Here at Eat This, Not That!, we spend every single day researching the latest weight loss trends, analyzing the most effective methods for burning fat—and keeping it off, while eating the delicious foods you love.
And here, we’ve collected the simplest, smartest and most effective of the year.
From getting educated about the dirty tricks food manufacturers play on us to becoming more curious to how certain foods affect our bodies, 2016 was a year full of new findings and expert advice about how to be healthier—and thinner. And while it’s true that one diet plan size doesn’t fit all, the growing number of overweight people across the globe has prompted more weight loss research than ever before.
Some of the tips are sure to surprise you, too! Follow the smartest advice from this past year, and then click here to find out if you’re eating one of the shocking 50 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet!
Spark Instant Weight Loss at the Press of a Button
Ever since panelists lost up to 16 pounds in 14 days on his best-selling Zero Belly Diet, author David Zinczenko has promoted the benefits of a plant-based meal plan. So he was gratified to see a major study from Harvard, this August, suggest that getting the majority of your protein from plant sources could lead to a lower risk of death compared to animal proteins. Plant proteins are the cornerstone of his new book, Zero Belly Smoothies—you get 100+ plant-based smoothie recipes, a unique blend of super-nutrients that help flatten your belly, boost your metabolism and heal your digestive system. Followers have lost up to three inches from their waist with the power of Zero Belly Smoothies—and they never felt hungry again. Proof that plant power works.
Follow the 80/20 Rule
Because creating healthy habits takes time, be sure to leave room for error during your weight-loss journey. The idea is simple: just eat healthfully 80 percent of the time and leave 20 percent of the time to splurge. That way, you won’t feel guilty and stressed if you happen to nab a slice of pizza at your cousin’s backyard party. Just try to keep the bar high on your indulgences. For example, make your own homemade desserts using quality ingredients instead of buying those packaged, processed cakes.
Make Your Workout Work Harder for You
Everyone knows switching to a healthy diet is one of the most effective ways to lose weight but exercise is key to even better health (and more calories torched). And it doesn’t only matter that you exercise, it also matters when: According to a recent Japanese study, when you exercise before your morning meal, you’ll metabolize about 280 more calories throughout the day compared to doing the same workout in the evening. We suggest you follow-up that morning meal with one of these 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss.
Box Up Half Before You Even Put Fork to Mouth
Considering a recent study found that the average meal at an American, Chinese, or Italian sit-down restaurant contains a whopping 1,500 calories, you’ll save a cool 750 calories by simply asking your waiter to box up half the meal before it reaches the table. P.S.—Avoid The #1 Worst Menu Option at 40 Popular Restaurants no matter what, though!
Start your day by setting your intentions for what you hope to do and accomplish, especially in regards to your health. “Before jumping out of bed, take 10 deep belly breaths. At the end of this, set your intention for the day,” suggests Lisa Kinder, star of the “10 Minute Solution: HIIT” DVD. You can try an intention like “I will be grateful for the health I have right now” or a mantra like “The food I eat today is the body I will wear tomorrow.”
Listen to a Motivational Podcast
Take advantage of the time it takes to shower, brush your teeth, and put on makeup in the morning. Stephanie Mansour, weight loss coach and health expert for women, suggests listening to motivational podcasts during that time. “I love Tim Ferris for motivation and any other podcasts that are hosted by successful and healthy people,” she recommends.
Get Sleep So You Don’t Snack
Although it’s not quite breaking news that getting too little sleep is bad for your weight-loss program, more and more research is uncovering exactly why that is. One study published in March by University of Chicago researchers found that getting too little sleep may activate the same pathways in the brain that are involved in the heightened attraction to and enjoyment of junk food you get if you smoke marijuana—also known as “the munchies.”
Do Your Best to Get into Plain, Black Coffee
We get that Americans rely on their java on a daily basis, but dessert-like coffee creations have no place in a flat-belly diet. These frankencoffees—characterized by a combination of cream, sugar, and syrups—can contain as many as 600 calories and 88 grams of sugar when you order a large size (cough Starbucks S’mores Frappuccino). If you need a caffeine boost, order a cup of coffee black, which is a mere 5 calories. And if you really need that frap (you don’t), just leaving the whipped cream off your cup saves 70 calories. Not a fan of black coffee? Then brew up some green tea and find out the 23 Amazing Ways to Melt Fat with Tea.
