Fighting weight gain, especially as we get older, is a global battle. In almost every culture and society, people struggle to remain healthy in an ever-changing world full of unhealthy options. Ideal weight and body size differ from place to place but from a medical standpoint, all modern cultures agree that carrying around extra weight is generally bad for you and linked to other health problems. Fortunately, there are a bunch of simple things you can change in your daily habits that will help you maintain a healthy weight, feel good about yourself, and most of them are free!
Not every day or after every meal, but a single weigh-in once a week can help you keep a general tab on what’s going on with your weight. If you kept spending money and you never checked your bank balance, eventually at some point you’d probably overdraft it right? Weighing yourself once a week is like checking your body’s healthy balance and can give you an idea if what you’re doing is working is adequate for your weight loss plan.
Keep a Food Log
Similar in concept to weighing yourself periodically, if you don’t pay attention it’s easy to overdo it. A whole bag of chips can go down awfully fast and if you’re not keeping track, you might even forget you ate them and move on to something else later.
To mitigate the damage this type of eating can do your weight loss goals, add the food to your log BEFORE you eat it because if you count calories, the reality check associated with eating that whole bag of chips could be enough to stop you from doing it in the first place.
Take the Stairs
Just 2 minutes of extra stair climbing each day is enough to stop the average middle age weight gain. Combine that with the fact that stair climbing is a great workout for your butt and you’ve got a winning way to change your health. If you already are in an environment where you make choices daily between using the elevator or stairs, take the stairs every time to help maintain a healthy weight.
Eat From a Small Plate
Our bodies naturally tell us when we’re full. Unfortunately, many of us have learned to suppress those signals from our bodies as a result of being told very early on in our lives to ‘clean your plate’. We’ve traded our bodies’ natural stop-eating signals for the visual cues that come with an empty plate.
People who eat from smaller plates tend to eat less overall without feeling like they’ve eaten any less. People who eat from smaller plates weigh less on average than people who eat from large plates. Yes, it still matters exactly what you eat, but if you’re reading this article the odds are that eating a little bit less won’t hurt your weight loss goals.
Get Enough Sleep
This is probably one of the most important things to focus on, not just for weight loss but also for general physical and mental health. Sleep is critically important for our bodies. When you sleep, you breathe deeply and that helps your body remove toxins.
You know how they teach you in school that you breathe in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide? Well if you look at the chemistry it reads that you breathe in O2 and breath out CO2. Basically, we exhale we’re taking carbon-based toxins from our cells and fusing them with oxygen that we’ve inhaled and expelling them through our breath.
That carbon weighs a little bit and deep sleep eliminates it just from the deep breathing that only happens during a good sleep. Ever wonder why you can wake up as much as a pound lighter than when you went to bed? It’s all that carbon that you exhaled overnight.
Go For a Walk on Your Lunch Break
This one is simple and if you have a desk job where you sit most of the day, it’s absolutely necessary for your health to get up and move around periodically. Sitting all day at work highly correlates with lower mortality rates, obesity, and gradual weight gain (the worst kind).
Even if it’s just a 10-minute walk once a day, you’ll feel great afterward and even at a moderate pace, you can cover half a mile or more in 10 minutes. Do it 7 days a week for 10 minutes and you’re up to a 5k walk every week that you weren’t doing before. That much increase in activity can really help you achieve your weight loss goals.
Take Lunch to Work
This one’s a no-brainer. Going out to eat every day for lunch is not only bad for your health, it’s bad for your wallet. Most restaurants and fast-food joints sell ‘healthier’ options but the portions are typically so large that they can actually make you gain weight.
A salad is a great option for lunch, but if it’s a 1000 calorie salad, not so much. Packing a lunch also means that you won’t waste time going out to pick up food which gives you more time to walk during that lunch break anyway!
Drink Coffee or Tea
The fact that coffee and tea is good for you isn’t new. The problem is that people tend to load these beverages up with sugars and creams to the point that their nutritional content more closely resembles that of a chocolate bar.
If you want sweetness in your tea or coffee, don’t be afraid to add a little artificial sweetener (see #22). For those of you who love cream in your coffee, stay away from the artificial powders and flavored creamer products. Use something natural like a splash of half & half. The natural fats and proteins in half & half will actually help keep those mid-morning hunger pangs away too.
Swap Low-Fat for Low-Sugar
The low-fat craze is over. As it turns out, natural fats are good for us. They keep us feeling full and eating less. The real enemy of our weight loss goals is sugars. The mechanics of how sugars affect your insulin levels and in turn cause your body to store fat instead of burning it for energy are well known.
If you’re in the habit of buying low-fat anything (think yogurt, cottage cheese, puddings) trade it for something similar that’s either sugar-free or states, ‘no sugar added’ instead. In many cases, you’ll see that the sugar-free varieties actually have a lower calorie count than the fat-free varieties.
Eat Healthy Fats
The key to eating fats is eating natural healthy fats. These are the fats you consume from fish, lean meats, eggs, avocados, nuts, and dairy products.
