Tired of crazy crash diets, diet pills and weight loss gimmicks that don’t work? I sure was! Before I became a fitness expert and wellness coach, I struggled to lose the excess 40 pounds I was carrying around. After trying to overhaul my entire lifestyle by following (and failing) numerous restrictive diets and intense workout programs, I started to think small. And once I did that, I finally began to get results! Focusing on bite-sized pieces is what helped me finally lose the weight—and keep it off. Here are some of my favorite 10-minute-or-less tips from my book, Thin in 10 Weight Loss Plan, to help you start losing the weight for good.
1. Take a 10-minute time out
You may think that in order to lose weight, you need to do more—more activity, more cooking, more organizing, more planning—but sometimes the best thing you can do for your waistline (and sanity) is less. Take a 10-minute breather from your busy life and do absolutely nothing. Turn off the phone, the TV, the computer, ask your husband to watch the kids, and spend 10 full minutes with your eyes closed relaxing and taking deep breathes.
Why is this so crucial for weight loss? Stress produces a hormone called cortisol which can increase your appetite. Think about it: When you're anxious, do you crave sugary, high fat foods? Or do you snack mindlessly when you feel really stressed out? Studies show that meditating on a regular basis—even for just a brief period of time—can help reduce your stress levels so it doesn’t sabotage your weight loss.
2. Cut 100 calories
It can be overwhelming to cut out a large amount of calories from your daily diet, and even harder to cut entire food groups, like carbs. So forget trying to completely overhaul your diet and keep it simple: slash just 100 calories at each meal. That’s a pat of butter on your toast, a tablespoon of mayo on your sandwich or the 10 croutons in your salad. Cutting out a total of 300 calories spread out over three meals can take off almost three pounds this month alone, even if you don’t change anything else about your lifestyle (though I know you will!).
3. Sneak in 10 minutes of exercise
When you have a busy schedule, hitting the gym for an hour a day is next to impossible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit in fitness. Studies show that squeezing in 10-minute shots of exercise throughout your day can be just as effective—if not more—than one longer session. Before your morning shower, try a quick strength circuit of any five of these bodyweight exercises (repeating the circuit twice). Take a 10-minute walk at lunch and skip or jump rope with the kids for 10-minutes in the afternoon. Breaking exercise down into smaller-sized sessions can be more manageable to fit into an already over-scheduled day.
4. Take 10 to plan ahead
The saying goes, "fail to plan, plan to fail," and it's especially true when it comes to weight loss. There’s no need to spend tons of time or energy pre-planning for weeks in advance—simply take 10-minutes out each evening to take a look at your calendar for the next day to anticipate any challenges that might arise, like a breakfast meeting with bagels and pastries, and think about what you can do to head them off. For example, prep some ingredients for a smoothie the night before to enjoy at that morning meeting without derailing your diet.
5. Cook your own dinner
Want to know one of the fastest, easiest ways to slash calories? Cook dinner at home at least six days a week, even if you're dining solo. For most of us, dinner is our largest meal of the day, making it one of the biggest opportunities to overdo your calorie intake. According to a recent study, a whopping 96 percent of restaurant entrees exceed the USDA’s daily limits for calories, fat and sodium—and that’s in just one meal! Dining at home means you can control exactly what goes into your food and how much of it you eat. And you don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen. There are tons of healthy meals you can whip up in less time than it takes to order takeout!
6. Keep a kitchen curfew
While some experts I’ve interviewed argue that your body can’t tell what time it is when you eat, other evidence seems to suggest otherwise: A 2011 study published in the journal Obesity that found that eating after 8 pm may cause weight gain. One thing that is for sure, if you have a tendency to plop down in front of the TV at night and mindlessly munch on a few extra hundred calories, you can easily pack on the pounds. Creating a ‘kitchen curfew’ of 8 or 9 pm is an effective way to curb late night eating habits and save you on average, about 250 calories a day.
7. Outsmart cravings with a 10-minute walk
Cravings. We all get them and we all know how tough it is not succumb! They strike without warning, often at the worst moments. Next time you get that urge to eat a candy bar, try going for a 10-minute walk around the block instead. Several studies show that moderate exercise, like walking, may actually help reduce food cravings. If you still really want that treat once you're back, eat it and enjoy it; but chances are your craving will pass after a short bout of physical activity.
8. Hit the hay 10 minutes earlier tonight
According to recent studies, sleep may be as crucial to weight loss as diet and exercise. When your body doesn’t get enough sleep, the hormones that control hunger and satiety get out of balance, causing you to eat more. One study even found that women who were well rested weighed 10 pounds less than their sleep-deprived counterparts. You don't have to turn in at an unrealistic hour, simply head to bed 10 minutes earlier tonight. Gradually keep turning back the clock each week until you’ve adjusted to your ideal bedtime and are logging in enough sleep, which most experts agree is between 7-9 hours a night.
9. Wear more comfortable clothes and shoes
If you don't have a dress code at work, you can burn off exercise-free calories throughout the day by wearing comfy clothes like jeans or khakis, sport shirts and soft-soled shoes. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin found that when subjects wore more casual attire during their workday they took about 491 more steps per day, burning up an extra 25 calories. It may seem minor but slashing small amounts of calories here and there adds up, and cuts your daily calorie intake without much effort. I’d say this is a pretty simple, sweat-free way to fend off the middle-age spread. If your workplace doesn’t allow jeans, look for dressier clothes that still allow for plenty of movement so you don't have to sacrifice comfort.
10. Take a 10-minute time out from your TV
A body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body in rest—well, tends to stay that way. I’m not saying you have to give up your TV time at the end of the day, but pressing ‘pause’ (thank goodness for DVR) for just 10 minutes for every hour of viewing to get up and move around can go a long way. Can’t bear to wait to see what happens? Take a quick spin around the living room during each commercial break. The average 150 pound woman burns about 75 calories walking in place for 10 minutes. Add that to those 25 calories you burned wearing comfy clothes, and you've just cut 100 calories a day. Not bad!
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.