If your goal this New Year is to lose weight and exercise more, forget the deprivation diet and marathon workouts. New research shows that taking baby steps-not giant leaps-is the best way to get lasting results. A study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that participants who made one small, potentially permanent change in their food choices and/or physical activity each week (such as drinking one fewer can of soda or walking 5 more minutes each day) lost more than twice as much belly fat, 2 ½ more inches off their waistlines, and about 4 times more weight during a 4-month program, compared with those who followed traditional calorie-restriction and physical-activity guidelines. Not bad! Here are some easy yet effective tricks:
1.) Pick up a pen after every meal
Mindlessly munch on a bag of chips and you could easily polish off the whole thing; write down how much you've eaten and you're more likely to practice portion control. Keeping a food log helps control extra calories in two ways: the combination of plain old reality check (I just ate 30 minutes ago!) and awareness that what you're putting in your mouth will soon be recorded for posterity. In a recent study, people who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those who didn't. When they combined it with a moderate diet and exercise plan, they lost an average of 13 pounds in 6 months. Journaling also gives you insight on your eating habits, says Lutes. Do you skip meals? Eat the same during the week as on the weekend? Binge when you're feeling stressed? "Knowing your routine helps you figure out what changes are right for you," she adds.
Make it simple by tracking yourself online at prevention.com/healthtracker.
2.) Skip through the commercials
Get off your duff and move during your favorite TV shows. Skip, dance, go up and down some stairs, run in place-anything that gets your heart rate up so you feel somewhat breathless, says Geralyn Coopersmith, senior national manager at Equinox Fitness. Do it for each 2-minute break (forget the TiVo) during a typical 2-hour TV night and you'll burn an extra 270 calories a day-which can translate to a 28-pound weight loss in a year.
3.) Limit high-fat foods to one per week
Tag the high-fat/high-calorie foods that are typically your favorites (our top five: cookies, candy, ice cream, potato chips, and fries) and gradually downshift. "If you're eating six of these foods a week, try to go down to five," says Lutes. Each week, drop another until you're at no more than one or two; at the same time, add in a good-for-you choice like baby carrots, leafy greens, oranges, and other fresh fruits and veggies.
4.) Climb 3 extra flights of stairs daily
Have a choice between riding and climbing? Including 2 to 3 minutes of stair climbing per day-covering about three to five floors-can burn enough calories to eliminate the average American's annual weight gain of 1 to 2 pounds a year. It's also good for more than just your waistline: Men who climbed more than 70 flights of stairs a week had 18% lower mortality rates than those who climbed fewer than 20 flights a week, according to one Harvard study. Start with just a couple of flights a day; if you're already a dedicated climber, aim to add three more flights to your daily trek.
More dieting and weight loss tips from Prevention:
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