Forget about crash diets and killing yourself with exercise—these small steps can help you lose weight in a big way.
Eat off of blue plates
Ever wonder why McDonald’s color scheme is yellow and red? “We are naturally drawn to red, yellow and orange in our dining area or restaurants because psychologically it stimulates us to want to eat -- and eat a lot. Studies show if you put your food on blue plates it can cause you to eat less,” says Tamal Dodge, a certified yoga instructor in Santa Monica, Calif. and star of the “Element: Hatha & Flow Yoga for Beginners” DVD.
Eat eggs for breakfast
According to a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, swapping out your morning bagel for eggs could help you lose 65 percent more weight. Subjects who ate eggs for breakfast lost more weight, body fat and inches from their waist than those who ate the same amount of calories in the form of a bagel. Researchers believe the higher protein content of the eggs helps you stay fuller, longer and leads to eating less throughout the day.
Put a big fork in it
You’ve heard that eating from smaller plates can help you eat less, but did you know that using a larger fork can do the same? A recent study by researchers at the University of Utah found that participants eating with a larger fork - one that held 20 percent more food—at an Italian restaurant ate about 10 percent less than those who used a regular fork. Researchers believe a smaller fork makes us feel we aren’t making as much of a dent on our plate so we’ll take more forkfuls to satisfy our hunger. (Note: This only worked with large portions. When diners were served smaller meals, fork size didn’t affect their consumption). So next time you’re order a super-sized entree, ask for a bigger fork to help you eat less. And while you’re at it, stop when you’re satisfied—not stuffed.
Turn off the TV
You know you probably shouldn’t, but sometimes you eat in front of the TV or computer. But do you know how much it affects your waistline? Studies show that we eat around 40 percent more when watching TV and we’re more likely to eat junk food while distracted. To lose weight without major sacrifice, power down your TV, computer or smart phone during dinner and concentrate only on your meal.
Fill your (small) plate
According to Brian Wansink, Ph.D., a behavioral scientist and ‘mindless eating’ expert at the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, people who fill their plate with everything they plan to eat (including dessert) eat about 14 percent less than those who don’t fill it as much but return for second helpings. So to eat less, load up your plate—but only once. To reduce your intake even more, use a smaller plate. Wansink found that subjects who served themselves using smaller dishes ate up to 60 percent less.
Focus on the future
Feeling positive about the future, rather than focusing on the past or present, is more likely to lead you toward a healthier snack, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Instead of rewarding your happiness with a candy bar in the moment (or eating one for comfort), focus on the future outcome (like a healthier, lighter you) so you’ll make better choices in the present.
Hold the Mayo
One simple little change like skipping the ketchup, mayo or other ‘special’ sauces could save you around 100 calories per day, says Molly Morgan, a registered dietitian and owner of Creative Nutrition Solutions in upstate New York. That one small step alone could help you lose up to 10 pounds this year.
Slim down Your daily coffee
Removing just two teaspoons of sugar from your daily cup of coffee may not seem like a big deal, but it can save you 32 extra calories a day or three extra pounds a year, says Morgan. If you’re a coffeehouse fiend and make two trips a day, consider this: Skipping that afternoon latte could save you an extra 54,750 calories (more than 15 pounds!)—and almost a thousand bucks—by the end of the year.
Add fruits & veggies
Weight loss doesn’t always mean cutting down on things. In fact, adding in more fruits and vegetables helps you stay fuller, longer, with less calories and more nutrition. To lose weight without feeling hungry, eat at least one serving of fruit or vegetables with every snack and two with meals, recommends Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian and food industry consultant in Rye Brook, N.Y.
Slowly swap out processed foods
Tossing everything in your pantry out all at once is a good way to waste money and cause a Ben & Jerry’s meltdown, but gradually replacing processed foods with fresh alternatives helps curb cravings and hunger, says Begun. “Highly processed foods are low in nutrients, causing the body to seek more food to find the nutrients it needs, which leads to a vicious cycle of overeating.” You don’t have to empty the pantry all at once, but slowly start making swaps like fresh fruit and yogurt for protein bars (which can contain as much sugar as a candy bar) or hummus and fresh veggies instead of nutritionally devoid pretzels.
