If you’ve ever tried to lose weight (and who hasn’t), you’ve got to be mindful of whose advice you take. Your colleague says you need to cut out carbs. Your gym buddy knows the secret is to stop eating after 7 p.m. Your Facebook friend swears she’ll be in swimsuit shape by March if she only eats once a day. Your husband, well, he sneezes and the weight seems to fall off.
But do any of these tips really work? To help you shed those extra pounds—and keep them off—without starving yourself, ditching your social life, or eating only at odd times of the day, we talked to experienced nutritionists for real-world advice you can actually live with, day in and day out. We’ll tell you how to focus on the delicious foods you can add to your diet, why you should be eating more often (yes!), the fat loss benefits of more sleep, and how even taking a few deep breaths can put you on a successful path to weight loss.
1. Never Get Too Hungry
You make poor decisions when your judgment is compromised. Hunger is a primal urge that’s difficult to deny. When you’re famished, it’s hard to hold off until you can find healthy food. As a result, you end up eating anything that’s not nailed down, and typically, regretting it. Planning meals and snacks works wonders to head off the intense hunger that can do a number on your best intentions to eat right. Always tote healthy snacks, such as an ounce of pistachios, a hard-cooked egg and some whole grain crackers, Greek yogurt, or 1/4 cup raisins. Don’t skip meals or skimp on them, either.
2. Know Your Daily Caloric Intake
Everyone has a calorie budget, whether you’re trying to maintain your weight or lose a few pounds. I’ve found that people ignore this simple fact. Your calorie budget allows you to build a healthy diet, and it helps prevent frustration about weight control. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide suggested daily calorie intakes based on gender, age, and physical activity level. When you know your calorie budget, then you can plan on how many servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and other protein sources to include every day.
3. Make sure your meals have red, orange and blue in them
At each meal include one food that is any of these colors. By focusing on these foods, you’ll be sure to get some produce on your plate and won’t have space on your plate for higher-calorie fare.
4. Eat One Less Bite A Meal
Doing this at every meal could save about 75 calories a day which equates to nearly an 8-pound weight loss in one year!
5. Drink More Water
Water is essential for keeping the body hydrated and we’re actually more likely to retain “water weight” by not drinking enough of it rather than by having too much. The needs of each person will be different, but the general recommended daily amount is 64 ounces. It also takes up space in your stomach so you’ll feel fuller while taking in less calories.
6. Cut Back On Salt
Salt is a big contributor to weight gain and often a reason why the numbers on the scale aren’t going down. The average American consumes twice the amount of salt they should have each day, leading to weight gain, bloating, and the inability to lose stubborn pounds. Salt can also make you feel hungrier and thirstier, so check the nutrition labels for high sodium levels and choose fresh over packaged or restaurant foods. You’ll see a puffy face and belly go down quickly just by cutting back on your sodium intake and choosing more natural foods.
7. Add Spice To Your Food
Adding hot spices to your meals can help curb hunger, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Need another reason to add some heat? Scientists at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that capsaicin (a compound found in chilies) triggers your brain to release feel-good endorphins. A full belly and a good mood? Pass the hot sauce!
8. Stop With The Diet Soda
A University of Texas Health Science Center study found that the more diet sodas a person drank, the greater their risk of becoming overweight. Downing just two or more cans a day increased waistlines by 500%. Why? Artificial sweeteners can disrupt the body’s natural ability to regulate calorie intake based on the sweetness of foods, suggested an animal study from Purdue University. That means people who consume diet foods might be more likely to overeat, because your body is being tricked into thinking it’s eating sugar, and you crave more.
9. Eat A Nutrient-Balanced Meals
Making sure an eating occasion has carbs, protein, and fat instead of just counting calories (like a 100-calorie pack) delivers better energy and fat loss results by giving the body what it needs, like quick- and longer-digesting nutrients so you stay full longer.
10. Keep A Food Journal
We know you’ve heard this time and time again. Well, that’s because keeping a food record is vital to losing weight and keeping it off long term. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that those who kept regular food records lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. When keeping a food record, make sure to track what you ate, how much you ate, anything you added to the food (condiments, oils, etc.), and what you drank. Also tracking your mood and appetite can be helpful and insightful into learning about your eating patterns as well!
11. Start Your Meals With Soup
People who ate a low-calorie vegetable soup before a meal consumed 20% fewer calories at the meal, according to research from Penn State Unniversity. Have a low-calorie broth-based veggie soup before your largest meal of the day to reduce calories and lose weight without feeling hungry.
12. Take Your Time When You Eat
Rapid eaters are often heavier than slow eaters, according to research from The University of Rhode Island. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain that you have eaten enough and are satisfied. If you rush your meal and eat rapidly, your body’s satiety cues won’t be tuned in to those feelings of fullness yet and it’s easier to overeat. Try slowing down by chewing each bite at least 10 times, putting your fork down in between bites, and fostering a relaxing eating environment rather than eating on the run.
13. Eat Anytime Your Want
It’s a myth that you’ll gain weight as a direct result of eating after 7 p.m. I see many busy professionals at my private practice, and they often get home late. This doesn’t mean that they should skip dinner if they’re trying to lose weight.
Many times, people stop eating by 5 p.m., which results in overeating the following day. This cycle is not ideal as it shuts down your metabolism. You should eat 70% of your calories before dinnertime and 30% at dinner, whatever time that may be. Just give yourself at least 90 minutes to end your meal before you plan to go to sleep. You need at least 90 minutes to digest so you can sleep comfortably.
14. Have A Snack Before A Party
Don’t arrive at a big meal, event, or party starving. One study found that you’ll be 2.5 times more likely to start off overeating starchy carbs, fried or cheesy foods than those who didn’t fast before the meal. And, you’ll be more likely to eat 47% more calories of that first food before switching to healthier fare. Have a light snack before you go to an event so you don’t arrive ravenous.
15. Always Eat Breakfast
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition tracked the diets of nearly 900 adults and found that when people ate more fat, protein, and carbohydrates in the morning, they stayed satisfied and ate less over the course of the day than those who ate their bigger meals later on. Unfortunately, many Americans start off on an empty stomach. In one survey, consumers reported that even when they eat in the morning, the meal is a full breakfast only about one-third of the time. If you’re feeling full-blown hunger before noon, there’s a chance you’re not eating enough in the morning. Shoot for a minimum of 250 calories and aim to get a serving of protein in so you’ll feel fuller longer.