Going longer than a few hours without food makes you more likely to overeat later. Find a meal-timing pattern. If you eat between meals, plan ahead for healthful “mini-snacks” (100 to 200 calories each). Eating healthily means choosing a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes — and low in refined grains, sugary foods, and saturated and trans fats. You can include fish, poultry, and other lean meats, and low-fat/nonfat dairy foods. Your goal should be 20-35 grams of fiber a day. Fiber helps make you feel full and slows absorption of carbohydrates. To lose a pound a week, you must take in about 500 fewer calories a day, or 3,500 a week. You can do this by eating less, moving more, or a combination.
For high-calorie foods, portion control is key. Check serving sizes on food labels — most food packages contain more than one serving, so you have to double or triple the calories, fat, and sugar if you plan to eat the whole thing.
Increase your awareness about when and how much to eat using internal (rather than visual or other external) indicators to guide you. Eating mindfully means giving full attention to the food you are eating, savoring each bite, and not eating when distracted. Eat slowly and chew each bite. Doing these things allows more time for satiety signals to reach the brain (it takes about 20 minutes). Slow eaters tend to feel more full and eat less. The process of chewing also stimulates satiety signals. In addition, eating slowly makes you more aware of the smell, taste, and texture of food, which can lead to greater satisfaction. The most pleasure comes from the first few bites of a food. Thus, you should focus on those first few tastes of chocolate, cake, or other indulgences, as this may be enough to satisfy. The more mindful you are, the less likely you are to overeat in response to external cues, such as food advertisements, 24/7 food availability, and super-sized portions.
Instead of relying on your willpower, control your food environment. That means, for example, don’t have junk food at home or keep them out of sight, change your routine so you don’t regularly encounter temptations (such as avoiding the office pantry between meals if it has enticing foods and driving a route that doesn’t take you past your favorite food places). Use smaller plates, bowels and cups — consider investing in portion-controlled plates or portion-control devices that allow you to measure your food directly on the plate. Portion out snacks into small bowls or bags — in general, avoid eating from large bags or boxes.
A lot of people eat more when stressed, depressed, upset, angry, lonely, or even happy and excited. To distinguish between real hunger and emotional eating, rate your hunger/fullness levels before, during, and after eating on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “starving” (with associated headaches, lightheadedness, and weakness) and 10 being “beyond full” (as in after-Thanksgiving-meal stuffed). Ideally you should eat when you are at level 3 (hungry but not yet uncomfortable) and stop at level 7. If you often eat for reasons other than hunger, find pleasurable non-food-related activities that you can do instead, such as going for a walk or run.
Eating foods low in energy density — food with fewer calories relative to their weight and volume — increases satiety, so you are likely to fill up on fewer calories. The best way to lower energy density is to eat foods that have a high water and high fiber content (fruits, vegetables, broth-based soups, and cooked whole grains) instead of low-moisture or high-fat foods (cheese, crackers, cookies, and fried potatoes). Incorporate more of these foods in recipes — for example, add vegetables to soups, stews, and pasta dishes; fill sandwiches and wraps with lettuce, chopped cucumbers, and grated carrots; top whole grain pizzas with more vegetables and less cheese.
Protein increases satiety more than carbohydrates. Protein also helps limit muscle loss during weight loss. Look for sources of lean protein (such as beans and other legumes, white-meat poultry, and low-fat or nonfat dairy) or those rich in healthy fats (such as fish, nuts, and soy foods). Distributing protein throughout the day helps with weight loss, rather than eating it all in one sitting. Higher-protein diets that include at least 25 grams of protein at each meal reduce appetite and body weight, compared with lower-protein diets.
Variety in your overall diet is important to ensure that you get a range of nutrients and other substances that contribute to good health. But having too many choices at once can lead to overconsumption (the “smorgasbord effect”) because foods with different flavors and sensory qualities whet the appetite, even if you are physically satiated—which is why there always seems to be “room for dessert.” It’s also easier to overfill your plate when you have a large number of choices. On the other hand, you’re likely to eat less if you have less variety, since foods similar in taste and texture dull the palate (a phenomenon called sensation-specific satiety). Be especially careful at all-you-can-eat buffets and parties. Scan the whole array of foods before making your selection, choose no more than three or four items that most appeal to you, and make only one trip. Using smaller plates also helps limit your choices.
Beverages are not as satiating as solid foods, and people usually do not compensate for liquid calories by eating less food. Stick with water or other noncaloric beverages like tea and coffee (limit the cream and sugar). Choose whole fruits over juice. The proposed 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines do not recommend sugar substitutes, citing a lack of evidence that they help in long-term weight loss. To liven up water, try a squeeze of lemon or lime or other fruit essence. If you drink alcoholic beverages, be aware of their calories and that alcohol can have a disinhibiting effect on eating control.
Cooking at home allows you to eat more whole foods and control how much oil, sugar, and other high-calorie ingredients you use. People tend to eat more when they eat out — although still be mindful to limit portion sizes at home. If cooking from recipes, substitute healthier ingredients when possible or look for healthy lower-calorie recipes that include nutrition analyses, and stick to the serving sizes.
Take advantage of calorie listings on the menu to find lower-calorie options, don’t order anything that’s been super-sized, and consider sharing entrées (or asking for half portions). Consider having an appetizer or salad as your main dish. Read the whole menu before you order (even look at the menu online before getting to the restaurant) and ask questions of your server to help steer you toward more healthful, lower-calorie options. Request that meals be prepared with no or minimal butter, oil, or other high-fat ingredients, and ask for salad dressings on the side so you can control how much you use.
Foods high in fat and sugar activate the body’s “reward system”, which releases chemicals in the nervous system relating to pleasure. Overly restricting such foods (or any food you crave) can be counterproductive since it can increase your desire for them and can lead to bingeing. An occasional treat is fine, as long as it is in moderation. Feel comfortable having a small daily treat or save up for some treats on weekends.
Dieters who regularly record what they eat lose more weight than those who don’t. It doesn’t matter how you do it — in a notebook, on the computer, or with an app — as long as you record your intake consistently and honestly (including even condiments and tastings you may take while cooking). Doing this makes you more accountable for what you eat and helps you see patterns in your eating habits that may be contributing to weight gain.
An often overlooked factor in body weight is sleep habits. Though the optimal amount of sleep varies from person to person, too little sleep has been linked to weight gain because it may affect appetite hormones and lead to increased hunger and food intake, decreased calorie burning, and increased fat storage.
Routine weighings increase self-awareness and can provide encouragement if the numbers are going in the right direction — or it can motivate you to get back on track if you detect an upward trend. More frequent self weigh-ins are associated with greater weight loss and that going more than a week without stepping on the scale has been associated with weight gain. Regular self-weighing is a particularly effective strategy for maintaining long-term weight loss. Some people get discouraged by small fluctuations that occur over the course of a day or several days (which reflect normal shifts in fluid levels, rather than changes in body fat). Keep in mind also that weight is not everything. Another good— and sometimes better —gauge of weight-loss success is to measure waist and other body areas, such as hips and thighs.
Just as weight tends to creep up over time, losing excess weight takes time. Don’t expect to lose 10 pounds a week (any diet that says you can is counting on water losses, not fat loss). Small and steady weight loss — about one to two pounds a week — usually increases the likelihood of keeping it off long-term. For most people, losing 5-10 percent of body weight will provide health benefits. Also keep in mind that, depending on your body type and genetics, you may never be able to get back to your high school or college weight. And if you and your family members tend to have a certain body shape (like a pear, for example), weight loss will result in overall slimming but won’t reshape your body.