Losing weight takes hard work and dedication, which is why it’s important to create healthy habits that stick as part of a bigger picture lifestyle. Learning to make the process easier with research-backed tips helps you set the stage for long-term success.
As you go, keep in mind what works for someone else might not work for you, which is where being open to switching things up is essential.
Here, a roundup of 75 research-backed strategies to try on your health journey, from shifting your mindset to priming your environment for weight-loss success:
GET THE RIGHT MINDSET FOR WEIGHT LOSS
START WITH A REALISTIC GOAL
It’s easy to get inspired and set a not-so-realistic weight-loss goal (like losing 20+ pounds in one month). But when you don’t magically reach your goal, it can be a real motivational drain. The fix: Opt for slow and steady weight loss of 1–2 pounds per week or 4–8 pounds per month (or about 5–10% of your body weight).
VISUALIZE YOUR IDEAL OUTCOME
Mental imagery (like picturing your dream “after” picture) boosts positive feelings more than other types of thought (like comparing yourself to other people), and in turn, might give you a leg up on your weight-loss journey. What to do: Visualize the “why” behind your desire to lose weight, like having the stamina to keep up with your kids. Then, use these empowering visualizations to push through difficult workouts and give yourself a motivational boost when you feel tempted to give up on your eating plan.
CHOOSE TO BE POSITIVE
Research shows negativity makes it harder to make healthy choices, while a positive mindset can help keep you on track. Instead of getting down on yourself (or worse, punishing yourself) when you overindulge, focus on what you’ve been doing well (“I’ve been learning more about how to make healthy eating choices.”) and how you can make a better choice in the future (“I’ll deal with what’s causing my stress in a non-food way — instead of overeating.”)
FIND WAYS TO DE-STRESS
It’s not just in your head: Stress can tweak your hunger hormones, drive cravings for comfort foods and disrupt your sleep — all of which make weight-loss harder. For this reason, make sure you have a long list of ways to reduce stress before you get started on your weight-loss journey, even if it’s as simple as a cool-off walk around the block.
FOCUS ON WHAT YOU’RE ADDING TO — NOT TAKING FROM — YOUR LIFE
When you start eating less of your favorite not-so-healthy foods, it’s easy to feel deprived and, as a result, end up binge-eating later. Instead of thinking about the foods you’re eating in moderation (i.e., chips, cookies), focus on eating more of the healthy foods you enjoy. Give it some time, and you might find healthy-ish desserts like strawberry parfaits are crave-worthy, too.
BOUNCE BACK FROM SETBACKS
Whether you miss a few workouts or exceed your calorie limit, setbacks are to be expected on your weight-loss journey. Here, it’s important to stay focused and remind yourself consistency beats perfection for long-term success. Rather than getting down on yourself and veering farther off course, reflect on what went “wrong” and how you can make a healthier choice next time. Staying positive (instead of sinking into food guilt) can help keep you on track.
FIND WAYS TO ENJOY THE JOURNEY
It’s no surprise research shows you’re more likely to work toward a goal long-term if you actually enjoy the process. Make your weight-loss journey fun (or at least tolerable) with delicious and healthy recipes and a hobby that gets you moving, like walking, running or yoga.
GET SPECIFIC WITH YOUR HEALTHY HABITS
SET SMART GOALS
Research shows vague, lofty goals (like “lose weight”) are harder to work toward when they’re not paired with a ground-level plan to get there. To bring your weight-loss goals down to earth, set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. For example, do you have a wedding or reunion coming up in six months? That makes for a great deadline to lose 10 pounds.
Small, sustainable changes are key for transforming your lifestyle in order to lose weight and keep it off. What to do: Break your big-picture SMART goal into mini-SMART goals, like eating leafy greens with lunch five times a week or boosting your step count by 2,000 steps in two weeks with morning or evening walks.
…BUT TACKLE THEM ONE AT A TIME
When it comes to sustainable lifestyle changes, less is often more. Concentrate on making one small change at a time. For example, to stay hydrated throughout the day (and avoid mistaking thirst for hunger), aim to make drinking 2 cups of water first thing in the morning a habit for one week. Then, stack another healthy habit the following week.
MAKE TIME FOR MEDITATION
The health benefits of meditation are well-established, and they can help you lose weight as you become more mindful of how your emotions affect your eating habits. If you’re trying to quit emotional eating, guided meditation can help.
BRUSH YOUR TEETH IMMEDIATELY AFTER DINNER
Instead of winding down with a snack in front of the TV, brush (and floss) your pearly whites right after you finish dinner. This simple change can help you cut down on calories and prevent mindless snacking at bedtime.
Not getting enough sleep can really put a dent in your weight-loss efforts, as hormone shifts cause a surge in hunger and cravings. The fix: Set a regular bedtime to ensure you get 7–8 hours of quality shut-eye and keep your metabolism humming.
PRIME YOUR ENVIRONMENT FOR WEIGHT LOSS
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH MOTIVATION
Keep your motivation up with personal mantras like, “You’ve got this!” “Yes, I can!” and “Every day, I’m getting stronger.” Tape up inspirational posters and images (like a photo of your children) and place motivation-boosting sticky notes with quotes and reminders on your fridge and desk.
FILL YOUR FRIDGE WITH HEALTHY FOOD
Homemade meals are a great way to track your portion sizes and stick to your calorie and macronutrient goals (or enjoy a healthy balance of carbs, protein and fat). To ensure they’re easy to whip up, stock up on healthy produce and lean proteins as well as frozen fruits and veggies.
HIDE THE JUNK FOOD
Just seeing your favorite foods can make your mouth water. In this sense, the “out of sight, out of mind” method can help, so clear your counters and drawers of any kryptonite foods. Then, place not-so-healthy items on the highest shelf (or even in an out-of-reach cabinet reserved for special occasions).
KEEP HEALTHY FOODS FRONT AND CENTER
SERVE YOURSELF RESTAURANT-STYLE
Instead of having a family-style meal with your bread basket, casserole and salad bowl on the table, leave food on your kitchen counters (and out of reach). This way, you’ve got an extra beat between your first serving and potential seconds to make sure you’re actually hungry (and not just hankering for another taste).
OPT FOR SMALL PLATES
Sure, it might seem like such a small change, but shrink your plate size, and you may cut nearly 300 calories each day, finds a study in the Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews. Smaller plates make for smaller portions, and seeing a full plate (even if it’s the same amount of food you’d have on a larger plate) may trick you into feeling fuller, too.
FREEZE WHAT YOU DON’T EAT
Another “out of sight, out of mind” technique: To cut down on food waste, grazing and seconds, portion out a healthy serving for yourself and then freeze the rest for later. Again, this way, you’re less likely to overeat.
TURN AWAY FROM TREATS
If a candy bowl is situated in front of you, chances are you’re going to reach for it far more often than if sweets were stored in a cabinet in the office kitchen. Your fix: Keep temptation foods out of your line of vision.
PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY
When it comes to weight loss, your phone could do more harm than good at meals. Case in point: People who look at their phones while they’re eating take in 15% more calories than those who eat distraction-free, according to a study in the journal Physiology & Behavior.
SWITCH OFF THE TV
Again, chowing down while distracted is a surefire way to overeat. To avoid mindlessly eating to the bottom of a chip bag, keep food and TV separate.
LAY OUT YOUR WORKOUT GEAR AHEAD OF TIME
Here’s one way to make your workouts more of a habit: As you prep for bed, lay out your workout clothes and bag by the door. If you tend to skip your workout after a long day at the office, put on your workout clothes before you leave to make exercise a priority.
OPTIMIZE YOUR SLEEP SPACE
Now that you know quality sleep is key for weight loss, make sure you’re getting the best night’s sleep possible by cooling your bedroom (the ideal temperature is a chilly 60–67°F or about 16–19°C), blocking out light with blackout shades or a sleep mask and dimming your phone, laptop and any other sources of artificial light that might mess with your body’s natural clock.
EAT WELL FOR WEIGHT LOSS
SHOP THE PERIMETER
While it’s not a foolproof plan (and sometimes you need to peruse the aisles), circle the perimeter of your grocery store before hitting the aisles. This way, you’ll stock up on healthy, fresh foods first including produce, meat and fish before you head for packaged, more processed foods.
CONTROL YOUR PORTIONS
While portion-size mistakes are easy to make at first (especially when it comes to avocados and cooking oil), portion control is an indispensable weight-loss tool. The trick is to start with measuring tools and then learn how to eyeball healthy portions on your plate. A simple guide for lunch and dinner: Fill half of your plate with non-starchy veggies or leafy greens, a quarter with lean protein like chicken or tofu, and another quarter with starchy veggies like sweet potatoes or whole grains.
