Healthy habits can go out the window when we’ve got no time for the gym and few options besides Seamless. Losing weight isn't easy—and doing it in a healthy, sustainable way can make the task feel even harder.
Making small changes each day is one way to get started, but it’s important to remember that just because a weight-loss strategy works for someone else, it may not work for you. From drinking more water to turning up the music, here are our favorite weight-loss tips.
Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be a comprehensive weight loss guide. Each entry may not be right for every individual. At Greatist, we believe in providing readers with the information to make their own healthy choices based on a variety of weight loss techniques. As always, consult a healthcare professional before starting any weight loss program.
Tips for Eating
1. Get colorful.
Yes, there's a reason restaurants use the plates they do: They want the food to look amazing. And when the food looks better—you guessed it—you eat more. Research says to avoid plates that match the food served on them (think: a deep red plate with a greasy slice of pizza), because there is less of a contrast, which may prompt us to eat more.
2. Eat more snacks.
Skipping snacktime won’t necessarily lead to weight loss: Low calorie consumption can actually slow metabolism. Hypothalamic lipophagy and energetic balance. Singh R. Aging, 2012, Feb.;3(10):1945-4589. Eating less than three times a day may benefit those who are obese, but research shows skipping meals throughout the day and eating one large meal at night can lead to some undesirable outcomes (like delayed insulin response) which may increase the risk of diabetes. Fast food consumption and breakfast skipping: predictors of weight gain from adolescence to adulthood in a nationally representative sample. Niemeier HM, Raynor HA, Lloyd-Richardson EE. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 2006, Sep.;39(6):1879-1972. Instead of forgoing breakfast or lunch, stick to a few meals a day with healthy snacks between them.
3. Peruse the perimeter.
Next time you need groceries, circle the perimeter of the store before going up and down every aisle. Why? You'll load up on the healthy stuff first. The edges of grocery stores generally house fresh produce, meat, and fish, while the inner aisles hold more pre-packaged, processed foods. Browsing the perimeter can help control how many unwanted additives are in your basket.
4. Stock your fridge.
Make an effort to fill your fridge with healthy produce and proteins. And when the crisper is empty, make sure the freezer is stocked with frozen veggie mixes or berries (and don't forget to grab the bags that are sans added sauces or sugar). You may be less apt to order out when you’ve got the makings of a healthy dinner right at home. More good news: Healthy food doesn’t always have to be pricey.
5. Eat in the A.M.
Skipping breakfast in order to “save your appetite” for dinner probably isn’t a safety shield for late-night noshing. Neural responses to visual food stimuli after a normal vs. higher protein breakfast in breakfast-skipping teens: a pilot fMRI study. Leidy HJ, Lepping RJ, Savage CR. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 2011, May.;19(10):1930-739X. While there’s still debate on how important breakfast really is, not eating until the afternoon may lead to binge-eating later (think: a massive dinner because you're starving). Breakfast consumption affects appetite, energy intake, and the metabolic and endocrine responses to foods consumed later in the day in male habitual breakfast eaters. Astbury NM, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. The Journal of nutrition, 2011, May.;141(7):1541-6100. Stick to a reasonably-sized breakfast with plenty of protein, so you're not tempted to eat unhealthy snacks mid-morning. Impact of breakfast on daily energy intake--an analysis of absolute versus relative breakfast calories. Schusdziarra V, Hausmann M, Wittke C. Nutrition journal, 2011, Jan.;10():1475-2891.
6. Get busy in the kitchen.
We promise cooking doesn't take long! Your fave Seamless order—or any local restaurant—is likely an oversized portion, which can result in increased caloric intake. Increased portion size leads to increased energy intake in a restaurant meal. Diliberti N, Bordi PL, Conklin MT. Obesity research, 2004, Jul.;12(3):1071-7323. Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Wansink B, Painter JE, North J. Obesity research, 2005, Jun.;13(1):1071-7323. Start small by making one of these healthy meals in just 12 minutes or less (we're talking: quesadillas, stir-fry, and burgers).
7. Prioritize your pantry.
Take time to toss the junk. If you’ve got favorite not-so-great items you’d like to save as a treat, tuck them in the back of the pantry with healthier items, like whole grain pasta, rice, beans, and nuts up front. We know that just because the bag of lentils are right in front doesn’t mean you’ll forget about the brownie mix, but it can help. Just seeing or smelling food can stimulate cravings, and increase hunger (especially for junk food). 'I just can't help myself': effects of food-cue exposure in overweight and lean individuals. Ferriday D, Brunstrom JM. International journal of obesity (2005), 2010, Jun.;35(1):1476-5497.
