These strategies can help you lose weight faster and keep it off.
Featured Recipe: Salsa-Black Bean Burgers
We live in a world where a cup of coffee—albeit a fancy one—can set you back 450 calories. It’s also a world where football-size burritos that pack 1,000 calories are the norm, and even home-cooked meals can balloon out of control. Is it even possible to lose weight in this modern society? Yes. Here are six secrets to help you slim down.
Secret 1: Plan Ahead
Featured Recipe: Chicken Burrito Bowls with Sweet Potato Rice
“What’s for dinner?”
This question should be a joyful one, not one that strikes fear in your heart. Plan dinners that you look forward to cooking and eating. Once you’ve decided what you want for dinner, plot out the rest of your day’s meals around it, including snacks. A menu plan for the whole day really does help you lose weight.
Perhaps meal plans are successful because they force you to keep healthier foods on hand. It could also be that seeing all the food you’ll be able to eat before the end of the day reassures your brain and helps you stave off cravings.
Planning ahead also helps you keep your eating on schedule: if you already know what you’re having for lunch, you’re less likely to let six or seven hours pass without having something to eat—a situation that usually results in eating too much when you finally do sit down to a meal.
Try These: Healthy 400-Calorie Dinners
Learn More: How Many Calories Should You Eat to Lose Weight?
Secret 2: Avoid “Portion Distortion”
Featured Recipe: Vegan Potato Soup
When you’re trying to lose weight, one of the best skills you can learn is accurately sizing up portions. Studies show that almost everyone—heavy people and thin ones, nutrition experts and normal folks—underestimates how much they’re eating. In fact, research shows that people tend to underestimate calorie intake by 20 to 40 percent.
Try these three easy tips to measure your portions without having to break out your measuring cups:
Three ounces of meat or protein is about the size of a deck of cards. A medium potato is the size of a computer mouse. A quarter cup is the size of a golf ball.
Use your hand
For small-framed women, 1 teaspoon is about the size of the tip of your thumb, 1 tablespoon is the size of your thumb and 1 cup is the size of your fist.
When you’re at home, you’re using the same bowls and utensils over and over again. Find out how much they hold. Measure out the amount of soup that your ladle holds. If it’s 3/4 cup, you’ll know forever that two scoops equal a satisfying 1 1/2-cup serving.
On the flip-side, you can measure out a given portion of a particular favorite food and serve it in the dish you’ll almost always use when you eat that food. Once you know that one serving of cereal reaches only halfway up your bowl, you’ll know to stop there.
Tip: Cooking individual-size portions like Chive & Goat Cheese Souffle, which is made in a 10-ounce ramekin, will help you control calories without even thinking about it.
Read More: 10 Simple Ways to Control Portion Sizes
Secret 3: Enjoy a Balanced Diet
Featured Recipe: Thai Yellow Chicken Thigh Curry
Of course, there’s more to good nutrition than counting calories. When you’re cutting down portions, you’re reducing your intake of helpful nutrients, too, so it’s even more important to make healthful choices.
Here are the five foods you should be eating as part of a balanced diet every day:
1. Whole Grains
Whole grains provide fiber, trace minerals and antioxidants and slow-release carbohydrates that keep your body and brain fueled.
Try These: Healthy Grain Recipes
2. Fruits & Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are low in calories but high in vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals—compounds that fight disease-causing free radicals and amp up enzymes that clear toxins. Choose a rainbow of colors to get the widest variety of nutrients.
3. Lean Proteins
Featured Recipe: Salmon Tacos with Pineapple Salsa
Some studies show that, gram for gram, protein may keep you feeling full longer than carbohydrates or fats do. Good sources of protein include: seafood, poultry, lean meat and tofu.
4. Low-Fat Dairy
Low-fat milk and yogurt provide a satisfying combination of carbohydrates and protein. They’re also good sources of calcium, which dieters often fall short on. Cheeses contain calcium, too, but it packs in calories. Choose cheese with bold tastes so you don’t need a lot to get great flavor.
5. Healthy Fats
If you fear the fat, it’s time to stop. The 80s fat-phobic era has come and gone, and today, we know that healthy sources of fat—like the kinds in fish, nuts and avocados—are good for your overall health plus your weight-loss goals.
The key here, however, is to focus on the good kind and avoid the bad. Focus on boosting your intake of monounsaturated fats (in nuts, avocados and olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (in canola oil, plant oils and fish).
Secret 4: Share Delicious Meals
Featured Recipe: Quick Shrimp Puttanesca
You probably won’t be very happy nibbling on carrots and cottage cheese if everyone else at the table is enjoying pasta smothered in cream sauce. Studies show that people lose more weight when they do it together, so boost your chances for success: enjoy real meals with your friends and family.
Crab cakes, steak, dessert—nothing is off limits when you’re watching your weight. Tempt your family and friends to join you on your quest for better health with our recipes for delicious lower-calorie versions of your favorite foods. After they see how great your diet is, maybe they’ll pick up your healthier lifestyle changes, too, and suddenly you’ll have a whole slew of friends to join you in your weight-loss efforts.
Secret 5: Move On From Slip-Ups
Featured Recipe: BBQ Chicken Flatbread
You planned out your meal, snacks and treats too. So you “shouldn’t” have felt deprived and you “shouldn’t” have binged on that pizza, but—guess what—you did. It happens. Making a plan helps, but it doesn’t ensure total success. What you really shouldn’t do is throw in the towel and go on an eating free-for-all.
The key to overcoming slip-ups is to forgive, forget it and get right back on track. Guilt begets more bingeing; don’t give in to that. Don’t fall into the splurge-and-then-skip diet—it’s not healthy or enjoyable and you end up hungry and guilty. Besides, punishing yourself with tiny meals doesn’t inspire healthy habits you can keep and enjoy throughout your life. Plan a week’s worth of delicious calorie-controlled dinnersso you can stay satisfied and happy.
Read More: How to Beat a Weight-Loss Plateau—Really
Secret 6: Treat Yourself
Featured Recipe: Bev’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
You love chocolate; you live for chocolate. But when you’re trying to lose weight, you aim for eating perfection. So you totally give it up and eat whole-grain toast, salad and apples instead. You feel virtuous because your diet is picture-perfect. But, for most people, it’s impossible to achieve every minute of the day.
Recognizing realistic expectations is the key to slimming down. Aiming to be “too good” sets you up to fail. Don’t deprive yourself of everything you love; just keep your little splurges in moderation and calculate them into your plan for the day. Dieting isn’t about perfection; it’s about balance.
So if you love chocolate, eat a little, or if you love wine, drink a little. Just make room for the calories by passing on something else—perhaps bread. In other words, prioritize.