Bingeing Sometimes is Just as Bad as Eating Poorly All the Time
According to a January study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, bingeing on the weekends can be just as bad for your gut health as a consistent diet of junk. Poor gut health has been associated with obesity, a poor immune response, and depression. Bottom line? Keep cheat days to cheat days—not weekends.
The New “normal” is Not Healthy
The obesity rate among U.S. adults has climbed to a staggering height of 28 percent. If you tend to compare yourself to others—and don’t we all?—keep in mind that your overweight friends’ and family’s round shapes are not permission to let go of your health, too.
The Easiest Way to Make Healthy Food Taste Better is to Prepare it Yourself
Want to lose weight but can’t stomach another kale salad? Research published in the journal Health Psychology found that women tended to rate healthy dishes more favorably when they prepared the food themselves compared to when a research assistant did it for them. This phenomenon, known as the “IKEA Effect,” explains that humans get more satisfaction from products they partially created—whether it’s a coffee table or a smoothie.
One Minute of Hardcore Exercise is Key
Get this: A new experiment by McMaster University researchers found that 60 seconds of strenuous exertion was just as successful at improving health and fitness as 45 minutes of moderate exercise. A professor who oversaw the PLOS One study says this: “If you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”
Go Ahead, Get the Butter
Finally! As opposed to what was previously thought, a study published in the journal PLOS ONE back in June found no direct link between eating butter and heart disease. Back on the butter train! Full of fat-fighting fatty acids like CLA, it won’t hurt to smear a pat of butter on your bread.
Eating Pasta Might Mean a Lower BMI
An analysis of more than 23,000 people found that a high pasta intake was not associated with an increased body mass index (BMI). Take the findings with a big pinch of salt, though; this study was conducted in Italy, where people are also more likely to follow the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Probably the biggest takeaway here is that BMI is not an accurate predictor of health. (In fact, we found 14 Reasons Why The BMI Formula is Bogus.) Also important—it’s ok to eat carbs. As long as you’re eating a well-balanced diet.
Stop Dining Out So Much
June 2016 was the month that marked the first time in history that Americans spent more money on food at restaurants than they did on supermarket groceries. Since we’re eating out more than at home, it’s on you to stay vigilant about unhealthy menu items. Watch out for The #1 Worst Menu Option at 40 Popular Restaurants.
Rethink Your Idea of Healthy
In an eye-opening poll by The New York Times, it became clear many Americans don’t know how to define “healthy.” When Americans and nutritionists were asked whether a certain food was healthy, there were some disagreements. While 70 percent of Americans considered granola bars healthy, less than 30 percent of nutritionists did. Other foods the public considered to be healthier than when experts rated them? Coconut oil, frozen yogurt, granola, orange juice, and American cheese. On the other hand, many Americans were unaware of foods that nutritionists considered to be healthy: quinoa, tofu, sushi, hummus, wine, and shrimp. Nutrition science is murky—for experts and the public, alike—and a constantly evolving field. Your best bet is to stay informed by continuing to read articles on sites like Eat This, Not That!.
Avoid “ultra-processed” Foods at All Costs
A study published in BMJ Open in March found that the majority of food that Americans eat is “ultra-processed,” which means an item uses several processed ingredients like flavors, colors, sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other additives to disguise their undesirable qualities. Yuck. Examples include bread, frozen meals, soda, pizza, and breakfast cereals. Although ultra-processed foods are tailored to appeal to our taste buds, they’re lacking in valuable nutrients that have been found to protect against the numerous health issues caused by high sugar consumption. Oh yeah, and these foods are making you fatter and fatter.
Invest in a Reusable Water Bottle
Not only does water help fill you up, but keeping yourself hydrated can help ward off misunderstood hunger pangs. That’s why we recommend carrying a water bottle around with you everywhere—just make sure it isn’t the plastic variety. Plastic bottles are made with Bisphenol A (BPA) a hormone-mimicking chemical which can negatively impact fertility in both men and women and has also been linked to obesity: A study published by Harvard researchers found that adults with the highest concentration of BPA in their urine had significantly larger waists and odds of being obese than those in the lowest quartile.
Your Sweet Tooth is Just in Your Head
Those late-night cookie cravings can finally be quieted! Researchers from Yale University, University of Sao Paulo, and Federal University teamed up to discover if we were really hooked on sweetness or if our bodies just crave the highest-calorie option. If you’re hangry, it’s because your body needs fuel, aka calories, not necessarily sugar (although that is a quick way to get them). And now that you can’t hide behind your “sweet tooth” anymore, here are 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar.
