Habit: It’s that thing that we do when we’re not paying attention to what we’re doing. But what if you could change your habits so that you could start losing fat automatically — without ever having to think about it? New research says that you can — and it’s easier than you think.
We develop habits because they save us time and energy (you don’t have to think about whether to make coffee in the morning, you just do it), and because they give us a sense of comfort and reward. But neurons in the brain actually judge the rewards and costs of habits, which means they might be easier to change than you think, according to new research at MIT. Breaking a bad habit may be as simple as upping the penalty: Set aside money to buy yourself something special, then subtract from your little nest egg every time you break down and sneak a midnight snack. Eventually, your brain will decide that the cost isn’t worth the benefit, the research suggests.
But which habits are costing you the most? Don’t miss these bad habits that give you belly fat, with new research from the brand-new book by Abs Diet creator David Zinczenko that’s already topping the Amazon charts: Zero Belly Cookbook!
It’s a logical assumption: Switching from a sugar-based soda to a non-sugar-based soda should help your health. While calorically speaking that might be true, diet sodas contain their own dangers and side effects. In a shocking study, researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center monitored 475 adults for 10 years and found that the participants who drank diet soda saw a 70 percent increase in waist circumference compared with those who didn’t drink any soda. So much for the idea that diet soda helps you diet. That’s not all: The participants who drank more than two diet sodas a day suffered a 500 percent waist expansion. Yikes! The same researchers conducted a separate study on mice that indicates it might be the aspartame that causes the weight gain. Aspartame raises blood glucose levels to a point where the liver cannot handle it all, so the excess glucose is converted into fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Drink black tea instead, for a caffeine buzz without the weight gain. (See tip No. 2 for the tea that’s most effective at blasting fat.)
A steaming cup of tea is the perfect drink for soothing a sore throat, warming up on a cold winter’s night, or binge-watching Downton Abbey. But certain teas are also perfect for doing something else — helping you lose extra weight. Pu-erh tea, for example, can literally shrink the size of your fat cells! To discover the brew’s fat-crusading powers, Chinese researchers divided rats into five groups and fed them varying diets over a two-month period. In addition to a control group, there was a group given a high-fat diet with no tea supplementation and three groups that were fed a high-fat diet with varying doses of pu-erh tea extract. The researchers found that the tea significantly lowered triglyceride concentrations (potentially dangerous fat found in the blood) and belly fat in the high-fat diet groups. It’s a natural fat blaster, along with barberry, rooibos and white tea.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: We love pu-erh so much, we made it part of our new weight-loss plan, “The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse.”
When we eat with other people, we consume, on average, 44 percent more food than we do when dining alone. Research published in the journal Nutrition found that a meal eaten with one other person was 33 percent larger than a meal savored alone. It gets scarier from there. Third-wheeling with two friends? You’re looking at a 47 percent bigger meal. Dining with four, six, or 8+ friends was associated with meal increases of 69, 70 and 96 percent, respectively. Though part of this has to do with the amount of time we spend at the table when dining with company, another study from the journal Appetite found people who spent longer eating because they were simultaneously reading didn’t eat significantly more, meaning time isn’t the only factor at play here.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: You can still hang out with your friends. Just vary the activity once in a while, and include short runs or walk-and-talks. You’ll save money and calories.
For better or … fatter? Research suggests a committed relationship has the potential to wreak havoc on your diet. A study in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed the impact spouses, friends, and siblings played on dietary patterns over the course of 10 years. Couples had the greatest influence on each other’s eating habits, particularly when it came to drinking booze and snacking.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: The good news is the “halo effect” applies to healthy habits too. A Harvard Public School of Health study found that people on a weight-loss program who had the support of at least one partner lost 6.5 pounds more than those going it alone. So sign up your spouse or friend to be your partner in getting fit. And you can both click here to read “The 25 Best-Ever Nutrition Tips!”
