new information that changes our habits overnight.

I was on vacation when I read Why We Get Fat. It was a whole new way of thinking about nutrition. Everything seemed to make sense and overnight I changed the way I ate. I was eating egg white omelets and bran cereal with not great results until that point—my lightning bolt was true because I saw incredible changes in my body when I changed my diet. It was this new way of thinking, a focus on insulin, and it really radically changed my habits.

Sometimes people find out they’re pregnant, or they get a doctor’s report, or it could just be a casual conversation with a friend, but whatever it is it will set off a change in their head. That’s the lightning bolt.

Abel: I’d love everyone to have that experience. Why isn’t everyone having that experience?

It’s funny, it’s hard to convey that power to someone else. To me, it’s so utterly compelling and some people have the lightening bolt and others don’t. I was talking to my friend Al Jacobs who’s a brilliant writer and wrote Drop-Dead Healthy, and he knows all the research about low-carb but came out with more of a traditional dietary approach.

I’m like, “How can you not believe?” I eat this way now and all my hunger’s gone. His answer is, “But Gretchen, you’re just a data point of one.” But I’m the only data point I care about!

I wish we could make people have lightning bolts on command.

Abel: I get a lot of people writing in and asking why it’s so difficult (especially when they get results) to convince the people around them. It seems like the closer they are to them the harder they are to convince.

It is funny when we become so convinced, and we see the personal benefits and the research, we want everyone in our lives to eat this way.

I completely converted my father. He was in his mid 70s, 30 pounds overweight, and all his numbers were moving in the wrong direction. He read the book, and as I see my dad eating scrambled eggs and bacon I think, “I really hope this theory is right.”

He’s had amazing results! His doctor was like, “Hey Jack, how have you changed your diet?” He got back to his high school weight. He’s right there with me. Other people, not so much. My husband, over time, just started slowly changing. Slowly eliminated bread. Slowly started eating more eggs, etc.

If we change, then they may change, too.

We used to have pasta for dinner, we don’t anymore. My family has been changing slowly, too, but I think it’s frustrating when you want people to really accept the theory and follow along. But people have to get there on their own.

Examples are helpful, but people are still like, “What about all those foods you’re giving up?” And I’m like, “But think about all the foods you’re getting!”

Eating this way, you’re not pining away for toast. @GretchenRubin Click To Tweet


Abel: You also mention a cool thing about figuring out your constitution in the book. I took the test. I’m a questioner! But there’s a short-hand test about who you are, and that’s…

Find out if you’re a moderator or abstainer in this show with Gretchen Rubin:

Can you eat just one square of chocolate? @GretchenRubin Click To Tweet

There’s two kinds of frameworks. “Questioner” is one of the Four Tendencies. You’re [Abel] also a moderator. That makes sense because a lot of people who give nutrition advice are moderators. But a lot of people who need nutrition advice are abstainers—they’re “all or nothing.” Moderators will say, “Have a little bit, or have a cheat day, or don’t be too hard on yourself.” But that doesn’t work for an abstainer—we do better when we have none.

My sister is an abstainer about french fries. She’s also someone who wants everything to be framed in the positive. So I asked her, “How do you tell yourself ‘no’ when it comes to french fries?” She says to herself, “Now I’m free from french fries.” You get free from it when you abstain. But moderators get kind of panicky when they can’t have any.

Abel: I’ll flip-flop. I’ll drink every weekend for a while then I’ll go months without it. You talk about that flip-flopping syndrome. How can you shut off that wasted energy?

You can spend all day flip-flopping about exercising then feel totally exhausted without even having gone to the gym.

Habits are helpful because they get us out of decision-making. @GretchenRubin Click To Tweet

I don’t have to decide to give up sugar every day, or not eat dessert, or get up at 5:30am. I always go to yoga at 10:00am, so I don’t have to think about it. When you have habits, you don’t need to make those decisions. If there are things that are important to you, it’s a lot easier to make it a habit.

I have identified 21 strategies, and to change a challenging habit you might use 5 or 6 of them. The biggest mistake is that people think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution. But the things that work for you might not work for me.

You have to start by understanding yourself. What are things you notice about yourself that might affect your habits.

How can I use:

  • Accountability
  • Scheduling
  • Monitoring
  • Convenience
  • Inconvenience
  • Clarity
  • Spotting loopholes

That’s the funniest chapter in the book. “I’m gonna be so good tomorrow,” is a loophole. Lack of control. Concerned brother. There’s ten loopholes and we are such good advocates of ourselves that we find ways to use them.

For people who are discouraged, I think there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit—things right for you that will help make that habit stick.

Abel: For you, when you want to install a new habit, what do you do?

When I did my framework, I divided all of humanity into 4 categories. I’m part of a “freaky fringe.” I’m part of a small group of people called upholders, who find it very easy to form habits.

I realize how differently people approach this thing. What I personally use is scheduling. I monitor the habit—if you monitor it, you’re more likely to do consistently. I also make it as convenient as possible and as pleasant as possible.

Abel: For my personality type, working a healthy habit into my identity works great. “Fat-Burning Man” doesn’t work if he’s fat.

That strategy of identity really eluded me for a long time. Even someone who was speaking to me about habits for a long time, I just didn’t hear what she was saying. A lot of times, you feel like you can’t change it because of identity.

If you think you want to go into work at 6am during the week and then take the weekends off, and your identity is a workaholic, you won’t be able to take that weekend off.

If you’re a baker, you’re going to be baking. You might have to change your identity.

I had a friend who had a new baby and couldn’t get to bed early. Then she realized that she thought going to bed before midnight was a sign of a suburban sort of uncool person, not her hip party-all-night identity. She had to readjust her identity if she wanted to get enough sleep to be healthy.

Abel: How can you tell if your idea of your identity is something that’s serving you or not?

If it’s interfering with a habit you want to have, you need to think about how your identity is not serving you.

Maybe there’s another part of your identity you can tap into. A lot of times, once you point this out to people, they begin to see pretty easily what it is about their identity that’s interfering.

Abel: Being in harmony with your surroundings and intentionally designing your environment to make good habits easy is also really important.

Yes, that’s the strategy of convenience and inconvenience. We are very influenced by how easy or hard it is to do something. So, if you have to choose between joining the gym right across from your office or saving a few buck by joining the gym a couple blocks away, choose the one that’s more convenient.

If you’re constantly checking your cell phone while driving, put it in the trunk or under the back seat on mute. The inconvenience makes it easier to resist.

If you don’t want to watch TV, instead of keeping the remote by the chair you sit in, put it on a high shelf behind a closed door. You’ll be less apt to sit and flip through channels.

Abel: The power your environment has over you is something it’s hard to overestimate. We live in smoky mountains and just being able to open the door and go for a walk with the dog is incredible. Once you make those decisions, you craft this way of living and living well is easy.

Take it little by little. Don’t feel like you have to move to another state to make a difference, just think about what is going to make it work for you.

I had a client who used to always love going for walks, and then she stopped. Then she went to stay with her father and started walking again. She realized that her father lived in a really well-lit subdivision, where she did not. So, when she returned home, she got a reflector vest so traffic would see her at night. With that new feeling of safety she was able to walk regularly again.

Sometimes it takes external accountability. Maybe you need a trainer, a friend, an accountability group where somebody’s going to say, “Hey, how did it go? Did you go to the gym, that walk, that class?”

Abel: Why are the healthy habits so fragile?

People will say, “I love doing this, but can’t make it a habit.”

It doesn’t matter if it’s fun or good for you, these are the strategies that work. It’s also important to never focus on the results, because process is much more important.

Abel: Can you talk about the 60 second rule?

This is a rule that says if there’s anything you could do in less than a minute, do it without delay. If you can put the lid on the peanut butter, put away your coat, take out the recycling… do it now. These things are nothing consequential on their own, but added together, they drain your energy.