Some oils are also loaded with healthy fats but you have to be careful with those because highly processed oils frequently contain the dreaded trans fats, which have been linked to all sorts of health problems. Stick to coconut or palm oil if you can find them. Olive oil is also good however studies have shown that most olive oils sold in stores are fake (seriously).
Avoid Processed Foods
Loaded with added sugars and preservatives, processed foods provide lots of calories with very little nutritional value. This makes them a major culprit in sabotaging your weight loss goals. The easiest way to avoid processed foods is to stay out of the grocery store aisles and stick to the perimeter when you shop for food.
Avoid Fruit Juice
It seems counterintuitive to avoid fruit juice, but the reality is that fruit juice isn’t all that natural. Most of them come from concentrates and have a ton of sugar. Fruit juices typically have as much sugar and calories as an equivalent amount of regular soda so drinking them regularly can make you gain weight fast.
Eat Protein for Breakfast
Eating a breakfast rich in protein help make you feel full and provides your body lasting energy to get through the first half the day without needing to snack.
Studies have shown that people who eat a breakfast high in protein tend to weigh less than people who eat high carb breakfasts or no breakfast at all. Incidentally, high carb breakfasts like cereal may have fiber, but they also have lots of added sugar, which contributes to weight gain.
Immediately Cut Restaurant Portions in Half
Restaurants in the US have mammoth proportions. It’s easy to overindulge for the same reason that using larger plates at home makes you eat more. When you order dinner at a restaurant, divide your meal in half as soon as you get it. Eat the first half and then have the rest packed up to take home with you.
You’ll go home feeling much lighter without that bloated overstuffed feeling that many of us have when we leave a restaurant.
Don’t be Bored
Mindless snacking is the bane of weight loss programs. If you’re bored and sitting around the house, you’ll eventually start snacking even though you’re not really hungry. Hobbies are great for your mental health and your weight.
Outdoor hobbies like gardening or sports are the best because they keep you far from food, but other hobbies that stimulate your brain like playing an instrument or painting can completely turn off your hunger while your mind is focused on other things.
Eat More Veggies
Make sure that every meal has some vegetables with it, especially non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, carrots, and green beans. Vegetables have a ton of fiber, which makes you feel full for longer, they contain tons of vitamins and minerals, and they’re very low in calories. Simply adding more vegetables to every meal can help you lose weight even if you change nothing else.
Don’t do Value Meals
Fast food companies learned about 20 years ago that people would order value meals because it was easy to order. Saying, “I want a number 4 with a Coke” was way easier than saying, “I want a cheeseburger, medium fries, and a soda”.
The illusion that it’s cheaper to buy as a meal has been used to ensure that everyone purchases a drink and fries with their burgers. It’s also an easy way to keep you from ever losing weight. If you want fast food, just go get the burger by itself and avoid the fries and drink.
Exercise During Commercial Breaks
A commercial break usually runs about 2 – 4 minutes depending on the network. If you’re a TV watcher, that 2 – 4 minutes can be enough time to get your heart rate way up before the show comes back on. Ideas like this are great because they don’t really cost you any time since you were going to be sitting in front of the TV anyway.
Whether you run in place, do pushups, sit-ups, squats or whatever else, you can easily drop a few pounds towards your weight loss goals with this technique.
Use a Pedometer
Using a pedometer or Fitbit can really help you keep track of how active you’ve been during the day. This is important because studies have shown that it’s the daily activity that is more closely related to weight loss and good health even more so than playing sports.
Follow the 1-Mile Rule
Americans log way too many miles on the road. Shed pounds by walking anywhere that’s less than 1 mile from home or drive to a location central to all your errands and walk to each of them from the car. You’ll save gas and get more exercise.
Get a Buddy
Having a weight loss buddy is a proven motivator to help you achieve your goal weight. A buddy that will hold you accountable and help you get moving on those days when you just don’t feel like it can be just like having your own personal trainer without the hit to your wallet. Find a friend that will join you in your weight loss journey and do it together as a team.
Don’t Fear Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners have gotten a bad rap. Too much of anything is bad for you, but the reality is that a lot of the health problems associated with artificial sweeteners actually have a stronger correlation with real sugar consumption.
Drink Water Before a Meal
Obviously, if you drink a full glass of water before a meal, you’ll probably eat less. It also helps your body with digestion of the meal. A glass of water primes your stomach and makes it ready to receive food. It also helps clean out your kidneys and gets them ready for the next set of waste products that your body will push through them as a result of the chemicals that your body can’t digest.
Avoid Salty Snacks
Salty snacks are addictive and make you retain water. Obviously, this results in short-term weight gain, but it also gives you that heavy bloated feeling. You know the one, where you finish eating and feel like you can’t breathe or even move – that’s from too much salt.
Eat High Protein Snacks
High protein snacks will help carry you over to the next meal. Protein stays with you for a long time and stops hunger pangs almost immediately. If you do strength training like lifting weights, you’ll need the extra protein for recovery. High protein diets promote a healthy weight and strengthen muscles that burn calories.
Sharif Jameel is a business owner, IT professional, runner, & musician. His professional certifications include CASP, Sec+, Net+, MCSA, & ITIL and others. He's also the guitar player for the Baltimore-based cover band, Liquifaction.