You’ve decided you want to lose weight, but are stuck trying to choose a diet from among the heaps of options that positively guarantee results. Low-carb, low-fat, Keto, Paleo, Weight Watchers, DASH…they each come with a set of complex rules that can be totally mind-boggling. You may lose weight simply because you can’t tell what is okay to eat!
But here’s a secret: diets don’t really work. Any program that places a ban on certain types of foods or involves a labyrinthine protocol for what and when you can eat is not going to be sustainable over the long haul. What you need is a permanent shift in the way you eat and take care of yourself.
Now don’t panic! We’re talking about easy changes that can be made one at a time. Going for a total, instantaneous revolution is a sure road to misery, but a gradual lifestyle shift feels more like personal growth. Here are ten great ways to grow self esteem while shedding pounds.
10. Go to bed one hour earlier.
Experts agree that getting enough sleep is just as important as diet and exercise when you need to lose weight. Not clocking sufficient zzz’s affects you negatively in several ways. First, it’s easy to use being tired as an excuse not to exercise or cook fresh meals at home.
When you’re tired, your brain ramps up cravings for something to make you feel energetic, typically sugar. It’s much harder to resist those cravings when you’re exhausted.
Finally, too little sleep triggers the stress hormone cortisol, which signals the body to conserve energy in the form of fat. So before you worry about skipping dessert, try building more sleep into your routine.
9. Cut your weekly takeout meals in half.
It’s no secret that takeout meals are not very healthy. They are often loaded with extra fat, sugar, and salt to get you hooked and coming back for more.
But when your morning is too rushed to pack a lunch, let alone eat a healthy breakfast, and the kids have 20 different activities in the evening, it’s common for folks to rely on takeout too much.
However, if you can carve out a just two hours a week for pre-planning and prepping meals you would otherwise get from takeout, you will begin to shed pounds effortlessly.
Portion out fruit, nuts, and veggies for snacks, pre-cook oatmeal or scrambled eggs for breakfast, and chop and freeze the ingredients for an easy dinner. Your waist and your wallet will thank you for this!
8. Drink more water.
Simple, right? It’s a rare person who hates water, so adding more into your daily routine should not be painful. What might be slightly uncomfortable is substituting water for the soda, syrupy coffee drinks, and juices you may have favored before.
Just remember that one of these sweetened beverages can exceed your daily recommended intake of sugar, and each one you avoid is a huge step toward your weight loss goal.
Drinking water before meals also helps you to feel full and helps prevent overeating or unhealthy snacking. Plus, being properly hydrated can improve the quality of your skin. That’s a little esteem boosting reward that can help you stay the course on your other lifestyle changes.
7. Don’t skip snacks.
If you try to deprive yourself too much, you are very likely to give into a binge. But if you can keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day, those junk food cravings will be much reduced. Two snacks a day, mid-morning and mid-afternoon, can really help.
Of course, they have to be healthy snacks, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be satisfying. A handful of nuts can scratch the itch for something salty, and a mandarin orange is super easy to peel and eat when you want something sweet. Even a little side salad with some chicken and avocado can be a healthy snack that keeps you going strong.
6. Make healthier swaps you can tolerate.
Whatever your weakness, whether it is potato chips or chocolate, there is a healthier alternative available. No, it won’t be quite the same, but it only takes a few days to retrain the expectations of your palate.
Experiment with lower sodium baked chips instead of heavily flavored fried ones. Then switch from milk chocolate to dark chocolate.
Before you know it, you’ll find the regular versions of these items overpoweringly sweet and salty. And here’s some more good news – there are certain swaps you may be able to reverse.
On balance, full fat dairy products are better for you than the reduced fat ones, which often have a ton of extra sugar added.
5. Stop skipping breakfast.
The ultimate goal in weight loss is to take in fewer calories than you burn. That’s it. So while skipping breakfast might reduce your total caloric intake, it also slows your metabolism and causes you to burn fewer calories. There’s no net gain there, and skipping this important meal may actually lead you to overeat later.
Choices like oatmeal with raisins or a veggie omelet are great, but don’t feel like you have to stick with breakfast foods if you’re not a fan. Leftovers from dinner are fine to eat in the morning. Just steer clear of the super sweet breakfast cereals.
4. Reduce refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Refined sugar is the sweetest devil you’ll ever tangle with, but do not underestimate its ability to do harm. Sugar is now thought to be a greater driver of obesity and inflammation than fat, and it is cleverly hidden in all sorts of products you wouldn’t suspect.
The fastest way to scale back your sugar consumption is to stop drinking sodas and skip dessert (feel free to make this a two step process if need be). But you’ll also have to do some research into other products to locate the sneaky sources you haven’t accounted for.
There are at least 50 names for sugar that can be found on food ingredient labels. It’s jammed into packaged foods both savory and sweet. It can even masquerade as something else, such as when that blueberry muffin you’re eating really only contains gooey blue lumps of sugar but no real fruit.
3. Reevaluate your serving sizes.
Portion size is more psychological than it is related to your actual biological needs. We often judge the right amount based on the size of the plate we use, so a handy trick for reducing portion sizes is to eat from smaller plates. A recent study also concluded that people tend to eat less off of red plates, but we have no idea why that is!
Also remember that it can take up to 20 minutes for your body to send a signal that it’s full, by which point you will have majorly overeaten. Slow your pace and savor your food a bit more so that you will know when you’re full, rather than overfull.
2. Go vegetarian one or two days each week.
Meat can be a part of a healthy diet, even red meat in moderation. But vegetarian diets tend to be lower in calories and are just as nutritious as long as you know what you’re doing. Going meatless a few days a week is an easy way to cut calories from your diet as well as save a few bucks at the grocery store.
The key is to make sure you are still getting enough protein from sources like eggs, quinoa, almonds, chickpeas, and Greek yogurt. Aim for as wide a variety of foods as possible to cover all your nutritional bases.
And remember, just because potato chips are vegetarian, does not mean they are healthy. (Baked potatoes, on the other hand, are a healthy and filling base for all kinds of yummy toppings.)
1. Challenge yourself to learn new recipes.
One of the things that can get in the way of eating healthfully is a lack of experience with new recipes. So as you begin your weight loss journey, start to research interesting meals that you’ve never made before. Experiment with at least one new recipe each week.
There may be some misses, but the more you can build your repertoire of healthy meals that the family will eat, the easier it becomes to put something good on the table. Eventually, some of your less healthy old standards will fall by the wayside.
This is a good way to set yourself up for a lifelong dietary change without feeling deprived. Those old favorites aren’t going anywhere until you have something even better to replace them with.
Each of these dietary changes can be made incrementally, when you’re ready. It will feel natural because you aren’t making a radical shift all at once that leaves you feeling deprived and confused about the new rules.
Every new element comes with its own gain to keep you motivated – you can see progress from week one, both in the way you look and the way you feel. Before you know it, you’ll forget all about dieting because the way you naturally eat is all you need to stay fit.