Spiralized Food Will Save You from the Scale
All hail the spiralizer! This hip cooking appliance turns almost any veggie into faux noodles with just the crank of a handle. Similar to spaghetti squash, a cup of spiralized zoodles has only 25 calories and a cup of carrots 50. And once you toss it with sauce and toppings, you’ll never know the difference. We like mixing our zoodles with pesto, blistered tomatoes, and chopped grilled chicken, and our spiralized carrots with a spicy sriracha and soy peanut sauce. Check out our spiralizer pick and more great utensils with our list of 21 Tools to Help You Get Serious About Losing Weight!
Tasting the Rainbow Could Add Up to Tons of Calories
It’s one thing to eat a variety of colorful fruits and veggies. But the “rainbow food” trend exploded this year and it’s giving a bad reputation to eating your colors. Experts speculate the reason why we love rainbow foods so much is because we evolved to find out that many different colors are associated with many different vital nutrients. Unfortunately, that’s usually never the case with the sweets you see showing up in your Instagram feed—which range from fairy bread and cheesecakes to donuts and bagels—as they’re likely dyed with artificial, coal-derived colors that have been linked to learning and concentration disorders (like ADHD) in children.
Keep Your Smoothie Bowls Much Smaller
While there are countless benefits of eating fruit, you still need to be mindful of how much fruit you’re eating since it does have sugar. The sugar in fruit can still have a blood-sugar-spiking effect if eaten in excess, and smoothie bowls are often huge portions of carbs and sugar. At least try to eat some protein and fiber with it to slow the digestion!
Get Your Soup On!
2015 was the year of bone broth, and 2016 was the year of the soup cleanse. It was a tastier, warmer, and much more filling alternative to juicing thanks to the presence of satiating fiber. Want to continue the trend at home? Check out these soup recipes!
Try Sweet Potato Toast
Here’s a surprising health snack that gained popularity in 2016: sweet potato toast! All you do is slice a sweet potato to ¼-inch thickness, toss it into your toaster, and then top it with traditional toast toppers. Why’d we love this particular idea so much? It’s simple: sweet potatoes are nutritional powerhouses. They’re full of A and B vitamins and loads of anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
Eat in Silence
Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that people who eat while distracted can eat 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. In fact, it’s also one the 20 Reasons You’re Always Hungry.
Replace Breads and Grains with Cauliflower
We were all about living that low-carb lifestyle this year, and cauliflower was the veggie that took center stage. Whether it was shredded and sauteed to make a veggie fried rice or tossed with an egg for a perfect pizza crust, we just couldn’t get enough of it.
Use Your Muffin Tin
Bite-sized foods took over the food scene this year, and it was all thanks to a kitchen gadget you likely already have: a muffin tin. This glorious gadget helped dieters with the one thing many of us struggle with on a daily basis—portion control. From egg muffins to baked oatmeal, muffin-sized meals made us feel like we were finally in charge of our food and not the other way around.
Nosh on Probiotics and Fermented Foods
You weren’t solely limited to Greek yogurt to get your daily dose of probiotics this past year. That’s because fermented foods—from sauerkraut and kimchi to dark chocolate and kefir—rose to prominence. Why their rise? Research has shown that replenishing your good gut bugs with probiotics can ward off inflammation and weight gain, so we’ve given this trend our stamp of approval! As you continue to reap the most benefits from these fermented foods, we recommend you stick to the natural sources of the stuff and steer clear of the enhanced products. Many of the foods with added probiotics are also full of sugar—just like these 10 Probiotic Foods You Should Never Eat.
Switch Your Cut of Meat
Next time you find yourself craving a cut of beef, ask your butcher for a sirloin tip side steak instead of the filet mignon. Although the former isn’t naturally as tender as the latter, it’s a very flavorful cut of protein that your taste buds will love. Plus, the swap saves you 132 calories every 3.5-ounce serving! Use a chef’s secret and salt your meat for an hour at room temperature before cooking it. The salt draws out the juices of the cut and tenderizes the protein, making it more flavorful and tender.
Use an Oil Mister
Many of us have heard the results from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found a correlation between consuming olive oil and a healthy heart, and we know the benefits of coconut oil include ramping up your metabolism and lowering bad cholesterol. But the key to using any oil is moderation—especially since a tablespoon is around 120 calories. Avoid the “just a drizzle” mentality, and break out a spritzer. This tool makes it easy to mist your favorite oil on an entire dish without overdoing it.
