This article originally appeared in Cooking Light
In today’s digital age, there is infinite weight loss advice available at our fingertips. Some of it is legitimate, and some is legitimately bananas.
The problem with much of the latter counsel is that it focuses on short-term results.
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“Many adults are successful at short-term diets, and then as soon as they feel confident and feel they can ‘cheat’ their diets a bit, that indulgence becomes continuous and the weight starts to come back on,” says Jessica Krauss, an integrative nutrition health coach in NYC.
A better approach to weight loss involves lifestyle changes that are both doable in the short-term and sustainable in the long-term. Here, Krauss and three other nutrition experts share their top tips for realistically and smartly shedding those extra pounds for good.
1. Stay hydrated
Sometimes we confuse hunger with dehydration, explains Jess Swift, a Washington, D.C.-based chef and registered dietitian. Although daily hydration needs are individual and based on your weight, activity level, and where you live, the general rule of thumb is to drink between half an ounce to an ounce of water for each pound you weigh. For example, a 150-pound person should drink between 75 and 150 ounces of water a day. Not a natural imbiber? You can use a water app, like WaterMinder, or a smart water bottle, like Hidrate Spark, to track and up your intake, says Swift.
Also, when you down H2O can be just as important as how much you down. “The stomach is unique in that it can communicate directly with the hunger control center in your brain,” says Paul Salter, an Arizona-based registered dietitian and founder of Fit In Your Dress.
When special receptors in the stomach are stimulated by incoming food or fluid, they send signals to the brain to shut down any further hunger signaling, he explains.
To capitalize on this phenomenon at the expense of zero calories, drink calorie-free fluids (think: lemon water, sparkling water, unsweetened tea or plain ‘ol H2O) throughout the day, and especially pre- and post-meal. Salter recommends sipping between 12-16 ounces of fluid immediately before and after every meal.
2. Embrace cooking
“Sustainable weight loss starts in the kitchen,” says Jenny Markowitz, a Pennsylvania-based registered dietitian. The benefits, she explains, are fourfold. For one, home-cooked meals have less sodium, sugar, and fat, and fewer calories than prepared foods or restaurant fare. There’s also the idea that when you put the thought and time in to plan and prepare a meal, you’re more likely to devote equal attention when eating—and thus lower your chances of overeating. Another plus: when you’re the one in the kitchen, you can make better-for-you swaps or adjustments, like adding extra vegetables or dialing back the butter in a recipe.
And the biggest incentive, per Markowitz: “You develop a lifelong skill plus the confidence that comes along with it,” she says. “Both will help you navigate any menu, grocery store, or eating situation so that you’re informed and empowered to make decisions that work for your nutritional goals.”
3. Listen to your gut
You don’t need a psychology degree to understand that deprivation only increases desire. “When we’re talking about food, that often means bingeing,” explains Markowitz. “Restrictive dieting—limiting calories, avoiding ‘bad’ foods—just isn’t sustainable.”
A healthier, more realistic approach is to pay close attention to what your body needs. This means assessing your hunger cues, emotional state, and any outside factors (i.e. feelings or triggers) that may be driving your desire to eat.
“When you take a second to check in with how you’re feeling instead of just diving fist first into the cookie jar, you can make more informed choices to give your body what it really needs,” Markowitz says. This is a concept called intuitive eating, and it’s centered on the idea that you eat only when you are physiologically hungry, rather than stressed, bored or upset. With intuitive eating, nothing is off limits, and it’s about honoring both your desire for something nourishing and your desire for something more celebratory, says Markowitz.
“You’re satisfying your nutritional needs with appropriate portions at the times that your body wants them, and then addressing any emotional needs through other means,” she adds. Still feeling hungry after dinner and craving a cookie? Have one. Overwhelmed at work and suddenly ravenous for candy? Take a moment to do a couple deep breaths, drink a glass of water, and asses if you’re actually in need of a snack, or if you’re simply reacting to your stress.