8. Serve restaurant style.
Instead of lining up the breadbasket, casserole, and salad on the table, leave food in the kitchen (out of reach). When you’ve cleaned your plate, take a breather then decide if you really want seconds. Changing up the environment in which your food is served can help reduce intake. Eating as an automatic behavior. Cohen D, Farley TA. Preventing chronic disease, 2007, Dec.;5(1):1545-1151.
9. Use smaller plates.
Plate sizes have increased over the past millennium. The largest Last Supper: depictions of food portions and plate size increased over the millennium. Wansink B, Wansink CS. International journal of obesity (2005), 2010, Mar.;34(5):1476-5497. When it’s time to sit down for dinner, choose a size-appropriate plate or bowl. Using a smaller plate (eight to 10 inches) instead of a tray-like plate (12 inches or more) can make us feel fuller with the same amount of food. How does that work? The brain may associate any white space on your plate with less food. Plus, smaller plates generally lead to smaller portions. Normative influences on food intake. Herman CP, Polivy J. Physiology & behavior, 2005, Oct.;86(5):0031-9384.
10. Snack before dining out.
Grabbing an apple or a small cup of yogurt before meeting friends for dinner can help ensure you’ll eat a reasonable amount of that enormous entrée. And be sure to reach for the protein—research shows that an afternoon snack of Greek yogurt can lead to reduced hunger, increased fullness, and less eating come dinner time. Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: willpower is more than a metaphor. Gailliot MT, Baumeister RF, DeWall CN. Journal of personality and social psychology, 2007, Mar.;92(2):0022-3514.
11. Freeze what you won't be serving.
Once meal prep is over, serve yourself a reasonable portion, then package up the rest and immediately stash it in the fridge or freezer for a later date. When the food is out of sight, studies show you’ll be less likely to reach for a second helping. 'I just can't help myself': effects of food-cue exposure in overweight and lean individuals. Ferriday D, Brunstrom JM. International journal of obesity (2005), 2010, Jun.;35(1):1476-5497. Do distant foods decrease intake? The effect of food accessibility on consumption. Maas J, de Ridder DT, de Vet E. Psychology & health, 2011, Jun.;27 Suppl 2():1476-8321.
12. Wait before grabbing second helpings.
The quicker we shovel down a meal, the less time we give our bodies to register fullness. Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1. Kokkinos A, le Roux CW, Alexiadou K. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 2009, Oct.;95(1):1945-7197. Since it takes a little time for the brain to get the message that dinner’s been served, it’s best to go for a walk or get up from the table before dishing up seconds or moving on to dessert.
13. Chew slowly.
Eating slowly may not fit into a busy workday, but it pays to pace your chewing: The quicker you eat, the less time your body has to register fullness. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial. Hollis JF, Gullion CM, Stevens VJ. American journal of preventive medicine, 2008, Sep.;35(2):0749-3797. Eating slowly led to decreases in energy intake within meals in healthy women. Andrade AM, Greene GW, Melanson KJ. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2008, Jul.;108(7):0002-8223. Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1. Kokkinos A, le Roux CW, Alexiadou K. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 2009, Oct.;95(1):1945-7197. So slow down, and take a second to savor.
14. Turn off the TV.
Eating while watching television is linked to poor food choices and overeating. Mediators of longitudinal associations between television viewing and eating behaviours in adolescents. Pearson N, Ball K, Crawford D. The international journal of behavioral nutrition and physical activity, 2011, Mar.;8():1479-5868. Getting sucked into the latest episode of "Scandal" can bring on mindless eating—making it easy to lose track of just how many chips you've gone through. It’s not just the mindlessness of watching televsion that’ll get us. Commercials for unhealthy foods and drinks may increase our desire for low-nutrient junk, fast food, and sugary beverages.
15. Sneak in your veggies.
Bumping up vegetable consumption has long been recognized as a way to protect against obesity. Relationship of fruit and vegetable intake with adiposity: a systematic review. Ledoux TA, Hingle MD, Baranowski T. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 2011, May.;12(5):1467-789X. Add veggies to omlets, baked goods, and of course, pasta dishes (Bonus: Try zucchini ribbons, or spaghetti squash instead or traditional grain pastas). Pump pureed veggies, like pumpkin, into oatmeal or casseroles. Adding a little vegetable action into a meal or snack will increase fiber levels, which helps make us fuller, faster. Dietary fibers reduce food intake by satiation without conditioned taste aversion in mice. Rasoamanana R, Even PC, Darcel N. Physiology & behavior, 2012, Dec.;110-111():1873-507X.
