Everyone knows the popular weight-loss mantra: Move more and eat less. And although they’re listed together, these two pieces of advice don’t need to be treated equally. Let us explain.
Yes, we know that moderate intensity exercise is good for maintaining and improving your health, but more than fifty studies have uncovered evidence that exercise alone may not be the best way to lose weight.
Besides the fact that research shows exercise can undermine weight loss by making you hungrier, it can also mislead you to believe you can continue to indulge in junk foods either as a reward for exercising or because you've created a calorie deficit, i.e. a “buffer.” That’s not even the worst of it. A study published in the journal Obesity Reviews found that people also tend to overestimate how many calories they burn when they workout. As a result, participants typically overcompensated for their workouts by eating more calories than they burned.
Although exercise can certainly help build fat-burning muscle and maintain a svelte physique, it won’t shrink your waistline as much as changing your diet will. So now that we know “eating less” should take priority in your weight-loss journey, where to start? Because it’s easier said than done, we’ve uncovered thirty slimming secrets that can help you tackle your muffin top through diet swaps as well as lifestyle and eating habit changes. (And yes, de-stressing with a bubble bath is one of them.) Find out how you can avoid becoming a gym rat below, and then double down on your efforts by starting your day with one of these super simple 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes.
Call it a Night Earlier
Want to eat less? Your first line of defense is getting a good night’s rest. When you don't get enough quality shut-eye, your body increases levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and decreases the satiety hormone leptin—resulting in unignorable hunger pangs. Plus, studies show that your sleep-deprived self craves more unhealthy, high-calorie and high-fat foods, which means you’ll not only eat more food, but you’ll be eating more junk.
Take Your Coffee Black
Over 50 percent of Americans drink coffee on a regular basis, and many of them use calorie-laden additives like sugar, flavored syrups, or cream in their beverage. As a result, rather than being a zero or five calorie drink, the average calorie count of a cuppa joe skyrockets 1,280 percent, to 69 calories, according to a recent study published in the journal Public Health. Not only will taking your coffee black save you nearly 500 calories a week, but, since more than 60 percent of those calories come from sugar, you’ll also be lowering your risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Leaving the sugar packets on the shelf is one of our 36 Easy Ways to Cut 50+ Calories.
Carry a Water Bottle Everywhere
Did you know that 60 percent of the time we inappropriately respond to thirst by eating instead of drinking? So says a study in the journal Physiology & Behavior. Experts believe the mistake stems from the fact that the same part of our brain controls hunger and thirst, and sometimes it mixes up the signals. Not only will keeping a water bottle around help you respond to thirst correctly, but chugging water can help you feel full, keep your metabolism humming, and even help you debloat!
Switch From Canola Oil to Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Vegetable oils like canola and soybean oil are high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, which can throw your body into a state of chronic inflammation, causing weight gain and skin issues. Instead, grab a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, whose polyphenols have been known to help lower blood pressure and whose oleic acid has been found to help reduce appetite and promote weight loss.
Opt for 2%
Dairy fat, that is. You may be surprised to hear it, but fat free food doesn’t necessarily translate to a fat-free body; According to a European Journal of Nutrition study, participants who ate full-fat dairy tended to weigh less and gained less weight over time than those who opted for non-fat products. Experts explain that non-fat foods can be less satisfying overall thanks to the low fat content (since fats are digested slowly and can keep you fuller longer), and because many fat-free food items are made with waist-widening artificial ingredients.
Stash a Snack in Your Bag
Don’t push through that mid-afternoon grumble. Trust us. Studies have found that those who eat late lunches, and those who go the most time in between meals end up consuming more calories during those meals compared to those who eat more often. The reasoning is simple: when you’re hungry—and running on empty—your body switches to starvation mode and increases production of your hunger hormones, which then causes you to overcompensate at your next meal. To keep yourself from overeating, always carry a snack with you.
Give Healthy Foods Prime Shelf Space
The junk food struggle is real—we know. And willpower isn’t to blame. A University of Sydney study found that eating junk food can become a habit, and one that’s perpetuated simply by stepping into a room (like your kitchen) or experiencing a food cue (like a fast food commercial). Breaking these bad eating habits will take time and patience, but there’s a simple fix: Prioritize healthy foods in front of junk food in your pantry. That way, when you’re craving a cookie you have to push aside the almonds and quinoa to get to it. It’ll serve as a little reminder to keep up your better-body goals.
Keep Chopped Veggies On Hand
Fill up on veggies and you’ll be less likely to fill out your jeans. Research published in the journal PLOS Medicine linked greater consumption of high-fiber vegetables to greater weight-loss results when compared with diets low in high-fiber foods. Not only are these veggies super-satiating, they’re also full of anti-inflammatory antioxidants and will displace snacks like nutrient-deficient potato chips and pretzels.