If you want to eat healthy when dining out with a group of friends, keep healthy company … or order first! A University of Illinois study found that groups of people tend to order similarly, especially when forced to give their order out loud. The researchers attribute the results to the fact that people are happier making similar choices as their peers.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: If you’re determined to make healthy choices, stick to your decision and get your order in first.
Spending hours on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest when you could be up and about burning calories is a growing health concern, health experts say. A study of 350 students from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland found that the more time they spent on Facebook, the less time they spent exercising or engaging in team sports. Particularly fattening is catching up with your social networks before bed — or even in bed! A study in Pediatric Obesity found students with access to one electronic device in their bedrooms were 1.47 times as likely to be overweight as those with no device in the bedroom. That increased to 2.57 times for kids with three devices.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Turn that catch-up session into an in-person meet-up and, no, not at a restaurant. (Remember Tip No. 3!) And yet it is possible to lose weight while lying down and doing nothing. Click here for “33 Lazy Ways to Flatten Your Belly — Fast.”
Be mindful about eating mindfully. The practice has ancient Buddhist roots. It is, in fact, a form of secular meditation, asking us to experience food more intensely, paying close attention to the sensation and purpose of each bite. Mindful eating is not a diet — and it doesn’t ask you to eat less — but the approach is gaining traction as a successful weight-loss mechanism. In fact, recent studies have shown that mindful eaters respond less to emotional stress, consume significantly fewer calories, and have an easier time maintaining a healthy BMI compared with those who are unaware.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Chew slowly. Tune in to the texture, the smell, and complexity of flavors. Keep chewing. Swallow. Take a sip of water. And for a few moments, resist the urge to take another bite. Continue this way throughout the course of a meal and you’ll experience the pleasures and frustrations of mindful eating.
“We eat for many reasons, but the main prompt for mindful eating is physical hunger,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Leslie Schilling. “It’s hard to be present if you’re eating at your desk, cyber-loafing, or watching television. When your mind is focusing on something besides your food, you don’t realize things like ‘Was the food actually good?’ and ‘Am I getting full?’ This often leads to ‘do-over eating,’ which isn’t so mindful. Eat with purpose and presence!”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Minimize distractions as often as possible,” says Schilling. In other words, that episode of Empire can be watched — after dinner.
The warm smell of cinnamon, the charred stripes on a grilled chicken breast, the crunch of an apple … Experts say paying attention to the sensory details of food is a simple way to start eating mindfully — and start dropping pounds. In fact, a study in the journal Flavour found that participants who took time to appreciate the aroma of a meal ate significantly less of a dish that smelled strongly than a mildly scented one. A second study found that people served a monochromatic plate of food — like fettuccine Alfredo on a white plate — ate 22 percent more than those served a more visually appealing meal that provided more color and contrast. Texture also comes into play. Researchers in Florida found that people tend to eat more of soft, smooth foods, which tend to be higher in fat, than hard, crisp ones. In one study, participants consumed more soft brownie bits than hard brownie bits until they were asked to focus on calorie content.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Just being mindful of how things like aroma, mouthfeel, and food presentation can influence how much we eat can help increase the satisfaction we get from a meal and also prevent overeating. Click here for the “5 Best Spices for Fat Loss.”
“We are born pleasure seekers,” says Melissa Milne, author of The Naughty Diet. “It’s not just food calories that fill us up, but the pleasure we derive from eating them. Taking time to set the mood can increase your meal satisfaction, which means you’re less likely to overeat. In fact, pleasure helps the body relax, which aids digestion. This means you’ll metabolize an indulgent meal faster and smaller portion sizes will satisfy you.”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Even when eating alone, take time to set the mood with rituals that boost pleasure — your P-spot, as we call it on the Naughty Diet,” says Milne. “Use your fine china, pour yourself a glass of wine, light a candle, and put on some Barry White “You Sexy Thing!” And follow the Naughty Diet for more weight-loss tips right here.
