How to Lose Weight Easily (For Real)
Losing weight is hard—it takes a lot of sweat and starvation, right? Well, actually, it doesn’t have to. While hitting the gym and eating healthy is the surefire way to be your healthiest, fittest self, sometimes you need to start small or build up some extra credit to get over that plateau. That’s where these 10 little tricks (backed by science!) will come in handy to help you drop pounds without even trying.
Drink Water Before Every Meal
You’ve heard the age-old saying: “sometimes when you think you’re hungry you’re actually just thirsty.” Turns out, drinking water for weight loss isn’t just a myth.
A recent study in the journal Obesity found that obese adults who drank about 16 oz of water 30 minutes before their main meals experienced moderate weight loss compared to a group who didn’t drink before their meal. Why? For one, water starts filling you up and might help reduce your appetite. Second, another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that that drinking about 17 oz of water increases metabolic rate by 30 percent in healthy men and women, and that this metabolic surge reached a maximum 30 to 40 minutes after drinking. Chug a few glasses of water 30 minutes before your meal, and you’re prepping your metabolism to rev just in time for food consumption.
You won’t drop 5 pounds in a day, but research suggests it’s effective for long-term, moderate weight loss by helping to curb appetite and boost metabolism. Plus, there’s no downside—it’ll help you get your fill of water for the day, which has been linked to a slew of other health benefits beyond weight loss.
You’re not supposed to text and drive or Netflix and drive—you shouldn’t try to do those things and eat, either. Distracted eating is a huge culprit for that “I’m still hungry” feeling. Physical satiety is closely linked with psychological satisfaction, according to therapist Deborah Beck Busis, Ph.D., the diet program coordinator at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy and a coauthor of The Diet Trap Solution.
“It takes at least 20 minutes for your stomach to register that you have eaten,” says Dr. Caroline Cederquist, M.D., metabolism/weight loss expert and founder of bistroMD. “Eating while watching TV, driving, etc. causes us to eat much more than we realize and we don’t feel satisfied either.”
It’s been proven by research too: eating attentively was shown to have a direct influence on the amount of food consumed, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. People who ate a meal while distracted ate a moderate amount more than non-distracted eaters—plus, the distracted eaters ate more food than the non-distracted eaters later in the day. Removing visual information about the amount of food eaten during the meal also led to an increase in the amount of food consumed. The takeaway: The less you focus on your food and the more you focus on the TV/computer/smartphone in front of you, the less satisfied you’ll be and the more you’ll be inclined to eat now and later.
Cut Calories By Making Simple Swaps
You don’t have to stop eating all the things you like just to lose weight. Make small swaps to save calories here and there, and they’ll add up—big time. Instead of a granola bar with 140+ calories and tons of added sugar, grab an apple for about 80 calories. Pick steamed rice and grilled chicken over fried rice and chicken. “You can also add vegetables to classic starch dishes to increase the water and fiber and lower the calories,” says Cederquist. (Like swapping regular pasta for veggie noodles.) Cut out liquid calories by having primarily water, coffee, or tea instead of high-calorie coffee drinks. Baking? Reduce the amount of butter or sugar, or make healthy baking swaps like using apple sauce or Greek yogurt instead.
We know, you’ve probably heard these a thousand times. But if you can make these small swaps day-to-day, you’ll spare enough calories for the treat foods you really want or to go into a calorie deficit (a.k.a. the key to weight loss). Making these simple swaps is the way to health-ify your eating style and lose weight without actually dieting.
Eat Some Dark Chocolate
Think sweets are the enemy of weight loss success? Not so fast: dark chocolate might just be your best friend for weight loss. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen fed healthy young men 100g of either milk or dark chocolate first thing in the morning, then had them rate their hunger level and fed them a meal of pizza two hours later. They found that the men who had dark chocolate were felt more satisfied after eating the chocolate, were less hungry, and ate less (17 percent fewer calories than the milk chocolate eaters) when offered pizza at their next meal.
Why? One study points to an antioxidant in cocoa that was shown to prevent weight gain and lower blood sugar levels in laboratory mice, while another found that certain cocoa extracts block enzymes from digesting carbohydrates and fats.
No, eating dark chocolate isn’t going to magically make you drop pounds. But if you need a sweet treat, reach for some dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate or something else high in sugar and calories. Over time, it could help you eat less and save calories.
If just the thought of heading to the gym makes you nervous sweat, don’t worry; you can find other ways to move that may result in big weight loss. If you regularly fidget while at your desk or lounging at home (getting up frequently, tapping your feet, wiggling your leg), you might be burning a substantial amount of calories just from these little movements—enough to be considered a way to lose weight or prevent weight gain, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The only bad news; your genes may play a role in whether you’re a “born fidgeter,” so if it’s not in your nature to keep your body moving, you’ll have to remind yourself to do it with an alarm or fitness tracker.
Beyond the occasional fidget, you can do simple things like taking the stairs and walking more to increase your overall daily calorie burn—no gym required. “Move as much as possible,” says Cederquist. “Wearing a Fitbit or another type of activity tracker is helpful for people to realize just how little many of us move.” Cederquist recommends hitting 10,000 steps a day every day for general health and well-being—no excuses.