PORTION YOUR SNACKS
Rather than eating straight out of a large chips bag (and overeating in no time), pre-portion your snacks in snack-size bags or buy them pre-packaged in healthy portion sizes.
DON’T SKIP SNACKS
Avoiding snacktime for weight-loss doesn’t always pay off: Getting too few calories in can slow your metabolism and drive up your hunger for a feeding frenzy later in the day. Instead of skipping snacks and meals in the name of cutting calories, make sure you’re satiated and energized throughout the day with small, nutrient-dense snacks.
Set a timer for 20 minutes and challenge yourself to savor your meal until the alarm sounds. Eating slowly has been tied to weight loss, a lower body mass index (BMI) and a smaller waist circumference, as your body has the chance to realize you’re full, per research published in the British Medical Journal.
FUEL WITH PROTEIN AND FIBER AT BREAKFAST
Skipping breakfast to “save your appetite” for later might lead to binge-eating, especially if you’re feeling super hungry and deprived for hours. Instead, opt for a breakfast high in protein and fiber (both help fill you up and keep your blood sugar steady). Think: Greek yogurt with berries or eggs and whole-grain toast.
PACK SOUP FOR LUNCH
Low-calorie soups (Read: broth-based soups, not creamy soups or chowders) might help you eat about 20% fewer calories than usual, research shows. This could give your weight-loss efforts a boost over time. The aroma and taste alone are satisfying, plus the volume of soup inside your stomach helps make you feel full by releasing satiety hormones.
HAVE A MINI-SNACK BEFORE YOU EAT OUT
Research shows an afternoon snack of Greek yogurt can quiet hunger bells, make you feel full, and set you up to eat less at dinner. Next time you’re dining out with friends or family, have a small cup of yogurt before you leave to avoid overdoing it on a sizable entrée.
ASK FOR A TO-GO BOX EARLY
Restaurant portions tend to be much bigger than what you prepare for yourself at home (and they’re often on larger plates, too). An easy strategy: Ask for a to-go box to pack up part of your meal before you even lift your fork. This way, you won’t be tempted to overeat — and you’ll have leftovers to look forward to later.
EAT MORE VEGGIES
You don’t have to make vegetables the main feature of your meal to boost your intake of vitamins, minerals and filling fiber. What to do: Mix them into omelets, pasta dishes, casseroles, smoothies, chili and more.
GET ENOUGH PROTEIN
High-protein diets help make you feel full and satisfied, so make sure to include healthy protein sources at every meal and snack. These can include sources like Greek yogurt, tofu, chicken breast, fish, quinoa, tempeh, black beans and lentils.
FILL UP WITH FIBER
Like protein, fiber helps keep you full longer, too, and in turn, slim down without feeling deprived. When you read labels, look for at least 5 grams or more of fiber per serving. Some good sources of fiber include oats, chia seeds, flaxseeds, chickpeas and edamame.
CUT BACK ON SIMPLE CARBS …
White bread, the majority of pastries and refined sugars found in candy and soda provide loads of energy but lack the nutrients you find in complex carbs (like vitamins, minerals and fiber). They also break down super fast in your body, cueing a blood sugar spike followed by an energy crash.
… AND CHOOSE WHOLE GRAINS INSTEAD
Whether you’re at the bagel shop or checking out the cereal and pasta aisles, when you can, opt for 100% whole-grain foods. Unlike simple carbs, they help fill you up and digest slowly, keeping your blood sugar in check.
AVOID ADDED SUGAR
Added sugar found in highly-processed food may be linked to an increased risk for obesity and cardiovascular disease alike. Instead, stick with naturally-occurring sugar found in fruits, veggies and whole grains.
FEED YOUR GUT
Emerging research shows probiotic supplementation might help lower body weight and fat percentage. To support healthy digestion and give your weight-loss efforts a potential boost, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about supplementing or eating more probiotic-rich foods.
LEAN ON HEALTHY FATS
Cutting down on excess butter and oil in your diet makes sense when you’re trying to lose weight, as fats are highly calorie-dense. However, you do need some fat in your diet for energy and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Plus, fats help fill you up. Aim for healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from olive oil, nuts, seeds and fatty fish.