Make At Least One of Your Meals Meatless
You don’t have to go all-out vegan to reap the benefits of a meat-free diet. Just try for one lunch or dinner a week. In doing so, you’ll be consuming more plant-based protein, of which a University of Copenhagen study found to be even more satisfying than pork and veal-based meals, and make people feel more full. It gets better: The researchers also found that participants who ate a vegetarian high-protein meal consumed 12 percent fewer calories in their next meal compared to those who ate meat!
Keep a Stocked Freezer
You have two options when you get home late from work starving and see an empty fridge—one, order belly-bloating, high-calorie, greasy takeout, or two, whip up a quick veggie-packed stir fry with the frozen veggies you always keep in your freezer. If you keep healthy ingredients on hand (like frozen fruits, veggies and pre-portioned protein), you won’t have to resort to unhealthy delivery meals. For tips on what you should stock in your pantry, don’t miss these 30 Weight Loss Ingredients to Always Have On Hand.
Kick the Can
One of the simplest ways to cut calories is to limit products that have added sugar. These simple carbs are essentially void of nutrients and can cause you to be perpetually hungry (which means you're likely to overeat). The most effective tactic is targeting beverages: sugary coffees, iced teas and soda. These liquid calories are in a class of their own: An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that energy obtained from drinking fluids has been shown to be less satisfying than calories from solid foods, which causes us to drink more (and a greater number of calories) before we feel satisfied. Just to see how poorly your favorite stacks up among the pack, check out our exclusive report: 70 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are.
Brown Bag It
Preparing your own lunch means you put the calorie-cutting power in your own hands—not in the hands of the restaurateurs who have no stake in your weight-loss journey. Prepare any of these 25 Super-Healthy Lunches Under 400 Calories, and you'll save 600 calories a meal compared to if you ate at a standard sit-down restaurant, whose midday meal can average more than 1,100 calories.
Free Yourself From Your Desk
A lunch break should be just that—a break! Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat while distracted can consume 288 calories more in one sitting than they would otherwise. Experts explain that keeping your mind busy while eating can prevent certain satiety cues from instructing your brain that you've had your fill.
Make Your Meals ‘Gram-Worthy
You won’t just get more likes on your Instagram photo. Making your food look picture-perfect can encourage you to load your plate up with more colorful, fresh veggies. What’s more, it may even make your food taste better! A study published in the journal Health Psychology found that when participants spent time preparing the food they make, they found it to be significantly more satisfying than those who had the food prepared for them, even if the food was considered "healthy."
Destress With Bubbles: A Bath, Not Soda
Eating well is essential to weight loss, but a good diet alone may not be enough to counteract all the harmful effects stress has on our bodies. A new study published in Molecular Psychiatry suggested that being stressed could even override the benefits of making better food choices! When you're constantly pulling your hair out, the stress hormone cortisol builds up in your body. And that's bad news for your belly. Cortisol forces your body to store fat and revs your hunger for high-calorie foods, meaning that you may start craving a donut even if your stomach is actually full. While improving your diet is important, you’ll be more successful if you take a second to relax (and yes, taking a bubble bath counts!).
Clear Food from Your Workspace
Ever heard of the seafood diet? You see food and immediately eat it! To curb your junk food consumption, start by ridding your workspace and kitchen counters of your dietary kryptonite. Keeping these vices visible will set yourself up for failure by triggering a trait dubbed by Harvard researchers as “visual hunger:” an evolutionary trait that increases levels of hunger hormones when we see food. Instead, hide your stash in opaque containers or in the back of your cabinet.
Be Happy Without Happy Hours Every Day
Look, we’ll be the first to tell you we love wine—especially red wine, which actually offers antioxidants and is considered relatively healthy when consumed in moderation (no more than two glasses a day). But if you're looking to lose weight, one of our best tips is to put down the glass. Because alcohol is fairly caloric and provides relatively few nutritional benefits, drinking shouldn't be an everyday event. For example, two pints of beer a day can add nearly 2,000 calories to your weekly intake—so cutting it out can help you lose over two pounds a month. For those few times that you do choose to indulge, though, do so wisely with the help of these 20 Tips for Choosing Healthy Alcohol Drinks.
Take Half to Go
We have no issue with eating out once in awhile, but heed this advice: ask your waiter to box up half the meal before it reaches the table. A recent study discovered that the average meal at your local American, Chinese, or Italian restaurant contains a whopping 1,500 calories, so following this tip can save you a cool 750 calories. Plus, you’ll get a free lunch for tomorrow!
Always Sub Fries for A Side Salad
We’re singing, “bye, bye, miss American fries!” You can even stick with your weekly burger order from your favorite pub, just sub out the spuds for a salad. Doing so can save over 150 calories while filling you up with fiber-rich veggies that are great for improving digestive health.
Here’s a simple to to avoid eating unhealthy foods: serve yourself. According to USC researchers, the simple act of having to plate your own grub, instead of having a server or friend dish out a helping for you, can curb an unhealthy indulgence. So next time you’re celebrating a coworker’s birthday, serve (and cut!) your own slice of cake.
