Aug. 6, 2011, 2011 -- A study published in the February 2010 issue of the journal Appetite showed that the simpler your diet, the easier it is for you to stick to it over the long haul. Follow these effortless steps to streamline your plan and shed unwanted pounds for good.
Make friends with your scale
If you want to lose weight, think of your scale as a friend, not a foe. Weigh yourself once a day, first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom and getting undressed (water weight and clothing can throw off the number). Track your results in My Health Trackers, and stay motivated by following the weight graph's changes over the next few weeks.
Post goals in spots you'll see
Keep yours top of mind by writing it down and posting in several places where you'll notice it often—on your computer monitor, on the fridge, in your wallet. It doesn't have to be weight loss–related. Your goal might be to drink more water, sleep 8 hours a night, strengthen your arm muscles, or stress less. Then tell someone about it.
Research conducted by the Dominican University of California showed that people who wrote down their goals, shared them with a friend, and then followed up with weekly updates were, on average, 33% more successful than those who didn't write down their goals or share them with others.
Write down every bite, nibble, and swallow
According to recent studies, participants who keep a daily food journal lose twice as much weight as those who don't. Keep track today by recording the food and portion size in My Health Trackers' Foods Eaten section. Don't forget to write down beverage calories, too!
While tracking every day leads to more weight loss success, do what feels right to you. If tracking for 2 days a week is more realistic, then commit to completing that goal and staying mindful of what you eat the other days.
Ramp up water intake
People who drink about 7 cups of water a day eat nearly 200 fewer calories than those who get less than a glass a day, reports a study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In order to get those 7 cups in, drink 1 cup with each meal and snack, have a cup before and after your workout, and make time for a cup of decaf tea in the afternoon or evening.
To liven up plain water, add sliced lemon, lime, cucumber, or even a low-calorie drink mix.
Hunger and thirst are also easy to confuse, says Marjorie Nolan, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association: "The last thing you want when you are trying to lose weight is to think you're hungry when you're actually thirsty."
Try our refreshing Sassy Water recipe -- it can help flatten your belly.
Eat breakfast every day this week
Eating breakfast is like giving your metabolism a little jolt, causing it to rise faster and burn calories at an optimal rate. It can also help you keep weight off in the long term. According to data from the National Weight Control Registry on people who have maintained a weight loss of around 30 pounds for at least a year, 78 percent of the subjects reported eating breakfast every day of the week.
What you eat for breakfast is also very important, says Angela Ginn, RD, a spokesperson for the ADA. She suggests you choose foods with a lower glycemic index to keep blood sugar low and energy high. If you're looking for something new and different, try barley, which is high in fiber to help you stay fuller longer (and offers a nutty, wholesome flavor that's a little different than oatmeal). "Get hulled barley and make it the same way you would oatmeal, and add healthy toppings," says Ginn.
Flavored waters are a great way to meet your hydration needs, but some have as much sugar as a can of soda.
More from Prevention:
Think outside the apple
Change up the old standby fruits and veggies you've been rotating in your daily menu. Try Clementine oranges, figs, or Asian pears—whatever is in season and isn't more of the same old apples, bananas and baby carrots.
Still married to your favorite fruit? Eat it in a new way! Sprinkle an apple with cinnamon and bake it for a comfort-food dessert.
Plan healthy snacks like you do meals
Plan for afternoon hunger and prepare yourself with nutritious snacks from home. "People need to focus on structuring time for their snacks," says Jim White, RD, a spokesperson for the ADA. Writing down what snacks you'll eat and when you'll have them will keep you from grazing, so you'll be less likely to overeat, he says.
If you have access to a fridge during the day, bring low-fat or fat-free yogurt or low-fat string cheese. Measure out a portion of fiber-rich cereal that you'd enjoy dry or with yogurt. Make "snack packs" using dried fruit and unsalted nuts or seeds. Round out your snack with favorite fruits or veggies to get in one of your recommended servings for the day. Aim to have your snack 3 to 4 hours after lunch to keep energy revved.
Take dinnertime down a notch
If you're starved, it's easy to wolf down your food. Slow down—you'll feel fuller faster, plus research shows that the more you chew, the more nutrients your body absorbs. Sip water often, put your fork down between bites, and chew a few extra times than you normally do so you'll be less likely to overeat. Nolan suggests her patients practice these tips to slow down during meals and become more aware of their hunger signals:
Concentrate on the taste, texture, and temperature of every bite. Always set the table. Take a deep breath before each bite. Experiment with using chopsticks.
