Ask an expert or anyone, and they will agree there’s no secret fast track to long-term weight loss. It requires consistency, dedication and having faith in the idea each good decision and habit you create is an investment in a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight over the long haul. All of this is possible with a smart approach. “If you’re hoping to lose weight, preparation is absolutely crucial,” says Gabrielle Desmarais, nutrition therapy coach at Forevergreen All-Natural Care and Healing. “It takes commitment and consistency, and if you don’t have clear guidelines for what to do and how to prepare, weight loss can become confusing and exhausting.”
A balanced night routine can be a game-changer for weight loss since it creates a smoother, stress-free morning. When stress is chronic and prolonged (like something we deal with every day), it can directly impact our health. For example, our immune response is hampered and we may crave more comfort foods, which could lead to weight gain. Digestion, mood and cardiovascular measures are also negatively affected.
Try ending your day by setting yourself up for success the next day with these simple, nighttime hacks that take less than 15 minutes:
By writing down what you plan to eat the following day, you’ve got a road map for what’s to come (or, what’s supposed to come). “This can be extremely helpful for those living with a constant on-the-go lifestyle or for individuals who simply love being able to have a macrobiotic view of their schedule and hectic day,” says Brianna Diorio, RD. This also makes it easier for you to log your food during the day with an app like MyFitnessPal since you will be less likely to forget and already have a reference.
Rather than skipping breakfast and overeating at your next meal, there are tons of healthy options that can easily be made ahead of time — even while you sleep. For example, “overnight oats are a great way to prepare a large batch of breakfasts,” says Sophie Lauver, RD, a clinical dietitian in Baltimore. “Try steel-cut oats to get the least-processed form,” recommends Lauver. Oats are an excellent source of soluble fiber, which helps you feel more satisfied after eating and less hungry by lunchtime, she adds. Over time, “greater satiety can equate to fewer calories consumed overall, helping with weight loss and maintenance.”
If you’re looking for more quick options to make ahead of time, try chia pudding or these easy three-ingredient breakfast cookies.
If you’ve meal-prepped on the weekend, this shouldn’t take long, but you can also take advantage of leftovers and pack them the night before. This could include pre-cut vegetables for a salad or making a grain bowl with whatever protein, whole grains and veggies you have on hand.
Snacks can also make or break a healthy eating plan. “The night before, pre-cut fruits and vegetables, and then put them in to-go containers or single-serve plastic bags,” suggests Lauver. You can also package individualized portions of foods that can be easy to over-do it on like trail mix, nuts or peanut butter (to pair with an apple).
If you hit the snooze button often or always feel rushed in the morning, picking clothes out for the office and a workout can be an extra hurdle. To avoid forgetting something and ensure your morning goes more smoothly, plan your outfits the night before, suggests Lisa Richards, RD, author of “The Ultimate Candida Diet Program.” “Choosing clothes that make you feel good about yourself when packing your gym bag and post-workout outfits will keep you motivated.”
Your workouts are your time. “Schedule them the night before,” suggests Amanda A. Kostro Miller, RD, an advisory board member for Smart Healthy Living. “Many people push off workouts if they run out of time during the day. By treating workouts as important as a scheduled business meeting, you’re more likely to stick with it.”
At the end of the day, our minds and bodies are exhausted from the end day’s events and stressors. Since the following day is likely to be full of more stressors, it’s important to take some time to wind down, suggests Shannon Leininger, RD, founder of LiveWell Nutrition. “When we are stressed out, our bodies respond in a physical way and we have to purposefully do something to relax the body,” she says. Some ways to do this include deep breathing, yoga or a gentle walk. “All of these activities trigger the relaxation response in the body and can help us start the next day refreshed and ready to handle anything.”
If you want to take the movement route, Jeani Hunt-Gibbon, RD, suggests keeping things short. “Try some situps, pushups, light weights, or pullups over a 10-minute period to help with long-term weight-loss goals,” she says. “Don’t do this right before bed, though, because it might leave you amped and make it more difficult to fall asleep.”
Whether it’s coffee, tea or water, it’s important to make sure you’re well-hydrated. Pre-set the coffee maker or fill the tea kettle so you can just heat it up in the morning. Fill your water bottle and keep it in the fridge so it’s ready to go in the morning. Being hydrated helps your body function at its best, which aids weight loss.
Cayenne pepper is a natural herb, which some research shows can help with weight-loss efforts by increasing satiety and curbing appetite. “It works to increase weight loss by gradually raising the amount of heat produced by the body, which leads to an uptick in calories burned,” says Richards. This is known as “diet-induced thermogenesis, which raises your metabolism.” Try adding 1/2 teaspoon cayenne to hot water with some grated ginger and a touch of honey for a sweet-spicy nighttime tea.
Journaling can be a therapeutic way to get thoughts out of your head and onto paper so they don’t keep you up at night. It’s a great way to help you visualize your goals and even writing a short to-do list for the next day can help you fall asleep faster.
Meditation, or the act of slowing down and being mindful in the moment, is a great way to reduce stress and is linked to many health benefits. Meditation is not necessarily about turning off your thoughts, it’s also about learning to observe them without judgment. Starting with even 5–10 minutes at a time can help keep you feel calm and set you up for a better night’s sleep. In turn, you’ll feel well-rested the next morning to tackle your workout and have a healthier day.
Sleep has a big impact on how much we eat during the day and our overall food choices. Ghrelin, the hormone that stimulates appetite, increases when we are sleep deprived, says Ilana Buchbinder, RDN. Conversely, leptin, which is a hormone that contributes to our feeling of fullness, decreases when we haven’t gotten enough sleep.
To get better quality shuteye, avoid screens (TV, phone, tablets and computer use) within an hour before bed, suggests Lisa Hugh, RD. These have blue light waves, which can disrupt your sleep patterns. “Sleeping after using screens is somewhat like taking a nap at the beach on a sunny day,” she adds. “You might doze off but probably won’t get into a deep sleep.”
Originally published August 2019, updated with additional reporting