Here's some serious slimspiration for you: Doing only one thing differently can be all it takes to lose weight and improve your life in surprising, healthy ways. We found six women who each flipped a simple dietary switch that set off a chain reaction of positive effects, from getting glowing skin to losing 130 pounds. See which idea will ignite your personal success story.
By Liz Plosser
The planner: Shoshana Davis, 24, New York City
One small change: Mapping out meals
The big payoff: Dropped 130 pounds in a year and found the spotlight
How she did it: Davis attempted dozens of diets before finding the one simple technique that worked for her: plotting out her bites. "It wasn't easy at first-it took time to get used to thinking ahead about every meal and snack-but I'm much less likely to make poor food choices when I've put a plan in motion," Davis says. "If I know I'm meeting my friends for Chinese, I'll look at the menu and decide which healthy dish I want in advance." Davis, who now weighs 170 pounds, has also seen huge gains in her self-image. "My quality of life has improved so much. I was always the 'fat' friend and the 'big' girl. Now I climb the stairs without getting winded and buy clothes at any store, and I recently signed up for an improv class. It's something I never would have done when I was heavier," she says.
Why it worked: Scheduling your meals is akin to backing up your PC: You know you should, yet it seems so laborious; but you put in the time because the alternatives (a computer crash, a scale that won't budge) are costly. "When your diet has you going around in circles, thinking ahead is like a road map, locking you into a successful game plan," says Suzanne Farrell, R.D., a spokeswoman in Denver for the American Dietetic Association.
Do it yourself! Use the SELF Challenge shopping list, then hit the grocery store to stock up. Planning your meals and snacks keeps you on track, so junk won't tempt you.The whole grainiac: Elaine Heinzman, 33, Washington, D.C.
One small change: Eliminating white carbs
The big payoff: Went down two sizes and got clear, glowing skin
How she did it: Inspired by a health-conscious friend, Heinzman swapped processed carbohydrates such as white bread, cookies and pasta for whole grains. "I still nibble on bread and occasionally order white pasta when I go out to eat, but I don't keep those foods in the house," she says. In addition to dropping two pants sizes over the course of a year, Heinzman sees a surprise benefit every morning in the mirror: a smoother, healthier complexion. "I have oily skin and developed acne as an adult, but once I gave up processed carbs, my face started to clear up."
Why it worked: "The body digests whole grains slowly, so they help maintain steady blood sugar levels, staving off cravings," says Mary Lee Chin, R.D., of Denver. At the same time, ousting white carbs can encourage your body to shed water weight, which is why Heinzman experienced such immediate results-a great motivator. Balanced blood sugar may also be the reason for Heinzman's improved complexion. When 43 acne-afflicted people removed refined carbs from their diet, nearly half saw 50 percent fewer blemishes after three months, a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports. Researchers suspect this is because the insulin your body produces in response to high blood sugar may encourage the cells in your oil ducts to multiply, causing blockages and breakouts.Give your skin the star treatment in your own home (and on a reasonable budget!) with these get-radiant tips from the pros.
Do it yourself! Make "white out" your mantra when faced with a celebratory spread. "This simple rule helps me resist indulging in unhealthy foods at office parties," Heinzman says. Munch on crudités, nuts and fruit instead of chips, crackers and cupcakes. And at the grocery store, ignore packaging that says made with whole grains (the product may still contain refined flour), and check the ingredients list for whole-wheat flour. No dice? Place the item back on the shelf. Experiment with lesser-known whole grains such as bulgur and quinoa in side dishes and try whole-grain wraps, tortillas and English muffins for sandwiches.
Carbophobic? Whole grains can actually help you shed stomach fat.The sweetener sleuth: Leslie Halpern, 23, Chicago
One small change: Giving high-fructose corn syrup the slip
The big payoff: A smaller size and no more afternoon fatigue
How she did it: Reading labels may seem time-consuming, but Halpern made it easy by focusing on one thing: high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS. "I always thought I was a healthy eater, but I realized products that are fat-free and reduced fat harbor a lot of chemicals, artificial ingredients and sweeteners and don't keep you full," Halpern says. She skipped all foods containing HFCS, including some reduced-fat peanut butters and light salad dressings. "I started snacking on whole-wheat crackers or carrots, and I noticed a huge energy jump, especially around 3 p.m. Plus, even though I was eating full-fat foods, I lost about 5 pounds." Eat fat to lose fat? Sounds good to us!
Why it worked: HFCS sweetens many processed foods, including cold cuts and ketchup, and food makers often add it to reduced-fat foods to make them tastier. Just like table sugar, HFCS can cause spikes and dips in your blood sugar, and some research suggests it may mess with the hunger and fullness signals the hormone leptin sends out, leaving you feeling less satisfied. "Eating a lot of fructose, which is found in both HFCS and sucrose, leads to leptin resistance," says HFCS researcher Alexandra Shapiro, Ph.D., of the University of Florida in Gainesville. When this reaction happens, leptin fails to control appetite, and the extra calories you consume are deposited as fat instead of being burned for energy, she adds.
Do it yourself! To avoid an afternoon energy crisis, swap packaged foods with sucrose or HFCS for those high in healthful fats and fiber, such as crudités with hummus, tuna salad on whole-wheat crackers or raisins mixed with sunflower seeds. Also replace reduced-fat foods you nosh on with small portions of the real thing. You'll feel satisfied by less and skip the artificial stuff, too!
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