If you’re hoping to drop a few pounds for an upcoming vacation, the old “calories in, calories out” method can be effective. Combine a small diet with lots of exercise, and in the short term your body will plunder its fat stores in search of energy. You’ll lose weight—maybe even a lot of weight, depending on how much you were eating and exercising before you got going.
But veteran dieters know, and lots of research shows, that nearly all calorie-restriction plans ultimately fail. Most people gain their old weight back, and then some.
So, here are some no gimmicks, no lies – 13 science-based nutrition strategies to jump-start your journey to slim-ville.
1. Prioritize real, whole foods.
Make sure that everything you’re eating is whole — as in nothing processed or packaged. Since salt is a preservative, these are the foods that are highest in sodium — something to keep in mind when planning your meals. Plan on making sure that all items you choose are fresh: that means filling up on fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein.
2. Know your limits with salt.
When it comes by buying snacks, a “low sodium” product has to be 140mg or less per serving — so if you’re REALLY in a bind, you can follow that guideline for what to put in your card.
3. Go for that cup of joe.
Start your day with a cup of coffee. Caffeine is a natural diuretic and an excellent source of antioxidants, which protect your cells from damage. You can have up to 400mg — about a Venti Starbucks coffee — daily, according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Not much of a coffee drinker? Tea is also a natural diuretic, and types of herbal tea such as dandelion or fennel root can also lend a hand. In fact: When a recent study compared the metabolic effect of green tea (in extract) with that of a placebo, researchers found that the green-tea drinkers burned about 70 additional calories in a 24-hour period.
4. Skip sugary beverages.
Plain and simple: We just don’t feel full by liquid calories in quite the same way as we do real food. Drinking a juice or caramel-y coffee drink, for instance, won’t make you feel full the way eating a bowl of veggie-and-protein packed stir-fry will. So monitor your intake of juice, soda, sweetened coffee and tea drinks and alcoholic beverages. If you consume one of each of those beverages during the day, you’ll have taken in at least 800 extra calories by nighttime — and you’ll still be hungry. (Incidentally, alcohol may suppress the metabolism of fat, making it tougher for you to burn those calories.) Some other ways to skip sugar?
5. Buy a set of 5-pound weights.
It’s a one-time investment you’ll never regret. Here’s why: Strength training builds lean muscle tissue, which burns more calories — at work or at rest — 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The more lean muscle you have, the faster you’ll slim down. How do you start strength training? Try some push-ups or a few squats or lunges. Use your free weights to perform simple biceps curls or triceps pulls right in your home or office. Do these exercises three to four times per week, and you’ll soon see a rapid improvement in your physique.
6. Eat spicy foods.
It can actually help you cut back on calories. That’s because the compound capsaicin, a compound found in jalapeno and cayenne peppers, may (slightly) increase your body’s release of stress hormones such as adrenaline, which can speed up your metabolism and your ability to burn calories. What’s more, eating hot peppers may help slow you down as you eat, since you’re less likely to wolfed ow that spicy plate o’spaghetti (and stay more mindful of when you’re full). Some great ones (with additional benefits): Ginger, turmeric, black pepper, oregano and jalapenos, all of which are flavor top-trends for 2017!
7. Go to bed.
As funny as it sounds, sleep deprivation may make you fat — and not just because you’re susceptible to cases of the late-night munchies (although there’s that too). There’s tons of research that demonstrates getting less than the desired amount — about 7 hours — of sleep per night can slow down your metabolism. Plus, when you’re awake for longer, you’re naturally more likely to nosh (you’ll physically feel hungrier!) So don’t skimp on your ZZZs, and you’ll be rewarded with an extra edge when it comes to shedding pounds quickly.
8. Write it down.
Loads of research demonstrates people who log everything they eat — especially those who log while they’re eating — are more likely to lose weight and keep it off for the long-haul. It’ll help you stay accountable for what you’ve eaten. Plus, you can easily identify some other areas of your daily eats that could use a little improvement when it’s written out in front of you.
9. Take a hike (or a walk!).
Don’t get me wrong — exercising at any time is good for you. But evening activity may be particularly beneficial because many people’s metabolism slows down toward the end of the day. Thirty minutes of aerobic activity before dinner increases your metabolic rate and may keep it elevated for another two or three hours, even after you’ve stopped moving. What that means for you: You’re less likely to go back for seconds or thirds. Plus, it’ll help you relax post meal so you won’t be tempted by stress-induced grazing that can rack up calories, quickly.
10. Resist the urge to skip a meal.
Skipping meals will not make you lose weight faster. If a hectic day makes a sit-down meal impossible, stash an energy bar or a piece of fruit in your car or tote; stash snacks in your office desk-drawer and make a point of getting up to grab a nosh — anything that will keep you from going hungry! Going long periods of time without food does double-duty harm on our healthy-eating efforts by both slowing down your metabolism, and priming you for another binge later in the day. (Think: You’ve skipped breakfast and lunch, so you’re ready to takedown a whole turkey by dinner!) Make it your mission to eat three meals and two snacks every day, and don’t wait longer than 3 to 4 hours without eating. Set a “snack alarm” on your phone if needed.
11. Eat your H20.
Sure, you certainly need to drink plenty of water to help expedite the process of ridding your body of excess sodium. But that can (and should!) also be consumed in the form of high-water content foods. Reach for cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, asparagus, grapes, celery, artichokes, pineapple and cranberries — all of which contain diuretic properties that will also help you stay full due to their higher fiber, high water content.
12. Munch on mineral-rich foods.
Potassium, magnesium and calcium can help to serve as a counter-balance for sodium. Foods that are rich in potassium include leafy greens, most “orange” foods (oranges, sweet potatoes, carrots, melon) bananas, tomatoes, and cruciferous veggies — especially cauliflower. Low-fat dairy, plus nuts and seeds can also help give you a bloat-busting boost, ad have been linked to a whole host of additional health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, controlling blood sugar, and reducing risk of chronic disease overall.