The dietary off-ramp is paved with good intentions, so give your commitment to fat-burning some shape. Studies have shown that these strategies work, from when you snack, to where you put your dinner, to avoiding the food additive you’re unwittingly sharing with cattle.
Eat Before You Eat
For a serious head start on weight loss, change your idea of an appetizer. Tranquilizing fat bomb at Friday’s? Nope. Savory gateway to a fat-blasting meal? You see where we’re going here. Eating a vegetable-based soup or a few tablespoons of hummus as a dip before your entree will take the edge off cravings (studies show that we’re hungrier before meals than before snacks). And added protein and fiber will help you feel fuller, ensuring that the night’s main event isn’t overeating.
Making a weekly grocery list and meal plan won’t just reduce stress—it’ll whittle your waistline, too. A study at Texas A&M University found that participants who followed a structured meal plan and exercised for 10 weeks lost almost twice as much weight (6.8 lbs) as those who didn’t (3.5 lbs). But you don’t have to sweat over an Excel spreadsheet down to the last ingredient: Just thinking about what you’re going to eat for dinner when the afternoon munchies hit will help prevent you from grabbing the nearest thing at hand when you get home.
Smart snacking reduces bingeing at mealtime according to researchers at Mayo Clinic. It keeps blood-sugar levels stable and your metabolism humming, which prevents the body from storing fat. A good guideline is something between 130-250 calories, like a Kind bar (150-200 calories) or two tablespoons of Smucker’s Natural chunky peanut butter (210 calories). For a comprehensive report, see our 50 Best Snacks for Weight Loss.
Plate Your Food
Don’t scarf your meals in front of the refrigerator or hunched over the kitchen counter—you deserve better. Sitting down (imagine it!) to a plate of food that’s been given a little presentation will help with portion control, and studies suggest that visually appealing food stimulates digestion. While you’re at it, consider the color of your plates. A Cornell University study showed that people who ate from plates that had little color contrast with their food (for example, fettuccine alfredo served on a white plate) served themselves a 22% bigger helping.
Eat Good Fats
Once again: Fats are not the enemy—they’re your first line of defense against overeating. The Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health tracked weight loss on a moderate-fat Mediterranean diet (high in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains, with olive oil as the main fat source) versus a low-fat diet. The Mediterranean dieters lost an average of 9 pounds in 18 months; those who ate a low-fat diet gained, on average, 6 pounds. Check out these 8 Fatty Foods That Make You Skinny for delicious ways to get started.
Sneak Vegetables into Every Meal
Vegetables are a weight-loss win-win: The fiber fills you up while the vitamins give you energy to burn fat. People who ate more fruits and vegetables had less body fat than those who didn’t, a Baylor University study published in Obesity Review found. For maximum results, free your mind from the idea of greens as second-string: According to Penn State researchers, those who eat main dishes that incorporate vegetables eat 350 fewer calories daily than those who consume produce as a side dish.
There are two places you must put down the smartphone: In the car and at the dinner table. (Perhaps also in the bedroom, but that’s beyond our scope.) People who eat while distracted eat 10 percent more in one sitting than they would otherwise, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed. So focus up—DVRs exist for a reason.
Have a Cheat Meal
It’s a basic principle of making healthy lifestyle changes, from working out to cutting back on booze: If you see it as depriving yourself, you’ll be less successful. But doing Stuart Smalley affirmations only goes so far. Grant yourself a regular cheat meal (within reason), which can actually boost your metabolism and increase glycogen that’ll power the next day’s gym session, according to the American Dietetic Association. Ground rules: Make sure it’s scheduled, and don’t let your “meal” stretch beyond one sitting into a full day. To make the most of your indulgent meal, check our guide to 10 Cheat Meal Strategies for Weight Loss.
Eat at Regular Times
Eating a regular breakfast instead of a sometimes-bagel and swapping a 2am slice for a 6pm sit-down will have serious weight-loss results. People who eat at irregular times have a greater incidence of metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance–an inability to convert sugar into energy which sabotages weight loss and can lead to heart disease–a study published in Science Daily showed. The culprit: Frequent blood-sugar peaks and valleys, which can lead to eating junk, which sets off a vicious cycle.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners
Back away from the pastel-colored packets and nobody gets hurt. Although studies have shown that artificial sweeteners are “safe” when it comes to carcinogenesis, there’s a real danger that they’ll make you hungrier. A report in the journal Appetite showed that lab rats fed artificial sweeteners gained more weight than those who were given straight-up sugar. This also goes for newer, “natural” options such as Stevia: In one study, birds fed Stevia developed significant abdominal fat. And if that isn’t scary enough, in South America and Asia Stevia is used as an appetite stimulant for livestock. Seriously, don’t eat like a cow.