Starting a new diet? Julie Enga, dietitian at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield, has a few simple words of advice: “Don’t go on a diet.”
Why not? After all, weight loss may help you live a healthier life. While Enga agrees, she adds, “fixating on weight loss often leads you down the wrong path.”
In fact, studies show that dieting is a consistent predictor of future weight gain External Site. Rather than dieting, Enga suggests aiming to live a healthier, more active lifestyle. “Think about nourishing your body and moving more,” she says. Here are eight simple tricks to make your journey easier:
Drink two cups of water 30 minutes before you eat
Drinking more water is an easy, painless way to cut your portions, help you feel full and stave off hunger to keep you from overeating. “We often mistake thirst for hunger,” says Enga. “It’s just a good idea to keep a water bottle on hand and refill it regularly.”
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) includes all the ways you stay active when you’re not eating, sleeping or exercising. “For most of us, this is the majority of our day,” says Enga. “Being active throughout the day could be the difference between remaining the same weight and losing weight.” Try these tips:
- If you have a desk job, take frequent walking breaks.
- If you’re at home, walk the dog, play with the kids, or get some steps in when talking on the phone.
- Throughout the day, park far away from buildings and take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Wear a pedometer to track steps throughout the day, aiming for 10,000 steps.
Sleep 7-8 hours every night
Sleep is often underrated, but when it comes to your health, it is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. In fact, research has found a persistent link between lack of sleep and weight gain External Site. One way to get more sleep is by setting a bedtime alarm on your smartphone, to serve as a signal to turn off the television or put away electronics. If you are constantly tired or unable to sleep, try these tips.
Brush your teeth after dinner
If you have problems with late-night snacking, brush and floss your teeth immediately after dinner. This serves as a signal that you’re done eating for the day. As an added bonus, it’s one less thing you have to do before bedtime. Another way to avoid late-night munchies is to consider your kitchen “closed” after dinner. You can even post a sign if it helps. The idea is to declare the space off limits, to prevent mindless late-night munching.
Chew sugar-free gum
This little trick isn’t going to yield dramatic results, but is a handy tool if you want to reduce cravings for unhealthy snacks. Opt for xylitol-sweetened External Site chewing gum, as studies have shown it boosts dental health and prevents tooth decay External Site. However, be sure to keep xylitol-sweetened products out of reach of your pets. While xylitol is a safe sugar substitute for humans and many animals, it is highly toxic to dogs.
Find an accountability partner
For many people, answering to someone else is the ticket to meeting health and fitness goals. Hire a personal trainer or meet a friend for early morning walks or runs. You can even join or start your own accountability group.
Try the “apple” trickKeep an apple in your purse, at your desk or in your car. When you’re faced with a tempting snack, like the donuts in the break room or the pastries at the coffee shop, ask yourself: “If this item was an apple, would I still be hungry?” If the answer is yes, eat the apple instead of the unhealthy item. If the answer is “no,” then you are not really hungry. Of course, you can substitute an apple for any other fruit or vegetable that you like but are not tempted to overeat.
Abide by the 80/20 rule
“This is a good goal for people who are looking to sustain a healthy lifestyle change,” says Enga. “The basic idea is to eat healthy foods 80 percent of the time. Then, you can indulge a bit 20 percent of the time. Overall, remember healthy eating is a combination of many foods — and, quite frankly, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of those foods that aren’t considered healthy.”
The bottom line
Remember that there simply are no quick fixes. “I’ve said it a thousand times, but it’s worth repeating,” says Enga. “It isn’t what you eat on any single day. It’s the habits you change over time that will make a difference. Focus on small changes you can make over the long haul.”
One final word of advice? “When you fall off the wagon — and you will — don’t be too hard on yourself. Just get back up and start again,” says Enga. “Remind yourself that the kind of change worth having is going to take time,” she adds. “Be kind to yourself."