You know the simple principle when it comes to losing weight: burn more calories than you consume. However, you also know that most diets and quick weight-loss plans don't work as promised because you always feel hungry!
It's estimated that 45 million American people go on a diet each year, but based on the obesity rate we know that most people don't succeed. Dieting is the most difficult part of weight-loss for most people, but it doesn't have to be that way. The trick isn't eating less, it's eating right: you can use food to control your hunger and keep your diet on track. Here are some tips:
What You Eat
Don't buy the hype about low-carb diets—I definitely don't. I love high-carb foods and the truth is that carbs are not responsible for making people fat. Many carb-filled foods act as powerful appetite suppressants. They’re even more filling than protein or fat. These special carbs fill you up because they are digested more slowly than other types of foods, triggering a sensation of fullness in both your brain and your belly. If you want some good carbohydrates with lots of fiber and small amounts of sugar, try sweet potatoes, grains, and cereals.
The importance of eating plenty of protein can not be overstated. Not only does protein help your body build and maintain muscle mass, it may help to facilitate weight loss. In fact, it increases satiety when compared to lower-protein diets. A good ratio to start with is 20 percent of your calories from fat, 40 percent from carbs, and 40 percent from protein, but you can make alterations to this ratio and find what works best for you and your lifestyle. Skinless poultry breasts, fish, shellfish, nonfat dairy foods, eggs, and 95% lean meat are all great sources of protein.
Vegetables satisfy your hunger like nothing else. They're full of water and fiber, which means they can add bulk to your meals and fill you up faster without adding a lot of extra calories. Pairing them up with grains is an especially effective strategy, because a 1:1 ratio of grains to veggies will satisfy your hunger before you overeat. You can eat twice as much pasta salad if you load it up with broccoli, carrots, and tomatoes instead of just dressing it with mayonnaise.
Water is your best friend. It has numerous health benefits, and it also can keep you from snacking. Sometimes when you're feeling hungry you might actually just be dehydrated. Next time you're thinking about hitting up the vending machine, try drinking a big glass of water and waiting ten minutes instead. Chances are you will feel perfectly full—but hundreds of calories lighter. If a plain glass of water doesn't sound appetizing, you can always punch up the flavor by adding lemon slices or even a sprig of mint.
How You Eat
1. Power Breakfast
Your mother was right about this one: breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Eating a hearty breakfast helps reduce levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, keeping you satisfied throughout the morning. A high protein breakfast is the best: studies show that people who replace a grain-based breakfast with high-protein foods like eggs feel more full for the next 36 hours, and lose up to 65% more weight.
2. Regular Meals
Do not skip meals! You should be eating three square meals a day, plus one snack. You should also be making sure to space your meals out throughout the day so that you don't go longer than four hours without eating. This is incredibly important when it comes to avoiding that nasty stomach grumble because it will keep your blood sugar levels and hunger hormones stable.
3. Mini Meals/Snacks
Snacking is an opportunity to fuel your body between meals. Healthy snacks ensure you won't be ravenous come mealtime, and they keep your fat-burning metabolism revved up. Keep fruit, nuts, or greek yogurt on hand to keep your tummy from complaining.
4. Cheat Meals
Cheat meals are NOT necessary, but they can up-regulate some fat burning hormones like leptin. If you want to indulge, there are a couple ways to go about it: you can enjoy high-calorie treats as an accent to your regular meals (a dollop of cheese on your egg white omelette, for example) or you can take one day “off” per week to eat something unhealthy but delicious.
The above tips can't help you if you're trying to lose a lot of weight in a short amount of time, but they work well for long-term goals and they can make your eating experience more enjoyable, as well as cutting your calorie intake and controlling real hunger. If you haven't tried these tips, why not give them a try? Just don't forget that the best eating strategies in the world won't help you if you're losing sleep and skipping the gym—later on, we'll talk about the best ideas for workouts and sleep routines.
Photos by Lei Li