Nobody likes counting calories and trying to lose weight. If you’ve tried it you may have found it’s slow, grinding and frustrating. Lose three pounds. Gain two. Repeat.
But 32% of the population are overweight and another 40% are actually obese. And shedding the pounds is great for your health, as well as your self-esteem.
Recent research suggests that Americans are not getting the message that they need to change their eating habits.
U.S. diets are too reliant on food that contributes to heart disease and obesity, according to a 2019 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association.
The researchers analyzed the eating habits of 44,000 people gleaned from government-health surveys from 1999 to 2016.
The good news? You can cheat at dieting, sort of.
Everybody who’s looked at those little screens in their office elevator knows there is a new scientific study every day that overturns the one from yesterday. Everything that used to be good for you might be bad for you, and vice-versa.
But, subject to that, here are 10 hacks, tricks or work-arounds that, according to scientific research, may help you if you’re struggling.
1. Weigh yourself every day
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing and University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine tracked 1,042 middle-aged adults over the course of a year. They presented the results to the American Heart Association last fall. In a nutshell: Just the act of weighing yourself every day helps weight loss. Participants who never weighed themselves, or weighed themselves only once a week, ended up losing no weight over the twelve months.
Those who weighed themselves every day lost nearly 2% of their body weight. No, it’s not magic, say researchers. Monitoring your weight daily keeps you aware of what you’re eating, and how much you’re exercising, and how that is affecting your waistline in real time. “Get a scale,” says David Levitsky, a nutrition expert and professor of human ecology at Cornell University. “Put it right next to your bed, and weigh yourself every day.”
2. Keep a food diary
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re using a notebook or a smartphone app, say researchers. What matters is making sure you record every single thing you eat every day. A recent study by Duke University found that people who tracked their daily food intake lost a healthy six pounds on average in three months, regardless of what diet they chose to follow. This follows a Kaiser Permanente study that suggested keeping a daily food diary could double the average weight loss.
3. Go to bed earlier
Struggling to shed the fat? Try getting more sleep. Ten overweight, middle-aged people took part in this experiment at the University of Chicago’s Sleep Research Laboratory. Over a two-week period, each participant ate a strict, balanced, calorie-controlled diet and got a healthy seven and a half hours sleep per night. In another two-week period, each participant ate the same diet, but only got about five and a quarter hours sleep per night. The result? In both cases they lost about the same amount of weight, around six pounds.
But when they got a good night’s sleep they ended up losing twice as much body fat as when they didn’t. When they were sleep-deprived, most of the weight loss was muscle. Scientists now believe skipping on sleep can change your body’s production of certain hormones, making you feel hungrier and causing you to store more fat.
4. Wear earplugs at night
Maybe. But this isn’t totally crazy. That’s because it’s not enough to get enough sleep. You also want to get good sleep. Some studies, including this one conducted in Switzerland, have found there may be a connection between the amount of traffic noise near your home and long-term weight gain. One likely reason, say researchers: The noise may be interrupting your sleep, and either waking you up during the night, or preventing you from getting enough of the “deep” sleep your body really needs. So if you live near a busy road, or on the flight path for an airport, earplugs may help your diet by helping your sleep.
5. Skip a meal a day
This one trick can sharply reduce your overall calorie count, say researchers. Why? Because we don’t make up for the lost calories during the rest of the day. “When you examine the literature critically, you find that we don’t compensate,” says David Levitsky, professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University. “When you skip breakfast, at lunch you may eat a little bit more, but you don’t make up the calories.” You might skip breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
6. Fast for two days a week
British doctor Michael Mosley sparked a massive dieting wave seven years ago when he launched the so-called “Fast Diet.” It’s better known as the “5:2” diet, because it involves eating normally five days a week, and eating very little for the other two. Someresearch, as well as plenty of anecdotes, say it works. Other research suggests it may be no better for weight loss than regular diets.
But, says Cornell’s professor Levitsky, it may work for the same reason skipping a meal does: It may simply be a convenient way of reducing calories. During the days when you eat normally, you probably won’t make up for all the calories skipped on the days you fast. And, say many fans, it is easier to fast two days a week than to count calories obsessively for all seven.
7. Buy smaller plates
If this sounds silly, think again. Several years ago, researchers at Cornell University sent out free tableware to more than 300 families in the Syracuse, New York area. Half the families got small plates. The other half got big plates. The result? Over four months, those who got the smaller plates lost nearly three pounds more, on average, than the others. The small-plate theory is controversial. Some studies have found that smaller plates cause us to eat smaller portions. Other studies have questioned that. But a recent survey of more than fifty such studies concluded that smaller plates really do work, and persuade us to eat less. How easy is that?
8. Drink water before every meal
Researchers at the University of Birmingham in England recruited 84 obese adults to a 12-week study. About half the participants drank half a liter of water half an hour before every meal. The other half didn’t. The result? Those who drank the water lost about four pounds more than those who didn’t. If it sounds too simple to be true, think again. The water stretches the stomach and tricks your brain into thinking you’re fuller than you really are, say researchers.
9. Get some support
Maybe it just involves going to a weekly Weight Watchers US:WTW meeting. Or maybe it’s getting regular counseling, or having regular meetings with a nutritionist. A recent survey of nearly 100 weight loss programs by the U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce, a medical team supported by the federal government, found that this kind of support structure is a key factor for success when trying to lose weight. Those who attend regular meetings are more likely to lose the weight and keep it off.
10. Find healthy foods you love
If your diet is all about denial and going without, no wonder it’s such hard work. “Counting calories is not what’s going to stick in the long run,” says Sally Willis-Stewart, a health and nutrition expert at the University of British Columbia in Canada. “As soon as we restrict something, people feel deprived.” If you want to lose weight and keep it off, she says, healthy eating needs to be fun and enjoyable. That’s essential. The one thing experts agree on: The best diet is the one you’ll stick with.