Have An Intimate Dinner
Here’s a great excuse for date night!: A new Cornell study found that men are at a unique risk of overeating in social situations—even if there isn’t an incentive to do so. “Even if men aren't thinking about it, eating more than a friend tends to be understood as a demonstration of virility and strength,” explained co-author of the study, Kevin Kniffin, PhD. So instead of meeting up with a whole crew for a night out, opt for a romantic dinner for two or see your guy friends one at a time to keep yourself from overdoing it.
Try a New Recipe
Comfort foods earn a spot in our hearts because they taste good and evoke strong, pleasant memories of growing up. Although it's OK to indulge in one of these classics once in awhile, you may want to cut down on the number of mom’s recipes in your weekly roundup. According to an analysis of 30 years of data by the London School of Economics, the traditional meals your parents and grandparents used to make are simply too caloric for our less-active generation. Instead, don’t be afraid to venture out of your comfort zone and check out healthier recipes: start with these 20 Healthy Sandwich Recipes!
Pass on “Diet” Foods
It can seem like a simple fix when you’re going on a diet, but don’t fall prey to these marketing ploys. “Diet” foods are usually loaded with artificial sugars like sucralose and aspartame. Although artificially sweetened beverages contain fewer calories than sugary versions, a new review of more than 30 years of studies found there to be no solid evidence that sugar-free alternatives prevent weight gain. Although artificially sweetened beverages contain fewer calories than sugary versions, researchers say they still trigger sweet receptors in the brain, which may make people crave food. Coupled with the fact that most people view diet drinks as healthier, it could lead to over-consumption, the researchers argue.
Cook Your Own Food
You already know that restaurant dishes are high in calories, but we’re not just talking about takeout. A study published in the journal BMJ Open found that most food Americans eat is "ultra-processed," which means a product is made of several processed ingredients like flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers and other additives to disguise its undesirable qualities. Examples include store-bought items like bread, frozen meals, soda, pizza, and breakfast cereals. Not only do ultra-processed foods lack nutrients that protect against health issues, they make up 90 percent of our added-sugar intake, which causes a range of health issues from obesity to type II diabetes. Sub out a Lean Cuisine for a home-cooked dinner, a bowl of cereal or a couple of eggs overeasy to spare your tummy the trouble.
Reassess Your Dietary Adversaries
How many times have you battled through a cup of ice cream while praying your stomach doesn’t start acting up? Although you might feel like it’s not a big deal to push your body to its limit, you might be missing the root of the issue: you could be suffering from a food intolerance or allergy. So, each time you eat dairy, gluten or refined grains, it can contribute to extra inflammation, a weakened immune system and weight gain. Learn to listen to what your body tells you by keeping note of any discomfort in a food journal. Or try an elimination diet—call in the pros for help if you’re experiencing one of these 15 Signs You Should Go See a Nutritionist.
You don’t have to keep up with the latest food trends and cook your way through every foodie magazine on the shelves to get lean. In fact, trying to switch up your routine too often can feel tedious and time consuming, which may cause you to abandon your dinner plans and just order high-calorie takeout. Instead, make eating choices easy by finding a few favorite healthy, go-to recipes and stick to them.
Take Time To Chat During Your Meals
Fast food isn’t just bad for you because it’s full of gross additives and chemicals; it’s also because it's precisely engineered to be eaten as quickly as possible. And that’s bad news because you can end up eating more than your body needs to feel full. It takes roughly 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you’ve eaten your fill. Eat your meal at superspeed, and you’re more likely to overeat. Our suggestion? Take time to chat with your friends and family while you eat. Put your fork down. Chew slowly. Anything that will extend your meal until the 20 minute mark.
It may not be groundbreaking advice, but it’s tried and true: portion control saves you hundreds of calories in the long run. Ordering your favorite latte in a tall size instead of a venti can save you at least 150 calories per Starbucks run. Want more simple ways to stick to serving sizes? Check out these 18 Easy Ways to Control Your Portion Sizes.
Take A Hike
Here’s another reason to skip the gym: not only do studies show your body burns more calories when you exercise outdoors compared to indoors, but an Environmental Science & Technology study recently found that you’re also more likely to report a greater sense of pleasure, enthusiasm, and self-esteem and lower sense of depression, tension, and fatigue simply by walking in nature compared to on a dreary treadmill. Of course, it’s a bonus that you’re burning more calories, but Cornell researchers have also found that improving your mental health and mood can lead to healthier food choices.
Dish Out Plates Before You Sit
We’re huge proponents of family dinners, but make sure to plate your home-cooked meals before sitting at the table. When you dine buffet-style from the counter rather than laying out each dish on the dining room table, it causes people to think twice about whether they really need another helping before getting up to serve themselves again. When the food is right in front of their plate and within reach, it’s much harder to turn it away, and family dinners could turn into one of the 50 Little Things Making You Fatter and Fatter.