The Small Diet Changes That Can Add Up to Big Weight Loss

What you can do to shed pounds.

— -- intro: There’s no one-size-fits all approach to eating better. As a nutritionist, some clients I meet with are ready and willing to dive head first into a complete dietary overhaul, and, most importantly, can actually stick with it. Others—especially those who, in the past, have tried to make too many changes too fast that ultimately fizzled out—find it easier to transition slowly into eating differently. Folks in this group will often ask, “Okay, if I can only focus on one thing what should it be?” My response varies based on their goals, but if you want to lose weight, here’s my list of five simple diet tweaks that can ultimately make a huge difference. The strategy: Start with just one change, and when it feels like part of your usual eating routine, add another. Once that change feels like second nature, add another, and so on. It may take a little longer to see big results, but for many, a stepladder approach to transforming your eating means making changes that really stick down the road.

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quicklist: 2 category: The Small Diet Changes That Can Add Up to Big Weight Loss title:Nix diet drinks and artificial sweeteners url: text:

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quicklist: 3 category: The Small Diet Changes That Can Add Up to Big Weight Loss title:Swap some of your starches for non-starchy veggies url: text: I recently talked to a client who eats at Chipotle often. While his choice of a tortilla-free burrito bowl was a good one, he was still taking in too many carbs to get the scale moving downward. Switching to a salad with greens as the base and asking for smaller scoops of brown rice and black beans on top left him just as full and satisfied, but with half the carbs. You can make the same kind of tweak at home. Rather than a cup of cooked whole-grain penne, cut back to a half-cup, and add a quarter-cup each of fresh spinach, chopped tomato, sliced mushrooms, and minced onion. This switch will save you about 15 grams of carbohydrate and increase the volume of your meal so you actually feel fuller after eating it. Other ways to cut back on carbs without cutting them out completely include ordering a chopped salad with a small scoop of quinoa or chickpeas in it, rather than a wrap, and using lettuce in place of a bun for your burger paired with a small side of starch, like baked sweet potato “fries.”

quicklist: 4 category: The Small Diet Changes That Can Add Up to Big Weight Loss title: Make dark chocolate your dessert url: text: This one change has helped many of my clients shave hundreds of surplus calories from their diets each week, and start to slim down as a result. Half of a three-ounce bar of one of my favorite brands of dark chocolate contains just 200 calories and 21 grams of carbs. Compare that to a chocolate-chip cookie from Panera bread (440 calories, 58 grams of carbs) or chocolate croissant from Starbucks (370 calories, 46 grams of carbs). Bonus: Research has shown that making dark chocolate a daily treat can help curb cravings for both sweet and salty foods.

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quicklist: 5 category: The Small Diet Changes That Can Add Up to Big Weight Loss title: Cut back on booze url: text:In addition to the calories they add to your diet—way more than you probably think—alcoholic beverages tend to be major diet derailers. I’ve had countless clients tell me that after a drink or two, they suddenly adopt an “Oh, screw it” attitude about eating, and wind up not only nibbling on foods within arm’s reach (chips and salsa or bread and butter at a restaurant, pretzels at the bar), but also eating foods they wouldn’t reach for sober, and downing much larger portions to boot. You don’t have to become a teetotaler to shed pounds, but consciously cutting back to, say, one night per week, setting a max of two drinks, and downing a tall glass of water with every cocktail can help you shed serious pounds.

Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian and Health’s contributing nutrition editor. She privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance, and is the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the New York Yankees MLB team.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.