Shake up your menu
Keep your day-to-day meals fresh by making a new, healthy recipe today. It could be as simple as a 5-minute Flat Belly Diet meal or one of our seasonal slow-cooker recipes.
Eat your last meal later
Contrary to popular wisdom, eating late at night won't make you gain weight. Adjusting your dinner hour to a later time actually saves calories by curbing the urge to nosh in front of the TV. "Having dinner a little bit later—but at least 2 hours before sleeping—helps prevent mindless snacking, which often happens in the evening. I encourage clients to move their dinners to 8 p.m. and suggest they go on a walk afterward," says Nolan.
Stop "distracted" eating
Tell yourself that you won't eat in front of the TV, when you're on the computer, or while reading today—all situations that encourage mindless noshing. Getting a grip on "amnesia eating" could close hidden diet loopholes so that you can reach your healthy weight goals—and cut unwanted fat and sugar.
Sit down at the table when you eat. If you have to eat lunch at your desk, turn away from the computer and take a few minutes to enjoy your meal—no work distractions allowed. If you're used to snacking in front of the TV, take that time to paint your nails, straighten up the living room during commercials, or use a teeth-whitening strip.
More from Prevention:
Find a low-calorie go-to dessert
You know you're going to crave sweets, so get prepared with a healthier version. In your cupboard, store dark chocolate squares in individual packets and keep fat-free/sugar-free instant pudding to mix with fat-free milk for a quick, creamy chocolate fix. Store low-fat frozen treats in the freezer (keep them under 150 calories each) and sugar-free gum in your purse or desk drawer for when you need a sweet boost. Being prepared prevents bingeing on work treats or impulse buys on the way home.
Look for ways to fidget
Mayo Clinic researchers discovered that people who tap their feet, fidget, and move around more burn 350 extra calories a day—that's enough to burn off a slice of pizza! If you're not a natural-born fidgeter, try a quickie workout—even 10 minutes dancing around your kitchen after dinner.
"Get up once an hour for 5 minutes," suggests Dr. Nancy Snyderman, chief medical editor for NBC News and author of Diet Myths That Keep Us Fat. "Do something physical every day."
Do one push-up a day
Building a stronger body doesn't mean you have to pump iron at the gym for hours. Start with one push-up a day—this do-anywhere move works your arms and shoulders; strengthens your back, abs, and chest; and tones your butt and legs. Marc Alabanza, program director for the Ranch at Live Oak Malibu, recommends clients do this for a month before they arrive at the health resort. "It seems like a little [activity], but at the end of a week, you're guaranteed to have done five to seven pushups. Do two the next week and you'll increase by 100 percent."
Commit to 8 hours of sleep
Tiredness could be the reason your cravings are out of control. Research shows that lack of sleep raises levels of ghrelin, a hunger-boosting hormone. In one study, appetite—particularly for sweet and salty foods—increased by 23 percent in people who lacked sleep.
Get back in control by going to bed earlier for the recommended 7 to 9 hours a night. If you have trouble settling down, try this nighttime yoga routine to relax and fall asleep faster.
Get rid of "fat clothes"
Don't give yourself an excuse to slip back into bad habits and bigger dress sizes. You could be using too-large clothing as a crutch in case you gain more weight. Go through your closets and drawers and get rid of anything that's too big for you right now that you haven't worn in a while. These items are probably out of style anyway. Donate the clothes to a local Dress for Success organization or try selling them online.
Wear a form-fitting outfit on Friday
"Friday is the day most people fall off their diet," says Ginn. "I tell clients to wear something form-fitting on Friday or when they go out to eat. This will curb the urge to overindulge and help you stay motivated while losing weight."
Wear a favorite hot outfit for your Friday night dinner date to keep your healthy goals in mind. Make sure your pants or skirt fits well but will feel snug once you've eaten enough.
Switch up your cocktail
The next time you're out with friends, choose a type of wine or bottle of beer that isn't your usual standby, suggests White. Take your time sipping it slowly and savoring the flavors. You'll be more likely to make it last longer and drink less instead of gulping down one after another. If cocktails are your thing, try a vodka and club soda combo with a splash of juice, or order a glass of bubbly—both drinks are under 150 calories.
More from Prevention: