After 13 seasons on the hit show The Biggest Loser helping contestants shed thousands of pounds, Bob Harper realized that his most effective advice came from his own healthy habits. His new book, The Skinny Rules: The Simple, Non-Negotiable Principles for Getting to Thin, outlines 20 of his must-do tips for better eating, including recipes and meal plans. “They're not meant to be liked, they’re meant to be followed,” Harper says of the rules. Some, like going to bed hungry, are still challenging even for Harper. “But in order to lose weight and keep it off, you have to have a routine to live by.”
Next: Our favorite of the skinny rules.
You can also find the book here.
Drink Water Before Every Meal
“Let me put this plainly: drinking water helps you lose weight,” Harper writes. Getting enough water improves digestion, helps you feel full, and can make your workouts more effective. Harper says that when his private fitness clients start making an effort to drink more water, they have less muscle fatigue, recover more quickly, and feel more active in the afternoon.
Kick off this habit by putting a full glass of water on your nightstand every night before bed, so you can sip it first thing the following morning.
Don't Be Fooled by Food Labels
The more label-literate you are, the healthier an eater you can be. While Harper lists a slew of things to pay attention to (including calories, protein, sugar, sodium, fat, trans fat, carbs, fiber, and the ingredient list), he says the single most overlooked line on the label is “number of servings.”
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a client or contestant come up to me all excited about great ‘light’ food, only to have me point out that what he thought was 250 calories is really 500 calories,” Harper writes. So before you dig in, know your numbers, and portion accordingly.
Eat a Real Breakfast
If there’s one habit you don’t want to follow, it’s something all Harper’s contestants have in common—before they start the show. And that’s skipping breakfast. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School found that people who blow off breakfast are a whopping 4.5 times more likely to be obese than people who eat a morning meal every day.
Harper advocates being prepared, especially if you know your mornings are rushed. Keep lots of pre-portioned food on hand—like yogurt cups, hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal packets, and berries in a plastic container—so you can grab it quickly or bring it with you.
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Have One ‘Cheat’ Meal a Week
Wait, what? It’s true: Harper believes that you can treat yourself to something you love once a week without setting yourself up for bingeing. “I don’t want people to never have pizza!” he exclaims. And he splurges once a week, usually on Sundays.
But there are some parameters around the splurge meal. For starters, it’s one meal a week—not a day of eating whatever and how much you want. Also, decide whether you want to “eat rich or eat big” with decadent food, a jumbo portion, or some combination? Harper also advises not splurging at a fast-food restaurant; and never doing it alone.
Snack On Apples and Berries Every Day
When visitors come to his house, Harper writes, they’re likely to find him working at his dining-room table and snacking on these fruits. “To me, they taste like fruit should taste: sweet but not too much so, and bursting with complex flavor.”
They also contain the antioxidants anthocyanins, powerful disease-fighting plant compounds. Munch on the fruits alone, or combine with protein for extra satiety: apples with a small piece of cheese, or peanut butter, and berries with Greek yogurt or oatmeal.
Include Protein In Every Meal
Love this nifty trick: To know how many grams of protein to aim for every day, simply divide your weight in half. If you weigh 150 pounds, have 75 grams of protein. The type of protein matters too. Harper is a big fan of fish and egg whites in particular.
“Let me be blunt,” he writes. “If you don’t start eating fish, you’re going to get fat again.” He cites Icelandic research on four groups of men who ate four different diets that were calorically equivalent. But the people who ate the most fatty fish lost the most weight. Fish’s weight-loss benefits probably come from some unique combination of fat, especially omega-3 fats, and protein.
Harper eats half a dozen egg whites a day, and calls them “a kind of magic food, in that they seem to make everything else taste richer.” He makes egg-white omelets with five whites and one yolk, which has a nice yellow color and deeper taste.
Stop Guessing About Portion Sizes
Portion distortion is admittedly to blame for a lot of America’s obesity epidemic, as we simply have no idea what a normal-sized meal looks like. And when we see more food, we want more food.
Harper’s solution: forced portion control. That could mean buying foods in pre-portioned containers, or portioning larger bags and boxes out yourself, so you can’t be tricked into eating more than you should. His favorite such foods include plain Greek yogurt in 6-ounce containers, individual low-fat cheese sticks, “Wholly Guacamole” individual servings, 2-ounce bags of raw almonds, one tablespoon pre-measured peanut butter packets, and one hard-boiled egg.
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Go to Bed Hungry
If you skip that midnight snack, your body will “burn fat like crazy,” Harper writes. After five hours without food, you’ll start burning your own fat and sugar. Further, it may even help you sleep better, since having fewer carbs in your bloodsteam allows your body to produce the hormones it needs to bring on sleep.
Harper admits this can be one of the tougher rules to adopt. Try to set a time after which you won’t eat anymore, and keep yourself distracted with movies, TV, Internet surfing, or whatever it takes.
Set Yourself Up For Success
Eating healthy isn’t going to magically happen without some planning and preparation on your part. To follow Harper’s rules, start the following habits on Sunday nights to set yourself up properly for the week ahead:
• Hard-boil a dozen eggs and put them in a bowl at eye level in your fridge, where Harper keeps his. “When I get a bad craving, I can peel them quickly and snack on the whites—and, occasionally, the yolks,” he writes.
• Make a pound of turkey meatballs and refrigerate.
• Roast four chicken breasts without the skin; cut two of them into cubes and refrigerate; they’re perfect for salads.
• Stock up on seven 6-ounce containers of low- or no-fat plain Greek yogurt.
Get more healthy-eating tips and delicious recipes and meal plans in Bob Harper’s new book The Skinny Rules.