Losing weight comes down to three main factors: exercise, food, and mindset
Our brains, more often than not, get in the way of our weight loss goals
Let’s face it—there’s no single, magical way to lose weight. Everyone’s body is different, which means everyone’s optimal diet is also different. But essentially, losing weight comes down to three main factors: exercise, food, and mindset. That last one can be the most challenging to conquer. Our brains, more often than not, get in the way of our weight loss goals, and make us think we’re hungry when in reality we’re just bored, tired, dehydrated, or something else. But your brain doesn’t have to be a diet saboteur; in fact, there are plenty of ways to manipulate yourself into achieving your weight-loss goals. Read on for a rundown of proven ways to eat less, painlessly.
Keep a healthy snack on hand
Fast food or something from a vending machine may call your name when hunger strikes on the go. But if you keep a healthy snack like an apple or granola bar in your bag or glove compartment, you won’t have to sacrifice your diet to silence a grumbling stomach. Even if you pass an ice cream shop when your hunger pangs strike, you should be safe: a study published in the journal Appetite found when people are craving something unhealthy, they’ll still snack on whatever food is most accessible.
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Keep a journal
Would you still eat that chocolate muffin if you had to log it in a food diary? Research says maybe not. A Kaiser Permanente study found people who kept a daily food journal lost twice as much weight over the course of six months than those who didn’t record their meals. Another study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that women who kept food journals lost, on average, six pounds more than women who were simply part of diet and exercise groups. Researchers believe writing down what you eat makes you more aware of food choices, and therefore encourages cutting the calories you’d otherwise sneak in.
Just keep chewing
Your Doublemint habit may help you keep off the pounds. One study discovered that women who chewed gum for 45 minutes after they ate lunch ended up keeping snack cravings at bay later in the day. Bonus: Sugar-free gum helps clean teeth by stimulating saliva production.
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Put a mirror in your dining room
Researchers at Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that eating unhealthy food in front of a mirror can make it taste less delicious. Watching yourself eat junk food triggers discomfort, since you’re suddenly very aware of the unhealthy choice. So if you’re seeking an easy way to boost your weight-loss goals, consider picking up a new decorative mirror for your dining room or kitchen. It could help you (quite literally) watch what you eat.
Pick your handbag wisely
Carry a clutch whenever you attend a party where there’s food (in other words, every party). Since you’ll only have one free hand, it’ll be harder to mindlessly snag unhealthy bites, explained Jessica Dogert, RD, dietitian at Fitness Formula Clubs Lincoln Park in Chicago, in a previous interview with Health. To really keep yourself from reaching for a treat, hold a drink in your other hand (something that’s not loaded with sugar, like seltzer). Of course, this doesn’t mean you need to totally deprive yourself at a shindig, but keeping your hands full will force you to make more deliberate, mindful food choices.
Curb hunger with coffee
You may think you’re just drinking your daily cup of joe for a morning pick-me-up, but in reality, it’s doing more than just giving you a caffeine boost. Drinking coffee can actually boost your calorie burn by 12%, according to findings in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Plus, it’s a natural appetite suppressant. But be wary of adding sugar and cream, since too many extras will kill your coffee perks.
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Count your bites
Counting calories can help you slim down, but it can also be time-consuming (and to some, frustrating) to jot down every bite. Try counting your bites instead, which a recent study found actually works. Study participants lost an average of 3.4 pounds over the course of a month by reducing their daily bites by 20 to 30%. Even just tracking how many times you bring your hand to your mouth to take a bite will help you be more mindful of how much you’re eating, which may help you drop pounds.
Three’s a charm
Whether it’s a gooey brownie a plate of cheesy nachos, go ahead and indulge—but limit yourself to three bites, advised Lauren Harris-Pincus, RDN, New Jersey–based registered dietitian, in an earlier interview with Health. “Slowly savor those three bites and you should be satisfied.” While showing enough restraint to only take three bites may seem insane, there is a method to her madness. Harris-Pincus explained the first bite will most likely live up to your expectations, but the second won’t be as good as the first. By the time you get to the third bite, remind yourself it’s not going to get any tastier, so you might as well quit while you’re ahead.
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Serve yourself directly from the pot
Rather than leaving serving dishes at the table where you can easily dip in for seconds (and even thirds), leave them in the kitchen—otherwise overeating is simply too convenient to resist. If you have to physically get up and walk to the kitchen for another helping, you’re less likely to do so. In fact, one study suggests you could end up eating approximately 20% less with this subtle trick.