Stopping at a red light is more challenging when you’re flying at 100 miles per hour than when cruising at a slower speed. Knowing when to put down your fork is similar. Experts say gauging your body’s subtle “I’m full” cues is easier when you take smaller bites at a slower pace. In fact, one study published in the journal PLOS One found that people who focused on taking “small bites” of food consumed about 30 percent less soup for their meal than those who didn’t make the conscious decision. The mindful soup slurpers also more accurately estimated how many calories they had consumed.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: A second study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that simply slowing down had similar results. People who focused on doubling the number of times they chewed before swallowing ate 15 percent less food and 112 fewer calories over the course of a meal. So pump the brakes, and slow down to slim down.
“Mindful eating can help you break free from old automatic, habitual patterns of reacting to environmental and emotional triggers. So whenever you feel like eating, pause to ask ‘Am I hungry?’ and choose how you’ll respond,” says Michelle May, MD, founder of Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Eat mindfully with intention and attention,” says May. “Eat with the intention of feeling better when you’re finished eating than you did when you started, and eat with your full attention on the food and your body for optimal enjoyment and satisfaction.”
Of all the gym-goers, yogis tend to be the most mindful eaters, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. In a survey of more than 300 Seattle residents, researchers found that people who ate more mindfully weighed less than those who ate mindlessly (those who reported eating when not hungry or in response to anxiety or depression). The researchers also found a strong association between mindful eating and yoga practice, but not other types of physical activity, like walking or running. According to the authors, yoga, because it teaches how to maintain calm in uncomfortable or challenging situations, can increase mindfulness in eating and lead to less weight gain over time — independent of the physical aspect of the exercise.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Enjoy yoga—and get abs doing it. Click here for the “Best Foods for Yoga.”
“There are a number of external factors — such as the people with whom you are enjoying a meal — that play a critical role in your ability to eat mindfully,” says Dan Childs, managing editor of the ABC News Medical Unit and co-author of Thinfluence.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Think of ways to optimize your environment that will help you achieve this goal,” says Childs. “For example, make others who are eating with you aware of your goal to eat mindfully. Invite them to try it too. You may find that experiencing a meal together will help you both savor what you are eating and pay closer attention to how much you are eating so you don’t overindulge.”
Our homes are filled with hidden eating traps, and simply being aware of something as simple as the size of a bowl can influence how much you eat, according to Brian Wansink, director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab. In one of Wansink’s “mindless eating” studies, moviegoers ate 45 percent more fresh popcorn from extra-large containers than large ones. A second study showed that people automatically poured more liquid into short, wide glasses than in tall, skinny ones of the same volume. Even a kid’s cereal bowl can be a hidden trap for mindless overeating. A study in the Journal of Pediatrics found children who were given a 16-ounce bowl served themselves twice as much cereal as children given an 8-ounce bowl.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Bottom line: It’s easier to change your environment than to change your mind. Employing simple strategies like eating off salad plates instead of large dinner plates are more likely to succeed than willpower alone.
The food guilt, the negative self-talk, the still ill-fitting clothes: Diets can do a number on your self-confidence, especially when your goal seems forever-plus-10-pounds away. But wanting to lose weight doesn’t mean you have to hate your body now. In fact, studies suggest self-love may be integral to your success. Diets that lack self-compassion often lead to emotional eating, elevated stress levels, and stalled weight loss.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Read this essay by The Naughty Diet author Melissa Milne: “A Skinny Woman Responds to Haters That Shame Her.”
“Realize first that you are awesome,” says Nia Shanks, coach, health and fitness writer, and leader of the Lift Like a Girl revolution. “You should be doing these things — eating well and working out — because you love your body and you want to become a stronger, more awesome version of yourself.”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: When it comes to working out, put the focus exclusively on what your body can do, and be proud of its abilities. Strive to improve your performance each workout, because when you change your focus from what you weigh to what your body can do, you’ll achieve the weight-loss results you want while improving your self-confidence, and become a more awesome version of yourself. Do these things, and you can be happy today. You won’t have to wait until you achieve your weight-loss goals.
