Right now, advertisements for fad diets are everywhere, promising quick results if you overhaul your diet and take drastic action for a few weeks. Real talk: It’s a trap. Shed pounds too quickly, and it’ll come back, which can affect your metabolism, making losing weight even more difficult. Similarly, cutting out your favorite foods (and entire food groups altogether) is hard to maintain long-term, leading to de-motivating cycles of yo-yo dieting.
A better alternative is to make losing weight easy by gradually adopting small, sustainable habits. “When you’re starting a weight-loss program, you want to try to make it as easy as possible at the outset and remove as many limiting factors as possible,” confirms Elliott Upton, senior personal trainer at Ultimate Performance.
To keep your motivation up and lose weight the healthy way, add these new habits to your life one at a time.
It’s well-known tracking what you eat with an app like MyFitnessPal can help support weight loss. Dial-in even further by starting with one simple goal: getting 30 grams of fiber each day. “High-fiber recipes with foods like whole grains, oatmeal, leafy greens, legumes and fruit can help fill you up for fewer calories,” says Sarah Pelc Graca, a weight-loss coach and NASM-certified personal trainer. Research shows people who aimed to eat 30 grams of fiber each day (and got in an average of about 19 grams) ended up losing nearly 5 pounds (the equivalent of 17,500 fewer calories) in one year, per a study in Annals of Internal Medicine.
“Slowing down and being mindful of what and why you’re eating goes a long way toward not only feeling satiated but also reducing overall levels of stress,” says Ramsey Bergeron, an NASM-certified personal trainer. In fact, people who listened to a guided eating meditation during lunch and paid attention to the look, smell and flavor of their meal ate about 440 fewer calories than those who zoned out to an audiobook, shows a study in The British Journal of Nutrition. That’s around 160,600 calories or 46 pounds per year.
Research shows snacking on a sugar-free stick of chewing gum (about 2 calories) or even traditional gum (about 10 calories) could help cut down on hunger, cravings and snacking later on. “If this replaces even one unplanned 100-calorie snack during the day, you’re saving 90 calories,” says Keith Ayoob, RD. That could add up to 32,850 calories or just over 9 pounds per year.
There’s a transition period taste-wise, but switching from soda to unsweetened sparkling water can make a big difference. “If you cut out just one can of soda, you save 150 calories each day or 4,500 calories in a month,” says Karen Graham, RD, a certified diabetes educator and co-author of “Diabetes Essentials.” With this one change, you could save 54,000 calories or about 15 pounds per year.
While drinking coffee black is ideal for weight loss, if you need a little sweetness in your daily cup of coffee or tea, start by removing one packet of sugar. The average sugar packet contains about 4 grams of sugar and 15 calories. Cut out one for a savings of 5,475 calories or about 1.6 pounds per year — and even more if you keep dialing down your added sugar intake.
“The next time you have a hunger craving, try drinking a glass of water first,” says Brandon Nicholas, an NASM-certified personal trainer and fitness nutritionist with The Fitness Tribe. Drinking 2 cups of water before a meal can make you feel more satisfied and lower your calorie intake by about 13% per a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Drink before breakfast, lunch and dinner and you could save about 70 calories per meal for a total of 76,650 calories or about 22 pounds per year. To make it a habit, track your hydration with MyFitnessPal.
“If you’re working from home or at a desk, stand up and stretch for 1 minute every 30 minutes,” suggests Roger Montenegro, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and co-owner of Made Possible Personal Training, a fitness studio for seniors and rehabilitation clients in St. Petersburg, Florida. Set phone or calendar reminders, and you’ll get in 15 minutes of stretching or about 45 calories each day. That’s 16,425 calories or nearly 5 pounds per year — not to mention relief from tightness and knots in your back and shoulders.
“Go for a quick walk after each meal to up your daily movement and support healthy digestion and weight loss,” says Montenegro. Even just a 5-minute walk three times a day can increase your calorie burn by 70 calories per day. Make walks a habit, and you could save 25,550 calories or just over 7 pounds per year.
“Strength training is one of the most effective exercises to improve metabolic function,” says Katie Collard, a certified strength and conditioning specialist based in Washington, D.C. In particular, lifting heavy weights can challenge your muscles, burn more calories and rev your metabolism as your body recovers and rebuilds, and maintain lean muscle mass as you slim down. Add one hour (Think: two 30-minute sessions) of vigorous resistance training to your week, and you could burn about 440 calories per week for a total of 22,880 calories or about 6.5 pounds per year.
Originally published January 2021
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