Losing weight is not easy. It requires a near super-human level of commitment and dedication. But you don’t need to completely overhaul your eating and exercise habits to get results. You can shed pounds effectively by making a few low-effort, high-impact changes. “I’m a huge believer in meeting people where they are when it comes to weight loss,” says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, registered dietitian and founder of NutritionStarringYOU.com.
Here, seven simple changes that can help you reach your wellness goals:
Instead of eating a sugary breakfast or skipping your morning meal entirely, eat something with at least 20 grams of protein, Harris-Pincus says. A low-glycemic, protein-packed breakfast doesn’t just help keep you full, it can also increase your energy levels, according to a study from the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology Journal.
“Research shows that [eating more protein] can help prevent muscle loss as we age,” she adds, “which supports our metabolism.”
All exercise requires effort, but there are some workouts that can help you accomplish more in a short amount of time. Research shows high-intensity exercise (short bouts of max-effort intervals), for instance, burns more calories than steady-state exercise performed for the same amount of time.
Rachel Mariotti, a certified strength and conditioning coach, says examples of good high-intensity workouts include short running intervals, hill repeats and strength circuits that involve exercises like squats, kettlebell swings, plyometrics and pushups.
You can use your heart rate to determine how much effort you’re putting forth, Mariotti says. For a high-intensity workout, you’ll want to be at 70–80% of your maximum heart rate, which you can calculate by subtracting your age from 220.
Weight loss isn’t just about what you eat — it’s also about when you consume your calories. Eating in alignment with your circadian rhythm, Harris-Pincus says, may help with weight loss. “That means eating breakfast — I say within 2 hours of waking — and stopping your food intake several hours before bed,” she says.
Establishing a meal schedule ensures you stay fueled throughout the day, while helping prevent late-night snacking.
“Our bodies often confuse hunger, thirst and fatigue,” says Harris-Pincus. Instead of tearing into a bag of tortilla chips when you get the urge to snack, try drinking a glass of water first.
Quenching your thirst can help you avoid overeating. In one study, overweight people who drank two glasses of water before their meals every day for three months lost an average of 2.6 more pounds than people who didn’t hydrate prior to eating.
To stay hydrated throughout the day, carry a reusable water bottle with you or set a timer every hour as a reminder to consume a glass.
“Something low-impact that you can do every day is to walk 30 minutes at a fast pace,” Mariotti says. Think: Walk at the pace you use when you’re rushing through an airport terminal to make your flight.
Try turning your work commute into walking time or breaking your walk into smaller chunks after your meals. In one study, Type 2 diabetes patients who walked after each of their three meals experienced greater weight loss than participants who exercised once a day for the same amount of time.
Like protein, fiber is another nutrient that can help promote satiety. Harris-Pincus says women should try to consume 25 grams of fiber per day, and men should aim for 35 grams.
To get enough, she suggests adding chia seeds and ground flaxseeds to your yogurt, smoothies and salads. This keeps you full longer, she says. Other good fiber-rich snacks include edamame, almonds and avocado.
Changing the way you load your plate can help you fuel up on healthier foods, score more nutrients and prevent overeating. “Aim for half your food volume at each meal to come from fruits and veggies,” says Harris-Pincus. “By increasing the amount of non-starchy veggies you eat, you will likely not have room for larger portions of meat and starch.”
The rest of your plate should be 1/4 protein (20–30 grams), she says, and 1/4 carbs. “Don’t be afraid of good carbs — we need them for energy, fiber and the many essential nutrients they contain,” says Harris-Pincus. Try to stick to whole grains, she advises. Foods like quinoa, whole-wheat bread and brown rice have more nutrients than their refined counterparts, and may help regulate your blood sugar better, which can prevent appetite swings.
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