The one-minute rule just happens in these little parts of your day, and a lot people say it’s amazing how much gets done in just these little bits of time.

Abel: A lot of people are perfectionists. How is perfectionism the enemy of progress?

It’s not about reaching utopia. That’s not very realistic. It’s better to think about progress, moving in the right direction. Getting better is the best!

It’s about not worrying or beating yourself up. It’s about, “How do you handle a slip-up?”

If you load yourself with shame or guilt, it’s not going to energize you to do a better job. Click To Tweet

Research shows that people who get back in the saddle are the people who show compassion to themselves. They try to learn from something and move forward, because often when you load yourself with guilt, you turn back to the habit to make yourself feel better. People who are overweight eat to comfort themselves when they slip up, for example.

But you can reframe it this way. “A stumble may prevent a fall.”

Maybe that birthday party didn’t go so well, but the holidays are coming up and so now I know I shouldn’t go somewhere hungry. I don’t like to run outside in bad weather, so I’ll book the hotel with a gym.

Abel: In studying habits, what are some of the things that really surprised you?

There is no magic one-size-fits-all solution. People want to know the perfect habit, but that’s not gonna work.

Another thing is the negative effect of rewards on habits. If you go for a run and give yourself a scone, that’s not going to work. What I learned is that rewards are very undermining, so you don’t want to use them unless the reward takes you deeper into the habit.

If I do a lot of yoga, then reward yourself with new yoga clothes. If you get into a lot of good healthy cooking, then get yourself a set of good knives because that will help you with your cooking!

The prize for bringing your lunch is a new lunch box, not something like a giant piece of chocolate cake. A lot of people give themselves perverse rewards.

Why do we want to reward ourselves with the opposite of what we’re working toward? Click To Tweet

If you want your body or health to be different, you need to make changes that are indefinite.

Abel: Why is change such a dirty word or a scary concept for people?

A lot of people are discouraged. They’ve tried and failed, so they feel bad about it. They feel powerless. Like my father with his bloodwork. Every year it got a little bit worse and he had this defeated feeling. “I don’t want to change, it’s too hard, it doesn’t work, and it depresses me.”

It’s exciting and encouraging when there are these tools, and this is the kind of thing that’s going to work. You make one small change and then you can do this thing that’s been frustrating you for years. You just need to know what key to put into the lock to make that change occur.

Abel: If it doesn’t work, then get a puppy.

A puppy is good for some habits, not for others. If you’re someone who struggles getting enough sleep, then you don’t want to get a puppy.


Discover how to drop fat with chocolate, bacon, and cheesecake. Plus: learn the 3 worst foods you should NEVER eat and the 7 best exercises for rapid fat loss. Click below to to claim your FREE gift ($17 value)!


I have a new podcast with my sister: Happier with Gretchen Rubin. It’s about happiness, good habits, human nature, and it’s tons of fun.

I’m currently writing a little book that goes into far more detail about the tendencies. I also write on almost every day. You can also find me all over social media:
Facebook, Twitter @GretchenRubin, and on Instagram and Pinterest.


Did you make a resolution to lose weight this year?

Here are a few quick tips for how to drop fat and get results with your New Year’s Resolutions this year.

  • Choose Wild fish and seafood instead of farm raised to bump up healthy fats in your meals, get quality protein, and nourish your brain and body.
  • Spend more time outside in fresh air and in the sun. This boosts your mood and increases Vitamin D.
  • Swap your starches for salads or green smoothies, which will help you lose fat quickly.
  • Eat better treats, like dark chocolate.
  • Don’t eat diet food that tastes like cardboard. Eat fresh, real, whole, Wild foods instead.

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Many people quit because they either lack knowledge about how to accomplish their goals, or they don’t have a supportive community to make sure they stick to it. I get it – we’re all swimming in misinformation when it comes to health, fitness and nutrition.

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Starting burning fat and shedding pounds in The Fat-Burning Tribe:

Can you eat just one square of chocolate? Leave a comment below to share your personality type and what you’ve learned about how to best make habits for yourself.

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