Yes, of course calories matter when it comes to weight loss—burn more than you consume each day and you'll blast away your stomach fat—but that doesn't mean you have to log them religiously to ensure you're eating less. (Not to mention, if you've ever counted calories before, you know it makes eating feel as fun as Trig class.)
So instead of pulling out your log book and pens, follow these tips and you'll naturally begin to drop weight while healing your body and satisfying hunger pangs, ensuring your belly doesn't constantly ring the alarm that's it's hungry. Speaking of which, to curb your appetite quickly and easily—without diet pills or hard-to-follow plans—don't miss our essential special report: 20 Reasons Why You're Always Hungry.
Have a Plan
Without a plan, you're at risk of making poor diet decisions (like ordering take-out after a long day at work). Plus, figuring out what you want to make for dinner is a surefire way to drain willpower and make you want to reach for a cookie once dinner is finished. Planning your meals is one of the easiest ways to help you cut unnecessary calories and regain control of your food intake—it's the reason we came up with this Realistic Flat-Belly Meal Plan for a Healthy Week. Start with just a few go-to meals you can eat on a consistent basis, and change it up every month or so.
Cook Your Own Meals
Frequently preparing your own food 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 the dishes listed in the link above from our meal plan and you'll save 600 calories a meal compared to if you ate at a standard sit-down restaurant whose plate can climb over 1,100 calories. On average, frequent home cooks consume 137 fewer calories and 16 fewer grams of sugar every day compared to those who regularly eat at restaurants!
Limit Added Sugar
One of the simplest ways to cut calories 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. Replace cookies with fresh fruit, try taking your coffee black, and swap out your soda with any one of these healthy soda alternatives.
Start The Day With 2
Glasses of water that is. "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.
Nourish 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 fifty-five ways you can boost your metabolism during your weight-loss journey.
Eat Slowly and Without Distractions
The simple solution to keep from overeating during a meal? Eat with intention! When we eat, your stomach's stretch receptors signal your brain that you're full when there's enough food in it. But there are two key factors to allow that to work: (1) spending time eating—it takes around 20 minutes for the "I'm full" signal to reach your brain—and (2) minimizing distractions—if your brain is busy doing something else, it can be distracted from receiving your satiety signals.
Feel Free to Snack
Contrary to what you may have heard, munching on the right snacks throughout the day is one of the best ways to shrink your waistline. In fact, researchers found that participants lost significantly more body weight when they incorporated low-sugar, high-protein snacks into their daily food routine, according to a recent study. So how do these mini meals contribute to your slim-down? Fitting in healthy, high protein snacks helps to maintain blood-sugar levels—which keeps your brain from triggering hunger pangs—and prevents your body from indulging in high-energy foods after what feels like a long day of starvation.
Listen To Your Body
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.
Know That Fats Aren't the Enemy
One of the nutrients that used to get a bad rap, the right kinds of healthy fats—like fish, nuts, avocados, and olive oil—can fill you up, ensure your body can absorb essential, fat-soluble vitamins, and may actually help you burn fat by increasing levels of fat-burning, metabolism-boosting hormones like adiponectin.
Make Your Meals 'Gram-Worthy
Spending the time to make your plate of food look gorgeous will pay off in the long run—and we're not just talking about the fact that you'll rack up extra likes on Instagram. This tactic can help encourage you to load your plate up with more colorful, fresh veggies, and can even make your food taste better! A study published in the journal Health Psychology found that when participants spend time preparing the food they make—which you'll end up doing to make sure you have a picture-perfect dish—they actually found the food to be significantly more satisfying than those who had the food prepared for them, even if the food was "healthy."
Fill Up With Fiber
Adequate fiber intake is essential to a balanced diet because this macronutrient helps keep you fuller longer, cleans out your bowels, and certain kinds of soluble fiber—namely these prebiotics—even feed the helpful bacteria that live in your gut. When your gut bugs munch on these prebiotics, they ferment them into anti-inflammatory fatty acids which have been known to switch off your fat genes so you can lose weight without counting calories. Plus, providing your belly biome with fuel will help mend an off-kilter gut which has been damaged by a high-saturated-fat, high-sugar diet.