“When you check in with your physical and emotional state before eating, you’re less likely to find yourself in that binge spin and more likely to find your body’s happy weight and to keep it there,” says Markowitz.
4. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating is not exactly the same as intuitive eating, but it’s another psychological practice that’s “equally as helpful when shooting for sustainable weight loss,” says Markowitz. As the name suggests, the number one goal of mindful eating is to be fully present and aware of food and how it makes your body feel as you eat it.
Before diving head first into lunch, for example, take a few moments to truly notice your food. This means paying attention to the smell, texture, and sensation of your food before your meal—as well as during and after. Notice how your body feels and if your emotions change.
The theory on mindful eating is simple. “When you take in the whole experience of eating—which can even extend to buying and preparing your food—and also take time to appreciate this as an act of self-care and investment in your health, you tend to enjoy food more and actually be satisfied with less of it,” explains Markowitz.
In other words, it’s about appreciating quality over quantity. “Even though the goal of mindful eating isn’t weight-oriented,” says Markowitz, “it’s a fantastic, sustainable method to keep weight in check.”
5. Stock your pantry and fridge wisely
Create an arsenal of fresh and convenience foods at home that you know fit your diet goals, recommends Markowitz.
“So much of what we put in our mouths is simply out of convenience, triggered by a quick glance and not fueled by hunger or desire,” she explains.
Instead of chips, candy and other processed snacks, pad your pantry and fridge with low-calorie, high-fiber and high-protein eats, like nuts, cut vegetables, fresh fruit, hummus and salsa. Keep sweet treats and other indulgences off of the counter and in the back of the cabinet.
6. Prioritize protein
Protein plays a major role in appetite suppression, explains Salter, as it triggers the release of several satiety hormones that tell your brain to put the fork down. Compared to fat and carbs, protein requires more calories to digest and absorb, which means when you follow a higher-protein diet (defined as more than 0.7 grams per day per pound of bodyweight, which translates to about 105g a day for a 150-pound person), you burn more calories throughout day, adds Salter.
On top of that, a higher-protein diet helps build and maintain muscle mass. Because muscle tissue burns more calories—even when you’re resting—than body fat, adding 1kg (about 2.2 pounds) of muscle to your body increases your metabolism by approximately 20 calories per day.
7. Fill up with fiber
Fiber is another proven weight loss aid. A diet rich in dietary fiber is rife with many waistline-friendly benefits, including improved digestive health by keeping you “regular,” increased satiety by helping you feel full and stay full longer, and controlled blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the adequate intake for fiber is 25g per day for women and 38g per day for men. You can incorporate more fiber into your diet by eating fresh fruits like raspberries, avocados and apples; vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts; legumes; oatmeal; lentils; nuts and chia seeds.
8. Meal prep like a pro
“The time you take to write out your grocery list and prep snacks and meals ahead of time will save you money and keep your healthy eating habits on track week to week,” says Krauss. Hitting the grocery store with a well-planned list will save you from unhealthy impulse buys and motivate you for a successful week of healthy eating.
Another benefit of meal prepping: the time it saves during the week can translate into extra time to exercise or sleep, both of which are essential to sustainable weight loss, Krauss says.
Her go-to meal prep ideas include storing smoothie ingredients in plastic bags and placing each bag in the freezer so all you have to do is grab and dump in the blender; preparing sauces, marinades, and dressings and keeping them in easily accessible glass containers; and making homemade trail mix and stashing individual servings in small plastic bags for an on-the-go snack.
9. Consider keeping a food diary
Simply writing down everything you eat in a day can help you curb your caloric intake and hold yourself accountable to your nutrition goals. In a 2008 study by Kaiser, food journal keepers lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t track their consumption.
Buy yourself a colorful notebook and set aside five minutes every night to jot down your meals, snacks and beverages.
The bottom line: Sustainable weight loss is about making permanent changes to your day-to-day routine.“Do not think of these changes as a diet, because that usually means a short-term solution,” says Krauss. “You are making long-term lifestyle changes for a happier and healthier quality of life.”