Get expert-backed healthy eating tips to help you reach your goals
If you’ve ever tried to lose weight (and who hasn’t), you’ve got to be mindful of whose advice you take. Your colleague says you need to cut out carbs. Your gym buddy knows the secret is to stop eating after 7 p.m. Your Facebook friend swears she’ll be in swimsuit shape by March if she only eats once a day. Your husband, well, he sneezes and the weight seems to fall off.
But do any of these tips really work? To help you shed those extra pounds—and keep them off—without starving yourself, ditching your social life, or eating only at odd times of the day, we talked to experienced nutritionists for real-world advice you can actually live with, day in and day out. We’ll tell you how to focus on the delicious foods you can add to your diet, why you should be eating more often (yes!), the fat loss benefits of more sleep, and how even taking a few deep breaths can put you on a successful path to weight loss.
Here, the 25 best diet tips of all time. Say buh-bye to hunger and hello skinny jeans.
1. Never get too hungry
You make poor decisions when your judgment is compromised. Hunger is a primal urge that’s difficult to deny. When you’re famished, it’s hard to hold off until you can find healthy food. As a result, you end up eating anything that’s not nailed down, and typically, regretting it. Planning meals and snacks works wonders to head off the intense hunger that can do a number on your best intentions to eat right. Always tote healthy snacks, such as an ounce of pistachios, a hard-cooked egg and some whole grain crackers, Greek yogurt, or 1/4 cup raisins. Don’t skip meals or skimp on them, either.
2. Be honest about your daily calorie allowance
Everyone has a calorie budget, whether you’re trying to maintain your weight or lose a few pounds. I’ve found that people ignore this simple fact. Your calorie budget allows you to build a healthy diet, and it helps prevent frustration about weight control. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans provide suggested daily calorie intakes based on gender, age, and physical activity level. When you know your calorie budget, then you can plan on how many servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and other protein sources to include every day.
3. Eat right post-workout
People are notorious for overestimating how many calories they burn during physical activity, which is often far less than actual calories burned. When you overestimate the calories you burn during exercise, you may eat more than you need, making weight loss and maintenance difficult. High-intensity exercisemay drive women to eat more, and moderate exercise may be the key to easier weight control. To see how many average calories you’re burning during everyday activities and exercise, check out this chart from the CDC. You can see how easy it is to wipe out the calories burned during a workout with just a few extra nibbles during the day.
4. Use the red, orange and green rule
At each meal include one food that is any of these colors. By focusing on these foods, you’ll be sure to get some produce on your plate and won’t have space on your plate for higher-calorie fare. (Bonus: Colorful fruits and veggies help your skin look healthier and younger!
5. Eat one less bite
Doing this at every meal could save about 75 calories a day which equates to nearly an 8-pound weight loss in one year!
6. Be a heavy drinker
Water is essential for keeping the body hydrated and we’re actually more likely to retain “water weight” by not drinking enough of it rather than by having too much. The needs of each person will be different, but the general recommended daily amount is 64 ounces. It also takes up space in your stomach so you’ll feel fuller while taking in less calories.
7. Kick the salt habit
Salt is a big contributor to weight gain and often a reason why the numbers on the scale aren’t going down. The average American consumes twice the amount of salt they should have each day, leading to weight gain, bloating, and the inability to lose stubborn pounds. Salt can also make you feel hungrier and thirstier, so check the nutrition labels for high sodium levels and choose fresh over packaged or restaurant foods. You’ll see a puffy face and belly go down quickly just by cutting back on your sodium intake and choosing more natural foods.
8. Spice up your food
Adding hot spices to your meals can help curb hunger, according to a study in the British Journal of Nutrition. Need another reason to add some heat? Scientists at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that capsaicin (a compound found in chilies) triggers your brain to release feel-good endorphins. A full belly and a good mood? Pass the hot sauce!
9. Don’t think diet soda will help you lose weight
A University of Texas Health Science Center study found that the more diet sodas a person drank, the greater their risk of becoming overweight. Downing just two or more cans a day increased waistlines by 500%. Why? Artificial sweeteners can disrupt the body’s natural ability to regulate calorie intake based on the sweetness of foods, suggested an animal study from Purdue University. That means people who consume diet foods might be more likely to overeat, because your body is being tricked into thinking it’s eating sugar, and you crave more.
