New research reveals it’s not all your fault. In many instances, your environment is shaping what – and how much – you eat. While lasting weight loss and maintenance is extremely hard, here are 10 science-based ways to keep you motivated for long-term success:
Stress and tension cause a surge in the hormone cortisol, which increases cravings for high-calorie, sugary treats. Instead of turning to “comfort foods” to cope, turn to healthy stress-busters like exercise, yoga, meditation, visualization, getting outside in the sunshine, caring for a pet or calling a friend.
2. Downsize your plates and bowls.
Studies from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab reveal that we can trick ourselves to feel fuller on fewer calories by using smaller plates and bowls. For example, switching from a 12-inch plate to a 10-inch plate could cut how much food you eat by 22 percent – that’s enough to equal a lot of pounds lost in a year. Using larger plates and bowls not only encourages you to overeat, it may trick you into believing you just ate a puny portion. For most of my meals and snacks, I use appetizer plates and bowls that hold just over 1 cup.
3. Eat produce first.
At your meals, always start with a fruit or vegetable choice first and leave the more decadent items and dessert for the end of your meal. For example, start by eating your salad or cooked veggies before taking a bite of your pasta or burger. If you use this trick, you’ll naturally eat fewer calories as the filling fiber in your produce pick will help curb your appetite.
4. Keep blood sugar stable.
Your self-control is highly regulated by blood sugar levels, and when they drop, it’s harder to resist tempting treats. To keep energy and blood sugar levels stable, eat at regular intervals, include plenty of protein at your main meals and choose quality carbs and healthy fats. Strive to avoid sugary treats and alcohol because they cause your blood sugar to drop and cravings to spike.
5. Track your progress.
One of the best ways to stay on track is to use a diet and exercise tracker. Studies show people automatically start changing eating habits once they start monitoring what they eat and drink. In fact, one study found that dieters who tracked their diets lost twice as much weight than those who didn’t track their intake. I like online diet and fitness trackers like MyFitnessPal and have also used a handwritten notebook. Another effective alternative is using your bathroom scale to keep you on track. One study found that dieters who weighed themselves five or more times a week lost 20 pounds in six months on average.
6. Stop looking at food porn.
If your Instagram, Pinterest or Facebook feed is full of drool-worthy images or recipe videos of Nutella brownies, churro waffles or two-ingredient peanut butter ice cream, it’s probably making you hungry and craving high-calorie treats. Studies show that looking at images of decadent foods lights up areas in the brain that make you crave high-cal treats. Instead, unplug yourself from the food porn or know that looking at images of food can make you think you’re hungry when you’re really not.
7. Out of sight, out of mouth.
Everyone has certain “trigger” foods – those foods that when they’re around, you just can’t control yourself. For me, it’s things like peanut butter-filled pretzels, cheese and crackers, Swedish Fish and tortilla chips. As a result, I don’t buy these foods so I’m not constantly tempted by them. I save these favorite treats for special occasions. Here are other great tips to organize your kitchen for weight loss.
8. Make your own meals.
A home-cooked meal may be the best recipe for lasting weight loss. Studies show that individuals who cook less weigh more because foods prepared at home tend to be lower in calories, saturated fat and sugar than foods prepared away from home. You’ll also be less likely to binge on meals prepared from scratch versus chef-prepared items. To get in the habit of cooking more, meal prep on one weekend day so you have no excuses for not making your meals during the busy work week.
9. Get more shuteye.
Ever wonder why you crave sugary cereal, ice cream, French fries or pizza after a bad night’s sleep? When we skimp on sleep, it trips up our body’s natural hunger and satiety hormones, causing us to crave high-calorie foods. At the same time, lack of sleep limits our ability to exert self-control over foods we normally try to avoid. Studies show that when we get enough sleep, we actually choose and prefer healthier foods to junk food. While everyone has their own optimal sleep time, most sleep experts recommend that we clock at least seven hours of quality sleep every night.
10. Think progress, not perfection.
As a dietitian, I can attest that everyone slips up or has setbacks when it comes to eating right. If you pig out on pizza or binge on a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, don’t fret. Long-term success is not about achieving perfection. Try to stick to an 80:20 approach – eating right 80 percent of the time and allowing for indulgences 20 percent of the time. Everyone has setbacks, but those who get back on track quickly are more likely to achieve long-term success.