If you’re anything like the rest of us, weight has a habit of creeping up on you. That’s because there are periods in life, like the holidays, a vacation, partnering up, breaking up, and getting a new job (to name a few), that can lead to gaining a few pounds. This extra weight may not even be noticeable at first. But over time, it adds up to an expanded waistline and potentially related problems, like type 2 diabetes. Clearly, the best weight loss secret is to stop gaining weight in the first place. But that may be easier said than done. After years of practicing and pouring over the research, here are some of my top weight loss secrets.
Keep track of small gains
Losing two pounds is much less of an uphill battle than losing 10 or 20 pounds. If you’ve eased up on your eating habits over the holidays, a vacation, or this year’s quarantine, take steps to return to your healthy routines to stop gaining weight. Set reasonable goals for yourself to get back on track. For example, if you’ve let an exercise habit slide, you may want to aim to walk or do an on-demand workout three days a week. In this instance, you could set your alarm 30 minutes earlier, set out your workout clothes in the evening, and decide on a route or exercise class the night before. In other words, a goal without a plan is just a wish. The planning part is key! (Here’s how to avoid gaining weight on vacation.)
Scale back on sugary foods and drinks
It may be impossible to stop gaining weight if you’re in the habit of eating sugary desserts and drinking sweetened drinks, like sodas, sweetened tea and coffee drinks, and sports drinks. Desserts and sweetened beverages are two of the leading sources of added sugar in our diets, but sugar is hiding in some seemingly healthy foods, too, like granola bars, flavored yogurts, whole grain cereals, and plant-based milks (Oat milk, I’m looking at you!). The 2020 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reports that for all age groups, Americans are consuming excessive amounts of added sugars.
It’s probably no secret that to control your weight, you need to cut back the added sugars you’re eating. If dessert is your thing, consider miniature desserts (like a small truffle or mini cupcake), which helps with portion sizes, and aim to eat these splurges less frequently. If you have a soda addiction, try weaning yourself off by having it every other day (instead of every day), continuing to reduce how much you drink. Or reserve it for times when you’re eating out, if you still feel like you need a fix. For better-for-you treats, check out my list of healthy sweet snacks to satisfy your cravings. (If you’re struggling with sweets, read the best ways to reduce sugar cravings.)
And read labels to detect added sugars in your favorite packaged foods. Start with common sources, like those mentioned above, working your way through your pantry and fridge. A teaspoon of sugar is roughly four grams, so when you see foods with more than this amount, you know they’re contributing at least a teaspoon of added sugar to your 6 to 9 teaspoon allotment (for women and kids, and men respectively).
Eat more veggies
Unsurprisingly, this is one of my favorite weight loss secrets! Veggies have a lot going for them when it comes to preventing weight gain. Nonstarchy veggies have fewer calories per bite than any other food, so you can enjoy large servings, feel full and satisfied, and still stay within your body’s calorie needs. This can help you you lose weight, if needed, or just stop gaining weight so you maintain a healthy weight over time.
If you’re thinking, UGH, Sam, I HATE veggies, I hear you. I’ve worked with countless people who have had this reaction. Here are some tips to help you eat more veggies:
Add one to two cups of spinach to smoothies. The fruit covers up the taste of the greens so you won’t notice them, except for the slight change in color.
Roast them in extra virgin olive oil. It sounds basic, but when you roast veggies, it brings out their natural sweetness, making them more acceptable to picky palates.
Pair them with eggs. If you already like scrambled eggs, try mixing some veggies into the scramble. Start with a small amount at first, or get daring and try a veggie hash on the side. Try mushrooms, peppers, and onions for this.
Put them in pasta. Pasta is a great carrier for veggies! A pasta dinner is a favorite in most homes, so use pasta as the base to deliver more vegetables. Your low-sugar marinara sauce counts, but don’t stop there. Add broccoli florets, zucchini, artichoke hearts or asparagus (or a mix them). Here’s a veggie-packed, tasty-looking pasta dish from the folks at Food Network. For a healthier meal, sub the regular linguini for red lentil spaghetti, which has 15 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber for the win!
Have a protein-packed breakfast
When you look at the habits of people who have lost weight and kept it off over a long period of time, eating breakfast is a common theme. In one study that tracked people who had maintained their weight loss for a t least a year, 78% reported eating breakfast. A protein-rich breakfast has also been shown to reduce food cravings, which may result in less unintentional snacking. Finally, a study that came out earlier this year found that compared to eating a large dinner, when people ate a large breakfast of equal calories, they experienced a metabolic boost after breakfast, burning 2.5 times the number of calories as when they had eaten a larger dinner. They also reported fewer sugary cravings. Be sure to read my post on high protein breakfast foods for ideas to help you bust cravings and stop gaining weight.
Step on the scale
Over and over, research tells us that this is one of the best weight loss secrets around. In one review of 66 prior studies, it was considered predictive of maintaining weight loss. Essentially, this tool tells you when your energy balance is in the right zone--you’re eating and exercising in line with your body’s needs. When the scale goes up, it’s a sign that you’re eating or activity has gotten off track. (Here’s how to find out how many calories you need in a day.) Hopping on the scale has even been shown to stop weight gain in college freshmen--a time when people are vulnerable to weight gain. If you want to add this tool to your weight control plan, I recommend the highly-rated Eat Smart Precision Plus Digital Bathroom Scale. If you want more bells and whistles, my friends at Good Housekeeping rate the Nokia Body + Digital Scale the best feature-rich scale.
One more word about scales: There are some people who should avoid weighing themselves. If you’re triggered by the data displayed on your scale, it’s not the right tool for you. There are natural, daily fluctuations that don’t imply weight gain or loss, and if these swings put you in a bad frame of mind (or a good frame of mind, depending on the data), you might need to skip this practice. If you’ve ever had an eating disorder, weighing yourself is not recommended. However, if you want to stop weight gain and you can approach the numbers on the scale as useful information, science shows it’s a useful tool.
Practice a 12 hour fast
Studies show that nighttime snacking is linked to higher body weights, so in order to lose weight or stop gaining weight, it’s helpful to reduce unnecessary eating at night. Often, snacking at night becomes is a habit rather than a need to curtail hunger. When you stop eating at night, you’re eliminating this mindless snacking, which can help stop weight gain and lead to weight loss In fact, there’s research suggesting that more severe forms of intermittent fasting are no better than other forms of calorie reduction for weight loss or weight maintenance, suggesting that reducing your overall calorie intake is really the key. If you find yourself taking multiple trips to the kitchen at night, check out my strategies for dealing with nightime snacking. (Here’s where you can read about the types of intermittent fasting and how to decide if it’s right for you.)
Don’t skimp on sleep
You don’t need me to tell you the importance of staying well-rested. Chances are, you know how crummy it feels when you’re not sleeping well. However, you may not know that this can impact your ability to control your weight so if you want to stop gaining weight or lose some weight, you need to take sleep seriously.
Sleep deprivation can alter your appetite-regulating hormones, so you feel hungrier and your feelings of fullness are delayed. This can lead to overeating, which puts you in a calorie surplus and promotes weight gain. Poor sleep can also influence how you think about food, increasing your cravings for sweets and other less healthy foods.
One of the best weight loss secrets I can offer is to get the suggested seven to nine hours of sleep each night. To help on this front, see my suggestions for eight natural ways to sleep better.