“Diet” can be a dirty word: “When most people think about losing weight and dieting, the common themes are small portions, diet versions of foods, off-limits desserts and feelings of misery and guilt,” says Maggy Doherty, RD, owner of Doherty Nutrition.
But shedding pounds doesn’t have to be all about restrictions. In fact, there’s plenty you can add to your life to support weight loss, including filling foods, simple fitness tweaks and more movement throughout the day.
In this spirit, here are 11 tricks to make your weight-loss journey easier and more enjoyable, without a restrictive diet:
MAKE A LIST OF YOUR MOTIVATIONS
“Using the scale as your only motivator can be disappointing at times, as we don’t always lose weight as fast as we hope to,” says Audra Wilson, RD, a board-certified specialist in obesity and weight management and certified strength and conditioning coach at the Northwestern Medicine Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center at Delnor Hospital.
To keep your weight-loss motivation going strong, create a list of reasons why you want to lose weight, like being healthy for your family and boosting your stamina to do something you’ve never done before. “When the going gets tough and you reach a weight-loss plateau (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), having a list of what set you out on this journey to begin with will help you break through,” says Wilson.
ADD A MORNING ROUTINE
Wake up a little earlier to give yourself half an hour or even just 15 minutes to prep meals, make a schedule for your day, and perhaps even squeeze in some energizing exercise such as a brisk walk or sunrise yoga. “Whatever you do with the extra time, morning is that part of the day that you have the most control over, so use it to your advantage,” says Wilson. Another bonus: “Getting up earlier means going to bed a little earlier, too, which can help cut back on before-bed snacks.”
CREATE A WEEKLY MEAN PLAN
“One of the biggest reasons people fail to stick to their healthy eating plan is that they are not prepared,” says Ryan Maciel, RD, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. Set aside a designated time each week to create a meal plan. Sit down, brainstorm recipe ideas and make your grocery list. At the grocery store, opt for pre-cut veggies and protein to speed up meal prep, suggests Maciel. You can also opt for a meal kit subscription or consult a nutritionist for help getting started.
FILL YOUR CART WITH WHOLE FOODS
To get away from the “diet” mentality, shift your focus to what you can add to your plate — more whole, unprocessed foods. Fill your cart with healthy staples including high-fiber carbs like whole grains and quinoa, lean proteins like chicken and turkey, and healthy fats from fish, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds — with room for the occasional indulgence. For less-healthy cravings, keep portion sizes in mind. “Try purchasing pre-packaged single-servings and avoid having extras in your home like a family-size bag of chips or gallon of ice cream,” suggests Carrie Kirkland, RD.
REORGANIZE YOUR KITCHEN
As it turns out, kitchen organization strategies don’t just help you declutter. They can also support your weight-loss efforts. Make time to “reorganize your fridge and pantry using the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ rule,” suggests Hailey Gorski, RD. Clear your counters of chip bags and candy, and place less-healthy foods in hard-to-find spots like the back of high, out-of-reach shelves and cabinets. Store ready-to-eat healthy foods where they’re easy to see and reach, such as a bowl full of fruit on the counter and chopped veggies in clear containers at eye-level in your fridge.
DRINK BEFORE YOU EAT
“A useful trick anyone can use is drinking a glass or two of water 10 minutes before eating a meal,” says Elliott Upton, a certified personal trainer at Ultimate Performance. This way, you won’t mistake thirst for hunger, and in general, proper hydration supports weight loss. “Drinking enough water will help you feel full, stave off hunger and keep you from overeating,” explains Upton. A great way to make sure you’re getting enough water is to track it with an app like MyFitnessPal. Don’t forget to keep a water bottle on-hand to refill regularly.
INCREASE YOUR NEAT
NEAT (aka non-exercise activity thermogenesis) activities encompass everything you’re doing when you’re not eating, sleeping or sweating it out at the gym. Think: taking the stairs, playing with your kids, cleaning the house, raking the leaves and even fidgeting. If you have a desk job, “use the bathroom on another floor of your building or go to another co-worker’s office instead of sending an email — every step counts,” says Wilson. “NEAT can be game-changing when it comes to weight loss. The calories you burn can be the difference between calorie maintenance (remaining the same weight) or calorie deficit (the condition you need to lose weight),” adds Upton.
SUBSCRIBE TO HEALTH NEWS
Bookmark your favorite online resources on healthy living (like the MyFitnessPal site you’re currently reading) or treat yourself to new health and fitness magazines. “Staying up to date with the latest news on weight loss and health can keep you motivated and give you fresh ideas on how to improve what you’re already doing,” says Armen Ghazarians, a NASM-certified personal trainer, exercise physiologist and CEO of Finish Fit in Glendale, California.
FIND A WEIGHT-LOSS BUDDY
“For many people, having a support system makes a huge difference in their ability to stick to their goals and not get discouraged,” says Bansari Acharya, RD. After all, research shows we tend to order similar foods to those we’re eating with, and we’re more likely to rise to the challenge of a tough sweat session when we work out with partners who push us. To start working with an accountability buddy, reach out to a friend who’s also trying to lose weight and invite them to connect on the MyFitnessPal app. Then, schedule regular check-in texts and calls or even sync your workouts with virtual group fitness classes or workout videos. You can also try connecting with someone new on MyFitnessPal’s community forums, where there are many conversations about motivation and support.
BRUSH YOUR TEETH AFTER DINNER
“Move your tooth-brushing routine from right before bed to right after your final meal,” suggests Dani Singer, certified personal trainer and director of Fit2Go Personal Training in Baltimore, Maryland. “This is perfect for anyone with a habit of late-night snacking. By making a habit inconvenient (having to re-brush your teeth), you’re less likely to perform it (aka you won’t wander back to the pantry).”
SET A SPECIFIC BEDTIME
The sleep-weight connection is clear: If you don’t get enough quality shut-eye, it negatively affects appetite-controlling hormones, fueling daytime hunger and overeating. For this reason, “optimizing sleep quality and duration needs to be a cornerstone of any weight-loss program,” says Upton. The trick is to schedule a non-negotiable bedtime to ensure you get at least 7–9 hours of sleep. Before you settle in, prime your sleep environment by cooling your bedroom (the optimal temperature is 60–67°F, or about 16–19°C), using blackout shades and putting away your phone, laptop and any other artificial light sources.
Originally published September 2019, updated with additional reporting
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