You’ve cleaned up your diet and picked up your gym routine, but a stomach that’s churning and brain that’s begging for more are enough to make you go crazy. Dieting shouldn’t always leave you hungry, isolated, or pissed off. So we’ve rounded up a dozen of the simplest tips ever that will help you tweak your daily habits, allowing you to trim your waistline, shrink your cravings, and make those extra pounds disappear.
Raid Your Cabinets
No, we don’t mean ditching everything in your kitchen—just stock up safe zones and limit your junk drawers. If starting any diet, keep your healthy choices like cut-up vegetables, hummus, Greek yogurt, and fresh fruit at eye level or in easily accessible places and hide calorie-ridden indulgences so they’re out of reach, says Meridan Zerner, MS, RD, with the Cooper Clinic, a Cooper Aerobics Company. Maintain an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality: shelving your go-to options at arm’s length makes choosing a healthier snack physically and mentally easier, she advises.
Catch Some ZZZs
A thinner midsection might come from lying on your back. A solid eight hours of sleep keeps your emotional eating at bay. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that men who only slept four hours a night were more likely to crave sweet, salty, starchy, high-calorie foods than those who slept closer to 10 hours a night. Need help snoozing soundly?
Give it 100%
Eliminating your favorite treats completely is a recipe for diet disaster, so try the 80/20 rule. If you’re making good choices and eating clean 80 percent of the time, reserve “feel-good food” for the other 20 percent, says Zerner. Having one cheat meal a week—or maybe two—that you can slow down and savor will keep you from falling off the bandwagon with weekend binges.
Skip the Dip
Keep it clean. Cutting condiments will save you a few extra calories and decrease your body’s desire to keep snacking after you’re stuffed. When people added condiments—such as ketchup to French fries or whipped cream to brownies—they were more likely to overeat their indulgences than if they opted out of dips and whips, according to a study published in the Journal of Physiology and Behavior. We know a plain hot dog can be a drag, but think of all the calories you’re saving by not overdoing it with mustard, ketchup, and relish.
Find Your Why
The first day you hit the gym, or opted out of a slice of pizza, do you remember the reason you did it? Physically writing down what motivated you to start your transformation can serve as a reminder in tough times, says Ruth Wolever, Ph.D., director of research for Duke Integrative Medicine and coauthor of The Mindful Diet. (Maybe it’s to lose weight before your vacation or just so you can hang with your son on the basketball court.) “Write it down and keep it somewhere you can see it,” she says. Try posting a note on your fridge, or inscribing a dry-erase message on your bathroom mirror.
Ride Out a Hunger Wave
Still hungry? The old adage of giving it time—about 15 to 20 minutes—still holds true, says Patrick O’Neil, Ph.D., director of the University of South Carolina’s Weight Management Center. “Remind yourself that cravings are temporary,” he says. Often people mistake hunger for thirst or boredom, O’Neil says. Set a timer and do something else, even something as simple as watching television in another room. It’s not a matter of not thinking about food, but changing the scenery and shifting your attention to distract yourself from unwanted cravings.
Learn Your Food Cues
Establish eating zones and keep mealtime separate from drive time, working, or television when you’re strictly dieting. Researchers from the United Kingdom found that limiting your distractions during a meal also aided in feeling fuller and reduced snacking afterword. “Identifying where we eat can help figure if we’re actually hungry or just habitually programmed to eat,” says O’Neil. Establish a place like the dinner table at home or an office cafeteria where you can escape to eat, and save those spots only for eating occasions. Once you’ve cleaned your plate, walk away.
Two-for-one ice cream? A sale on your favorite craft beer? Save treats that you crave for special occasions and get them out of your house. (Chances are the beer is better on tap anyway.) Creating physical space between unhealthy options and yourself is the easiest way to limit your intake, says Kelli Friedman, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Duke University. And if the vending machine is luring you away from your desk too often, pop in a piece of peppermint-flavored sugar-free gum, says Friedman. The mint flavor has the same effect as brushing your teeth, making it difficult to enjoy the flavor of food right away.
Save competitive eating contests for the pros on the Fourth of July. When people ate at a slower pace they consumed less calories and remained fuller 60 minutes after eating, reports new research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Start slowing down by chewing your food entirely before reaching for another huge spoonful, says Friedman. Resting your utensils or counting to 10 between bites can also put the brakes on your pace, says David Sarwer, Ph.D., director of the Albert J. Stunkard Weight Management Program in Philadelphia.
Grab the Reins
Focus on what you’re trying to control versus the idea you can’t have something. Research from the Journal of Consumer Research reported that when people refused food by using the word “don’t” instead of “can’t” they were more likely to achieve long-term health goals. It’s not that you can’t have that beer tonight; it’s that you don’t want it—or the spare tire that comes with it. “Dieting doesn’t have to mean deprivation,” says Friedman. Putting a positive spin on your dieting decisions and emphasizing the importance of your long-term goal versus instant gratification leads to long-term weight loss, she says.
Just because you’re trimming fat doesn’t mean you have to trim flavor. Adding garlic, cinnamon, or cayenne pepper seasonings to your meals amps up flavor without adding too many calories, says Zerner. Not inclined to try the heat? More neutral spices like cumin, turmeric, and garlic contain anti-inflammatory properties that punch up flavors in low-cal dishes, she says. Not sure what spice to season with? Check out these 5 Spices Every Man Needs to Know.
Power Up Your Diet
Research from the International Journal of Obesity found swapping a bagel breakfast for eggs in the morning was more likely to satisfy hunger throughout the day if you’re on a diet. A smarter breakfast of lean proteins and healthy fats keeps you going the rest of the day without you hitting empty, says Wolever. Strive for one gram of protein per pound of your goal bodyweight, says MH nutrition advisor Alan Aragon, M.S.
By Gillian Francella