It seems everywhere we turn, something makes or keeps us heavier than we should be. Food is obviously a biggie: We consume more than we used to, and today's overly processed foods often trick our bodies into craving seconds and thirds. Our diets also tend to fall short of certain healthy nutrients, like calcium and vitamin C, which studies have shown help promote weight loss.
Beyond what and how we eat, we also have to do battle with sneaky saboteurs in our daily environment that set the stage for fat accumulation. As part of The Digest Diet, our new breakthrough weight-loss plan, we combed through the latest studies to find which foods help release fat—and also, which habits help shed fat. These simple tips are easy to adapt, and might help reverse the scale’s upward climb.
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Fidget It Off
Mayo Clinic research reveals that people who are naturally lean (you know: eating whatever they want, and never gaining a pound or inch) will automatically, and even subconsciously, find ways to fidget and move to make up for extra calories they may be ingesting.
If you’re not one of these natural-born movers, consciously make choices that boost your burn without needing to break a sweat: Stand and pace when you’re on the phone. Wash dishes by hand. Conduct walking meetings with colleagues instead of huddling around a conference room.
One of the fastest ways to derail your weight loss efforts is to be unprepared when hunger strikes. Snacking is one of the first areas where people frequently get off track. The key is to surround yourself with nutrient-dense and low-calorie snacks, even when you're traveling or working.
The best snacks, like those recommended on the Digest Diet, incorporate at least three satiety-inducing fat releasing nutrients such as fiber, vitamin C, and dairy or calcium.
Sleep Weight Off
istock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund
Whether you snooze too much or too little, it’s not good for your health or your waistline. Sleep deprivation interferes with the hormones leptin and ghrelin that regulate appetite, meaning you’ll feel hungrier and are more likely to indulge in poorer eating behaviors. Also, you may look for more “energy” in the form of unhealthy snacks!
Dieters who got 8 1/2 hours of sleep nightly lost 56 percent more body fat than they did when eating the same diet, but only getting 5 1/2 hours of sleep a night. Try to sleep seven to eight hours a night yourself—you’ll have more energy and reduce cravings. To get a better night’s rest, hit the hay earlier. Experiment with what works best for you by ending your day 15 minutes to a half hour sooner, until you get to your ideal bedtime.
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Rethink Your Workout Routine
Nod your head if you do the same workout over and over. Routine cardio regimens like the treadmill, elliptical, or jogging path may contribute to weight gain, because they demand you increase your energy output. Since your body is always trying to stay in balance, this type of movement may actually act as a biological cue to make you eat more. Researchers also believe that cardio exercise may trigger additional eating, because it depletes glycogen stores in the liver and muscle in order to make glucose available for fuel.
Continuous aerobic exercise isn’t nearly as effective a weight-control strategy as surprising your body with aerobic interval training (short bursts of high-intensity, heart-pounding work) or strength training (push-ups, squats, anything that builds muscle and power).
Also, you don’t need to log an hour at the gym every day either to get maximum benefits. Research from the Department of Kinesiology at Southern Illinois University showed that as little as three 11-minute intense strength-training sessions a week resulted in an increase in fat burn at rest, and a chronic increase in energy expenditure throughout the day.
Detox Your Life
The toxins, chemicals, and compounds riddling our food supply and self-care products are contributing to the nation’s collective fat creep. Study after study shows that organochlorine compounds, specifically, adversely affect the body’s ability to oxidize fat—they resist being metabolized and are readily stored in fatty tissue. These compounds have been found in plastics, herbicides, and pesticides, as well as chlorine-based household products.
Go organic and avoid toxins wherever you can, whenever you can. If that means you buy organic versions of your five favorite fruits and veggies—or you fill your entire cart with them—that's great. If it can mean buying a HEPA-grade medical air filter for your home, it’s also good. Any choice you make that eliminates toxic chemicals in your life is health-affirming. Plus, nontoxic can be cheaper sometimes, particularly when it comes to household cleaning products. Baking soda, lemon, olive oil, vinegar are all effective nontoxic cleaners—and you can cook with them, too!
Don’t Rely on Exercise Alone
Thinking you can eat whatever you want as long as you work it off later is actually a pretty dangerous mind-set, particularly if you look at the current research. Exercise alone leads to a very modest decrease in total body weight: less than 3 percent! (Scarf down a pint of ice cream and you’ll be running a long time to work off the fat and calories. . . . Marathon, anyone?)
The good news here is that exercise reduces dangerously unhealthy visceral fat, independent of whether you lose weight. For exercise to be effective as a weight-loss agent, pair it with the right diet and eating plan.
Laugh Every Day
Stress takes an enormous toll on your health, waist, and immunity. And, as Reader’s Digest has said for nearly a century: Laughter is the best medicine. But did you know that laughter actually burns calories?
One novel study was commissioned by the comedy channel GO LD (Go On Laugh Daily) in Great Britain. Researchers, led by Helen Pilcher, PhD, formerly of London’s Institute of Psychiatry, looked into the number of calories burned by intense laughing and compared it to the calorie burn of other daily activities (strength training, running, even vacuuming). They found that intense laughter by itself can give you a bite-size cardio workout: An hour of it can benefit you as much as a half hour of hitting it hard at the gym! Laughing burns calories, but it can also boost total energy expenditure by up to 20 percent. To put that into perspective: One hour of laughter burns up to 120 calories, about the same as 18 to 27 minutes of weight training, 15 to 20 minutes of walking, or 40 minutes’ vacuuming.
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Find a Workout You Love
Many people don’t like to exercise. But when Swedish researchers looked into the attitudes, strategies, and behaviors important to weight maintenance, they found that one habit common to successful maintainers was that they all found the joy in working out.
According to Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology (PEP) Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “our research shows that if a new wellness behavior evokes positive emotions, people are 4.5 times more likely to be continuing with that new behavior 15 months down the road, enjoying all of its healthy benefits. Enjoyment motivates sustained change by creating nonconscious desires that are far stronger than conscious willpower. It’s best to select ways of eating and being physically active that you truly enjoy. Those are the only lifestyle changes you stand a chance of getting ‘hooked’ on, and that’s what’s needed for long-term weight-loss success.”