If sifting through the Google results for “diets that work” makes your head spin, try this trick: Don’t call it a diet. “For most Americans, diet is a dirty word that evokes pain, frustration, and bad memories of diets that went belly up,” says Connie Bennett, a life and health coach and author of Sugar Shock: How Sweets and Simple Carbs Can Derail Your Life—and How You Can Get Back on Track. So forget trying to overhaul your eating with detox cleanses and flavorless microwave meals. Instead, focus on making small, manageable changes that fit into your life. The following 11 simple strategies will help you slim down without giving up what you love.
1) Schedule Sweat Sessions. It’s obvious advice, but it works. Exercise can help you lose weight by burning calories, increasing metabolism, and warding off cravings. Italian researchers found that overweight, sedentary women who made no changes to their eating habits but participated in a 12-week indoor cycling program of three 1-hour sessions per week reported weight loss, fat loss, smaller waist sizes, and increased muscle mass after 24 and 36 sessions. The women also lowered their resting and training heart rates and improved cardio-respiratory fitness, according to a study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.
2) Pick Petite Plates. “If you can decrease the amount of food you currently eat by 25 percent, you would quickly see the pounds come off,” says Adam Shafran, cohost of the Atlanta-based radio show Dr. Fitness and the Fat Guy and coauthor of 35 Things to Know to Raise Active Kids. “Try using smaller plates and taller glasses in order to give the appearance of bigger portions.” When you’ve finished eating, leave your dainty dinnerware where you can see it. Sitting among heaps of dirty dishes helped Cornell University graduate students eat 28 percent less than those whose tables were cleared at a free Super Bowl Sunday chicken wing buffet, according to a study published in the journal Perceptual and Motor Skills.
3) Take Time-outs. To keep your body moving—and burning calories—throughout the day, Bennett suggests taking a mini break every 15 minutes. “It reminds me to stretch, take care of my back, do some exercise bursts, be present, and have fun,” says Bennett. “You can take as little as 30 seconds or as long as 5 minutes. Just get up off your rear end, stretch, go get some water, pull in your stomach, rearrange something on your desk or in your home, and stand on your tippy toes.” To schedule your breaks, try setting a timer. This free tool from online-stopwatch.com lets you pick your own sound—like a round of applause—to signal that it’s time to get up and move.
4) Don’t Skimp on Sleep. “Sleep deprivation causes fatigue, clumsiness, and weight gain,” says Carrie Wiatt, owner of Diet Designs, a Los Angeles–based nutritional counseling firm. “Getting enough sleep is crucial to proper cognitive function as well as controlling hunger.” Sleep deprivation has the power to slow down your metabolism, increase your appetite, and throw your body’s hunger and satiety hormones out of whack. Of more than 68,000 middle–age women who participated in a Case Western Reserve University study, those who slept for less than 5 hours each night were 32 percent more likely to gain 33 pounds or more over the course of the 16-year study, compared with those who got 7 to 9 hours of shut-eye.
5) When in Doubt, Delay. Here’s one way procrastination can work in your favor. “If carb cravings are haunting you, just delay,” Bennett suggests. “In other words, look at your watch and promise yourself that for the next 10 to 15 minutes, you won’t give in to your cravings. During that time, you could go to the restroom, wash the dishes, or call a friend.” You’ll give yourself a chance to figure out what your body really wants or needs—maybe a glass or water, a protein-rich snack, an energizing walk, or even a laugh.
6) Leave Liquid Calories Behind. According to Tufts University researchers, the 10 percent of calories that Americans take from soft drinks is more than they ingest from any other food. “The problem with this is that you are consuming a lot of calories, but you are never feeling full,” Shafran says. “Eat your calories, don’t drink them. Or try replacing sugary drinks with a nonsugar substitute or diluting the drinks with water.” In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, adults ages 25 to 79 who reduced their sugary beverage intake by one serving per day lost an average of 1.1 pounds after 6 months and 1.54 pounds at 18 months, while researchers noted that participants lost weight more effectively by cutting back on liquid rather than solid calories.
7) Fill 'Er Up. “Start your meals with high-fiber vegetables in a hearty soup or a huge salad,” Shafran says. “You’ll feel fuller when you eat a bunch of spinach, kale, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, tangerine slices, and dried cranberries before the entrée.” In a Brigham Young University study of 252 middle-aged women published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that by boosting fiber by 8 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed, study participants lost an average of 4.5 pounds at the end of the 2-year study. For a simple high-fiber snack, stock an empty Altoids tin with almonds. The container is perfect for a 1-ounce serving of about 20 nuts.
8) Drink More Water. In a Virginia Tech study published in the journal Obesity, overweight and obese middle-age adults who consumed 2 cups of water prior to each meal ate fewer calories and lost 44 percent more weight by the end of the 12-week study, compared with those who did not have water. Sipping H2O before a meal will help you feel full before you even pick up your fork. Wiatt advises drinking a total of about 2 liters per day. Since your body has to use more energy to heat up ice water, drop a few cubes into each glass for a calorie-burning bonus.
9) Energize with Electrolytes. “Increase your levels of magnesium,” Wiatt says. “This electrolyte is involved in more than 300 essential metabolic reactions and plays an important role in energy production.” The FDA recommends that adults consume 400 mg of magnesium daily. Because supplements vary in bioavailability, the best place to get magnesium is from a diet rich in a variety of nuts, legumes, whole grains, and green vegetables. Boosting potassium will also kick up your pep, Wiatt says. “Foods rich in this nutrient include bananas, potatoes, and dried apricots.” Other low-calorie, high-potassium foods that will help you reach the FDA-recommended 4,700 mg potassium per day include carrots, peppers, and Brussels sprouts.
10) Consume More Calcium. In a Drexel University study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers found that increasing calcium intake by only 100 mg daily—the amount in just 1/3 cup nonfat milk—was associated with 3.5 pounds less weight regain 18 months following significant loss. “Calcium supports nerve and muscle functions, which is critical to keeping your body on the weight loss track,” Wiatt says. “Also, getting enough vitamin D in your diet from fatty fish, mushrooms, eggs, and meat may lead to a greater weight loss.”
11) Make up a Mantra. “When a craving for a particular food—say, cookies—strikes, repeat a meaningful manta to squash temptation (either inwardly or aloud, if no one’s around),” Bennett suggests. “Try ‘I only desire healthy foods’ or ‘I’m now in perfect health.’ ” Wiatt suggests giving these sayings a shot: “I will not use food to mask my emotional needs,” “I love the body I have,” and “I will make peace with my body and treat it with respect.”