We’re not kidding. Starving your body by consuming too few calories will not only leave you feeling sluggish and tired, but will also send your body into starvation mode.
“Inadequate intake of calories, especially protein, causes the body to breakdown muscle tissue to meet the needs for amino acids,” says Cederquist. “I have my patients focus on obtaining adequate lean protein and spreading it throughout the day.” Her recommendation: focus on 100 grams per day, which breaks down into three to four ounces of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and a few ounces for snacks.
“It’s important to get enough quality calories, not just calories,” says Cederquist. “If you’re eating too little, you may find you can’t lose weight, that you are losing your hair or your nails are brittle. You will also be tired and not have stamina.”
If you’re eating fewer than 1,200 calories per day, your workouts will suffer and the constant stress on your body can lead to muscle loss and slow your metabolism, as we reported in 10 Things You Don’t Know About Calories. If you’re trying to eat super healthy, you might be surprised at how few calories you’re actually eating—try tracking your daily intake with a food tracking app and make sure you’re fueling your body, not depriving it of nutrients.
Downsize Your Dishware for Portion Control
One sneaky thing could be causing you to eat as much as 29 percent more calories per day: the size of your dishware.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge looked at 72 studies and found that people consistently consume more food and drink when they are offered larger-sized portions, packages, or tableware than when offered smaller-sized versions. The data suggested that if larger portions and tableware were eliminated throughout the diet, Americans could save about 527 calories per day—that adds up to more than 3,500 calories a week or one pound. Translation: this could be undermining your weight loss or actually causing you to gain weight.
“Studies show we even feed our dog more when we serve him from a larger size dog food bag,” says Cederquist. “We judge how much we have eaten by how full the container looks, not by how much we actually have eaten.”
Swap giant dinner plates, bowls, and silverware for smaller versions, and pick up portion-sized packages of snacks instead of nomming straight from a full-size box or bag, says Cerderquist. You’ll be eating less without even thinking about it. Another pro tip: stay away from protein bars. “It is amazing to see that an entire well-balanced meal can have the same amount of calories as many protein bars,” she says. “But you are much more satisfied when having the variety of textures and flavors from a real meal.”
Get Some Shut Eye
Lack of sleep doesn’t just cause undereye bags, a grouchy mood, and an insane craving for coffee; studies on sleep continually show that a lack of sleep means a bigger appetite and BMI. For example, in a 2002 study of over one million people, scientists found a direct correlation between less sleep and a higher BMI for anything under seven hours/night. More recently, a 2016 study published in the journal SLEEP found that sleep-deprived people reported more hunger and had a harder time resisting unhealthy snacks—even when they had had a huge meal (that supplied 90 percent of their daily caloric intake) only two hours prior. The scientists said that sleep deprivation activated a similar system that’s targeted by the active ingredient in marijuana and enhances the desire for food.
Still not convinced to make sleep a priority? A lack of sleep doesn’t only affect how much and which food you eat, but also how it metabolizes that food. Insufficient sleep messes with your metabolism by making your body more insulin resistant—a condition that usually leads to diabetes and weight gain—according to a 2012 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
We know—getting enough sleep can be tough. But if you’re trying to lose weight while making the least amount of effort, think of more hours in bed as a substitute for hours in the gym. Doesn’t sound like a bad swap, right?
Makeover Your Environment
Now you know that your dinnertime TV show and dishware affect how much you eat—but did you know that your environment has an even greater impact on your noshing habits? The typical American buys and eats more than 80 percent of their food within five miles of their homes—a.k.a. your food radius—according to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. In his book, Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions, Wansink talks about various studies he’s done over the course of his research career that show how your food environment dictates your eating habits.
For example, in one study, they found that serving yourself from the stove or counter will prompt you to eat 19 percent less food than if the food platters are right in front of you, say, at the dinner table. Another study found that a person who has breakfast cereal on their counter weighs on average 21 pounds more than those who don’t, while other research shows that a generally chaotic or cluttered kitchen is linked to over-eating and indulging. This goes beyond the kitchen too; at restaurants, diners furthest from the front door are 73 percent more likely to order dessert and people who have snacks in or on their desks report weighing about 15 lbs more than those who don’t according to Wansink.
A good general rule of thumb for prompting healthy eating habits: make healthy options more readily available, and keep unhealthy options hidden, he explains in Slim By Design. Walking past a fruit bowl each day instead of a candy bowl or cookie jar just might save you a handful of calories a day—which adds up to a few pounds each year.
Reconsider Your Clothes
Thinking about your clothes might seem more like a post-weight loss celebration than a weight loss strategy, but research and experts actually suggest otherwise. “Ample room and elastic waistbands are not your friends, because they let you get away with ignoring your body, along with the warning signs that you may be eating too much,” says weight loss and fitness expert Jenna Wolfe in her book Thinner In 30. “Instead, stick with non-stretch jeans and clothes with enough room to spare but snug enough to remind you of your goals.”
At the same time, wearing clothes you can actually move in (read: not stilettos and a tiny pencil skirt) to work might help keep you active during the day instead of parked at your desk. A study by the American Council on Exercise found that people took an average of eight percent more steps on days that they wore jeans instead of conventional business clothes. You officially have a health excuse to ask for casual Friday every day.