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Dreading going on a restrictive eating plan to lose the weight that somehow showed up over the past few months? (Years?) Don’t do it! Instead, lose the obsession with food and start using these other strategies to let the pounds melt off.
Change the focus of your workout
“Stop thinking about the pounds exercise is helping you lose,” says exercise physiologist Tom Holland, C.S.C.S., “and think about what you’re gaining by exercising. The benefits of exercise go far beyond a simple number on the scale—and even beyond what you can see in the mirror.” A stronger heart, a healthier cardiovascular system, the ability to race your kids up the steps and just being able to say yes to things—that’s what you’re after. Think of that first, and your motivation to exercise will surge as weight drops off on its own.
Simply getting the sleep your body wants can help you eat better without even trying. Research has found that people who extended their sleep to at least seven hours a night ate less sugar than they did before. A different study found that on the other side of things, cutting sleep short made people eat more at night and gain weight (as anyone who’s ever sleep procrastinated with a pint of ice cream won’t be surprised to learn). Those are far from the only two studies out there on this. The point: What your body really wants to be fed is sleep.
When you’re eating, just eat
When you put away the devices, you’re eating mindfully, says Sharon Richter, R.D., founder of the Richter Reco in New York City. “You don’t just shovel a whole meal down in 20 seconds because you’re doing 20 other things,” she says. It’s not just meals; Americans eat all the time without even noticing it. You may want to set up some rules for yourself that help you notice what you’re eating, Richter says, like “’No grazing,’ or ‘No eating while walking.’” Those rules alone can often cut significant calories from your day.
You don’t have to chew each bite 100 times, fortunately. But plenty of studies have shown that slowing your eating rate can affect how much you eat (even in kids, who were taught to take “turtle bites” in one recent study). Ways to do it that aren’t as weird as over-chewing: Put your fork down between bites or just don’t take another bite until you’ve finished the one you just took.
Figure out what’s in it for you
Get clear on why you want to lose weight. While men tend to keep their overall goals for everything else clear—you’re working long hours to get a promotion or more money—they often don’t think about the end goal when they’re faced with something they want to eat, says Deborah Beck Busis, director of Beck Diet Programs and co-author of The Diet Trap Solution. “So the first thing we have them do is make a list of the top five or ten most compelling reasons they want to lose weight,” she says. Put it in the notes on your phone or anywhere you’ll check it. “Then we have them read it at least once a day, every single day,” she says. If you’re not naturally inclined to remember why you don’t want the jelly donut when it’s in front of you, this is a great way to really keep your weight goals in mind.
Call out the tricks your mind tries playing on you
“Your heartbeat is automatic, and so is your breathing, but eating isn’t. “There’s always some thought that precedes every eating experience,” says Busis. Maybe it’s “I’m so stressed out, this will make me feel better,” or “my friends are going to really get on me if I’m not eating as usual during the game.” Prepare your counter-arguments ahead of time so you don’t get seduced by the moment. Jot down a list on your phone of what makes you eat more than you wanted (“I don’t feel like eating well”) and how you can counter those thoughts (“which do I not feel like more: eating well, or remaining overweight?”). The Beck Institute has tons of ideas for counter-arguments on Facebook and on its website.
Eat healthy fat throughout the day
Eating healthy fats throughout the day—like nuts, nut butters, and avocados—“make you satisfied so you’re not reaching for chips and extra calories,” says Richter.
Focus on what you can eat, not what you can’t
Two guys can go to a party with a giant dessert table, says Busis. “One man could leave feeling awesome and the other could leave feeling terrible.” One feels frustrated and deprived because he could “only eat a couple cookies, and there was so much other stuff I wanted!” The other decides ahead of time to have a couple cookies, enjoys them, and walks away thinking, “there were all these desserts and I stuck to my plan of enjoying two of them. I feel on track and in control.” Guess who loses weight and keeps it off.
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