1. Trade the Treadmill for the Dumbbells
If you're in the gym already, you might as well make sure you get the most out of every bead of sweat. And, according to 2015 research from the Harvard School of Public Health, that means strength training. In the study (which followed 10,500 healthy folks over the course of 12 years), those who spent 20 minutes per day performing resistance exercise were more successful in the fight against belly fat compared to those who spent equal time getting their cardio on. Researchers say that, unlike cardio, which burns the vast majority (if not all) of its calories during your workout, strength training causes you to burn calories even after you leave the gym – and hikes up your metabolic rate, thanks to an increase in lean muscle mass.
Meanwhile, if you already incorporate strength training (be it with body-weight moves, free weights or machines), increasing some facet of that training can be a difference-maker. "If, for you, strength training is only a once- or twice-a-week thing, increase frequency. If it's already a three- or four-times-per-week thing, increase intensity. If you've been doing the same routine for a while, add in some new, more challenging moves," says St. Louis-based certified strength and conditioning specialist Kourtney Thomas.
2. Turn Off the Lights (and Draw the Blinds)
This tried-and-true tip will help you catch more than ZZZ's. In one 2014 American Journal of Epidemiology study of more than 100,000 women, participants who slept in the darkest rooms were 21 percent less likely to be obese than those who slept in the lightest rooms. Any light exposure at night (from your devices or just the sun shining through your windows a couple of hours before your wake-up time) can throw off your body's metabolic rhythms and influence your body's levels of hunger-regulating hormones to spur next-day overeating, according to researchers.
3. Stop Multitasking
It's time to stop priding yourself on your multitasking "skills." According to a comprehensive meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, eating while doing other things – like watching TV, playing Candy Crush on your phone or driving to work – results in downing significantly more food both during the meal at hand and throughout the rest of the day. (A 2015 study found that caloric intake more than doubled when people ate their prior meal while walking!)
That's because your brain isn't nearly as good at multitasking as you think it is, explains registered dietitian Wesley Delbridge, spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "When you multitask while eating, your brain isn't fully aware of how your food tastes, how much you are eating and when you should be full," he says. "Focus on your meal and you'll automatically increase satiety."
4. Balance Out Each Plate
Take a quick scan of your plate: Does it contain fiber-rich carbs, protein, and healthy fat? If it has all three, you're good to go, says Delbridge, who notes that you can avoid a lot of trouble – like insulin spikes, sugar crashes, and overeating – simply by combining those components at every meal. While carbohydrates are vital for a quick hit of energy, fiber, fat and protein slow down digestion and the release of carbohydrates into your bloodstream to reduce hunger for hours on end.
The rule applies not just to meals, but also snacks. For instance, if you pair that apple with a stick of protein- and fat-containing string cheese or peanut butter, you'll stay full a lot longer, and end up eating less throughout the day. Plus, research from the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign shows that by spreading your protein intake throughout the day (rather than eating the bulk of it at dinnertime, like most Americans do) you can build more lean, metabolic-boosting muscle.
5. Get NEAT
An acronym for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, NEAT is simply a number of calories that you burn doing things other than "exercising." It includes walking to the bank, standing in line at the supermarket, taking out the trash and even typing (although that last one doesn't burn many calories), and it's a determining factor in your ability to lose weight – even if you have a regular gym habit, Thomas says.
NEAT varies up to 2,000 calories per day between people, according to Mayo Clinic researchers, who note that simply standing or walking for two-and-a-half hours per day can close much of the NEAT gap between obese and lean individuals. That might sound like a lot of time, but even if you simply resolve to take all of your work calls standing up, you can go a long way toward hitting your goals, Delbridge says.
6. Get Social
Don't underestimate the buddy system. "Being accountable to and getting support from someone else makes an amazing difference in people's ability to stick with their weight-loss efforts and be successful," Delbridge says. And even after losing the weight, women who receive social support from others are consistently more likely to maintain their weight loss compared to those who try to do it alone, according to research published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.
Don't feel comfortable having regular check-ins or working out with your friends or family? Try getting online. Join a weight-loss group on Facebook, reach out anonymously on Reddit or post all of your meals or workouts to Instagram.
7. Use Smaller Plates
If you've never heard of the "small plate" trick, now's the time to start digging through your cupboard. Plate size has a greater impact on the amount of food you eat than most people realize. According to research from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, when people use large, 12-inch plates, they serve themselves 52 percent more food and eat 45 percent more than people who use small and slim 9-inch plates.
Worried that you'll just wind up going back for seconds? Don't be. Even if you put the same amount of food on a small plate as you would a large one, it will look like it contains more food, per researchers. And, as a result, you'll actually feel fuller than you would have you used your jumbo plates.