16. Turn your back on temptation.
The closer we are situated to food that’s in our line of vision, the more likely we are to actually eat it. If we face away from food that might tempt us when we’re not hungry (like an office candy bowl), we may be more likely to listen to cues from our gut rather than our eyes. The office candy dish: proximity's influence on estimated and actual consumption. Wansink B, Painter JE, Lee YK. International journal of obesity (2005), 2006, Dec.;30(5):0307-0565.
17. Grab a handful—not the whole bag.
When snacktime hits, our brains can be unreliable. It’s tempting to reach for a bag of chips, but instead, grab a handful (or measure out the serving size) then seal the bag and put it away. Odds are, you’ll be more mindful of how much you’re polishing off when you see it right in front of you. Or, try one of these healthy 100-calorie snacks.
18. Bring on the protein.
Protein can help promote a healthy weight because high protein diets are associated with greater satiety. Plus, protein is important for healthy muscle growth. Effects of a high protein diet on body weight and comorbidities associated with obesity. Clifton P. The British journal of nutrition, 2012, Dec.;108 Suppl 2():1475-2662. Animal sources aren’t the only option—try alternatives like quinoa, tempeh, and lentils.
19. Fill up on fiber.
Eating more vegetables and other high-fiber items like legumes can help keep us fuller, longer. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Nutrition reviews, 2001, Jul.;59(5):0029-6643. Dietary fiber and body weight. Slavin JL. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 2005, Sep.;21(3):0899-9007. Look for at least five grams or more of the stuff per serving. Snack on some of our favorite high-fiber picks like stuffed baked apples or jazzed-up oats.
20. Make room for healthy fats.
Cutting butter and oil can slash calories, and it’s easy to swap in foods like applesauce, avocado, banana, or flax for baking. But, it's important to remember that we still need fat in our diets as a source of energy and to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Plus it helps us feel full. Get healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts, coconuts, seeds, and fish. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Assunção ML, Ferreira HS, dos Santos AF. Lipids, 2009, May.;44(7):1558-9307. Pro tip: Combining fat with fiber has been shown to increase fat’s power to make us feel full.
21. Steer clear of simple carbohydrates.
Simple carbs are the white stuff—white bread, most pastries, refined sugars (the kind in soda and candy). What makes them simple? These foods provide energy, but lack the same nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and fiber) as complex carbohydrates. The body also breaks down simple carbs quickly—meaning your blood sugar will spike, and your tummy might be rumbling sooner than you imagined. The role of carbohydrates in insulin resistance. Bessesen DH. The Journal of nutrition, 2001, Nov.;131(10):0022-3166. Choose whole grains instead, which may reduce potentially dangerous excess abdominal fat buildup (which can lead to diabetes). The effects of a whole grain-enriched hypocaloric diet on cardiovascular disease risk factors in men and women with metabolic syndrome. Katcher HI, Legro RS, Kunselman AR. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2008, Feb.;87(1):0002-9165. Switch to whole-wheat pasta, whole grain bread, or try grains like brown rice, quinoa, or millet.
22. Ditch the added sugar.
Adding sugar to food may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and obesity. Consumption of added sugars and indicators of cardiovascular disease risk among US adolescents. Welsh JA, Sharma A, Cunningham SA. Circulation, 2011, Jan.;123(3):1524-4539. High-fructose corn syrup: everything you wanted to know, but were afraid to ask. Fulgoni V. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2009, Jan.;88(6):1938-3207. Stick to sugar that comes in its natural form (think: fruits, veggies, and whole grains) and scrap that spoonful on your cereal or in your coffee. Sugar-sweetened beverages, weight gain, and incidence of type 2 diabetes in young and middle-aged women. Schulze MB, Manson JE, Ludwig DS. JAMA, 2004, Aug.;292(8):1538-3598.
23. Make simple substitutions.
24. Skip frying, and cut down on oil.
25. Eat fruit, instead of drinking fruit juice.
26. Chew minty gum.
Popping a piece of sugar-free gum won’t necessarily curb your appetite. But, stick can keep your mouth busy when cooking a meal, or socializing among a sea of party hor d’ouevres. While the long term effects of gum chewing on weight loss are minimal, studies show it can lower cravings for sweet and salty snacks, and decrease hunger between meals. Effects of chewing gum on short-term appetite regulation in moderately restrained eaters. Hetherington MM, Regan MF. Appetite, 2011, Jun.;57(2):1095-8304. Short-term effects of chewing gum on snack intake and appetite. Hetherington MM, Boyland E. Appetite, 2006, Nov.;48(3):0195-6663. Plus, some studies have shown that minty gum has the ability to wake you up and lower anxiety. Effect of regular gum chewing on levels of anxiety, mood, and fatigue in healthy young adults. Sasaki-Otomaru A, Sakuma Y, Mochizuki Y. Clinical practice and epidemiology in mental health : CP & EMH, 2011, Aug.;7():1745-0179. Prolonged gum chewing evokes activation of the ventral part of prefrontal cortex and suppression of nociceptive responses: involvement of the serotonergic system. Kamiya K, Fumoto M, Kikuchi H. Journal of medical and dental sciences, 2010, May.;57(1):1342-8810.
27. Add spice with cayenne pepper.
Cayenne pepper can not only boost metabolism, but it can also cut cravings for fatty, sweet, or salty foods. Effects of capsaicin, green tea and CH-19 sweet pepper on appetite and energy intake in humans in negative and positive energy balance. Reinbach HC, Smeets A, Martinussen T. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2009, Apr.;28(3):1532-1983. The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite. Ludy MJ, Mattes RD. Physiology & behavior, 2010, Nov.;102(3-4):1873-507X. Some studies even suggest the hot stuff can increase fat oxidation, meaning the body can better use fat as fuel. Effects of novel capsinoid treatment on fatness and energy metabolism in humans: possible pharmacogenetic implications. Snitker S, Fujishima Y, Shen H. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2008, Dec.;89(1):1938-3207. Pharmacokinetic and the effect of capsaicin in Capsicum frutescens on decreasing plasma glucose level. Chaiyasit K, Khovidhunkit W, Wittayalertpanya S. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand = Chotmaihet thangphaet, 2009, Mar.;92(1):0125-2208. Sprinkle some on scrambled eggs, or spice up a stir-fry.
28. Give in to your cravings—occasionally.
We love this tip. Cravings are OK! Acknowledge those cravings instead of pushing them away completely (which may lead to binge-eating later). Forbidding a food may only make it more attractive. Forbidden fruit: does thinking about a prohibited food lead to its consumption? Mann T, Ward A. The International journal of eating disorders, 2001, Jun.;29(3):0276-3478. Still want more of that chocolate cake after a couple of bites? Try thinking of your favorite activity—dancing in the rain, getting a massage, playing with a puppy. Research shows that engaging in imagery can reduce the intensity of food cravings. Replacing craving imagery with alternative pleasant imagery reduces craving intensity. Knäuper B, Pillay R, Lacaille J. Appetite, 2011, May.;57(1):1095-8304. You can also try smelling something non-food related. One study found that smelling jasmine (still pretty pleasant!) helped to reduce cravings. Non-food odorants reduce chocolate cravings. Kemps E, Tiggemann M, Bettany S. Appetite, 2012, Mar.;58(3):1095-8304.
29. Save some for later.
Like we've already mentioned, restaurant meal portions are usually heftier than what we cook at home. Increased portion size leads to increased energy intake in a restaurant meal. Diliberti N, Bordi PL, Conklin MT. Obesity research, 2004, Jul.;12(3):1071-7323. Make a conscious decision to bag up half of the meal before taking the first bite. The added benefit? You’ve got lunch for tomorrow.
Tips for Drinking
30. Sip before you eat.
Pregaming a meal with a glass of water has been linked with more weight loss than cutting calories alone. Eating slowly increases the postprandial response of the anorexigenic gut hormones, peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide-1. Kokkinos A, le Roux CW, Alexiadou K. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 2009, Oct.;95(1):1945-7197. You can also take some mid-meal breaks and guzzle a little water to give the brain time to register fullness.
31. Sip some green tea.
Drinking green tea is one of the most common tips for shedding a few pounds, and for good reason—green tea is known for its ability to metabolize fat. Fat burners: nutrition supplements that increase fat metabolism. Jeukendrup AE, Randell R. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 2012, Jan.;12(10):1467-789X. The putative effects of green tea on body fat: an evaluation of the evidence and a review of the potential mechanisms. Thavanesan N. The British journal of nutrition, 2011, Aug.;106(9):1475-2662. And in combination with resistance training, green tea increases the potential for fat loss. The effects of green tea consumption and resistance training on body composition and resting metabolic rate in overweight or obese women. Cardoso GA, Salgado JM, Cesar Mde C. Journal of medicinal food, 2012, Nov.;16(2):1557-7600. Add a squeeze of lemon for a little flavor and to amp up antioxidant affects. Green tea supplementation affects body weight, lipids, and lipid peroxidation in obese subjects with metabolic syndrome. Basu A, Sanchez K, Leyva MJ. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2010, Dec.;29(1):1541-1087.
32. Gulp H2O.
33. Cut back on liquid calories.
Milk and cookies, orange juice and French toast, wine and cheese—some foods seemingly require a liquid counterpart. But, it’s easy to pour on the pounds by chugging soda, juice, alcohol, and even milk on the regular. Liquid calories, sugar, and body weight. Drewnowski A, Bellisle F. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 2007, Apr.;85(3):0002-9165. Sugar sweetened beverages are associated with increased body fat and blood pressure. Effects on uric acid, body mass index and blood pressure in adolescents of consuming beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Lin WT, Huang HL, Huang MC. International journal of obesity (2005), 2012, Aug.;37(4):1476-5497.
34. Water down your drinks.
When you simply must have a swig of juice, try watering it down. While it may sound unappealing, gradually adding more water to less juice will keep some of the flavor without all the sugar and calories. Added incentive: Increasing water intake in place of sugar-sweetened beverages or fruit juices is associated with lower long-term weight gain. Changes in water and beverage intake and long-term weight changes: results from three prospective cohort studies. Pan A, Malik VS, Hao T. International journal of obesity (2005), 2013, Jan.;37(10):1476-5497.
35. Banish the booze.
We probably don’t have to tell you that heavy boozing will pack on the pounds. And you’ve likely heard the phrase “drink in moderation.” The point is, alcohol houses a lot of sneaky calories and has the ability to inhibit healthy eating decisions (midnight pizza delivery, anyone?). Even after you’ve sobered up, alcohol can have negative impacts on strength and may leave you lagging in the weight room days later. Interaction between alcohol and exercise: physiological and haematological implications. El-Sayed MS, Ali N, El-Sayed Ali Z. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 2005, Jun.;35(3):0112-1642. The effect of alcohol on athletic performance. Shirreffs SM, Maughan RJ. Current sports medicine reports, 2006, Jul.;5(4):1537-8918.
36. Choose tall and thin glasses
When you’ve got a hankering you can't ignore for juice or a cocktail, ask for a tall, thin glass, not a short, squatty one. Research shows that people pour less liquid into tall narrow glasses than into their vertically challenged counterparts, meaning you'll (probably) drink less in one sitting. This is especially helpful when it comes to boozing.
Tips for Being Mindful
37. Brush your pearly whites.
After dinner, brush your teeth. Getting minty fresh breath not only has obvious oral health benefits, but it can also keep you from mindlessly snacking while watching a pre-bed TV show. Oh, and it's not a bad idea to hit up the floss, too.
38. Set realistic goals.
It’s easy—especially come New Year’s resolution season—to set unrealistic goals about weight loss (lose 30 pounds in two weeks!). Weight loss goals and treatment outcomes among overweight men and women enrolled in a weight loss trial. Linde JA, Jeffery RW, Levy RL. International journal of obesity (2005), 2005, Oct.;29(8):0307-0565. Since impractical goals can slow down long-term weight loss, it’s important to address those goals before making any health and fitness changes. Unrealistic weight-loss goals among obese patients are associated with age and causal attributions. Wamsteker EW, Geenen R, Zelissen PM. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2010, Feb.;109(11):1878-3570.
39. Stay positive.
Many of us demonize certain foods, and even punish ourselves for indulging. Instead, positive messages like “I can control my eating” or “I’m proud that I ate responsibly today” can reframe our relationship with food. Research shows that positive expectations are also associated with weight loss. The effects of outcome expectations and satisfaction on weight loss and maintenance: correlational and experimental analyses--a randomized trial. Finch EA, Linde JA, Jeffery RW. Health psychology : official journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2006, Apr.;24(6):0278-6133.
40. Keep portions in check.
Practicing portion control is one of the most reliable ways to lose weight—even if it’s not an easy task. Use of portion-controlled entrees enhances weight loss in women. Hannum SM, Carson L, Evans EM. Obesity research, 2004, Jul.;12(3):1071-7323. Overweight and obesity - use of portion control in management. Clark A, Franklin J, Pratt I. Australian family physician, 2010, Oct.;39(6):0300-8495. Portion distortion is common, but it may help to use portion visuals. For instance, a serving of chicken (three ounces) is roughly the size of a deck of cards; or holding about a two-inch circle of uncooked pasta, will yield about one cup cooked. Portion distortion: typical portion sizes selected by young adults. Schwartz J, Byrd-Bredbenner C. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2006, Oct.;106(9):0002-8223.
41. Think on it.
How satiated we feel a few hours after we eat depends not on how much we actually scarfed down, but how much we think we ate. Pay attention to what you eat, and know that it's okay to eat with your eyes. Bottomless bowls: why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Wansink B, Painter JE, North J. Obesity research, 2005, Jun.;13(1):1071-7323.
