Maybe your button-down shirts are starting to feel a little too snug or you’re stressing out about the imminent return of bathing suit season. Whatever your motivation, you’re convinced that it’s time to make a change — but the thought of overhauling your diet makes you cringe. While losing weight ultimately comes down to eating less and moving more, you don’t necessarily have to deprive yourself when it comes to the diet part. Follow these five tips and the only thing you’ll be missing is that muffin top.
1. Cheer up.
Anyone who’s ever dived into a pint of ice cream after a late night at work knows a rough day can ruin the best intentions to eat healthfully. Now, a new study from the Journal of Consumer Psychology proves what many of us already suspected: Researchers found that people in good spirits were more apt to choose nutritious foods than those who were feeling down. “When we’re in a good mood, we tend to step back and see the big picture, so it’s easier to do something that’s in our long-term best interest,” says study co-author Meryl Gardner, Ph.D., an associate professor of marketing at the University of Delaware. “Being in a bad mood triggers a focus on what’s going on right around you, which means seeking immediate gratification — so it becomes all ‘hello, doughnut!'”
Can’t convince yourself to see the sunny side of life at the moment? Gardner suggests gazing toward the future, and you don’t necessarily have to focus on a health goal. “In the supermarket, let your mind wander and think about what the store may look like in five years,” she says. “Or, as you’re considering what snack to have, think about what kind of junk foods may be the next big trend.” Looking ahead might help you put those immediate wants into perspective.
2. Slow your pace.
Nutrition experts have long advised against wolfing down your food, because the brain needs some time to process that “I’m full” message. If you’ve tried eating slowly but the contents of your plate still seem to disappear in a flash, you may need a little extra help. Enter the HAPIfork, a utensil that’s equipped with an electronic sensor. It measures how long it takes you to eat a meal and lights up and vibrates whenever you’re chowing down too quickly.
3. Nibble on filling fruits.
While this food group is healthy, it can still give you your sugar fix. Try snacking on lingonberries, Scandinavian berries, which are similar to cranberries and just might be the next “superfruit.” Recent research published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that eating lingonberries almost completely blocked the effects of a high-fat diet by preventing weight gain and keeping blood sugar levels down. Admittedly, there is a catch: The scientists made this discovery by studying mice, so it’s too early to definitively say if humans will reap the same benefits. But it is known that the berries are a healthy snack, thanks to their high content of polyphenols (a type of antioxidant). Try sprinkling a handful of frozen ones — you can order them online — into your cereal or smoothies. Or pick up some lingonberry juice at a local retailer.
4. Text your progress.
Keeping a food diary is a tried-and-true weight loss technique, as recording every morsel forces you to be more conscious of what you’re putting into your mouth. But it can also be tedious, making it tough for people to stick with it. Replying to a quick daily text message, on the other hand, is much easier. In a study from Duke University, overweight women shed a few pounds by simply reporting (via text) some basic info, such as the number of steps they walked daily and whether or not they consumed fast food.
“Most people have difficulty sticking with detailed monitoring of how much they eat and how much they exercise,” says lead author Dori Steinberg, Ph.D. “We tried to keep the tracking via text messaging simple, which is likely why it was effective.” To make this work for you, ask a friend, family member or even your trainer to text you a daily question about your diet or exercise goals. “Having that accountability can be incredibly helpful,” says Steinberg.
5. Go to bed.
Numerous studies have found a connection between insufficient sleep and obesity, but a recent study from the University of Colorado, Boulder found that you could do serious damage to your waistline in just five nights. “People who had five-hour sleep opportunities per night across a simulated workweek gained nearly two pounds,” says study co-author Kenneth Wright, Ph.D., director of the University’s Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory. Lack of shuteye can interfere with your metabolism and prompt you to eat more — especially mindlessly in the evening while watching TV or surfing the web. The takeaway: Make getting a good night’s rest a priority. “Sleep is as important for your health as a good diet and physical activity,” says Wright.
Instead of dreading the start of a diet as summer approaches, try making these healthy changes in order to lose weight without depriving yourself.