Weekly Creating Wellness Insight
By Liz Vaccariello, Editor-in-Chief, Prevention
Losing weight is about a series of small steps--one less dessert here, an extra 10 minutes on the elliptical there--plus smart lifestyle moves that continually inch you closer to your goals. But like any change, try to do everything at once and you could wind up feeling deprived and deflated (and not in the good way). So instead of vowing to cut calories AND exercise 7 days a week AND forsake ice cream and pizza for the rest of your life, start out with a few of these research-proven tricks that can help you drop pounds. Once you've mastered one, add in another; before you know it you'll see results on the scale--no drastic changes required.
1) Keep TV viewing under 2 hours a day
Why It Works: TV junkies miss out on calorie-burning activities like backyard tag with the kids; instead, they become sitting ducks for junk-food ads. One study found that adults who watch more than 2 hours of TV per day take in 7% more calories and consume more sugary snacks than those who watch less than an hour a day. Wean yourself off the tube by introducing other activities into your life. Eliminate the temptation to watch between-show filler by recording your must-see programs so you can fast-forward through the ads. Or subscribe to a mail-order DVD service like Netflix, and make a movie the only thing you watch all day.
2) Eat 4 g of fiber at every meal
Why It Works: A high-fiber diet can lower your caloric intake without making you feel deprived. In a Tufts University study, women who ate 13 g of fiber or less per day were five times as likely to be overweight as those who ate more fiber. Experts see a number of mechanisms through which fiber promotes weight loss: It may slow down eating because it requires more chewing, speed the passage of food through the digestive tract, and boost satiety hormones. To get 25 g of fiber a day, make sure you eat six meals or snacks, each of which contains about 4 g of fiber. For to-go snacks, buy a piece of fruit; it's handier than vegetables, so it's an easy way to up your fiber intake. One large apple has just as much fiber (5 g) as a cup of raw broccoli.
3) Sleep at least 7 hours a night
Why It Works: A University of Chicago study found that people deprived of Zzzs had lower levels of the hormones that control appetite. "The research suggested that short sleep durations could be a risk factor for obesity," says James Gangwisch, Ph.D., an epidemiologist from Columbia University Medical Center. Sure enough, his follow-up study of 9,588 Americans found that women who slept 4 hours or less per night were 234% more likely to be obese. The key number for most people is 7 hours or more a night, he says, so set an early bedtime and stick to it.
4) Drink 8 glasses of water per day
Why It Works: Water is not just a thirst quencher--it may also speed the body's metabolism. Researchers in Germany found that drinking two 8-ounce glasses of cold water increased their subjects' metabolic rate by 30%, and the effect persisted for 90 minutes. One-third of the boost came from the body's efforts to warm the water, but the rest was due to the work the body did to absorb it. "When drinking water, no calories are ingested but calories are used, unlike when drinking sodas, where additional calories are ingested and possibly stored," explains the lead researcher, Michael Boschmann, M.D., of University Medicine Berlin. Increasing water consumption to 8 glasses per day may help you lose about 8 pounds in a year, he says, so try drinking a glass before meals and snacks and before consuming sweetened drinks or juices.
5) Stick to an 8-hour workday
Why It Works: A University of Helsinki study of 7,000 adults found that those who'd packed on pounds in the previous year were more likely to have logged overtime hours. Lack of time for diet and exercise is most likely the cause, but it's also possible that work stress has a direct effect on weight gain through changes in hormones like cortisol. Set firm limits on your workday so that when you're done, you still have the oomph to take a bike ride and cook a healthy dinner. To help you stay productive enough to finish on time, set an hourly alarm; when it goes off, deal with your most pressing duties.