42. Make time to meditate.
Emotional eating—eating to make yourself feel better (often when stressed or anxious)—can interfere with weight loss goals. Does emotional eating interfere with success in attempts at weight control? Blair AJ, Lewis VJ, Booth DA. Appetite, 1991, Feb.;15(2):0195-6663. But meditation—using techniques like muscle relaxation, breathing, or achieving self-focus—can help binge eaters become aware of how they turn to food to deal with emotions. Evidence and potential mechanisms for mindfulness practices and energy psychology for obesity and binge-eating disorder. Sojcher R, Gould Fogerite S, Perlman A. Explore (New York, N.Y.), 2013, Jan.;8(5):1878-7541.
43. Repeat motivating mantras
44. Add, don't subtract.
Instead of fixating on cutting cookies, cake, and pizza, focus on adding healthy foods. Ditching all the "bad" stuff can feel daunting. Instead, focus on sticking to one good habit at a time (science says it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form a habit). Add in as many healthy habits as you’d like—drink more water, eat more fruits and veggies—and reassure yourself that in a few months, your brain may actually start to crave healthier foods.
Stress can trigger increased eating and cravings, especially for sugary carbohydrates. Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity. Torres SJ, Nowson CA. Nutrition (Burbank, Los Angeles County, Calif.), 2007, Sep.;23(11-12):0899-9007. If pressure at work or a family burden has got you feeling overwhelmed, try out one of these ways to reduce stress before pawing at a doughnut.
46. Visualize your goal.
Time spent visualizing what you would look and feel like with a few less pounds, can help acknowledge the health and fitness changes necessary for successful weight loss. Research suggests that imagining achieving an exercise goal—like running a 5K or increasing the weight during your next workout—can actually enhance performance. Benefits of motor imagery training on muscle strength. Lebon F, Collet C, Guillot A. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2010, Sep.;24(6):1533-4287.
47. Change one habit at a time.
There’s an idea that focusing on less helps us achieve more. Changing a habit is tough, but trying to tackle a handful may seem impossible. Instead, concentrate on changing one behavior at a time. Start small and make clear guidelines. For example, if you’d like to increase your veggie intake, decide to eat three different vegetables each day, or one cup with each meal. And remember, small changes can lead to gradual weight loss. Mindless eating challenge: retention, weight outcomes, and barriers for changes in a public web-based healthy eating and weight loss program. Kaipainen K, Payne CR, Wansink B. Journal of medical Internet research, 2012, Dec.;14(6):1438-8871.
48. Think big picture.
So you’ve "banned" chocolate cake, but decide to have a small taste. Instead, you polished off two slices. It’s easy to go overboard on an old habit. Instead of beating yourself up if you fell short, think of the big picture. Focus on the change rather than what’s being eliminated (think: it's not about the chocolate cake, it's about not overdoing unhealthy sweets). Live in the moment to successfully make new healthy habits.
49. Sleep smarter.
Sleep not only reduces stress, helps us heal faster, and prevents depression, it can also help shave off pounds. That's because sleep loss is linked to changes in appetite and the metabolism of glucose (sugar in the blood). Impact of sleep and sleep loss on glucose homeostasis and appetite regulation. Knutson KL. Sleep medicine clinics, 2007, undefined.;2(2):1556-4088. Moral of the story: Sleep is associated with less weight gain. Relationship between sleep quality and quantity and weight loss in women participating in a weight-loss intervention trial. Thomson CA, Morrow KL, Flatt SW. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 2012, Mar.;20(7):1930-739X. Longer sleep duration associates with lower adiposity gain in adult short sleepers. Chaput JP, Després JP, Bouchard C. International journal of obesity (2005), 2011, Jun.;36(5):1476-5497. Take a look at our guide to sleep positions to optimize those hours spent under the sheets. And try other solutions for extra Zzzs like turning off electronics in the bedroom and avoiding large meals late at night. [Etiology of adult insomnia]. Dollander M. L'Encéphale, 2003, Mar.;28(6 Pt 1):0013-7006. Dubious bargain: trading sleep for Leno and Letterman. Basner M, Dinges DF. Sleep, 2009, Jul.;32(6):0161-8105.
Tips to Track
50. Get a social network.
Check out online communities (on Facebook, Twitter, or other forums) that provide support and encouragement. One study showed that overweight adults who listened to weight-loss podcasts and used Twitter in tandem with a diet and physical activity monitoring app lost more weight than those who did not go social. Tweets, Apps, and Pods: Results of the 6-month Mobile Pounds Off Digitally (Mobile POD) randomized weight-loss intervention among adults. Turner-McGrievy G, Tate D. Journal of medical Internet research, 2011, Dec.;13(4):1438-8871. Sharing progress and setbacks on social media can help you feel accountable for your goals.
