Sometimes it seems like the only way to lose weight is by adopting a super-strict diet or spending every waking moment at the gym. Luckily, that’s not the case. “Healthy, sustainable weight loss is best achieved through small changes to your existing lifestyle,” Ashvini Mashru, R.D., author of Small Steps to Slim and owner of Wellness Nutrition Concepts LLC, tells SELF. “Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Although fad diets may seem like the easiest path to dropping a size, they’re pretty much bound to fail in the long run. “Yes, the weight may come off quickly, but it will also come back quickly, usually with some added pounds to boot,” Brigitte Zeitlin, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., founder of the New York-based BZ Nutrition, tells SELF. Instead of torturing your body, try these 14 tips to promote long-lasting weight loss and get healthier overall—there are so many benefits besides potentially nudging the number on the scale!
1. Pay attention to your portions.
“Most Americans eat two to three times the actual serving size of foods,” says Mashru. It doesn’t help that restaurants often serve massive portions, which can train your mind to think that’s the amount of food your body needs. To get a handle on proper serving sizes, Mashru suggests checking nutrition labels or Googling around to see how much of any given food counts as a portion for one person.
2. Put your fork down between bites.
It helps you eat more slowly, which is a simple tactic to cut back on calories. When you take your time instead of inhaling your food, your body can actually register the feeling of fullness, which can take up to 20 minutes to hit your brain. Plus, eating slowly might even make your food taste better, according to an October 2015 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Wins all around.
3. Guzzle water 24/7.
Even though your body is generally a pretty brilliant machine, it can be prone to slip-ups. “Sometimes what you think is a hunger pang is caused by thirst,” says Zeitlin. That “hunger” can cause you to snack when all your body wants is some hydration. If you’re not a fan of the plain stuff, try these 12 easy methods to drink more water.
4. Carve out time to prepare your lunch.
Not only will making your own lunch help you save money, it’ll ensure you know exactly what you’re putting into your body and that you’re getting the right nutrients. “You’re also less likely to skip lunch on busy days when you can just walk to the fridge instead of having to go out and buy food,” says Mashru. Although it seems like skipping those calories could help boost weight loss, depriving your body of regular meals just makes you more likely to overdo it later.
5. Don’t do other things while you’re eating.
It can be tough to focus on eating when there’s work to do and Instagram to check, but chowing down when you’re distracted can lead to accidentally taking in more than you need. Distracted eating doesn’t just lead to more consumption in the moment, it can even compel you to eat more than necessary later on in the day, according to a systematic review of 24 studies in the February 2013 edition of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
6. Make breakfast a priority.
“Eating a breakfast full of lean protein and fiber will keep you satisfied, which helps you make better food choices throughout the day,” says Zeitlin. To maximize the power of breakfast, opt for meals that aren’t carbohydrate bombs without anything substantial to keep you full, like bagels, cold cereal, and muffins. “Try scrambled eggs on whole grain toast, plain Greek yogurt with a cup of your favorite fruit, or an omelet loaded with veggies,” says Zeitlin.
7. Be a smart snacker.
When you’re trying to lose weight, snacking can either be your best bud or a seemingly helpful, yet undeniably sneaky saboteur. There’s the issue of unknowingly taking in more than you think, which you can fix in a snap by pre-portioning your snacks according to their serving sizes rather than just chipping away at them willy-nilly. Another snacking problem can arise if you graze, aka eat mindlessly throughout the day, rather than snack intentionally. Check out these snacking for weight loss tips to make sure you’re on the right track.
8. Clock enough hours of sleep every night.
It can be hard to stick to a good sleep schedule—especially when there are episodes of Homeland to catch up on—but getting enough rest is an easy way to encourage weight loss. “Sleep helps keep the appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin in check,” says Zeitlin. “Without an adequate amount, those hormones become unbalanced and can lead to an increased appetite.” According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should aim for between seven and nine hours a night.
9. Stick to healthy eating even on the weekends.
When you’re obsessed with eating well Monday through Friday but consider weekends a food free-for-all, you may not see the weight loss you expect. “If you add it up, eating poorly and not exercising Friday to Sunday comes out to 12 days ‘off’ a month!” says Mashru. “Instead of letting the days of the week influence your habits, focus on creating a healthy lifestyle—with the occasional indulgence—that’s sustainable all month long.”
10. Rely on smaller plates.
If you look at the same amount of food on a little plate vs. a large one, your eyes might convince you there’s more deliciousness on the smaller dish. This is due to what’s known as the Delboeuf illusion, which shows that surrounding something in a lot of white space can make it look smaller. Even if you’re not eating much, cutting back on the amount of plate space around your food can trick your brain into thinking it’s a bigger portion than it really is, whereas doing the opposite may stoke your hunger by making you think you only ate a bit.
11. Cut back on family style eating.
When you dine with serving dishes full of extra helpings right in front of you, you can slip into mindlessly refilling your plate even if you’re not still hungry. Instead, whenever possible, limit the food on the table to what you’re actually eating. That’s not to say seconds are forbidden—just that you should check in to see if you’re still hungry before getting up to grab some more.
12. Sit facing away from the buffet at restaurants.
Always having more food in your line of sight may push you to get into food-coma territory, especially if you’re trying to get your money’s worth. Rather than eating while gazing at what you might treat yourself to next, turn your back to the other food and focus on really enjoying what’s on your plate. If you want more food when you’re done, the buffet will still be there!
13. Pile your plate high with vegetables.
One of the best ways to get into the healthy-eating habit is by adding things to your diet instead of removing them. Refusing to eat any of your favorite treats can backfire in a binge, whereas slowly increasing your vegetable intake can only bring good results. “Not only are vegetables filled with important nutrients that keep your body healthy and energized, they contain fiber, which helps you feel satiated,” says Mashru. To avoid vegetable burnout, she suggests starting small: add a cup of them to at least one meal a day for a week, then start incorporating them into more meals as you get used to them.
14. Keep a food journal.
If you’re doing all of the above but still not seeing any noticeable weight loss, dropping pounds can feel like a mysterious equation you just can’t crack. In that case, Zeitlin suggests keeping a food journal so you have a detailed yet overarching view of your habits. “It can help you find the areas specific to you and your lifestyle that could use some small tweaking,” she says. Do your best to track your food and beverage intake for a week, then look back to see if you’re unwittingly taking in a few extra calories you could cut out in order to get the results you’re after. Above all, remember that losing weight healthily often involves some trial and error—but the point is that along the way you learn how to be good to your body, which is really what matters.