Saute with Broth
When you’re whipping up a stir-fry or sauteing veggies, leave the 120-calorie-a-tablespoon EVOO on the counter. Instead, add a couple of tablespoons of low-sodium chicken broth to your skillet and get it nice and hot. Add veggies and stir—it’s that easy. If you get into this habit, you’ll naturally eat 100+ less calories every time—which can add up to a few pounds falling off in no time!
Eat Fresh Fruit—not Juiced or Dehydrated
Not only are fruit juices lacking in belly-filling fiber, they also are high in hunger-inducing simple sugars—which means you’re twice as likely to be left with a rumbling stomach after sipping a glass. Swap out fruit juices, like Evolution Fresh’s cold-pressed 228-calorie OJ bottle for a 60-calorie orange. It’s not just smart for your waistline: Harvard researchers found that swapping out three glasses of fruit juice with three servings of whole fruit a week was associated with a 7 percent reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes. As for dried, dehydrated, or pureed fruit? Fresh is still a better option. The off-the-tree variety may not be much higher in fiber, but it does have the benefit of water, which makes it more satiating.
Don’t Rely on Cardio
You get to the gym and the weights look intimidating, while the overabundance of treadmills and elliptical trainers are calling your name—besides, you know you’re guaranteed to break a sweat there. Good move? Not so fast, says Kathleen Trotter, personal trainer and author of Finding Your Fit. “Don’t rely on steady-state cardio. You need to do more than just mindless cardio and should instead do interval training two or three times a week,” she recommends. “Interval training improves cardiovascular fitness, insulin sensitivity, HDL (good)cholesterol and helps reduce both visceral and subcutaneous fat.” One of Trotter’s favorite interval workouts is “rolling intervals.” After warming up, cycle through 30 seconds at regular intensity, 20 seconds at a slightly higher intensity and 10 seconds at an even higher intensity. Repeat for 10 to 15 minutes.
Have a Cup of Ginger Tea
“Sip on some ginger tea,” offers Lisa Hayim, RD and founder of The WellNecessities. “Ginger works in many ways to help to help digestion and reduce bloat. It also supports the healthy bacteria in the gut, thereby stimulating digestion.” It also will calm you down like whoa—which we all could use a dose of after such a crazy year. Speaking of reducing bloat, though, bookmark these 42 Foods to Deflate Your Belly Bloat so you know what to do when you’re feeling a bit too puffy.
Ignore the Scale
Everyone’s weight will fluctuate by a few pounds simply based on water retention or an indulgent weekend. That’s why stepping on the scale every morning isn’t always an accurate assessment of where you’re at—and can do more harm than good. “It can be demoralizing,” says Marika Lindholm, sociology professor at Northwestern University and founder of ESME, Empowering Solo Moms Everywhere. “It doesn’t serve any purpose in terms of your overall health and well-being. If your clothes start to feel tight or you notice some extra weight, then make some positive changes such as cutting back on your sugar intake.” Still hung up on if you’re retaining water? Then check out these 17 Things to Know About Water Weight!
Don’t Rely on Diet Soda
While aspartame has long been marketed as a zero-calorie sweetener that promotes weight loss, new research published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism suggests that it may have the exact opposite effect. According to the study, the artificial sweetener—which is found in diet foods from sodas to ice creams—can contribute to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease by blocking an intestinal enzyme that has previously been shown to prevent metabolic syndrome
Quit “grazing” All Day
A recent study recently presented at the Obesity Society’s annual meeting found that grazing all day doesn’t mean you’ll wind up thinner. For the study, researchers followed 11 overweight men and women, over two four-day periods. During one period, the study participants ate all of their meals within a six-hour time span. During the second period, they consumed their meals between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Despite the fact that both diets included the same number of calories, participants reported being less hungry while following the time-restricted feeding schedule. Restricted feeding may “positively impact body composition both by increasing fat oxidation and by reducing energy intake,” the study concludes. For even more ways to melt fat around your middle, don’t miss these 26 Foods That Melt Love Handles.
Reconsider Your Evening Glass of Wine
Look, we love wine—especially red wine, which actually offers antioxidants and is considered relatively healthy. But if you’re looking to lose weight, one of the best tips is to put down the glass; alcohol is fairly caloric and shouldn’t be an everyday event. In fact, two glasses of wine a day can add nearly 1,500 calories to your weekly calorie intake—which means up to two pounds per 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.
