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Five Ways To Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind

By Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger, RD, MPH

In January, after all the merrymaking decadence has passed, the predictable weight loss resolution signs emerge: nobody’s taking seconds, the TV is overrun with diet ads, and the treadmills at the gym are always taken. And let’s be honest, the dry cleaners really didn’t shrink your pants and your bathroom scale probably isn’t on the blink. Maybe you overindulged over the holidays or perhaps you’re finally ready to loose those last ten pounds. Whatever your motivation, there’s no better time to get down to the business of weight loss, since you’ll be trading your oversized sweats for swim trunks in just a few months.

Diet math is simple: you have to burn more calories than you take in. But it’s how you go about trimming those calories that isn’t quite so simple...unless you know a few good tips. Lucky for you, we’ve culled a few ideas to keep D-I-E-T from being a foul four-letter word.

Pump Up the Volume
Dread a diet because you hate to be hungry? Maybe it’s time to change your approach. Instead of making choices that pack big calories in an unsatisfying little package, try the inverse: low calorie foods in a bigger package. Take, for example, raisins. At about 120 calories, a serving of raisins is only a handful, ¼ cup to be exact. However, a larger one cup serving of grapes also has about the same amount of calories as the handful of raisins—that’s four times the volume for nearly the same amount of calories! Along the same lines, a one ounce serving of potato chips (and who really eats just one ounce? That’s only about ten chips!) will set you back just as many calories as an apple paired with one ounce of reduced fat cheese. At least with the latter you’ll be getting a healthy dose of filling fiber and some satiety-packed protein from the cheese. Get the picture? Aim for more food and less calories.

For a solid hunger-trumping weight loss strategy, fill your day with low calorie, high fiber foods. Try simple choices like adding a big salad to your lunch and dinner, choosing whole grain breads and crackers, and taking in at least five fruits and vegetables a day. Fill up on fiber and you’ll be doing a lot more than reducing your girth: a 2008 Danish study concluded that a diet low in fat, but high in fiber and reduced-calorie carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables and whole grains is a sure bet to combat not only weight gain, but also, type 2 diabetes.

Dining in Beats Dining Out
It’s getting easier to find more nutritious choices away from home, but in terms of health, dining out still has a long way to go before it beats eating at su casa. Even if you can find low-fat options, restaurant meals are still calorie-packed since they are usually much more generously portioned than you need. In many cases, bigger plates and bottomless deals can mean you eat the equivalent of five to eight portions in a single sitting! It’s hard to believe, but some decadent restaurant meals can even squeeze an entire day’s worth of calories into a single meal. What’s more, it’s often difficult to know exactly what you’re getting when you eat out, with confusing and often misleading menu descriptions. And with so many delicious-sounding choices on the menu it’s sometimes too tempting to bypass what you know is best for that fabulous, but calorie-laden, chef’s special.

Instead of regular meals out, make a habit of regular meals in. Start by stocking your kitchen with healthy, easy-to-prepare meals that require simple ingredients and a speedy cleanup; you’ll be more likely to eat at home if the food is appealing to your palate as well as your schedule. Your reward for eating in: a fatter wallet and a slimmer you.

Start Your Day Right
Starting your morning with a single cuppa joe won’t budge the scales in your favor. In fact, it’s more likely to undermine your efforts. Breakfast is no magic weight loss solution, but it’s darn close. By beginning the day with a balanced meal in your stomach, you’ll be less likely to hit the midmorning slump that makes those doughnuts on the break table look so appealing. And just how much does a lapse in nutritional judgment affect your weight loss efforts? A 200 pound man would have to shoot hoops for an hour to burn off just two doughnuts. The bad news is that we’re just talking calories here—fat is another ball game, so to speak. Even worse, in over just a week’s time, your daily doughnut double will lead to one extra pound on your frame.

Research points to a healthy breakfast as key for trimming down: a 2008 study found that an egg breakfast enhances weight loss when compared to a bagel breakfast. Your translation: Eat breakfast— but eat a strategic one. Pair up high quality protein like eggs with a whole grain carbohydrate and fruit to keep you full and focused. Plus, when you’re well-fueled to start your day, chances are your on-the-job performance will increase too, since studies show that breakfast can boost concentration and productivity. Breakfast isn’t called the “most important meal of the day” for nothing!

Libation Lbs
Ever slam a bottle of OJ to quench your thirst? Calorically speaking, that’s the same as stuffing down about five Oreo cookies. Maybe you’ve shunned snacks like cookies and chips from your diet efforts, but have you considered the calories from what you’re drinking? Even healthy drinks like juice can fill you up with hundreds of diet-busting calories, but not much satiety (think about it: what are you going to eat with what you drink?). And all those warm coffee drinks you consumed during the holiday could be responsible for a couple of those pounds you see on the scale: just one venti mocha packs 410 calories. If you do the math, you’ll find that one festive coffee drink a day can equal almost a pound in just over a week. Unfortunately, the same thing goes when you belly up to the bar. Everybody knows a gut is easy to gain from too many cups from the keg, but you may be surprised to learn that just a couple of margaritas have as many calories as eight fast food tacos. Yes, eight.

So, you’d be wise to rethink your drinks: soft drinks, smoothies, energy drinks…you may be taking in more calories than you realize. Just by doing something simple like substituting water for a 100-calorie drink every day, you can lose a pound in a little over month. How’s that for effortless dieting?

Ease Up, Trim Down
Cut yourself some slack when it comes to dieting. Although it seems unlikely that “slack” and “diet” would be in the same sentence, a little flexibility is ironically one of the best kept diet secrets. How so? Think of it this way: who hasn’t said, “I’ll start my diet on Monday," then proceeded to enjoy another helping, a bigger dessert, or all the trimmings in anticipation of “Diet Monday?” The trouble is, the time span between whenever you declare diet surrender and Monday morning can allow for thousands of calories, which can translate into pounds later. Even worse, if you repeat this cycle frequently, you’ll develop an unhealthy pattern for yo-yo dieting. Rather than spending time alternating between a too-strict diet and a total all-out blow out, pick a happy medium. Allow yourself some wiggle room and you’ll find greater success since a moderate plan is easiest and most practical to maintain. That’s why research proves that fad diets just don’t work in the long term. Even if weight is lost, it’s more likely to creep back since fad diets aren’t based on a plan that’s easy to incorporate into daily life (like grapefruit everyday forever. No thanks!).

So go ahead and have the fries if you’re craving them—just make it an occasional treat and the smallest size…then make sure your next meal is stellar. Need a little chocolate? Have a small square and pair it up with a healthy and fiber-filled pick, like a piece of fruit. Better yet, think of healthier ways to satisfy your craving, like choosing hot chocolate made with skim milk to satisfy a sweet tooth. Being a little slack can keep you on track by answering your body’s cravings with tiny, managed splurges. losing

If you’re serious about losing weight, just a few simple changes to your diet can tip the scale in a more favorable direction. Before you embark on a plan to shed a few pounds, take a closer look at your strategy to ensure that the changes are reasonable enough for you to stick to long enough for you to get to your goal…and to maintain your weight long after your diet ends.

After all, aren’t there more exciting things to resolve to do each new year than lose weight?