Never Diet Again: 5 Mindless Ways to Build Healthy Habits

Never Diet Again: 5 Mindless Ways to Build Healthy Habits
Photo by Jan Vašek

Nowadays, “mindfulness” is the name of the weight loss game. You’ve heard the tips: Turn off your TV at dinner. Chew a million times before swallowing. Eat in silence. But sometimes life just gets in the way! And you know what’s easier than trying to live mindfully 24/7? Picking a few mind-less healthy habits you can work into your life without giving them a second thought.

That’s why researchers from the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab recently started the Global Healthy Weight Registry to track the mindless habits that men and women (who’ve never been overweight…lucky dogs) use every day.

“Most of these people just follow three or four rules of thumb — often that they don’t even think about — and those are what keep them…in control,” says study co-author Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design.

Apart from being way easier than counting calories and macros, or measuring serving sizes, their mindless methods may actually be more effective, too. After all, calorie obsession can backfire on you, Wansink says. Research suggests that you’ve only got so much willpower working for you — and if you’re using yours to count calories all day, sooner or later you might just give up. That’s when weight gain happens.

Ready to make maintaining a healthy weight so much easier? Just follow these five mindless healthy habits of the effortlessly slim.

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5 Insanely Easy Ways to Build Healthy Habits

1. Eat Breakfast
OK, here’s what you need to do: Wake up, eat breakfast. (And then hopefully take a shower.) It’s as simple as that and once you make it your routine, it takes absolutely zero thought. It’s as easy as brushing your teeth (which you also hopefully do every morning), and can make a huge impact in your ability to stay healthy. So much so that 96 percent of people in Cornell’s online Global Healthy Weight Registry eat breakfast. Every. Single. Day.

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“Eating a healthy breakfast sets you up for a healthy day of eating,” says nutrition and food scientist Danielle Starin, M.S., R.D., director of nutrition for the Nutritionix nutrition database. “By having a filling breakfast, you won’t be starving at lunch and won’t be as easily swayed by the cake in the break room.” Plus, eating breakfast helps get your body out of starvation mode in the morning so your body can start burning, rather than hoarding, calories, says Wesley Delbridge, R.D., a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For an added boost, Wansink recommends trading yogurt or cereal for an omelet or quinoa bake. Why? We tend to register warm meals as more filling, he says.

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2. Chow Down on Quality Foods
Forget counting calories. People who stay slim simply choose high-quality foods over junky ones, according to the Cornell research. “Think about 100 calories of potato chips versus 100 calories of almonds. Although it looks like you’re getting more food from the chips, you are more likely to feel hungry sooner after eating 100 calories of chips than 100 calories of almonds,” Starin says. “This is because the almonds are more nutrient-dense.” The almonds contain more fiber, protein and other health-boosting compounds. Meanwhile, the chips will just make you feel crappy, bloated and, in 30 minutes, hungry again.

Granted, it might take some thought to choose whole or minimally processed foods over less savory options — especially at first. But as you realize how much better you feel by eating this way, it will become automatic. You’ll eat those foods because just the idea of plowing through a sleeve of cookies makes you feel sick — not because you’re trying to “watch what you eat.”

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3. Eat at Home

“Two-thirds of slim men and women ate veggies at dinner every day, half included fruits and veggies in their morning meals.”

People who never struggle with weight gain tend to cook from home, says Wansink, who has studied the various ways restaurants and menus are designed to make you overeat. “Studies have shown that home-cooked meals are significantly healthier than similar foods from restaurants,” Starin says. And even if you do manage to eat healthy when you’re dining out, let’s be honest, it can become a bit of a chore. Can you not bring a basket of bread to our table? How’s the chicken prepared? Hold the oil.

To make cooking at home even easier than eating out, Delbridge recommends prepping your meals. Once a week, head to the supermarket with a list of all of the meals you want to make for the next seven days, focusing on ones that use similar ingredients. That way, you can use your bell peppers to make egg bakes, pastas and fajitas. Then, immediately wash, chop and cook up all of your meals at once, and divvy ‘em out to eat throughout the week, he says. Bonus: This tip will also save you serious time and cash.

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4. Exercise Regularly
One foot in front of the other — it can be as simple as a long, brisk walk. Bonus points if you can mix in some strength work, too. A whopping 90 percent of the men and women in Cornell’s Global Healthy Weight Registry exercised at least once per week and 42 percent exercised five or more times a week.

That might come as a surprise to anyone who thinks they can keep their weight down through healthy eating alone (weight loss is 80 percent diet, right?). But exercise is critical not just to burning calories in the gym, but for building muscle and boosting your metabolism all day every day, Delbridge explains. Case in point: In one year-long Obesity study of 439 women, those who ate healthy and exercised lost nearly 30 percent more weight than those who dieted alone.

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5. Build Meals Around Produce
It’s time to learn to love your broccoli. In fact, in the Cornell study, two-thirds of slim men and women ate veggies at dinner every day, half included fruits and veggies in their morning meals, 44 percent said fruit was their favorite snack food, and another 21 percent said nuts were their go-to snacks. Produce is clutch when it comes to weight loss, Delbridge says. Besides taking up a lot of space on your plate (leaving less room for macaroni and cheese), fruits and veggies are packed with filling, blood sugar-regulating fiber and require a ton of chewing. It may sound silly, but all of that chewing actually triggers the release of powerful satiety hormones in your brain to keep you feeling full long after your meal.

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To get more produce the mindless way, simply make sure to fill half of your plate at every meal with fruits and veggies, Delbridge says. And, no, it doesn’t have to be fresh. Frozen varieties can be a great, cost-effective way to enjoy produce that is out-of-season. Plus, since frozen fruits and veggies are picked when they are at their peak, you can be sure that you’ll get the most nutrients per bite, he says.

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