To shed excess pounds, you must eat healthily and exercise regularly. That doesn’t sound sexy, but science proves that crash diets don’t work and weight-loss pills can’t replace nutritious foods.
There’s no shortcut to losing weight and keeping it off, but several tricks can help you choose healthier foods, consume fewer calories and train your brain to override temptations. Use these doctor-approved and research-backed hacks.
1. Keep Fresh Fruits and Veggies on Hand
When you’re craving something sweet or salty and you’re limited to the office vending machine or a cracker-filled pantry, you’re likely to splurge on candy or a carb-heavy snack—which sacks you with oodles of empty calories, spikes your blood sugar and won’t fill you up.
A fiber- and vitamin-rich orange or apple will satisfy your sweet tooth and your growling belly, says Deanna Ward, M.D., an internal medicine doctor at Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Danville Center. Vegetables do the same for salty cravings. Keep these foods easily accessible. Bring baby carrots or celery and nut butter to work, and keep a bowl of seasonal fruit on your kitchen counter or front and center in your fridge.
2. Eat Mindfully
“Many of us eat while working, watching TV or running errands, so we don’t experience the elements of food,” Dr. Ward says. To avoid gobbling hundreds of calories without even realizing it, “focus on your meal and the people sharing it with you,” she suggests. “Consider the sensations of sight, smell, texture and taste as you eat. Think about the emotions that your food evokes.”
This is especially helpful for emotional eaters. “Eating mindfully may help you stop and consider the emotion you’re feeling at that moment and whether food will really satisfy you,” Dr. Ward says.
3. Chew Food Fully
If you blaze through meals like there’s a prize for the first clean plate, you probably consume way more calories than your body actually needs. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register that you’re full, so focus on chewing your food slowly and completely, Dr. Ward advises. “Digestion begins in the mouth,” she says. “As you chew your food, the digestive enzymes in your saliva begin to break down food to allow for the absorption of important nutrients.”
4. Spice It Up
Add chili peppers and other spices into your cooking. Peppers contain capsaicin, a naturally occurring compound that research suggests may speed up metabolism and make you feel full. Work more spice into marinades, morning eggs and homemade soups and salad dressings.
5. Avoid Liquid Calories
Fancy coffee drinks, sodas, fruit juices, beer and cocktails are sneaky causes of weight gain from empty calories, Dr. Ward says. Plus, they go down quickly and lack fiber and protein to fill you up, so you’ll likely eat just as much food—or more, if alcohol lowers your inhibitions. Opt for water, hot or iced tea, seltzer or plain coffee.
6. Drink Water Before Meals
“Drinking a couple of glasses of water roughly 20 to 30 minutes before sitting down to eat will make you feel full faster,” Dr. Ward says. “Do this three times a day—before breakfast, lunch and dinner—and you can cut 225 to 270 calories from your daily diet.”
7. Start with Soup
A Penn State University study found that people who started their meals with a low-calorie, broth-based soup took in 20 percent fewer calories overall. To avoid extra calories and fat, choose something light like white bean and kale soup or miso soup with mushrooms and green onions.
8. Use Smaller Plates, Bowls and Glasses
Using giant plates and bowls can cause you to dish up and eat too much. One study by Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab found that folks handed a large bowl gobbled down 16 percent more cereal than those supplied a small bowl. It works the same with wine: When given jumbo wide-bottom glasses, people pour themselves—and drink—12 percent more wine than when using smaller, thinner glasses.
9. Brush and Floss After Dinner
Before settling in for after-dinner family or TV time, make a quick trip to the bathroom to brush and floss your teeth. “This will help keep you from snacking mindlessly before bedtime,” Dr. Ward says. Polished choppers and minty breath may also make dessert less appealing.
10. Buy Wrapped Candy
When trying to lose weight, the best candy is no candy. But certain situations—kids’ birthdays, holiday parties, work celebrations—call for the sweet stuff. If you’re going to have candy around, make sure it’s wrapped. Research shows that the miniscule effort required to unwrap food leads you to eat less.