The caveman diet, alkaline water, gluten-free foods, intermittent fasting — proponents of each of these nutritional trends believe theirs is hands down the best way to achieve optimal health and ensure physique bliss. And while each of these styles has its merits, with all the rules and restrictions involved it’s often difficult to adopt such a trend as a lifestyle.
Thankfully, new research has pinpointed several effective fat-loss tricks that don’t require wooden cudgels, expensive filters, hard-to-find ingredients or starvation. Implement these science-proven maneuvers into your daily life and you can say sayonara to that pesky layer of winter blubber.
Be Sodium Smart
Most Americans consume way more than the recommended daily amount of sodium (2,300 milligrams), and much of this comes from processed, packaged foods. Excessive sodium intake can lead to a number of conditions including high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, even heart disease and stroke, and new research indicates it could also give you a gut: Subjects who were presented with pasta doused in a salty sauce ingested 11 percent more calories than those who ate the same meal with a less-salty sauce. Researchers theorize that the added salt enhanced the taste of the food to the point that it overrode a natural feeling of fullness. Another study from the University of South Carolina discovered that among 407 adults analyzed, those with lofty sodium intakes were more likely to be pudgy.
Take Action: First and foremost don’t use the salt shaker like a hammer: A single teaspoon of salt has 2,325 milligrams of sodium, so dust food lightly with salt, or better yet use a salt-free, herb-based seasoning. Also, avoid the gut-bomb of highly salted restaurant fare by preparing more meals at home, and carefully read nutrition labels on any packaged grocery items, especially in sneaky sources like bread, cottage cheese, sauces and condiments.
When you’re hungry, you eat, but new research reveals that the textures of foods you eat could make or break your forward fat-loss progress. According to a study published in the journal Appetite, volunteers were provided either with test food that had a high textural complexity — such as crunchy, chewy and smooth together — or a food that was more of a one-note wonder — smooth only — before being offered an eat-as-much-as-you-please meal consisting of pasta and chocolate cake. Overall, the appetizer with greater textural variation resulted in people consuming about 400 fewer calories in the follow-up meal, and left them feeling just as satisfied despite having eaten fewer calories. Researchers believe that increasing the number of textures felt during chewing can stimulate your senses, making food more interesting to eat and, in turn, trigger the satiation response sooner.
Take Action: Work the opposites when preparing meals and snacks — toss crunchy nuts into smooth yogurt, add creamy dressing to crispy salad, or top grilled meat with chunky salsa. Also, when blending your postworkout shake, do it up thick. Dutch researchers determined that viscous drinks are more filling than thinner ones, even when they contain the same number of calories.
Meal-to-meal caloric consistency — rather than day-to-day — could help you hold onto your abs, according to a 2016 British Journal of Nutrition investigation. People who were inconsistent with their calorie intake at the same meal each day tended to have larger waistlines and were more likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions such as high blood pressure and cholesterol associated with heart disease) than those who were more consistent. In other words, eating a breakfast that contains roughly the same number of calories each day is better metabolically than hitting the all-you-can eat pancake buffet on Monday, then skipping breakfast on Tuesday. Researchers suspect that this inconsistency affects your internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, negatively impacting appetite, digestion and metabolism.
Take Action: When outlining your eating plan, break your calories up consistently between meals and snacks all week long. Also consider frontloading your calorie intake at breakfast and paring it down as the day progresses. Research shows that eating more calories in the morning could help with weight loss by taking advantage of your higher metabolism early in the day while also promoting early satiety to lessen the risk for overeating as the day wears on.
Open Up & Say “Agua”
Water is good for more than just hydration — it could also help with fat loss. A study in the journal Obesity reported that individuals who sipped two cups of tap water 30 minutes before their main meal of the day lost on average three pounds more over a 12-week period than those who did without the water. Drinking water before noshing expands your stomach, making you feel satisfied with fewer calories while preventing low-grade dehydration that is often confused with hunger. Another study found that people who simply increased their daily water consumption by one to three cups consumed up to 205 fewer calories during the course of the day than those who did not.