51. Jot it down.
If using fancy apps seems too daunting, research suggests there’s still merit to the old pen and paper. Monitoring food intake with a food diary can help you lose and maintain weight. Self-monitoring in weight loss: a systematic review of the literature. Burke LE, Wang J, Sevick MA. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2011, Jan.;111(1):1878-3570. In fact people who stick to food diaries are more likely to lose weight than those who don’t. Self-monitoring and eating-related behaviors are associated with 12-month weight loss in postmenopausal overweight-to-obese women. Kong A, Beresford SA, Alfano CM. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2012, Jul.;112(9):2212-2672. Weight loss during the intensive intervention phase of the weight-loss maintenance trial. Hollis JF, Gullion CM, Stevens VJ. American journal of preventive medicine, 2008, Sep.;35(2):0749-3797. Recording each bite helps you be more aware of the food you eat, plus when and how often you eat them. Self-monitoring as a mediator of weight loss in the SMART randomized clinical trial. Turk MW, Elci OU, Wang J. International journal of behavioral medicine, 2014, May.;20(4):1532-7558.
52. Use an app to track your progress.
A recent study found that using a mobile device was more effective in helping people lose weight than tracking diets on paper. Integrating technology into standard weight loss treatment: a randomized controlled trial. Spring B, Duncan JM, Janke EA. JAMA internal medicine, 2013, Mar.;173(2):2168-6114. Apps like MyFitnessPal, Sworkit, or FitStar help users track daily activity and food intake. Tracking with the help of apps may help you regulate behavior and be mindful of health and fitness choices.
53. Find a wearable that works for you.
Writing stuff down may be helpful, but it’s tough to accurately gauge how much you move every day (and not just on the treadmill). Invest in a wearable like a FitBit, Jawbone, or splurge on an Apple Watch to monitor energy burn. You can also track your daily steps with a simple pedometer. Studies show that individuals who walk more tend to be thinner than those who walk less, and pedometer-based walking programs result in weight loss. Why do pedometers work?: a reflection upon the factors related to successfully increasing physical activity. Tudor-Locke C, Lutes L. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 2010, Mar.;39(12):1179-2035.
54. Photograph your food.
You can write down what you ate, but when looking back a week later, it may be tough to visualize exactly what a meal looked like. A quicker, and perhaps more telling, alternative is to take photos of each meal. A small study showed that photographic food diaries could alter attitudes and behaviors associated with food choices more than written diaries. Grab a camera and get snapping.
Tips for Exercising
55. Turn up the music.
Pack your playlist with upbeat tunes. Research shows music that has 180 beats per minute—like "Hey Ya," by OutKast—will naturally prompt a quicker pace. Plus, music serves as a distraction, which can help take attention off a grueling gym sesh. Sounding better: fast audio cues increase walk speed in treadmill-mediated virtual rehabilitation environments. Powell W, Stevens B, Hand S. Studies in health technology and informatics, 2010, Sep.;154():0926-9630.
56. Avoid injuries.
When you’re all gung-ho about hitting the gym, there’s nothing worse than pulled hamstrings or pesky shin splints. Read up on how to avoid the most common yoga injuries (often from over-stretching and misalignment), and running injuries (like stress fractures, pulled muscles, and blisters) to make sure you’re in tip-top shape. Make sure to get in a good warm-up, too. Studies show you perform your best and better avoid injury after warming up. A comparison of two warm-ups on joint range of motion. Beedle BB, Mann CL. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2007, Nov.;21(3):1064-8011. Combination of general and specific warm-ups improves leg-press one repetition maximum compared with specific warm-up in trained individuals. Abad CC, Prado ML, Ugrinowitsch C. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2011, Dec.;25(8):1533-4287.
57. Choose free weights.
Strength training on its own is a great idea— but it gets even better when you set yourself free. And by that, we mean squatting with a pair of dumbbells instead of using the leg press. Working out with free weights can activate muscles more effectively, and adding muscle can help torch calories. A comparison of muscle activation between a Smith machine and free weight bench press. Schick EE, Coburn JW, Brown LE. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2010, May.;24(3):1533-4287. Mixed muscle protein synthesis and breakdown after resistance exercise in humans. Phillips SM, Tipton KD, Aarsland A. The American journal of physiology, 1997, Sep.;273(1 Pt 1):0002-9513.