Incorporate More Protein
Rather than racking up calories, just try to eat more protein during every meal—and yes, that includes in those carb-laden bowls of pasta as well. This slow-digesting macronutrient helps decrease appetite, squashes cravings, and boosts your metabolism by directly nourishing your calorie-burning muscles. Love smoothies? Check out these protein powders to up your blender game.
Take a Deep Breath
And just relax. When you're constantly stressed out, your body secretes a stress hormone known as cortisol. And that's bad news for your belly. Because cortisol is evolutionarily linked to alerting your body to external dangers (like that bear running towards you) and low blood-glucose levels, it forces your body to store fat and revs up your hunger, meaning you'll start craving that donut even if your stomach is actually full.
Make Healthy Eating a Habit
If you've ever counted calories before, you know that it can suck the pleasure right out of eating—making it feel more like a second job and only increasing your risk of suffering from food guilt. Don't let your life revolve around your diet. Instead, sculpt your diet around a healthy life. Trust us, once you start, you'll learn to enjoy the bike rides, getting enough sleep, and cooking at home. Soon, maintaining a healthy diet will just become part of your new lifestyle.
Go Meatless Once a Week
Reap the benefits of vegan foods without completely eschewing meat! Study after study has shown that those who eat the least amount of meat are less likely to be obese, have lower BMIs, and the least body fat levels. It's not that meat is the enemy, it's just that these high-protein foods tend to fill you up before you can fork your way over to the veggies, which are known to possess fat-fighting, waist-trimming powers.
Keep Happy Hours To a Minimum
While fermented drinks like wine and beer are ok to have in moderation, drinking in excess can put you at risk for liver disease, diabetes, and even certain cancers. And slogging back drinks just ends up amounting to extra calories. In fact, increasing alcohol consumption during vacation is one of the reasons you can gain an extra pound on your week off! Besides that, here are 30 More Worst Vacation Habits For Your Waistline.
Fall in Love with Fermented Foods
Speaking of fermented foods, you should eat more of them! If you're unfamiliar, fermented foods—like the beet kvass shown above, sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, sourdough bread, and even beer and wine—are full of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics. When ingested, these probiotics are speculated to be able to keep your gut microbiome (the population of over 100 trillion bacteria living in your belly) balanced. When your bug community is off kilter, studies have found symptoms such as weight gain, depression, an increase in hunger hormones, and more cravings for fatty and sugary foods, which feed the harmful bugs—and pack on pounds to your frame. If your curious as to how to all works out, read more about probiotics and belly bugs in How Good Gut Health Can Change Your Life.
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.
Give Up Ultra Processed Junk
Sure, packaged junk can be convenient, but so can fruit and veggies when you buy them for yourself! Ultra-processed foods—which are made up of substances not generally used in cooking like flavors, colors, emulsifiers, and other additives—like bread, soda, cookies, and frozen meals, make up a staggering 90 percent of the added sugar the average American consumes. Replacing junk with real food will up your satiety and help you rid your body of inflammation-inducing artificial ingredients. For simple food swaps for the most diet-derailing processed foods, check out these 15 Homemade Options for the Worst Processed Foods.
Avoid Drinking Your Calories
And that's not just limited to soda. We're also talking about milkshakes, franken-coffees, and bottled teas. That's because the calories from sugary beverages aren't accompanied by other nutrients, and often just leave you feeling hungry. It's far more satisfying to eat food—and it's healthier, too. In fact, it's even backed by science! 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, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 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.