“A hot bath is one of the simplest expressions of self-love and care,” says Milne. “Skinny dipping in the privacy of your own bathroom clears the mind, soothes sore muscles, and releases pleasure-giving endorphins. It’s a sensual pause from the stress of our daily lives, a hot spot for indulging our bodies, minds, and appetites for pleasure — calorie-free.”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “So grab the bubble bath, some extra-large, fluffy towels, a candle, and a Do Not Disturb sign, and draw yourself a steamy tub of 20-minutes’ peace,” says Milne. “The kids can wait.”
“Only when you love your body will you truly nourish it and care for it the way you need to in order to lose weight healthfully, without gaining it back,” says Neghar Fonooni, fitness and lifestyle coach and creator of the Lean and Lovely method.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “One simple way to start this process is to write in a ‘self-compassion journal,’” says Fonooni. “Every morning you’ll write down three things about yourself that you think are fabulous — one physical trait and two character or personality traits. The more you write, the more you’ll be open to love and compassion toward yourself.” Does this cheesy tip actually work? Yes, but others you’ve heard are BS. Learn the truth with our “24 Nutrition Myths—Busted!”
“Positive affirmations can help boost your confidence, but they can sometimes be hard to use when you feel at odds with your appearance,” says Robyn Silverman, body image expert.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Turn the idea on its head a bit. Look in the mirror,” says Silverman. “If you are having trouble saying anything kind about yourself or your body, ask those you love to help you. Request notes from your best friends, your parents, your siblings, and anyone else whose opinion can lift you. Post these notes on your mirror, and read them out loud each day. Allow their words to become your own.”
“Do things that challenge you physically!” says Jill de Jong, integrative nutrition health coach and founder of Models Do Eat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “It can be as simple as going for a run or as extreme as taking a kiteboarding lesson,” she says. “When you do something challenging, your mind automatically shifts to being present. And when you are present, there’s no judgment. Now you can enjoy the strength of your body and feel connected to it. How do you feel after a challenge? Like a winner! And that’s exactly the mindset that will boost your self-confidence.” And feel confident by carving your abs, thanks to these “11 Eating Habits That Will Uncover Your Abs.”
“You can still love your body while working toward weight loss by coming up with a phrase that’s personal to you, something like “I feel stronger and healthier every day that passes” — that you can think to yourself when negative thoughts about your appearance or progress start to creep in,” says Jen Comas Keck, NASM personal trainer.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Repeating this phrase to yourself can help you de-stress and focus on the positive aspects of your weight-loss journey,” says Keck. “I like to take a full inhale and then repeat the phrase to myself in my head as I exhale. Let it all go…”
“Learning to put yourself first is an important part of your weight-loss journey,” says dietitian Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet. “Treating yourself to a massage, manicure, pedicure, or simply a new lipstick can work wonders in lifting your mood, and also provides an alternative to rewarding yourself with food.”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Remember that self-care is not selfish!” says Gans. “When you take steps to pamper your body, you’ll feel more beautiful, more confident, and more able to share yourself with others.”
“Viewing health behaviors as an act of self-care is essential,” advises dietitian Leslie Schilling. “Begin taking notes on a daily basis, noting positive behaviors and what you’d like to accomplish or continue tomorrow.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: For example: “Today I was happy that I got to step away from my desk and eat lunch. I was more mindful with my food and got to read a chapter in my book. I felt more upbeat and productive the rest of the afternoon. I hope to do that again tomorrow and plan a balanced dinner.” It really works.
A high-protein, low-carb diet may help your extra pounds fly off initially, but it can actually cause weight gain in the long term, according to a recent Spanish study. Researchers had more than 7,000 participants fill out questionnaires about their eating habits over the course of six years. After analyzing the data for commonalities, they found that those who ate high-protein diets had a 90 percent greater risk of gaining more than 10 percent of their body weight during the course of the study than those who ate less of the stuff. Yikes!
