1. Just take a walk
That’s it. Start with something you know you can accomplish: Go for a 30-minute walk after dinner. Don’t worry about speed; don’t worry about distance. Just walk. Go out 15 minutes, come back 15 minutes. If it’s not safe for you to walk at night where you live, do it on your lunch hour or some other time of day. What you want to do is create a habit. This is a very simple way to start training yourself to live differently. Ultimately, use these walks to segue into a more vigorous cardiovascular workout routine. This could be anything from more walking to running or working out on an elliptical trainer. Here are some of the most inspiring, real-life weight-loss stories you will ever read.
2. Upset your grocery cart
Our grocery store rituals are embedded in our psyches. We’re all always grabbing the same stuff—it’s one of the hardest habits to break. If the same stuff were always, say, broccoli, carrots, strawberries, fish, whole-grain bread, a bag of beans, and almonds, that habit wouldn’t be a problem. But you know and I know it’s not. Do your regular shopping and choose the things you usually do. Count how many packages are in your cart versus the number of produce or meat/poultry/seafood bags (frozen food bags only count if you have healthy frozen fruits and vegetables or lean sources of protein like fish in them). Write it down. Twenty-five packaged goods, three bags of fruits and vegetables, one bag from the poultry department, whatever. The next time you go to the market, shift the balance. If you have 25 packaged goods, try to get it to less than 20 items. The next time, get it to less than 15 packaged items. Before you know it, you will have totally transformed your kitchen without even trying. Here are 50 supermarket tricks you probably fall for.
3. Turn “I can’t” into “I can”
There are two types of people. Those who say they can and those that say they can’t, and both are right. You’re about to gradually become an “I can” person. Start counting how many times a day you either say out loud or to yourself “I can’t.” It doesn’t have to relate to eating or exercise. Maybe you say things like, “I can’t finish all these dishes tonight, I have to go to bed” or “I can’t face looking at the want-ads even though I know I need a new job.” It could be anything, big or small. Just count how many times you stop yourself from doing something because you don’t think you’re capable. Tomorrow, start replacing one of those “I can’ts” with “I can.” If you counted seven “I can’ts,” knock it down to six. Reduce the number the following day, then again the day after that. Train your brain. You think you can never avoid the cupcakes they bring in for birthday parties at work? Try it. Tell yourself, “I can avoid them,” then watch yourself succeed.
4. Partner up
Over the last few years, something has come to light about people who live well into their 90s and even to 100. All of them have a sense of community. They reach out to other people. Identify someone—or several people—that you can exercise with. It can be a spouse, your child, a neighbor, a friend, a relative, even just an acquaintance that you think would be willing. This is going to allow you to kill two birds with one stone. You’ll get out and move because there is someone there to hold you accountable (just as you are there to hold the other person accountable). It will also give you the opportunity to add that all-important social factor to your day.
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5. Tune into your hunger cues
You're probably not as hungry as you think. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that you like to pile up your plate high. And maybe once you’ve stuffed all of that food down, you feel pretty uncomfortable. Still, you do it again at the next meal, and the one after that. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach because it takes time for your brain to get the signal that your stomach has had enough. If you keep eating without pause, you’re never going to get the message. Make up your dinner plate as you normally would. Dish up the vegetables, put some chicken beside it, spoon on some rice—whatever you usually eat when you’re trying to eat healthfully. Eat half of it. Take your plate into the kitchen, and go for a 30-minute walk. If you’re still hungry after the 30 minutes are up, eat the rest of the food. Most people never do. These hunger-fighting foods can help you lose weight.
6. Record your victories
Little acts of courage are performed every day, yet often go unnoticed. But there’s no doubt that they add up and can even inspire you to do bigger things. Keep a log of your little victories. Write down three things each day that you accomplish. “I went to the gym even though I didn’t want to.” “I took care of that huge pile of laundry that was covering the floor of my bedroom.” It only has to be a few sentences a day, but putting a date stamp on it will serve its purpose six months from now when you look back and see how many successes you’ve racked up.