Take Action: Aside from hydrating pre- and postworkout, make a habit of drinking a full glass or two of plain water or seltzer before meals to silence the hunger monster and help with portion control.
Do the Munching Math
Monitoring the number of bites of food you take can help you become mindful of your overall intake and work to reduce your waistline. Researchers at Clemson University determined that volunteers who wore technology designed to provide bite-count feedback consumed less food and took fewer overall bites per meal. In another study, this one from Brigham Young University, subjects were encouraged to count bites of food taken each day for a week to obtain a baseline. Afterward, the researchers instructed their charges to reduce the number of bites by 20 to 30 percent for the next four weeks without altering anything else in their diet or lifestyle. On average, they lost four pounds of bodyweight.
Take Action: Keep track of how many bites of food you take every day for a week, then reduce the number by 10 to 15 percent to slash a few calories from your daily intake. Also, consider taking smaller bites of food to slow down your pace and further cut calories.
Yes, you’re starving after finishing Murph, but bolting your food could actually be slowing your weight-loss results: Research suggests that chewing your food more thoroughly can slow down the pace of food consumption, giving your body a better chance of sensing fullness and reducing overall calorie intake.
Take Action: Use the water trick from above and either drink a full glass before eating a postworkout meal or have a shake made with water to quell the hole in your gut. Then 30 to 60 minutes later eat your meal when you’re not famished and are more likely to take your time. Still can’t put on the brakes? Place your utensils down between bites to reduce meal pace or, better yet, trade your fork for chopsticks for guaranteed slowdown.
According to many, snacking and watching Sunday Night Football at full volume is constitutional right, but according to a 2016 Colorado State University study, listening to electronics at high volume could actually cause you to eat more. The reasoning? If you can’t hear yourself chewing, you’re more likely to eat thoughtlessly.
Take Action: Reduce the volume to less-than-airline-jet decibels; otherwise, surround yourself with piles of carrots, celery sticks and other low-calorie fare to prevent overeating.
Dirty Up Your Meals
Continual clean eating is awesome — most of the time. However, long-term dieting could lead to feelings of deprivation and propel you headfirst into the cookie jar. A cheat day might help with those cravings in the short term, but it could also lead to a calorie binge that’s impossible to undo in any reasonable time frame. The solution, therefore, is moderation, with a twist. A study in the journal Management Science found that consuming a small amount of your vice food alongside your clean and nutritious meal tricks your brain into thinking that the overall healthy meal is just as delicious as a meal dominated by indulgent items like a cheeseburger and onion rings.
Take Action: Rather than giving them their own day or time slot, combine your “cheats” with your clean eating in the same meal to stave off cravings and stay the course. Serve yourself a sliver of chocolate cake after your grilled chicken and steamed vegetables or have some fries with your lean beef patty and salad. The double helping of fulfillment (clean eating and tasty treat) can be enough to keep your physique-friendly diet on track.
Take an Adventure
If your diet is as stale as week-old bread, it’s time to think outside your plate. Two separate studies published in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that people who ate a greater variety of healthy foods tended to have less body fat and were less likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome. Eating a greater range of nutritious edibles can also make it easier to stick with a healthy eating plan by adding some much-needed excitement to your meals.
Take Action: Continue to buy standard ab-carving foods such as salmon and broccoli, but live on the edge and serve it with some freekeh (young green wheat that has been toasted) and rocket (arugula) salad. Bonus: The more healthful foods you introduce the less room there is for nutritional dreck.
Take Counter Measures
Out of sight, out of mind has never been so true. Scientists at Cornell University showed that those who left snack-style foods, such as boxed cereal and soda, out on the kitchen countertop were up to 26 pounds heavier than those who stashed these items out of sight. Additionally, those same study subjects who kept a bowl of fruit on the counter weighed on average 13 pounds less than those who didn’t. It all comes down to eating what is easiest to get at when you’re hungry, and if that happens to be cookies it’s likely to have waistline repercussions.
Take Action: Sequester vice foods in your cupboards or replace them with options like apples or baby carrots. Alternately make the treat foods harder to get to. Research in the journal Appetite reported that volunteers who had to walk six feet to get some candy ate about half as much as those who had them within arm’s reach.