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Small Changes, Big Results—7 Simple Steps to Start Losing Weight

By H.K. Jones

Editor's Note: This coming January, will launch a series of detailed, day-by-day eating programs for weight loss (and gain) from expert nutritionist Manuel Villacorta, M.S., R.D. In the interim, as you head into the holidays—that food-decked time of overindulgence (oink, we can't wait!)—check out this article from nutrition contributor H.K. Jones on simple ways to keep your weight down. Simple: We like that.

Don't over-think your weight-loss goals: If you are trying to lose weight, small changes can in fact lead to big results. The easy eating adjustments below will not only help you drop pounds, but also load your diet with lots of good-for you nutrients.

Always Eat Breakfast
Studies show that the simple act of eating breakfast each day can help you lose weight—and keep it off. Eating early in the day not only jump-starts your metabolism, but also keeps you from replacing those missing calories with mindless munching or binging at lunch later on. To get the most out of your morning meal, choose healthy foods including whole grains (such as oatmeal or whole wheat toast), lean protein (like turkey bacon or an egg), low-fat dairy (think skim milk or low fat yogurt), nuts, and fruit.

Don’t Skip Meals
Breakfast is just the beginning. Many people watching their weight make the big mistake of eating too little during the day, which can lead to feeling hungry and over-eating in the evening. For best results—and more energy—try not to go longer than three to four hours without eating. Eat three balanced meals a day plus a few healthy snacks that contain a healthy balance of protein, carbs, and fat to balance your energy-in (food) with your energy-out (activity).

Fill up on Fiber
Eating foods that are high in fiber helps you to feel full for longer, and that’s good news for you and your waistline. To help you reach the recommended 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day needed for fighting disease, constipation, and obesity, always pick whole grains over processed white ones. Switch from white bread (1 g fiber) to whole wheat (3 g fiber); a cup of regular cooked pasta (2 g fiber) to whole wheat (6 g fiber); an 8-in. flour tortilla (1 to 2 g fiber) to an 8-in. whole wheat tortilla (5 g fiber); an ounce of corn flakes (0 g fiber) to an ounce of raisin bran (4 g fiber) or All Bran (15 g fiber). Always choose whole fruit instead of fruit juice, avoid peeling fruits and veggies, and include more beans and legumes in your daily diet.

Keep Trigger Foods Out of the House
Whether it's donuts, chips, cheese, cookies, or ice cream, we all have them—the trigger foods that damage our diet. And since willpower wanes when we're tired, hungry, thirsty, or emotionally distraught, keeping these foods in the house is a really bad idea. Studies show that out of sight is out of mouth, and since cravings are often fleeting, you’re a lot less likely to indulge if you have to actually leave the house to do so. Instead, keep your home stocked with healthier snacks like fruit, veggies, nuts, popcorn, and whole-grain crackers, and you’ll find yourself eating more of the good stuff without even trying.

Don’t Drink Your Calories
Liquid calories are hiding in your coffee drinks, your cocktails, your sodas, and your sports drinks. And while calorie-laden drinks may quench your thirst, research proves they don't fill you up and satisfy your hunger as well as the calories from solid foods. So when you down a high-calorie soda, juice, or other calorie-rich drink before or during a meal, you may not eat less food later on to compensate. What to do? Drink water. Calorie-free and refreshing, water is a key player in the weight-loss arena.

Limit Packaged Foods
Most packaged foods are processed time bombs of fat, calories, sodium, and toxins. In fact, three-quarters of the sodium, and most of the trans fat and added sugar Americans consume come from packaged foods. Instead, focus on the fresh, whole foods found in the perimeter of the shopping market. Most important, don’t let enticing marketing claims on packaged foods fool you into thinking they’re something they’re not. Some claims are misleading, some are unregulated, and most are downright confusing. Instead, ignore the big type and flip the package over to investigate the ingredients and health information. Look for products that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and calories, but high in fiber and nutrients. Keep in mind that if there is more than one serving in a package, you may need to multiply to get a realistic idea of what you’ll be getting.

Eat Out Less Often
Restaurant meals have about 50 percent more calories, fat, and sodium than the same dish prepared at home. Even healthier restaurant choices like grilled chicken, fish, and veggies can be swimming in calorie-laden butter and oil. And let's face it—when you're eating out it is almost impossible to resist all the appetizing (and fattening) foods and desserts on the menu, not to mention another round of cocktails. The solution? Don't try to be a stay-at-home hermit because you'll inevitably fail—instead, dine out less and indulge one night a week or on special occasions.

About H.K. Jones: H. K. Jones is a registered dietitian, freelance writer, and nutrition professional based in Washington, D.C.