Diets that require huge amounts of willpower rarely work long-term.
When trying one of these crash diets, you will often find yourself feeling hungry and deprived throughout the day. Diets often feel like a joyless chore. At least that was the case for me.
I am a dietitian with a Master’s in Human Nutrition who struggled with weight gain and binge eating. That is until I incorporated these 7 little things that helped me lose 50 pounds in 5 months. With this way of living, eating, and thinking, I no longer need willpower!
Once I added these 7 daily habits, I was able to enjoy eating and feel satisfied, and I still lost weight.
Based on research and my own personal experience, these are 7 daily habits that help with weight loss:
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1. Mindfully Eating
If I could share one tip, it would be this- eat more mindfully. Mindful eating involves slowing down and listening to your hunger and satiety cues.
Mindful eating is about enjoying your food and eating until you are full. Therefore, mindful eating requires no willpower, and no food is off-limits.
However, you may notice you crave healthier foods more often. (More on this later). The first step to mindful eating is to pause and notice the smells, colors, and shapes before taking your first bite.
When you do take your first bite, try putting your fork down and focus on that bite. Notice the textures and flavors as you slowly chew your food.
Many of us start preparing our next bite while we are still eating the first one. When we are already preparing the next bite, then we really aren’t enjoying the bite in our mouth.
After you have finished the first bite, the next step is to take a sip of the drink. Now you can take another bite and repeat the process.
Eat this way and you will be surprised at how full you will feel. As the meal progresses, you will notice you are beginning to feel full and truly satisfied on less than you would if you hadn’t been mindfully eating.
Mindful eating not only helps with portion awareness and portion control but also helps promote gut health and may even reduce stress (1).
2. Learn to Crave Healthy Foods
Earlier, I mentioned that mindful eating can help you crave healthier foods more often than less healthy foods.
This new desire for healthy foods comes from pausing before eating each meal. When you pause before eating, first, you think about how tasty that meal is going to be. Next, you take a moment to appreciate what that meal is going to do for your mind and body.
As you pause, keep in mind that foods high in antioxidants, omega-3s, probiotics, fiber, vitamins, and minerals do the following:
- Reduce the risk of chronic, autoimmune, and neurodegenerative diseases
- Reduce the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
- Promote optimal brain function and improve focus and attention.
These nutrients (antioxidants, omega-3s, probiotics, fiber, vitamins, and minerals) are found in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, green tea, dark chocolate, cold-water fish, and lean meats or plant-based proteins. Many fresh herbs and spices also contain antioxidants.
Now, let’s look at what the pause before a meal would look like. Let’s say you are about to eat an omega-3-rich salmon fillet over a bed of antioxidant-rich spinach. Before you eat this meal, you take a moment to mindfully pause.
During the pause, you think about how the antioxidants and omega-3s in the spinach and salmon help fight cancer and chronic disease.
Then, you think about how the omega-3s are going to help your brain stay focused and alert. You take a moment to appreciate the fact that high intakes of antioxidants decrease the risk of depression and reduce feelings of stress.
Suddenly, instead of saying, “I have to eat vegetables,” you find yourself thinking, “Wow, I am so thankful that I GET to eat vegetables!”
It may sound simple, but I encourage you to give it a try.
Over time we can gradually change our mindset. When you consistently pause and think about the benefits of the food you are about to eat, you will soon notice that those are the very foods you are craving every day.
3. Eat Foods that Fill You Up
For weight loss to work long-term, you will most likely need to feel full and satisfied, while simultaneously eating less calories than you are currently eating.
The foods that will best fill you up are foods high in fiber and protein. Non-starchy vegetables are high in fiber and low in calories. When you add vegetables to every meal and recipe, you will eat more fiber and less calories per serving.
Whole grains are also high in fiber, so choosing whole grains over refined grains and sugar will help you feel full more quickly and for longer.
Other high fiber, low-calorie options are konjac noodles and Palmini pasta.
In fact, Konjac noodles are mostly fiber and water and are about 9 calories per serving. Palmini pasta is made from Hearts of Palm and are only 20 calories per serving.
Protein foods are also super filling, but some protein foods are lower in calories than others. Lower-calorie protein foods include animal-based protein, like lean chicken and turkey, and healthy plant-based proteins, like chickpeas, nuts, seeds, beans, and nutritional yeast. These plant-based proteins are also high in fiber!
4. Limit Foods that Don’t Feel You Up and Provide Little Nutritional Value
Sometimes our bodies crave less-nourishing foods. Maybe you are craving food for nostalgic reasons. Maybe you are craving milk and cookies because they make you think of giggling with your sister in front of your favorite sitcom.
Or maybe you just love the taste of milk and cookies. Whatever the reason, sometimes we crave less healthy foods. With mindful eating, no food is off-limits. Mindful eating helps you enjoy your favorite treats without binging.
However, when we consistently mindfully pause before each meal, we tend to crave those less-nutritious foods less often.
Let’s use a packaged pastry as an example. Let’s pretend that the packaged pastry makes you think of joyful celebrations with your family.