Try Tabata training
You may already be exercising, but adding Tabata training to your routine may help speed up your weight loss. ‘Tabata’ intervals are quick, 20-second bouts of heavy exertion (to the point where your breathing is very labored), followed by 10 seconds of rest—repeating the cycle a total of 8 times. Whether you jump rope, ride your bike or do other cardio, studies have shown this magic formula seems to help your body continue to burn calories long after you finish your workout, says Gretchen Zelek, co-creator of Do or Die Fitness.
Don't take weekends "off"
Many dieters think that being ‘good’ during the week gives them a license to let go on the weekends, but if you add it up, eating poorly and not exercising Friday to Sunday comes out to 12 days “off” a month! Instead of letting the days of the week influence your habits, focus on creating a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable all month long (with the occasional indulgence) for lasting weight loss.
Take a time out
Too much stress could be thwarting your weight loss efforts. “Cortisol is the stress hormone in your body that glues itself onto fat and keeps it on your hips, abs and thighs,” says Jillian Moriarty, a certified yoga instructor and owner of Happily Ever Active in Wayzata, Minn. To decrease cortisol and decrease fat, try this quick time out every day (especially when stressed), recommends Moriarty. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and choose a mantra such as ‘relax’ or ‘let go’ and repeat it in your mind as you take slow, deep breaths for about 10 minutes.
Eat a lighter lunch
According to a new Cornell University study, people who ate smaller, portion-controlled lunches consumed about 250 calories less per day (that’s about two pounds a month) than those who ate as much as they wanted. Portion control doesn’t mean you’ll go hungry. Reward yourself with a snack for sticking to smaller meals, which can help shave off pounds without major sacrifice.
Taking cues from your body on what to eat on a daily basis can help you eat less, says Jasia Steinmetz, a registered dietitian and author of Eat Local: Simple Steps to Enjoy Real, Healthy & Affordable Food. Next time you’re hungry, pay attention to what foods seem appealing to you—and why. Craving sweets, for example, may be a cue that you need energy. If you really want a Snickers, for instance, enjoy a bite-size. Don’t limit yourself—if nothing is off limits, you may find yourself craving nutritional food as well. “The vitamins and minerals that are so essential to the various functions of your body will come from a wide variety of foods, and choosing which foods appeal to you each day will help you tune into your body. Paying attention before, during and after you eat will help you respond to the positive feeling you get from eating healthfully and lovingly.”
Stay satisfied (sans Snickers)
“Adding small amounts of fat and protein [to your meal] will trigger your satiety center, signaling you are satisfied and help slow digestion so you feel full longer,” says Steinmetz. She recommends adding either one-quarter cup of nuts, a small bowl of beans or an egg to meals—you’ll ward off hunger and keep your energy level constant.
"Taste" the first four bites (then move on)
Many dieters get so bored with bland “diet” foods they end up eating more of them to feel fulfilled. Instead of eating for quantity, focus on the quality of your food. “You may notice that the first few tastes of the food are the most satisfying—your taste buds are on high alert,” says Steinmetz. “Buying small quantities of high quality food and concentrating on taste will help you savor small bites. Stop after the first four bites so that your taste is not ‘saturated’, and then try a different food.”
Eat only in designated dining areas
“Eat only in the food-appropriate areas of your home like at the kitchen or dining room table,” recommends Mary Miriani, an American College of Sports Medicine certified Health and Fitness Specialist in Naperville, Ill. Sitting down at the table to eat (instead of in the car, standing at the kitchen counter or sitting at your desk) means you are more likely to focus only on eating and pay more attention to the visual cues that help us decide when we are full. According to research, being able to see all that you have eaten (evidenced by the remnants of food on the table) could help you eat up to 27 percent less at meals.
Keep serving dishes off the table
According to a 2010 Cornell University study, you’ll eat about 20 percent less if you keep your serving dishes in the kitchen instead of on the dinner table. Researchers tested how eating habits would change if food was served from the kitchen, not the table. Participants ate less when the food was out of reach, and were more likely to choose fruits and vegetables when kept in plain sight.
Go for a walk immediately after a meal
Walking is great exercise for weight loss, but it seems to be even more effective when done just after eating. A 2011 Japanese study found that walking immediately after a meal was more effective for weight loss than waiting up to an hour afterwards. Subjects who went for a brisk, 30-minute walk just after lunch and dinner lost more weight than those who waited to walk. And because walking is a low impact form of exercise, it shouldn’t cause any digestive distress.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.