Not only should you make sure overindulging isn’t convenient, you should also create actual barriers between you and your food. One study from Switzerland found even the most minor obstacles could help you eat less. Participants were told they could eat all the chocolate they wanted. When the chocolate was unwrapped, they ate an average of 5.3 pieces. But when each piece of candy was wrapped individually, participants averaged just 3.6 pieces. The simple act of unwrapping a piece of chocolate can be enough to keep you from eating more than you truly want—one of the few times being lazy actually works to your weight-loss advantage. So go for other challenges—snack on foods that take more effort to eat (like shelled nuts, edamame, or fruit with a peel).
Hide your unhealthy munchies
A Cornell Food and Brand Lab study found that women who stored soft drinks on the counter weighed 24 to 26 pounds more than women whose counters were free of sugary beverages. Similarly, women who displayed cereal boxes on the counter were, on average, 20 pounds heavier than those who didn’t. So rather than leave your snacks out in the open, make it more challenging to eat by keeping hiding them away on the highest shelf of your pantry.
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Stock your fruit bowl
Unlike junk food, you should proudly display your healthy snacks. The same Cornell University Food and Brand Lab study found people who kept a fruit bowl in plain sight weighed an average of 13 pounds less than those who didn’t. The takeaway: place a bowl on your kitchen counter and fill it with nutritious oranges, bananas, and apples.
Start out with a smaller portion
If food is on your plate, you’ll probably end up eating every last morsel, according to a Cornell Food and Brand Lab study. But these findings don’t mean your diet goals are hopeless—in fact, this knowledge can help you outsmart your own appetite. The solution is simple: serve yourself less food. Then go back for more if you’re still hungry.
RELATED: 14 Ways to Cut Portions Without Feeling Hungry
Swap out your dishware
Eating off smaller plates or plates that have a thick border could trick you into reducing the amount you eat by more than 20%, according to Cornell research. Having a smaller surface area prompts you to serve yourself less food and curb overeating.
Do some re-organizing
To make sure you actually reach for those smaller plates, make them super-accessible by moving them to your cabinet’s bottom shelf. Doing so will make you more likely to use them, and consequently more likely to drop those unwanted pounds.
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Create an optical illusion
Another way to confuse your noggin: choose plates that are close in color to your tablecloth or placemat, so they blend together. According to a study in Journal of Consumer Research, those who did so ended up serving themselves less. Researchers believe a monochromatic palette is a disorienting visual cue, making you more wary of piling your plate with food.
Supersize your fork
Plates aren’t the only dinnerware you can use to your advantage; the size of your fork could also affect how much you eat. One study found that people who used larger forks ate about 10% less food than those who used small ones. Researchers believe that since the food is gone quicker, your brain is tricked into thinking your belly’s filling up faster.
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Eat a breakfast of champions
Filling up on a hearty morning meal makes you less prone to snacking and overindulging later in the day. One study found that women who ate a large breakfast (around 700 calories) had a greater drop in ghrelin (the hunger hormone) than women who ate a smaller breakfast. Plus, eating a tasty meal in the a.m. will keep you from feeling deprived the rest of the day.
RELATED: 10 Best Foods to Eat for Breakfast
Eat dessert after breakfast
We’re not talking about chowing down on a massive slice of chocolate cake every day, but treating yourself to a small sweet after a protein-packed breakfast could help curb your cravings (and keep you from sugar-bingeing) the rest of the day. Israeli researchers discovered women who ate a small sweet after breakfast lost 38 more pounds over the course of eight months than women who ate a more traditional morning meal.
Skip the cooking shows
While you might be taking all the steps to set yourself up for weight loss success, your favorite cooking show could be sabotaging your best efforts. One study found looking at images of fatty foods could stimulate your brain’s appetite center and make you feel hungry. So if you’re trying to eat less, stick to sitcoms.
Eat before grocery shopping
We’ve all heard this advice many times before, but it’s worth repeating: never grocery shop on an empty stomach. In fact, research from Cornell University found that skipping meals before going hitting the supermarket leads to unhealthy purchases. The participants who fasted beforehand bought 18.6% more food than those who ate before the trip. Plus, the same group bought 44.8% more unhealthy products like chips and ice cream. Lesson learned: grab a snack before you hit the market.
For 27 more ways to trick yourself into feeling full, head to Health.com