Getting lean requires the same trait that makes you get up at 5 a.m. for a workout: discipline. You need to be vigilant about your diet and consistent with exercise so that you maximize calorie burn, increase muscle mass, and decrease body fat. Luckily, it's easier than it sounds when you employ these tactics from dietitians and coaches. Get ready to lose.
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1. Practice Long, Slow Eating1 of 21
In a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in 2011, researchers in New Zealand looked at the relationship 2,500 women had between their self-reported speeds of eating and their body mass indexes.
For each step up in speed (on a five-step scale from very slow to very fast), BMI increased by 2.8 percent. By slowing down, you give your mind a chance to process that your body is full. Increase your meal splits by eschewing distraction: no computer, no television, no newspaper. "You'll become aware of every bite," Eberle says.
2. Go All DIY2 of 21
"Throwing something together for yourself at home is almost always going to involve fewer calories than dining out," Dimmick says. "You can control the ingredients and the portion sizes."
For nights you're too rushed to cook, stock your pantry and freezer ahead of time with these staples: vegetable and bean soups, a frozen vegetable pizza, brown rice you can microwave, a can of black beans and salsa (a combo of the latter three make an easy, healthy meal). In order to make a brown-bag lunch as easy as possible, double dinner recipes so that you'll have leftovers.
Chili and lasagna—make them both heavy on the vegetables—are especially tasty the day after you make them.
3. Plan Ahead3 of 21
"Know when you're going to eat and what you're going to eat," says Suzanne Girard Eberle, M.S., R.D., author of Endurance Sports Nutrition . "Plan it out at the beginning of the day and the week so that you're not scrambling when you're hungry." This helps you resist the temptation of fast-food restaurants or pastries in the break room.
4. Eat Often4 of 21
Aim for three healthy meals and two small snacks a day, which means you're eating something around every three hours.
A 2010 Swedish study involving more than 3,000 people found that those who ate more than three times a day had a lower body mass index and waist circumference, consumed more fiber and less fat and drank less alcohol than those who limited their eating sessions to three or less.
"Eating more often keeps your metabolism humming, and prevents you from getting super hungry," says Lauren Antonucci, M.S., R.D., owner of Nutrition Energy in New York City.
5. Repeat Yourself5 of 21
The National Weight Control Registry is a compendium of more than 10,000 people who have maintained a weight loss of at least 30 pounds for at least one year. These successful losers "limit their exposure to temptations," says J. Graham Thomas, Ph.D., a co-investigator on the study, "and have a repertoire of healthy foods they pull from regularly."
6. Don't Drink Sugar6 of 21
A study out of Tufts University in Boston looked at the association between sugar-sweetened drinks and the nutritional habits of 947 adults. Unsurprisingly, those who drank the most sugary beverages, like soda, had a higher risk of obesity and a lower intake of fiber.
When you celebrate, opt for wine, beer or a drink mixed with club soda. "Margarita mix, orange juice and Coke often have more calories than the alcohol," Dimmick says.
7. Veg—and Fruit—Up7 of 21
Aim to have fruits and vegetables make up half of each meal. "Your breakfast should be half fruit, and your lunch and dinner, half veggies," says Dimmick, who adds that snacks should have the same 50/50 ratio: Think carrots and a yogurt or string cheese and an apple.
8. What's Your Intake?8 of 21
Count your calories, if only for a few days. "Most people hate doing it," Dimmick says. "But it's the only way to actually see the mindless eating over the keyboard or steering wheel or in front of the television."
You can carry a small notebook and log everything or use an app: Loselt, MyFitnessPal and MyPlate are three popular apps to track calories.
9. Take It Easy on Nut Butter9 of 21
Athletes love peanut and almond butters, and for good reason: They offer protein, healthy fats and fiber in a convenient package. But a serving size is two level tablespoons. "People often end up eating three tablespoons," says Dimmick. "That's an awful lot of calories."
10. Make Fiber Your Friend10 of 21
"Multiple studies have shown that fiber is correlated to weight loss as well as weight maintenance," says Jennifer Vimbor, M.S., R.D., founder of Nutrition Counseling Services in Chicago.
Fiber passes through your system undigested, so your body has to work harder and longer to move it out, which helps rev your metabolism and give you a feeling of fullness. Aim to eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day: beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
11. Eat Real Food11 of 21
"The more packaged and processed foods you eat, the less satisfied you feel," says Antonucci. "A half of a sandwich is a better snack than a handful of pretzels; nuts are more filling than animal crackers." Pack an apple for emergencies.
12. Pay Attention12 of 21
"Before you reach for a snack, make sure you're really hungry," says Eberle, who explains we often eat when we really need sleep, play or downtime. "You may just need to step away from your desk for 15 minutes and chill out."
13. Go Off the Sauce13 of 21
Beware of the hidden calories in sauces. Use tomato sauce instead of alfredo on pasta and substitute hummus or mustard for mayo on a sandwich. You can even make your own salad dressing: Add a little ranch seasoning to plain Greek yogurt or mix a dash of olive oil with balsamic vinegar.
14. Downsize Your Settings14 of 21
Bigger utensils and dishes promote bigger meals, so keep your dishes appropriately sized. A salad plate can easily hold a sandwich and a piece of fruit, which is perfect for lunch. Also keep your serving dishes off the table.
15. Avoid the Treat Trap15 of 21
After a long workout, set a limit of "reward calories," Nisevich Bede says. "A safe number is 200 reward calories, and if you went for a really, really long workout, 400 calories."
Good choices include: low-fat ice cream, bite-size cookies, single-serving-size chips, or high-quality dark chocolate.
16. Get On Board16 of 21
After following about 121,000 men and women for 20 years, researchers at Harvard University published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011 that documented the foods and drinks most and least associated with gaining weight.
Most associated with gaining weight were French fries, potatoes, sweetened beverages, red meats and processed meats. Least associated with gaining weight were nuts, yogurt, fruits, whole grains and veggies.
17. Eat Right When Hungry17 of 21
Eat something with protein, carbs and fiber like plain, fat-free Greek yogurt with a cup of berries. "Don't let yourself get too hungry, as it's hard to stop eating," Eberle says.
18. Master Special Occasions18 of 21
Celebrate. Moderately. Have a (small) piece of cake. No good comes of trying to "save up" calories. Eat your normal meals and snacks so you're not starving.
19. Set Reasonable Expectations19 of 21
"Trying to stay at your lowest weight is like trying to stay at your peak fitness year round," Fitzgerald says. "When you dial back training, expect to put on a few pounds."
20. Cross-train to Blast Calories20 of 21
These activities can help you burn major calories:
• Bicycling (14 to 16 mph): 682 calories
• Stairmaster (no hands): 614 calories
• Swimming (50 yards/min): 545 calories
• Elliptical: 491 calories
• Walking (15-minute mile): 341 calories