A separate study found that even just one diet soda a day is linked to a 34% higher risk of metabolic syndrome, the group of symptoms including belly fat and high cholesterol that puts you at risk for heart disease. Whether that link is attributed to an ingredient in diet soda or the drinkers’ eating habits is unclear. But is that one can really worth it?
10. Focus on nutrient balance instead of calorie counting
Making sure an eating occasion has carbs, protein, and fat instead of just counting calories (like a 100-calorie pack) delivers better energy and fat loss results by giving the body what it needs, like quick- and longer-digesting nutrients so you stay full longer.
11. Plate food away from where you’re eating
By keeping food within eyesight as you are eating, you may find yourself reaching for a second helping even if you really aren’t hungry. Place the food on the kitchen counter or stove, portion out a serving on your plate and then sit down at the table and eat. This way, if you want additional servings, you’ll have to get up, which helps you to be more mindful of what you are eating.
12. Keep a food record
We know you’ve heard this time and time again. Well, that’s because keeping a food record is vital to losing weight and keeping it off long term. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that those who kept regular food records lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. When keeping a food record, make sure to track what you ate, how much you ate, anything you added to the food (condiments, oils, etc.), and what you drank. Also tracking your mood and appetite can be helpful and insightful into learning about your eating patterns as well!
13. Start with soup
People who ate a low-calorie vegetable soup before a meal consumed 20% fewer calories at the meal, according to research from Penn State Unniversity. Have a low-calorie broth-based veggie soup before your largest meal of the day to reduce calories and lose weight without feeling hungry.
14. Take your time
Rapid eaters are often heavier than slow eaters, according to research from The University of Rhode Island. It takes 20 minutes for your stomach to send a message to your brain that you have eaten enough and are satisfied. If you rush your meal and eat rapidly, your body’s satiety cues won’t be tuned in to those feelings of fullness yet and it’s easier to overeat. Try slowing down by chewing each bite at least 10 times, putting your fork down in between bites, and fostering a relaxing eating environment rather than eating on the run. (What should you do if you’re dining out?)
15. Outsmart your hunger hormone
Even the most motivated and focused dieter will struggle to be successful atweight loss once hunger takes over. Our bodies secrete a hormone called ghrelin, which controls hunger and drives our appetite. If we don’t understand, monitor, and control our ghrelin, we can forget about losing weight. Science tells us that the best way to control ghrelin is to eat small, balanced meals about every 3 hours or so. That’s because ghrelin will spike after about 3 to 4 hours of fasting, so eating with regularity helps keep this eating trigger at bay. Ghrelin will also spike if we’re deprived of carbs, so it’s important to give our bodies and brains the carb fuel they need. When we skip meals or avoid carbs, we’re inviting ghrelin to spike, which increases and makes us feel emotionally hungry. It makes us crave sugar and can derail even the healthiest eating routine.
16. Dine anytime
It’s a myth that you’ll gain weight as a direct result of eating after 7 p.m. I see many busy professionals at my private practice, and they often get home late. This doesn’t mean that they should skip dinner if they’re trying to lose weight.
Many times, people stop eating by 5 p.m., which results in overeating the following day. This cycle is not ideal as it shuts down your metabolism. You should eat 70% of your calories before dinnertime and 30% at dinner, whatever time that may be. Just give yourself at least 90 minutes to end your meal before you plan to go to sleep. You need at least 90 minutes to digest so you can sleep comfortably.
17. Set a date with your kitchen
Based on what I have applied in my practice, when it comes to weight loss we need to devote 80% of our efforts to nutrition and 20% to exercise.
One way to do this is to schedule time and make a date with your supermarket and kitchen. Restaurant dishes are outside of your control, and the fact is, most times, those outrageous portions come loaded with salt and fat. Start cooking at home to better monitor your calorie intake.
Schedule a day, like Sunday afternoon, to pre-cook for the week. Plan to roast a whole chicken. Cut up a batch of vegetables—like squash, peppers, eggplant, and sweet potatoes—toss them with a little olive oil and roast them in another pan alongside the chicken. Boil a pot of brown rice. Do all of this simultaneously and it should only take about an hour.