Get Your Heart Pumping Every Day
We know life sometimes get in the way—whether it's work, travel, or extracurriculars with the kids—and it cuts into your exercise routine. But it's not the end of the world. Just as long as you get your heart rate up and your blood pumping either by walking through the hallway or taking the stairs instead of an elevator, you'll keep your health and body in shape. Plus, a study published in BMJ found that walking one minute twice an hour could minimize spikes in blood sugar and lower post-meal insulin levels in overweight participants. And that can directly correlate to fewer calories stored as fat in the long run. You don't have to adhere to your regimen religiously—only realistically. And when you don't have time to pump iron, check out these 31 Sneaky Ways to Work Out—Without Hitting the Gym.
Allow for Antioxidants
Almost all veggies contain a group of compounds known as antioxidants, but some of the best sources are blueberries, green tea, and apples. The specific compounds vary among fruits and veggies, but they all tend to have one thing in common: they mop up inflammatory, DNA-damaging free radicals which contribute to maladies that range from weight gain to Alzheimer's and cancer. In fact, a recent review that examined over 1.5 million people in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association made a connection with an increased risk of all-cause mortality and meat consumption. Experts speculate the reasoning behind the correlation is that people who eat a lot of red meat also tend to eat fewer plant-based foods, so they consume fewer of their protective antioxidants and nutrients.
Make Your Own Salad Dressings
Not only because many salad dressings have more sugar than chocolate syrup, but because making your own salad dressings means you can use the healthiest ingredients. Rather than the inflammatory soybean oils used in the bottled stuff, grab a bottle of extra virgin olive oil, whose phenols have been known to help lower blood pressure. Combine with some apple cider vinegar—a detoxifying liquid that promotes better digestion and prolongs feelings of fullness—some dijon mustard, salt and pepper, and you're ready to go!
Maintain an Exercise Regimen
Don't get us wrong—maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is an important aspect of any weight maintenance plan. But sticking to an exercise program may be key to keeping the pounds off long-term, according to University of Alabama researchers. Researchers noticed that participants who stopped breaking a sweat after losing weight experienced a dip in their metabolism while those who continued to work out for just forty minutes three times a week continued to fry calories at the same rate and maintained weight loss. So be sure to add some cardio and resistance training into your routine. The cardio will help you burn off the occasional beer or cheat meal and the resistance training will help stimulate muscle growth. Because muscle burns more calories than fat at rest, your bulging biceps will help you get and keep you trim.
Buy Smaller Plates
Weighing slices of chicken and spooning out exact tablespoons of rice isn't just demanding, it makes eating feel more like a job than a need to fuel your body. Instead, easily reduce portion sizes by investing in a new set of smaller plates. When your meal fills up your entire plate, it can trick your brain into thinking it's consuming more calories than it would if the same amount of food sat diminutively on a larger vessel. Here are 18 Easy Ways to Control Your Portion Sizes so you can start cutting back on calories without feeling deprived.
Carry 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.
Steep a Cup
Steeping a cup of green tea can help you slim down—stat. This brew is full of belly-fat-fighting catechins, a type of antioxidant which blasts adipose tissue by revving up your metabolism while increasing the release of stored fat from fat cells. In fact, a recent study found that participants who combined a daily habit of four cups of green tea with a 25-minute sweat session lost two more pounds than exercisers who didn't drink the belly-melting elixir. Impressive! Plus, if you swap out your sugary cuppa joe for tea, you'll save yourself extra calories on top of the ones burned by your boosted metabolism.
Hide Your Vices
Planning on curbing your junk food consumption? Start by getting your dietary kryptonite out of the kitchen. When you keep your vices visible on kitchen counters or in prime storage space, you set yourself up for failure. Instead, hide your stash in opaque containers or in the back of your cabinet behind healthier snacks. That way, you'll be reminded of your body goals every time you attempt to give in to a craving.
Catch Some ZZZs
Did you know that feeling full doesn't only depend on how much food you eat? It can also depend on how much sleep you get. 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. As a result, your sleep-deprived self may continue to crave foods and end up eating more calories even when you aren't physically hungry. Follow these tips—30 Things to Do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Lose Weight—and you'll start losing weight in your sleep!
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 going to see a movie in the theater. 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.