If you’re feeling frustrated by a lack of progress despite improving your diet and exercise routine, it’s important to remember that weight loss shouldn’t leave you feeling constantly hungry, isolated, or angry.
To help you reach your goals without sacrificing your sanity, we’ve compiled a list of twelve simple and effective tips that can help you make sustainable changes to your daily habits, reduce your cravings, and shed those extra pounds.
1. Empty Your Cabinets
No, we don’t mean ditching everything in your kitchen—just stock up safe zones and limit your junk drawers. If starting any diet, keep your healthy choices like cut-up vegetables, hummus, Greek yogurt, and fresh fruit at eye level or in easily accessible places and hide calorie-ridden indulgences so they’re out of reach. Maintain an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality: shelving your go-to options at arm’s length makes choosing a healthier snack physically and mentally easier.
2. Don’t go 100%
Eliminating your favorite treats completely is a recipe for diet disaster, so try the 80/20 rule. If you’re making good choices and eating clean 80 percent of the time, reserve “feel-good food” for the other 20 percent. Having one cheat meal a week—or maybe two—that you can slow down and savor will keep you from falling off the bandwagon with weekend binges.
3. Skip the Dip
Keep it clean. Cutting condiments will save you a few extra calories and decrease your body’s desire to keep snacking after you’re stuffed. When people added condiments—such as ketchup to French fries or whipped cream to brownies—they were more likely to overeat their indulgences than if they opted out of dips and whips, according to a study published in the Journal of Physiology and Behavior. We know a plain hot dog can be a drag, but think of all the calories you’re saving by not overdoing it with mustard, ketchup, and relish.
4. Know Your Reason
The first day you hit the gym, or opted out of a slice of pizza, do you remember the reason you did it? Physically writing down what motivated you to start your transformation can serve as a reminder in tough times. Maybe it’s to lose weight before your vacation or just so you can hang with your children at the beach. Write it down and keep it somewhere you can see it. Try posting a note on your fridge, or inscribing a dry-erase message on your bathroom mirror.
5. Ride Out a Hunger Wave
Still hungry? The old adage of giving it time—about 15 to 20 minutes—still holds true. Remind yourself that cravings are temporary. Often people mistake hunger for thirst or boredom. Set a timer and do something else, even something as simple as watching television in another room. It’s not a matter of not thinking about food, but changing the scenery and shifting your attention to distract yourself from unwanted cravings.
6. Learn Your Food Cues
Establish eating zones and keep mealtime separate from drive time, working, or television when you’re strictly dieting. Researchers from the United Kingdom found that limiting your distractions during a meal also aided in feeling fuller and reduced snacking afterword. Identifying where we eat can help figure if we’re actually hungry or just habitually programmed to eat. Establish a place like the dinner table at home or an office cafeteria where you can escape to eat, and save those spots only for eating occasions. Once you’ve cleaned your plate, walk away.
7. Build Barriers
Two-for-one ice cream? A sale on your favorite red wine? Save treats that you crave for special occasions and get them out of your house. Creating physical space between unhealthy options and yourself is the easiest way to limit your intake. And if the vending machine is luring you away from your desk too often, pop in a piece of peppermint-flavored sugar-free gum. The mint flavor has the same effect as brushing your teeth, making it difficult to enjoy the flavor of food right away.
8. Pace Yourself
When people ate at a slower pace they consumed less calories and remained fuller 60 minutes after eating, reports new research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Start slowing down by chewing your food entirely before reaching for another huge spoonful. Resting your utensils or counting to 10 between bites can also put the brakes on your pace.
9. Grab the Reins
Focus on what you’re trying to control versus the idea you can’t have something. Research from the Journal of Consumer Research reported that when people refused food by using the word “don’t” instead of “can’t” they were more likely to achieve long-term health goals. It’s not that you can’t have that chocolate cake tonight; it’s that you don’t want it—or the muffin top that comes with it. Dieting doesn’t have to mean deprivation. Putting a positive spin on your dieting decisions and emphasizing the importance of your long-term goal versus instant gratification leads to long-term weight loss.
10. Hack Recipes
Just because you’re trimming fat doesn’t mean you have to trim flavor. Adding garlic, cinnamon, or cayenne pepper seasonings to your meals amps up flavor without adding too many calories. Not inclined to try the heat? More neutral spices like cumin, turmeric, and garlic contain anti-inflammatory properties that punch up flavors in low-cal dishes.
11. Power Up Your Diet
Research from the International Journal of Obesity found swapping a bagel breakfast for eggs in the morning was more likely to satisfy hunger throughout the day if you’re on a diet. A smarter breakfast of lean proteins and healthy fats keeps you going the rest of the day without you hitting empty. Strive for 0.5 to 1 gram of protein per pound of your goal bodyweight.
12. Catch Some Sleep
A thinner midsection might come from lying on your back. A solid eight hours of sleep keeps your emotional eating at bay. Researchers from the University of Chicago found that men who only slept four hours a night were more likely to crave sweet, salty, starchy, high-calorie foods than those who slept closer to 10 hours a night.