Now you have the makings for Monday’s burritos, Tuesday’s stew, Wednesday’s pasta dish, and so on. Each working evening, you should only need about 15 minutes in the kitchen to put it together—less time than you might spend heating up a fat-, salt- and sugar-filled frozen pizza!
18. Breathe away cravings
This may seem obvious. After all, you have to breathe no matter what, right? But few of us breathe deeply or consciously. Think about it: when was the last time you took a long, slow, deep breath, and slowly let it out again? Deep breaths of that kind take you out of your immersion in momentary stress, oxygenate your brain and tissues, and they help to reduce stress hormones. Take breathing breaks throughout the day, or, better yet, pair those breaks with a quiet walk to disassociate from the stress. Just a couple of minutes of walking, a few long, deep breaths, and you will start to see the results in your body.
19. Eat before a party or event
Don’t arrive at a big meal, event, or party starving. One study found that you’ll be 2.5 times more likely to start off overeating starchy carbs, fried or cheesy foods than those who didn’t fast before the meal. And, you’ll be more likely to eat 47% more calories of that first food before switching to healthier fare. Have a light snack before you go to an event so you don’t arrive ravenous.
20. Be adventurous with chopsticks
Choosing chopsticks requires a bit more attention in picking up food from the plate. The portions are smaller, and eating with them takes more time because you have to closely watch each bite so the food doesn’t fall off. They can act as a reminder to slow down, savor and chew consciously which may help you realize you’re fuller sooner than you thought you’d be and then wind up eating less!
21. Wear fitted clothing
The elastic waistband is the dieter’s fashion enemy number one. When you wear clothes that fit well and make you feel good, you have awareness gauges that give you clear signals to help you put on the brakes as you fill up. Use this as a way of staying mindful of your goals and to help keep you from overeating.
22. Celebrate healthy talk
Instead of using words like “fat,” say “fit”; change “can’t” to “can”; “weak” to “strong”; “unhealthy” to “healthy.” It takes practice but it can start to rewire how you think about your health and weight goals.
New research commissioned by Special K surveying over 1,000 women, found that 9 out of 10 women who have a positive attitude about weight management reported either losing or maintaining their weight in the past year versus only about 50% of those with a negative attitude. And beyond being more successful, those with a positive attitude were eight times less likely to report having gained weight than women who think negatively.
23. Eat breakfast without fail
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition tracked the diets of nearly 900 adults and found that when people ate more fat, protein, and carbohydrates in the morning, they stayed satisfied and ate less over the course of the day than those who ate their bigger meals later on. Unfortunately, many Americans start off on an empty stomach. In one survey, consumers reported that even when they eat in the morning, the meal is a full breakfast only about one-third of the time. If you’re feeling full-blown hunger before noon, there’s a chance you’re not eating enough in the morning. Shoot for a minimum of 250 calories and aim to get a serving of protein in so you’ll feel fuller longer.
24. Take 10 minutes to eat a treat
Try this strategy to permanently reduce cravings: Portion out one serving of your favorite treat, taking a minute to smell it, look at it, and think about it. Take one small bite. Chew slowly, moving it around your mouth and focusing on the texture and taste, then swallow. Ask yourself whether you want another bite or if that one satisfied you. If you still want more, repeat, this time chewing the food 20 times. Continue this eating exercise for as long as you want or until you finish the serving (it should take about 10 minutes). “When you take the time to slow down and be more mindful of what something really tastes like, you’ll feel more satisfied,” says Lesley Lutes, PhD, an associate professor in the department of psychology at East Carolina University. “Many of our participants told us that after a while, they didn’t enjoy the treat as much as they thought they would, or they were content after just a couple of bites and were better able to stop eating when they were satisfied.”
25. Sleep away weight gain
Make a point of turning in earlier and you’ll see weight loss within a week. Recent research from the University of Pennsylvania found even just a few nights of sleep deprivation can lead to almost immediate weight gain. Scientists asked participants to sleep about 10 hours a night for two days, followed by five nights of sleep restriction and four nights of recovery. After the 11 days, the sleep-deprived group gained almost 3 pounds, compared with a well-rested control group.