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Eat these “29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss.”
Frozen produce has a nutrient density that’s often higher than fresh, but canned foods don’t hold up. A study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that for some vegetables, canning degraded as much as 95 percent of the vitamin C and damaged every B vitamin in the food.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Buy frozen — and save major $$$ by not throwing out rotten produce.
Bryan Wilson, a 29-year-old accountant, was a test panelist for Zero Belly Diet, the new book from Eat This, Not That! author David Zinczenko. Wilson lost 19 pounds and an astounding six inches from his waist in just six weeks on the program, and he attributes his success to the Zero Belly shake recipes. “I love the shakes. I added them to my diet, and almost immediately, I lost the bloat,” Wilson said. “I’m a sweet craver, and the shakes were an awesome alternative to the bowls and bowls of ice cream I would have had.”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Try vegan protein, which will give you the same fat-burning, hunger-squelching, muscle-building benefits as whey — without the bloat. For 150+ recipes that will make your belly flat, buy the brand-new book from Abs Diet creator David Zinczenko: Zero Belly Cookbook!
“Make half your plate vegetables and/or salad,” says nutritionist and dietitian Danielle Omar, blogger at Food Confidence. The vegetables are nutrient dense, high in satiating fiber, and low in calories. By eating the veggie half of your plate before anything else, you will take the edge off your hunger, eat less overall calories, and still feel full and satisfied.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Keep eating this way and the pounds will painlessly melt away,” says Omar.
“I’ve always been a big believer in balance: Train hard, work hard, and live hard — and sometimes that involves a bit of bubbly,” says Dan Roberts, creator of the fashion model workout Methodology X. “Indulging once in a while in a bit of something that’s bad for your health is often extremely good for the soul!”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: For more know-how from Dan Roberts, check out his essential trick for rapid weight loss.
“Spaghetti squash is a great alternative to pasta,” Shaun T, the Insanity trainer who hosts a new podcast, Trust and Believe, tells Eat This, Not That!. “I love pairing it with homemade spaghetti sauce so I feel like I am eating noodles, but am getting a dose of vegetables instead!”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Speaking of veggie spaghetti, don’t miss these “3 Exclusive Amazing Spiralizer Recipes.”
“Let’s face it,” Maria Menounos, TV personality who lost 40 pounds and kept it off and author of The EveryGirl’s Guide to Diet and Fitness says, “the entire diet industry as well as the messages we get from Hollywood, the media, and pretty much our entire country revolve around weight and size. Lose more pounds. Fit into smaller clothes. Get thin! The main thing I want to convey, though, is that thin cannot compete with healthy. Health is the most important thing in your life.”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Hey, if you can be healthy and thin, then more power to you,” she continues. “But risking everything to be thin is not worth it and makes no sense in the big picture. I know more than a few thin people who are unhealthy. They smoke cigarettes, starve themselves, live on gallons of diet soda and energy drinks, or use drugs or other such unhealthy means to stay thin. As a result, some of them will not live long lives, and those who do may not live quality lives. Many, if not most, are also unhappy. Keep health your goal, and it will naturally result in being trim.”
Despite diet experts and new research constantly telling you otherwise, many people still consume the bulk of their calories in two or three large meals each day, often — in an attempt to slim down — going for hours at a time eating nothing in between. Sure, you can lose weight on a reduced-calorie three-meal plan, but you can’t make your body burn fat more efficiently, which is key to long-term weight loss.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: A nutritious meal or snack about every three hours keeps blood-sugar levels stable, feeds your body a steady stream of necessary nutrients, and helps control hunger-induced cravings for less-than-slimming snacks like sweets and fats. It also leads to more effective glycogen storage in the liver and muscle tissues, ensuring that your body won’t cannibalize muscle as an energy source during your workouts. So make your meals mini, and spread them out. If you have trouble fitting in extra eating times at work, prepare food ahead of time that you can zap in the microwave or eat cold. And stock your kitchen right: Shed fat in just days with “The 9 Best Flat-Belly Superfoods.”
