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The key to getting to your ideal waist size is dieting smart, not hard. It's your waist size, after all, which is most important to your health. (You want to get to 35 inches or less, measured at your belly button while sucking in, which you'll do anyway.) That's right, if you diet smart, waist and weight come down slowly but predictably until you reach your ideal. Dieting hard—avoiding some groups of foods as if you're holding your breath underwater, and how long can you really do that?—leads to failure and so much shame that you'll be afraid to let anyone know the next time you're on a diet. But you need allies to help! Instead, follow these easy steps:
1. Walk: Your ultimate goal is 10,000 steps every day—NO EXCUSES! If you need to build up to 10,000 steps, we'll help you do that. Walking positively affects all the body's systems and establishes the behavioral and motivational foundation you need for success. It's also the most important thing you can do to effect weight loss. You'll need a pedometer.
2. Buy a backup pedometer, and overpay for it: It's one of the four things in life for which you should overpay: a chef's knife, great walking/exercise shoes, an engagement ring and two pedometers.
3. Stretch: Do three to five minutes of stretching after your walk. (See chapter 11 in our book You: On a Diet, the revised edition, if you have questions on how to stretch.) While stretching keeps your muscles limber and flexible, which helps prevent injury, it also has a meditative element, which helps you refocus and cope with cravings. Be gentle: "No pain, no gain" does not apply here.
4. Clean out your kitchen: Read the ingredients labels on everything in your kitchen cupboards, refrigerator, bread box and everywhere else you stash food. If you find any of the following food felons in the first five ingredients, THROW IT OUT! (Don't give it away either. You don't want to kill other people, do you?)
The 5 Food Felons
—Simple Sugars and Syrups: This includes brown sugar, dextrose, corn sweetener, fructose (as in high-fructose corn syrup), glucose, corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, maltose, lactose, malt syrup, molasses, evaporated cane sugar, raw sugar and sucrose. Keep a little table sugar, honey and maple syrup handy, because you'll use some for cooking and baking.
—Saturated Fat: This includes most four-legged animal fat, milk fat, butter or lard, two-legged animal skin and tropical oils such as palm and coconut.
—Trans Fat: This includes partially hydrogenated fats, vegetable oil blends that are hydrogenated and many margarines and cooking blends. (If you must, use cholesterol-fighting sterol spreads, such as Promise and Benecol.)
—Enriched flours and all flours other than 100 percent whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat: This includes enriched white flour, semolina, durum wheat and any of the acronyms for flour that are not whole wheat; they should not be in your kitchen. Whole grains contain a lot of fiber, which is important for preventing arterial aging and reducing the risk of cancer. They also help keep blood sugar levels steady, help you feel full and lose weight, and keep your digestive system regular. The problem is that unless the bread or pasta you're eating is made from 100 percent whole grain (and says so in the number one spot in the ingredients list), it's not much better for you than white flour products that have been stripped of the healthy outer shell and germ. When you eat these products (breads and pastas made with enriched, bleached, unbleached, semolina or durum flour), your body quickly converts this carbohydrate to sugar in your bloodstream and you're back to the same health problems you get from consuming added sugars. One-hundred-percent whole grains take longer to convert to sugar and stay in your intestines longer, which means you stay fuller longer.
5. Go food shopping: The first week you'll have a larger-than-normal shopping list because you'll stock up on essentials as well as ingredients you'll need for your first week of recipes. We want to turn your kitchen into a nutritional honor society so that it's filled with good-for-your-waist foods that make it easy (and automatic!) to eat right. For a specific shopping list that works with our suggested seven-day schedule, see the You: On a Diet book. Check it out from your library if you have to.
6. Get a Buddy: Enlist family members with similar goals; almost none of us can do this alone, and no one can do it if a family member tries to reward your success with one of the five food felons. If you need more than a family member's help, try our coaching program at EnforcerEcoaching.com.
7. Write It All Down: Keep a small notebook with you at all times—or just type it into a saved email—and write down everything you eat. This will keep you from eating absentmindedly and from making food choices that are worse than Britney Spears' choice of husbands.
Those are the lucky seven keys to smart waist management. Here are two bonus tips for gaining waist shape faster:
Practice Strength Training: Omental fat (it hangs off your omentum like beads on a prom dress) or deep belly/visceral fat releases chemicals into the body that increase inflammation and the risk of everything from heart disease, diabetes and memory loss to impotence, bone loss and even cancer. You can lose weight by building muscle through strength training. Here's why: A pound of muscle burns 75 to 150 calories a day, whereas a pound of fat burns only two to three. After age 35, you lose 5 percent of your muscle mass every decade, so by the time you're 60, your body burns 800 fewer calories than it did when you were 30. Doing resistance exercises regularly will not only keep you from losing muscle tone, it will also help you burn more calories and reduce your risk of disease.
Snack: When you go for long periods of time without eating or you consume too few calories, your brain senses the starvation and sends an SOS signal throughout your body to actually store fat, not burn it. The next thing you know, you're inhaling a hot dog and a bag of chips and kicking yourself for not having more willpower. If you always have a few go-to healthy snacks on hand, you'll avoid this diet disaster. Eating half an ounce of raw nuts with a piece of fruit, like a banana or a cup of berries, and carrying cut veggies with you gives you some crunch plus something sweet. You're really smart.
For more healthy waist and weight loss strategies or to read Cleveland Clinic Chief Wellness Officer Dr. Roizen's other wellness articles, visit ClevelandClinicWellness.com.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.