7. Take a lunch “break”
What I really mean is break up your lunch. One season, we made our cast members walk three miles to Subway, the sandwich shop. They were probably happy to have arrived, but before they could get too complacent, we told them they were only getting part of their lunch—to get the rest, they’d have to walk to the next Subway, another three miles away. You may not have the luxury of getting six miles in during lunch, but you can still break it up. Buy an apple at one place, then walk to another place for your sandwich, then another place for your drink. If you don’t work in a place where you can walk restaurant to restaurant, or if you’re brown-bagging it, split your lunch break in half: Spend half the time—or less—eating, then spend the remaining minutes going for a walk. These healthy salad recipes can make lunch fun again.
8: Spread the love
Ever look in the mirror or just find yourself going about your day thinking, “I love myself”? Most people don’t, and of course, it would be a little weird to walk around expressing self-love. That said, it is worthwhile to remind yourself occasionally that you matter to you. Stop what you’re doing at least five times and love yourself. When the negative thoughts come, and they will, replace those with love. So today it’s not, “I can’t believe I’m so fat” or “I hate myself because I have no willpower”; instead it’s “I am a strong person who can overcome adversity” and “I am a good person who has done good for others.” Give yourself the love, forgiveness, and encouragement that you give other people, and amazing things will start to happen.
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9. Everybody needs a mantra
Working out is hard; making the right decisions about food is hard. But what if you had a mantra, a reminder that swims around your head providing encouragement and reinforcement. When you think you can’t do that last rep or push-up, when you want to walk off the treadmill at 58 minutes, not 60 like you promised yourself, when you hear that bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips calling your name, pull out that mantra. If there’s some quote you’ve heard that speaks to you, make it your mantra. Or create your own. Here are a few that might work for you, too: "Whatever you put into it, you’re going to get out of it." "The only thing in life that isn’t hereditary is your attitude. " "Fall down five times, get up six." One of my favorite mantras was one used by a cast member named Rod. Whenever he was wavering on working out or about to cheat on his diet, he’d say to himself, “Can’t go back . . . won’t go back. . . . Not this time.” He even got it tattooed on the inside of his forearms.
10. See it, believe it
When everyone around you is enjoying pizza and beer, ordering the salad and sparkling water feels like punishment. Remember why you’re doing this. Go into your closet and pull out that pair of jeans that hasn’t fit you in years, and bring them out. Hang them somewhere in your bedroom so that every time you walk in, you can see them. We once had someone on the show that hung the dress she wanted to wear on her refrigerator. Every time she went to get something to eat, she had to make the right choice. That’s drastic, but a good idea.
11. Move more during the day
Fitness trackers are great for letting you keep tabs on how much you move per day (obviously with the goal being to burn more calories), but you don’t need a fancy gadget to get an idea of whether you’re getting up and around enough. Using a stopwatch or the stopwatch function on your watch or phone, track how much time during your day you spend walking around, climbing stairs, just getting from place to place. I’m not talking about working out; just your regular daily movement. What I like about this is that it turns into a little competition with yourself. Can you do more than the day before? Can your weekly tally beat the previous week? Trust me, charting your movements is going to make you want to move more. Add it to your daily routine. Here are sneaky things your fitness tracker knows about you.
12. Show your coworkers you mean business
The workplace is the worst place for people who want to lose weight. There’s always some guy who brings in doughnuts every Monday morning. And the group lunches ordered from fast-food places; meetings with frothy, fattening drinks; and the big bowl of candy sitting on a well-meaning (but clueless) coworker’s desk. Arm yourself with the right stuff. Bring an apple or other healthy snack to a meeting. Everyone else will be envious of your willpower and forethought, and the snap of the apple as you bite into it will get everyone’s mouth watering. (Bring an extra one and give it to the person who comments first.) Brown bag it even if you know the boss is springing for pizza in the conference room. Stock your desk drawer or locker with nutritious foods. There’s a kind of built-in bonus to showing such discipline at work. It will show your boss that you are in control of your life, which can be a good career move. Being in control is powerful, and powerful people usually get paid more. Try one of these 31 healthy snacks for adults.
