Tips for automating exercise and eating

Yesterday, I was texting with a friend and mentioned that I was on my way out to get a hair cut (and colour, truth be told). She commented on how impressed she was that I “was still prioritizing the small self care stuff that makes us feel better” even though my life’s been recently turned upside down.

I hadn’t really thought of what I was doing as self-care (of course it is) or something that was going to make me feel better (it certainly did). I scheduled this appointment at the end of my last appointment and was simply doing what my calendar told me I had to do today.

automating exercise and eating

Losing those greys always makes me feel better…

I like to think of this way of going about the day as ‘auto-piloting’ and apply the same strategy to many areas of my life, including exercising and nutrition.

While living on ‘auto-pilot’ might seem to be in direct opposition to the ‘live in the moment’ and ‘be present’ advice we see daily on social media, when used correctly, it can free us from wasting time and mental energy on trivial decisions.

Like what to wear. Which route to take to work. When and where to workout. Which exercises to include. What and when to eat. How best to load the dishwasher…

A little Google-searching tells me that ‘decision fatigue’ is a real and recognized psychological condition in which a person’s productivity (and ability to make future decisions) suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.

The simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make more decisions.

The solution? Make the decision once (and ahead of time) and use the ‘auto-pilot’ strategy to follow through.

I’ve found the following ‘auto-pilot’ strategies to help me (and many of my clients) commit to regular exercise and healthier eating.

Pick a couple that resonate with you and commit to trying them for a month.

Tips for automating exercise and eating
  • register for a group fitness program; perfect for those who need a bit more accountability and are unlikely to skip an activity that they’ve paid for in advance (with the added benefit of not having to figure out what you’re going to do when you get to the gym; your instructor or coach does all the planning, you just show up and follow their instructions). I’m currently using this auto-pilot strategy and it’s working for me.
  • pack your gym bag and organize your workout clothes in advance; remove the early morning (or after work) decision-making by having your workout clothes chosen and set out the night before, a clean towel and water bottle in your gym bag and you running shoes, wallet and keys waiting by the door
  • schedule your meals for the week; grab a notebook (paper or electronic), create a list of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and FOLLOW IT (here’s a free meal planning tool you can download, print out and fill in with your menu ideas)
  • simplify your diet; let go of the idea that a food needs to entertain and that a limited diet is boring; create two or three simple ‘go-to’ breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that are nutritious and complete. Tack them to the fridge door (or someplace else in the kitchen where you’ll see them). No more standing in front of the pantry wondering what you should eat and whether it will ‘fit your macros’.
  • create a grocery shopping ‘check-list’; create an electronic check-list of the foods you eat regularly, ordered according to the route you take through the grocery store. Print out a copy, stick it on your fridge and tick off items as you run out of them. This one simple task allows me to do my bi-weekly $300 Superstore shop in less than an hour.
  • cook once, dine twice; double the size of your dinners with the goal of incorporating left-overs into the next day’s lunch. Not only does this save you cooking and lunch-prep time, it also removes one more decision during your weekly meal planning task.
  • pack tomorrow’s lunch and snacks after dinner; super easy if you’re packing left-overs (they have to be put back in the fridge anyways) and you’ll be more likely to make healthy choices with a full tummy (and when you’re not in a rush)

These are just a few of the ‘auto-pilot’ strategies that I’ve tried and found useful.

What are your favourite tips for automating exercise and eating? 





  1. These are great tips. My exercise routine is definitely by a predictable schedule — I learned that if I don’t have a plan before my alarm gets up I am more likely to hit the snooze button. My breakfast are pretty much the same every weekday, and lunches are leftovers, but dinner is where things get more spontaneous.

    • And I think you can be both spontaneous and on auto-pilot. Especially at dinner. I just have a formula (salad, lean protein, one veg and a starchy carb) that I mix and match from according to who’s home for dinner and what’s been defrosted 🙂

  2. I feel I can relate with what you said to a greater extent. I have been taking a lot of irrelevant decision and some of the decision I took were not at all irrelevant or wrong but the time took them was not appropriate. It was liking eating breakfast at 9 pm. Now, I am trying my best to put my life in auto pilot which is not practically possible to do 100 percent, but I am trying.

    I have dedicated some fixed hours for every activity and no matter what I do my best to complete those tasks and live every moment. As far as exercise is concerned, I have a habit of going for morning walk and do some basic exercise every day and I am trying to make exercise as normal ( and important) as breathing in my routine.
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  3. Wonderful tips, Tamara. I often plan the workout DVDs I’ll do in the few days ahead. Saves me from making the decision at 7 in the morning (or earlier…). Love the electronic shopping list idea. I’ll have to try that.

    I hope you’re doing okay. You’ve entered my thoughts a fair amount. I admire you for keeping fitness and health in your life when I’m sure most days you feel like doing anything but.

    • Thanks for asking Carrie. Honestly, it’s the only way I know how to move forward. Keep doing the things that make me feel better and hope that one day I truly feel better.

  4. I have met many women with decision fatigue, especially at spas I teach or present at.

  5. You call it auto-pilot, I call it structure. Great ideas!

  6. I’ve found that once you’ve officially formed a habit (out of going go the gym, running, or whatever it is you’re trying to get yourself to do) it pretty much ends up being on auto pilot by default. Like, you don’t need to talk yourself into taking a shower. You just do it because it needs to be done. Same thing applies to going to the gym once you get in the groove 🙂

  7. My life works best when I work on auto-pilot, but you make a good point about the concept and mindfulness being quite the opposite. I am wondering if that has to be true. I think you just made a case for living on “mindful auto-pilot.” Knowing what works for you and doing it with purpose and awareness. Great idea.
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  8. The term automation really caught my eye, and I am glad that I jumped in and read this post. Frankly it is one of the best fitness posts that I have read this year. Thanks a lot Tamara and keep up the good work.


  9. Excellent prep tips notwithstanding, and they are outstanding, you would look so good with gray hair! Truth.

  10. Thanks Tamara for sharing great tips.
    My personal exercise sessions became much more better when I joined a fitness group!
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