Healthy Eating Doesn’t Work if You’re Stressed
While improving your diet is essential to losing weight, your greatest success will come if you take a second to relax. Eating well is certainly good for you, but a good diet alone may not be enough to counteract all the ill effects stress has on our bodies. A new study, published in Molecular Psychiatry in September 2016, suggested that being stressed could override the benefits of making better food choices. The researchers found that stressed women who ate a diet made up of healthy fats had as many inflammatory markers as those who were not stressed but ate a diet of unhealthy fats, which were both higher than relaxed women whose diet contained healthy fats. High inflammation has been connected to cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, arthritis, and some cancers.
Say No to Yo-yo Dieting
Excessive dieting can wreak havoc on your hormones. Not only is this bad news for your metabolism, it can mess with your sleep quality, energy levels, mood, and strength, too, cautions Victoria Hartcorn, Co-Founder of Excelerate Wellness, LLC. “If your hormones aren’t in balance then physique goals are going to be much more challenging to attain,” she explains, adding, “Eat adequate amounts of wholesome food, resistance train with intensity, and don’t over-exercise or abusing cardio. If amending your diet and exercise routine doesn’t help you to feel and look better, then getting bloodwork done to check hormone levels would be the next best step.”
Try the 60/5 Rule
In addition to cutting 500 calories a week through diet, personal trainer Jim White, RD, recommends trying to burn 500 calories a day by incorporating weight training and cardiovascular training, into your routine. “This equates to about 60 minutes of exercise five days a week,” he says.
Limit Added Sugar
One of the simplest ways to cut calories and lose weight is by limiting products with absurd amounts of added sugar. These simple carbs are nearly void of nutrients (making them the definition of “empty calories”), can cause you to always be hungry (which means you’re likely to overeat), and can mess up your insulin response, leading to type II diabetes, insulin resistance, and obesity. That’s why Dave Zinczenko wrote Zero Sugar Diet. Until now, there’s been no way to tell how much added sugar you’re eating—or how to avoid it without sacrifice. But with the simple steps in Zero Sugar Diet, you’ll be able to eat all your favorite foods and strip away unnecessary sugars—losing weight at a rate of up to one pound per day. All it takes is 14 days to retrain your tastebuds.
Drink a Glass of Water as Soon as You Wake Up
In fact, chug two glasses if you can! “Every process in your body takes place in water—from helping to flush waste from your colon to the efficient functioning of your metabolism,” explain The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos, RDN, CDN, CFT and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RDN, CDN, CFT. “Also, inadequate water intake quickly leads to dehydration, and even being slightly dehydrated immediately impacts energy levels.” So jumpstart your metabolism and boost your energy by downing a solid 16 ounces in the A.M. Ensuring your body is functioning at its best will make it easier to keep active without feeling groggy, and in turn, allow you to burn more calories.
Fire Up Your Metabolism
When you try to lose a significant amount of weight by cutting too many calories at once, you put your metabolism at risk. And that’s exactly what happened to thirteen of the fourteen contestants from The Biggest Loser Season 8, who all gained back weight after the finale. When researchers probed into the why, they found their metabolisms had decreased significantly—so they were burning fewer calories than the average person at their weight—and their levels of the “I’m hungry” hormone, leptin, were higher than normal.
Through a mechanism known as “metabolic adaptation,” your body will actually slow down during a severe calorie deficit because it thinks you’re in survival mode. If you’re starving yourself, you make it harder for your body to sustain long-term weight loss. Instead, switch your diet to healthier foods and follow the rest of the tips below. Speaking of metabolism, here are 55 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism during your weight-loss journey.
Determine if You Need to Tweak Your Dietary Lifestyle
Do you always feel bloated after eating grains? Are you a dairy-lover but constantly feel congested? Many of us try to work through these problems, brushing them off our shoulders like they’re not an issue. But in reality, they might be signs of a food intolerance or allergy, which could be contributing to extra inflammation, a weakened immune system, and weight gain. Learn to listen to what your body tells you by keeping note of any discomforts in a food journal. Or call in the pros—here are 15 Signs You Should Go See a Nutritionist
Don’t Make Food a Reward
While you should definitely be proud of yourself for achieving weight-loss milestones, that doesn’t mean your reward should include large portions of your favorite, fatty and sugary treats—that’s just a recipe for gaining back any weight you just lost. Instead, make an effort to reward yourself in non-food ways, like getting a manicure, splurging on a fitness class, or any of these 25 Genius Ways to Reward Yourself After Weight Loss. When you begin to remove the tie between emotions and food, you’ll start to see a change in your lifestyle, and it’ll be easier to eat healthily moving forward.