Counting calories can be about as much fun as figuring out your income tax return – and you can’t even look forward to a refund! Still, you probably know by now that watching what you eat is essential if you want to reach a healthy weight and stay there. Because our brains and metabolisms adjust as we slim down, recent research at Columbia University suggests that even dieters who hit their target need to cut 300-400 calories more a day to keep the pounds at bay.
But cutting calories doesn’t have to be torturous. Whether you’re trying to pare away poundage or maintain your svelte new self, try these no-gain, no-pain tips:
Snooze to lose
Researchers at Columbia University’s Institute of Nutrition found that sleep-deprived men and women gobbled 300 more calories per day than when they were well-rested. (Their binge of choice: ice cream!) “People eat their way through fatigue,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a registered dietician in New York City and a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you can’t get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, Cohn suggests taking a brisk 15-minute walk and drinking ice water when you start to fade, and eating a smart snack.
A study published in the British Medical Journal shows that consumers routinely underestimate what they’re eating and drinking by as much as 500 calories. Cohn suggests you start any diet by keeping a food journal for at least 1-2 days (use a free app like LoseIt for iPhone or Myfitnesspal for Android). Then take your usual servings and measure them to see how much you’re really eating; , check out their calories, and memorize what smaller portions should look like. “It’s hard to cut back when you don’t know where you’re starting,” says Cohn, herself a successful dieter, weight-loss coach and author of The Belly Fat Fix.
Fill up on fiber
Faster than you can say “Mediterranean diet,” evidence keeps mounting that a lower-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can tame your appetite, boost your health and even trim belly fat. And we’re not just talking greens; delicious fruits like pears, blackberries and raspberries pack even more fiber than broccoli!
Get a smart start
Your mom was right: Nearly 80 percent of successful dieters report eating breakfast every day, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. That’s a sensible strategy, says Cohn, since our hunger hormones surge at 8 A.M, noon and 6 P.M., with a mini-surge around 3 in the afternoon. Try to eat about an hour after you rise, she advises, preferably a breakfast with some protein combined with carbs or healthy fats like yogurt or nuts.
When the candy machine calls around mid-afternoon, keep temptation at bay by keeping healthy snacks at hand. Your best bet, says Cohn, is a combination of protein and fat, such as a dollop of peanut butter on a whole grain cracker or a low-fat cheese stick wrapped in a small wheat tortilla. (Adding a splash of hot salsa will boost your calorie-burning metabolism briefly, thanks to the capsaicin in the peppers.)
Make easy swaps
Your supermarket is full of healthier versions of your favorite treats. For instance, instead of your usual bagel with cream cheese – which can pack 400 calories or more – you can easily substitute a whole-wheat light English muffin with 2 tablespoons of cream cheese whipped with Greek yogurt. Saved: 165 calories or more.
Read the menu
By law, big restaurant chains are now required to post calorie counts on their menus, and some smaller competitors are following suit. You might be surprised at just how many calories are packed into your favorite dishes. But that doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself; just eat a small portion and take the rest to go.
Let’s face it: Exercise is still important not only for weight loss, but also for your overall health. The good news is that it’s not hard to burn an extra 100 calories per day. Just do something you enjoy for 30 minutes: skipping home with the kids, raking leaves or planting veggies in your yard, or cranking up the GaGa or Gershwin on your iPod and dancing around the house!