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Slim down for summer: 3 tips for long-term weight loss success

With loads of great advice for losing weight, how do you know what is right for you? Here are three basic tips for weight loss success.
/ Source: TODAY

With loads of great tips for losing weight, how do you know which ones are right for you? One person’s “live-by” tip is another person’s major sabotage. The key is figuring out which healthy habits you are both willing and able to do.

Remember, it takes at least three weeks for a new habit to stick.

Our two viewers, Bibi Gurmohamed and Joann Rosetti, are at the 3-week mark in our series. They’ve both made a lot of positive changes supporting their weight loss effort and creating a foundation for long-term success.

We began with an overhaul of their refrigerator and freezer to create much needed room. Then, we went to the supermarket to stock up on healthy foods that were easy to prepare and economical, saving both time and money.

Related: Slim down for summer: Are you guilty of portion distortion?

Bibi and Joann incorporated these top three tips into their own plan as a starting point for creating their own personal lists:

1. Pre-plan your eating and read labels

Pre-planning sets you up for daily success. It might seem backwards to think more about all of your meals and snacks ahead of time because it’s natural to believe you want to think less about food when you’re trying to lose weight.

The biggest lesson for pre-planning is that you’ll avoid skipping meals. When you structure your eating, you automatically structure your day for healthy eating. Meal skipping always leads to overeating at the next meal.

While you might not “feel hungry,” your body biologically recognizes when you haven’t eaten for many hours and compensates with a boost in your appetite that’s nearly impossible to ignore the next time you eat. When Bibi and Joann started pre-planning their eating day, the structure helped them stay on track.

While it often looks like an encyclopedia on the back of a package, it’s most important to look for two things on the label when you’re working on weight loss: calories per portion and how many calories in the package. It’s easy to get confused when a package looks like a single serving, but can contain two or more — boosting the number of calories. It’s not just snack foods that are tricky. Joann found that whole wheat pita bread might list the serving size as a “half” pita, but it’s not cut in half in the package, so it’s easy to eat two servings.

2. Be a smart snacker or eliminate snacking altogether

New studies show it’s not necessary to snack to maintain good health or lose weight. There’s no biological need to fuel all day for most healthy people. For many, eating less often helps them identify true hunger. But a calorie-controlled smart snack or two daily can help boost your energy, avoid deprivation and help keep you on track to limit overeating at the next meal.

Hunger signals can vary, and often a modest snack of around 100-150 nutrient-rich calories can help satisfy true hunger. But even healthy calories add up, so monitoring snack calories is a must-do for weight loss success.

Slim down for summer
Bibi Gurmohamed and Joann Rosetti are taking part in the "slim down for summer" challenge.Bibi Gurmohamed, Joann Rosetti

Both Bibi and Joann enjoyed a snack daily — but their choice of the time differed. Joann wanted a late afternoon snack to help her before dinner. Bibi was looking for an evening snack, as she eats an early dinner. Stick with 150 calories or less and aim for a few nutrients in different combinations — protein, fiber, fat — those should all be a part of your snack choices.

One “serving” can be less than what a package states — there are no rules for one serving! Our ladies had a range of preferences, including single serving reduced-fat cheese sticks, a small whole fruit, plain reduced-fat Greek yogurt, raw vegetables and hummus, a small handful of nuts, and even a treat like chocolate covered strawberries or a chocolate dipped snack bar (under 100 calories). They are limiting snacks to up to two a day.

Related: Slim down for summer! 7 simple steps to jump-start your weight loss effort

3. Walk correctly — outdoors when you can

While around 80 percent of weight loss is a result of cutting back on calories eaten, those 20 percent of calories burned during physical activity can make a big difference in both how many pounds you lose, and then keeping them off for good. Both Bibi and Joann love to walk, and get the double benefit of burning calories and enjoying the outdoors. Refining their walking technique will help them burn more calories and gain more muscle strength — for the same time period — during their daily walk. That’s a win-win when it comes to fitness.

Fitness walking engages your whole body.

  • Stand up straight, keep your arms bent at the elbow so they are parallel to the ground, and swing them back and forth from your shoulders — not across your body.
  • Take a natural stride for yourself, and land heel first with every step.
  • Roll through your foot, and push off with your toes. Your pace should be determined by your ability to talk when walking.
  • A “stroll” allows you to talk comfortably when walking while a “brisk walk” means you can’t easily carry on a conversation without becoming breathless.

Madelyn Fernstrom, Ph.D is NBC News Health and Nutrition Editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.