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13. Take the candy bar challenge
Say you unwrap a candy bar, break it in half and set it out where you can see it oozing caramel and peanuts. If you had cameras on you, it would keep you honest. Nobody wants his or her weakness to be public knowledge. But if you’re in a one-bedroom apartment and that candy bar is sitting on the coffee table, the voice in your head telling you to grab and eat it is going to get very loud. Take a photograph of that candy bar and post it on Facebook with a sentence about how, in a test of willpower, you’re not going to eat it for 24 hours. Then report in. “Four hours down.” “Fifteen more hours to go.” You’ll get comments like, “Oh my god, I could never do it!” and “You go, girl.” How great will it be when, at the 24-hour mark, you post a picture of yourself tossing that candy bar in the garbage? (Let me just add that, as a precaution, pour soap over that candy bar. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve dug food out of the garbage.) You might even take a video of yourself running over the candy bar with your car. Post the video; people will love it! Here's how you can train your brain to hate junk food.
14. Talk, talk, talk
When you feel yourself wavering in the face of temptation—or maybe you already made a mistake—call someone and talk about it. Even if you don’t have a friend or family member who has struggled with weight, choose someone who can be honest with you. You don’t want your go-to to be someone who’s going to pat you on the back and say you did a great job when you didn’t. It has to be someone who will say something like, “Okay, you made that mistake, now move on,” or, “Okay, you’re feeling temptation, everyone does, but you made a promise to yourself.”
15. Play with perception
In my household, we eat our dinner on salad plates. I’m no saint: If I had a regular-size dinner plate, I’d fill it up just like everyone else. I used to do it all the time, and the upshot was that I’d end up eating a giant bowl of pasta and other out-sized meals. But then we started using the salad plates and our portions came down to a healthier size. But we didn’t feel deprived. Maybe you’ve heard this change-your-plates tip before, but believe me, it really works. That’s because we’re not really hungry for everything on our plate, but we eat it anyway because it’s there. If you’re using smaller plates and bowls, you’ll still eat what’s there, but it will be less—though your brain won’t register that. It’s all about perception.
16. Keep promises to yourself
I don’t mean kind of keep them. If you say you’re going to eat a healthy lunch, don’t grab a bag of potato chips at the register. As with everything, go for reasonable, not radical. Don’t promise to do an hour of cardio if you haven’t exercised in a year. Make a list of your promises for the day. Things like, “I promise to do 30 minutes on the treadmill.” That does not mean you get off at 25 minutes or even 29 minutes, no matter how much you want to. Believe me, your body will send powerful signals telling you to get off early, but if you stay with it, eventually your body will get accustomed to the challenge and reward you for finishing. Plenty of people I work with on my shows say “I could never run at a 5.5 on the treadmill.” To prove them wrong, I put a towel over the readout, slowly move the pace up to a 7, and they don’t even notice! So don’t let a number put a glass ceiling on your progress.
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17: Skip the package deal
A lot of the packaged foods people eat don’t come from their kitchens, but from vending machines, the break room kitchen at their work, a quick duck into the mini-mart when they stop for gas, and so on. Decrease those packaged/restaurant meals. I’m not suggesting you never eat out, but try to reduce eating out as much as you can. If you always buy lunch at the corner deli, try brown-bagging it, and I bet you’ll lose five pounds—if not more. Avoid meals with these menu words when do you eat out.
18. The top-of-the-hour workout
At the top of every hour, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., do either five push-ups or run up one flight of stairs. Five push-ups might take you 15 seconds, but if you do it at the top of every hour, you will have done 40 push-ups for the day. Running up a flight of stairs takes less than 10 seconds, but at day’s end, you will have done about 8 flights. Do this every day for 7 days, then add a push-up or flight of stairs for the next 7 days. Keep adding until you’re ultimately doing 8 push-ups/4 flights eight times a day (a total of 64 push-ups or 32 flights daily). I did the push-ups challenge at my office and by the week’s end, there were nine of us doing it. At the top of every hour, we’d all run out of our offices, meet in the hallway and get our push-ups on. It was incredibly fun.
19. Get the white out
A diet made up almost wholly of foods collectively know as “white foods”—pasta, white bread, white rice, crackers, and most cereals)—will make you fat and damage your health. Refined foods are stripped of fiber, one of the elements of food that helps you feel full. Refined foods also raise blood sugar, triggering the release of insulin. Both things can make you feel hungry and crave more calories. Take all of the white foods I named out of your diet. Try it again for another day, and another. Not wanting to break the streak may actually lead you to a healthier diet.
20. Do what you have to do (first)
Do what you have to do, before you do what you want to do. I say this to my kids every day. “Dad, let’s play basketball!” “Did you do your homework?” “Not yet.” “Okay, do your homework, then we’ll play ball.” Working out, eating right, and getting your life in order are the priorities to put at the top of your list. Then do things that you want to do like watching TV, going online, and sleeping in. It may seem unrelated to weight loss, but it’s all a part of reorganizing your life for the better.
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21. Go commercial-free
Most likely, consciously or unconsciously, you associate watching TV with eating. Super Bowl Sunday and cheesy nachos, binge-watching The Walking Dead and binge-eating mint chip ice cream—they go together like salt and pepper. When you watch TV, do not watch a single commercial. Instead, get up and move. Every one-hour show has 18 minutes of commercials; if you watch two hours of TV without moving, that’s 36 minutes of exercise that you’re losing out on. Make it heart-pumping and nonstop for the whole break—jumping jacks and squats are always good. The next time there’s a commercial break, change it up, maybe do some push-ups and sit-ups. The time after that, do burpees or run up the stairs. If you’ve DVR’d your show or are watching premium channels without commercial interruption, create a rule for yourself and set the timer on your phone: every half hour of binge watching you’ll stop and take an exercise break.
22. Break the fast-food habit
Cut fast food out of your life. It’s actually not that much more work—and it’s even cheaper—to just buy a rotisserie chicken at the market, a bag of tortillas, a can of beans, some lettuce and tomatoes, some broccoli, some olive oil and vinegar, and salsa. Right there, you have two nights’ meals: chicken, salad, and broccoli one night; chicken tacos and beans the next. You can even use the leftover chicken carcass to make chicken soup. You don’t, though, really even need to know much about cooking in order to break the fast-food habit. (Cut up some carrots and celery instead of steaming broccoli, and you won’t even need to use your stove on night one.)
23. Put a positive spin on things
When most golfers take a bad shot, they typically curse at themselves and, say, “That was the worst shot,” or, “I suck at golf,” then they move onto the next shot. That just reinforces negativity. What you want to do instead is reinforce positivity. Every time you take a shot you say, in your head, “great shot,” “good shot,” or “needs work.” Just a simple assessment of how you did. Then, before you move to the next hole, you take a practice swing and say to yourself, “great shot.” What you’re doing by rating your shot, then taking another stroke and saying “great shot” to yourself is training the pathways in your brain. You’re erasing the bad shot from your consciousness. When the last thing you hear is “great shot,” it seeps into your brain, setting the stage for actually making a great shot the next time around. One day, it occurred to me that this technique could help with weight loss. Step on the scale and look at the number. Then say to yourself, “great week,” “good week,” or “needs work.” Then step off the scale, look at it, and say, “great week.” The last thing your brain hears is going to be overwhelmingly positive. Here are reasons your scale might be lying.
24. Find hidden sugar
I’m not saying that you should never eat foods that contain sugar, but once you reduce the amount you eat, you’ll crave it less. Grab a notebook and go on a sugar scavenger hunt through your refrigerator and pantry to see how much sweetness is lurking. There may be the obvious things, i.e., cookies, ice cream, certain cereals, and so on (though I hope you’ve got all those obvious sweets out of the house by now). Look for less obvious sugary foods, things like ketchup, BBQ sauce, salad dressings, Chinese sauces, pasta sauces, fruit yogurt, energy drinks, and even seemingly healthy things like dried fruit. Check labels for dead-giveaway ingredients: honey, brown sugar, turbinado, molasses, high fructose corn syrup, other syrups, raw sugar, agave and glucose (including other sweeteners ending in “ose”). People on a low-sugar diet swear by these tips.
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25. Take your intensity up by doing cardio intervals
Intervals—pushing your pace up, then slowing down to recover so you can speed up again—help you burn more fat in less time. In 2008, researchers at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, had a group of women ride stationary bikes at intervals of 8 seconds sprinting and 12 seconds slow riding for 20 minutes (60 repeats in all). The researchers then compared them to a second group of women who rode for 40 minutes straight at the same speed only to find that, at the end of 15 weeks, the interval trainers lost more weight and more body fat than the steady riders. The only question is, Why would you not do intervals?!
26. Be a stand-up guy (or gal)
Even if you exercise for an hour or more a day, according to new research, it doesn’t cancel out the bad effects of sitting the rest of the day. I was working out hard in the morning, then sitting at my desk all day. Had to change that. Standing more won’t necessarily help you lose weight, but it will, by all accounts, help extend your life. Now, as soon as I get an email, I delete it, get up, walk to the person’s office, then stand while talking to them. I stand when I talk on the phone. When there’s a crowded room, I let others take the chairs and stand up instead. At my kids’ school, they now break every 15 minutes to stand up and shake out their bodies. Set your watch or phone to remind you to do the same. And next time someone offers you a seat, say "no, thanks."
27. Take a time out
Begin doing something that I have started recently, which is meditate. But let’s not even call it meditation; let’s just call it a daily time out. Put the distractions away and just sit on the floor comfortably. Pick a spot to look at, and don’t look away for five minutes. Let your thoughts come, one thought rolling into another thought. The meditation expert I’ve worked with gives these guidelines: If a thought about the past comes up, let the “movie” play with no questions; anything about what’s happening around you currently—for instance, thoughts about sounds you hear in the distance or how your body feels—go with it; but any thoughts about the future, shut them down. Those are the kinds of thoughts that bring on anxiety and worries. Instead, bring your mind back to your breathing, to the spot you're looking at, or to any thoughts that don’t concern the future. This is just one type of meditating. There are many types, and you can find many good guided meditations on YouTube. I urge you to explore until you find something that resonates with you, and to make a concerted effort to have a point in the day when you go inward, even just for a few minutes. You’ll see what a calming effect it can have. But even if the very idea of meditation is daunting don’t give up on it: Even sitting in a room in complete silence for 2 to 3 minutes can have a calming effect.
28. Get into the compliment business
We spend so much of the day beating ourselves up for what we haven’t done or couldn’t achieve that we never stop to show ourselves some love. Stop yourself five times and give yourself a compliment, a pat on the back for something you did that was worthy. “Nice job on not eating that cupcake.” “You were awesome at work today.” “You were easygoing when that guy took your parking space.” “You took a walk during lunch.” Most of the overweight people I’ve met over the years have a very difficult time giving themselves compliments. They find it easy to pat someone else on the back, but get queasy when it comes to praising themselves. It’s not vain to do so.
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29. Find a challenge
A goal can help you stay focused and motivated. It’s true of any endeavor, but especially true of exercise. Make your workouts count for something. Look online or check local sports stores for upcoming events you can train for. Don’t freak out if it’s billed as a race. I have a slogan I use with cast members on our shows: Don’t compete, just complete. The point is to just cross the finish line. When you show up at the event, keep that line in your head: “I’m here to complete, not compete.” That’s going to prevent negative, shameful thoughts from popping into your mind and prevent you from quitting. All you need to do is finish—no matter how long it takes.
30. Be honest and relax
There are two things that I believe will help everything fall into place: One is being honest with yourself and others; the other is relaxing. If you’re honest with yourself—Did I do my best today? Did I keep my promises?—and honest with others—I’m having a hard time today; I could use some help—then you can just relax. By relaxing you are taking away all of the stress that can send you straight into self-destructive mode. Knowing that you did your best on a given day—or admitting to yourself that you didn’t—will free you to move forward. These are two simple concepts, but they’re not always easy. I’m great with the honesty part; I have to work on the relaxing part every day. Whichever way it plays out for you, don’t give up. Lying and stressing out make people fat.
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J.D. Roth's new book is filled with motivational real-life stories from The Biggest Loser and other reality show contestants. Losing weight isn't just about calories or exercise, but unlocking the emotional roadblocks to making healthy lifestyle choices. Learn more here.