You pause and take a moment to feel thankful.
Next, you think of the health benefits.
You remember that if you ate ultra-processed and refined sugar on a regular basis, you would increase your risk of a multitude of conditions including cancer, diabetes, and brain fog.
You also realize that this food is not going to fill you up, which means you are going to need to eat more and soon. You may decide to mindfully enjoy that pastry, but you probably won’t crave it for a while.
When you are craving empty-calorie food, mindfully eat it, but I encourage you to keep the more nourishing foods in your house and keep the less nourishing foods out.
Refined carbohydrates, sugar, ultra-processed foods, and fried foods do not fill you up and increase your risk of Alzheimer’s, cancers, mood disorders, brain fog, and many chronic diseases.
Plus, your body must work harder to digest and absorb whole foods compared to ultra-processed foods (2). In other words, your body will burn more calories when digesting and absorbing whole foods compared to ultra-processed foods.
Sugar promotes weight gain as well. Sugar causes insulin levels to spike and promotes fat storage.
5. Eat Foods that Promote a Better Mood
One major barrier to weight loss is emotional eating. Emotional eating can increase our cravings for empty calories and increase our desire to binge eat.
Stress is often a contributor to emotional eating, but stress can also contribute to weight gain due to another reason. Stress increases cortisol levels. Cortisol increases the risk of weight gain, especially in the stomach area (3).
The good news is certain foods promote a better mood; thus, reducing our stress levels and our desire to emotionally eat.
Those who eat an antioxidant-rich diet are less likely to develop depression and anxiety compared to those who consume very little antioxidants (4).
Anti-inflammatory diets are linked to a decreased risk of depression and anxiety as well. Anti-inflammatory foods include foods rich in omega-3s, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and probiotics. Do those nutrients sound familiar?
Pro-inflammatory foods like sugar, fried foods, and ultra-processed foods have been linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety and have been shown to contribute to weight gain (4).
The bottom line is eating foods that promote a better mood and limiting foods that have a negative effect on our mood promotes weight loss and weight maintenance goals.
6. Add a Physical Activity You Enjoy on Most Days
When we burn more calories than we consume, we lose weight. Exercise helps us burn more calories, but if we don’t like it, we are less likely to do it. However, exercise doesn’t have to be boring and no fun. So, find a physical activity or two or three that you love, and do at least one of them on most days.
Fun Physical Activity Ideas:
- Walk or run through nature
- Paddle Board or kayak
- Play a rec sport like soccer, basketball, racquetball, or tennis
- Ride a bike
- Play an interactive video game
- Resistance training
Exercise doesn’t have to be done all at once. You can also sneak in exercise throughout your day.
Below are easy ways to sneak in more physical activity:
- Park far away in the parking lot.
- Take the elevator instead of the stairs, whenever possible.
- If you have a desk job, set a timer to go off every hour. When the timer goes off, do 10 jumping jacks.
- While watching T.V., walk-in place during commercials.
7. Get a Good Night’s Sleep on Most Nights
Lack of sleep has been shown to increase the risk of weight gain, chronic disease, and stress as well as increase cortisol levels. Adequate sleep also promotes gut health, supports the immune system, and increases brain function.
Certain foods and drinks can help you feel calm and relaxed before bed, which promotes better sleep.
Tart cherry juice naturally contains the sleep hormone, melatonin. Warm green tea and chamomile tea also promote feelings of calm and relaxation.
Summary on How I Lost 50 Pounds In 5 Months
I am a registered dietitian who lost 50 pounds when I incorporated the above 7 daily habits. These habits involved mindfully eating nutritious, filling, lower-calorie meals on most days.
I also incorporated a physical activity that I loved into my daily routine. Sleep was crucial for my weight loss journey as well. And although I continue to mindfully eat less-nutritious treats on occasion, I focus on eating the foods that are going to benefit my mind and body on most days.
So, in summary, the best ways to lose weight, based on my personal weight loss journey include the following:
- Eat foods high in fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and omega-3s. These foods promote optimal health, help with feelings of fullness, and help our mood and cortisol levels. Eating meals high in fiber and protein and lower in calories are going to help you lose weight while still feeling full and satisfied.
- Foods that can help with weight loss and promote optimal health include, vegetables, fruit, whole grains, green tea, dark chocolate, cold-water fish, like salmon and tuna; and lean meats or plant-based proteins, like nuts, seeds, legumes, and nutritional yeast. Fresh herbs and spices like garlic, turmeric, cinnamon, parsley, and ginger also contain antioxidants.
- Mindful eating helps us feel full and satisfied with less food than we would if we hadn’t mindfully eaten.
- Mindful eating also helps us crave healthy foods more often and unhealthy food less often.
- Keep healthy foods in the house and less healthy foods out of the house.
- Add physical activity you enjoy to most days. Find something you love to do or find ways to sneak in exercise throughout the day.
- Adequate sleep aids in weight loss. Certain drinks can help promote feelings of calm. These drinks include tart cherry juice, green tea, or chamomile tea.