58. Get functional with your fitness.
Functional exercise has been shown to increase strength and balance and reduce the risk of injury all while working multiple muscle groups at the same time. Strength outcomes in fixed versus free-form resistance equipment. Spennewyn KC. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2008, Apr.;22(1):1533-4287. All that movement promotes muscle gain, which can increase metabolism, which can help shed fat. Exercise improves fat metabolism in muscle but does not increase 24-h fat oxidation. Melanson EL, MacLean PS, Hill JO. Exercise and sport sciences reviews, 2010, Sep.;37(2):1538-3008. Added bonus: Functional exercises can make real-life tasks—like hauling groceries up stairs—easier.
59. Let go of your limitations.
60. Swig a little caffeine.
Getting a morning jolt from java may be a part of your daily routine, but sipping some coffee before a workout can boost endurance during exercise. Effect of caffeine on sport-specific endurance performance: a systematic review. Ganio MS, Klau JF, Casa DJ. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 2009, May.;23(1):1533-4287. Caffeine and endurance performance. Tarnopolsky MA. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 1997, Apr.;18(2):0112-1642. How’s it work? Caffeine slows glycogen depletion (the starch our bodies turn to for energy during exercise) by encouraging the body to use fat for fuel first. Caffeine and anaerobic performance: ergogenic value and mechanisms of action. Davis JK, Green JM. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 2009, Nov.;39(10):0112-1642.
61. Find a partner.
A recent study suggests we perform better on aerobic tasks like running and cycling when exercising with a partner. Aerobic exercise is promoted when individual performance affects the group: a test of the Kohler motivation gain effect. Irwin BC, Scorniaenchi J, Kerr NL. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 2013, Feb.;44(2):1532-4796. Hitting the gym with a friend, coworker, or family member can also increase accountability, so grab a buddy and try out some of our favorite partner exercises like medicine ball lunge-to-chest passes, and reach-and-touch planks. Aerobic exercise is promoted when individual performance affects the group: a test of the Kohler motivation gain effect. Irwin BC, Scorniaenchi J, Kerr NL. Annals of behavioral medicine : a publication of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, 2013, Feb.;44(2):1532-4796. Two-player partnered exergame for obesity prevention: using discrepancy in players' abilities as a strategy to motivate physical activity. Feltz DL, Irwin B, Kerr N. Journal of diabetes science and technology, 2012, Jul.;6(4):1932-2968.
62. Don't rely on the monitor.
Gym machine monitors (often seen on cardio equipment, like treadmills or ellipticals) may not be reliable. They sometimes display higher calorie burns meaning (sorry!) you didn't work as hard as it's telling you.
63. Start strength training.
Pumping iron not only gives us muscles, but it can boost resting metabolism (meaning you burn more calories outside the gym) plus improve mood and confidence. Effect of acute resistance exercise on postexercise oxygen consumption and resting metabolic rate in young women. Osterberg KL, Melby CL. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 2000, Aug.;10(1):1526-484X. Resistance training and energy balance. Poehlman ET, Melby C. International journal of sport nutrition, 1998, Aug.;8(2):1050-1606. Resistance training increases total energy expenditure and free-living physical activity in older adults. Hunter GR, Wetzstein CJ, Fields DA. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 2000, Oct.;89(3):8750-7587. Physical fitness and psychological benefits of strength training in community dwelling older adults. Tsutsumi T, Don BM, Zaichkowsky LD. Applied human science : journal of physiological anthropology, 1998, May.;16(6):1341-3473. Lifting a little weight can also help you sleep, another factor in effective weight loss. The effects of a session of resistance training on sleep patterns in the elderly. Viana VA, Esteves AM, Boscolo RA. European journal of applied physiology, 2011, Nov.;112(7):1439-6327. If we haven’t convinced you to take to dumbbells quite yet, there’s also this: Strength training takes just a few weeks to see results.
64. HIIT it.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) combines periods of intense effort with periods of moderate-to-low effort. What’s so great about it? Interval training burns more calories and boosts metabolism significantly longer than a steady workout of even longer length. High-intensity intermittent exercise and fat loss. Boutcher SH. Journal of obesity, 2010, Nov.;2011():2090-0716. Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises. Tabata I, Irisawa K, Kouzaki M. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 1997, May.;29(3):0195-9131.
65. Heat up the bedroom.
Working up a sweat in bed can burn around 60 calories in just a half hour. Having sex also reduces blood pressure and overall stress levels (and stress can lead to weight gain). Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity. Brody S. Biological psychology, 2005, Jun.;71(2):0301-0511. Need we say more?
66. Stand up—a lot.
67. Get moving.
A simple phrase for losing weight is: Move more and eat less. The secret is that moving doesn’t just mean hitting the track or going to the gym. Make the conscious decision to get more steps into the day by taking the stairs, having a walking meeting, or parking the car far away from a store's entrance.
Originally published February 2013. Updated January 2016.