Don’t be ashamed of your popcorn habit, as long as you don’t use too much butter or oil. “Popcorn is one of my favorite whole grains. Whole-grain crackers, oatmeal, and whole-grain cereal also top my daily diet list,” says Elisa Zied, registered dietitian and nutritionist and author of Younger Next Week. “Even though whole grains get a bad rap, I don’t think it’s deserved. Studies suggest that whole-grain intake is linked with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: “Consuming whole grains has also been linked with lower body weight and decreased body fat. Some findings also show that eating high fiber foods — like whole grains — can help dieters keep off the weight they’ve lost,” says Zied.
It’s time to get fat — not around your waist, but on your plate. A new report from the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that more and more of us are choosing whole-fat foods over skim, light, fat-free, or other modern monikers of leanness. And while many health organizations like the American Heart Association still want us to cut down on fat — particularly saturated fat — this full-fat trend may be a healthy rebellion against that decades-old credo, according to recent studies.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Click here for The 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss.
Stephen Colbert may be onto something. The UCLA Center for Human Nutrition researchers divided study participants into two groups, each of which was fed a nearly identical low-cal diet for 12 weeks. The only difference between the groups was what they were given to eat as an afternoon snack. One group ate 220 calories of pretzels while the other group munched on 240 calories’ worth of pistachios. Just four weeks into the study, the pistachio group had reduced their BMI by a point, while the pretzel-eating group stayed the same, and their cholesterol and triglyceride levels showed improvements as well.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Enjoy pistachios — and almonds — but click here for the “20 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet.”
Ideally we sleep about eight hours for every 24. Most people spend an extra seven to 10 hours sitting at their desk. That means most of us spend the overwhelming majority of our time sedentary. Our bodies weren’t designed for this level of inactivity. Most of human evolutionary history has involved being active, searching for food and fuel. Nutritionist Lisa Jubilee says that one way to burn more calories daily is to stand more and sit less. She cites a British study that found that standing at work burned 50 more calories an hour than sitting. If that doesn’t sound like a lot, consider this: If you stand for just three hours every day, in one year you’ll expend more than 30,000 extra calories — which amounts to about 8 pounds of fat.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: Set a phone timer to remind you to get up every hour and walk around, even for a few minutes.
Your dinner, that is. While it may sound counterintuitive, eating before going to a work dinner or happy hour can actually take off pounds. A series of studies out of Penn State found that noshing on an apple or a broth-based soup prior to sitting down to a restaurant meal can reduce total calorie intake by 20 percent. With the average restaurant meal weighing in at 1,128 calories, saving 20 percent once a day could help you lose up to 23 pounds this year.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: You don’t have to reach for an apple or soup to keep your appetite in check. Any of these “50 Best Snacks for Weight Loss” should do the trick.
Stepping on the scale every day can be a one-way ticket to Crazytown, but abandon it completely and research has shown your weight is likely to creep up. Fortunately, a recent study from Cornell found there is a happy medium. People who weighed themselves at a set time once a week not only didn’t gain weight but also lost a few pounds without making any other changes to their diets.
Eat This, Not That! Fix: To get the most accurate measurement, weigh yourself once a week in the morning before breakfast.
“The average American doesn’t get enough sleep, and while we’re sleeping, our body releases powerful fat-burning hormones that speed weight loss,” explains Chris Powell, trainer and transformation specialist on ABC’s Extreme Weight Loss. “I don’t care if it’s 15 more minutes or two hours: Every extra minute of shuteye will help you reach your goal that much faster. Plus, if you’re already in bed, the less likely you are to succumb to those late-night food temptations.”
Eat This, Not That! Fix: The National Sleep Foundation suggests seven to eight hours of sleep for most adults. And for the most productive night’s sleep possible, check out these “8 Ways to Lose Weight While You Sleep.”