MAKE SIMPLE SWAPS
Many substitutions cut calories and sugar without surrendering good taste. A few examples to test: Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, applesauce instead of butter in baked goods, or zucchini noodles instead of traditional white flour pasta.
It’s OK to have fried foods from time to time, but they dial up the fat and calories in your diet, which isn’t so helpful for weight loss. Instead of dropping chicken or potatoes into a fryer, opt for pan-fried or oven-cooked foods instead.
CHOOSE WHOLE FRUIT OVER JUICE
While juices do contain vitamins, they lack the filling fiber and phytonutrients you’ll find in a piece of fruit with the skin still on. A simple fix: Have fresh fruit instead.
While it’s by no means a weight-loss fix, chewing gum might help you cut down on sugary snacks and mindless eating throughout the day. In fact, some research shows it may help lower cravings for sweet and salty snacks and reduce hunger between meals.
Spices are a great way to add flavor to foods without upping the salt, sugar and fat content. In particular, cayenne pepper could boost your metabolism and cut cravings for high-fat, sugary and salty foods.
GIVE INTO YOUR CRAVINGS (SOMETIMES)
Cravings are sure to come when you start cutting calories. Rather than depriving yourself (and overeating when you give in at last), it’s OK to let yourself enjoy less-than-healthy foods from time to time. Just enjoy your favorite foods in moderation (an easy rule to remember: Eat healthier foods 80% of the time, and less-healthy foods 20% of the time).
SIP SMART FOR WEIGHT LOSS
SAY HELLO TO MORE H2O
Staying hydrated can help boost your energy and make you feel full and, in turn, stick with your calorie deficit to lose weight. For this reason, a quality water bottle makes for a smart purchase when you’re first getting started.
DRINK BEFORE YOU EAT
It’s simple: Starting your meal with a glass of water can help fill you up so you don’t confuse thirst with hunger.
SIP ON GREEN TEA
Green tea has many health benefits. When it comes to weight-loss efforts, green tea is rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant believed to promote healthy digestion.
WATCH OUT FOR LIQUID CALORIES
Watching what you drink is just as important as logging what you eat. Juice, soda, fancy coffee drinks and even milk can add up, and sugar-sweetened drinks are linked to higher body fat and blood pressure.
JUST ADD WATER
While it might seem less tasty than usual at first, watering down super sweet drinks like lemonade and juice can help you address a hankering while still sticking with your daily calorie goal. Better yet, swapping some sugary drinks for water altogether can help you keep the weight off for good, too.
CUT BACK ON ALCOHOL
Calories from alcohol (and even light beers) can add up fast. Not to mention, the more you drink, the more you might want to eat not-so-healthy takeout and fast food, too. Practice drinking in moderation with these smart drinking hacks to help you cut back without feeling deprived.
GIVE YOUR WATER A TWIST
BOOST YOUR MOTIVATION FOR WEIGHT LOSS
JOIN A VIRTUAL COMMUNITY
Research finds having access to a support group beats an informative pamphlet when you’re trying to lose weight. Find people who share your goals via online groups and forums (such as on MyFitnessPal) and help keep one another motivated and accountable.
FIND A MENTOR
One of the best ways to keep yourself accountable is to find someone you look up to and share your goals with them. If you value someone else’s opinion, you might work harder to live up to your aspirations. They can also help guide you forward with advice based on their own struggles and successes.
KEEP A JOURNAL
Not only does monitoring what you eat and drink with an app like MyFitnessPal help you lose and maintain weight according to numerous studies, but it also allows you to see (and celebrate) your progress over time. Writing out how you feel might also help you work on your relationship with food and your weight alike.
TRACK YOUR STEPS
BE COMPASSIONATE WITH YOURSELF
Emerging research shows that you’re better off supporting yourself than beating yourself up when you make mistakes along the way. As you go, find ways to prioritize your health and well-being with self-care, even if that’s as simple as a few slow, deep breaths or a hot bath at the end of the day.
An all-or-nothing mindset sets you up for failure, as the moment you go over your calorie limit or eat something less healthy, you might spiral out of control. Instead, rather than viewing foods as good or bad, focus more on the big picture and your overall diet.
EXERCISE FOR WEIGHT LOSS
MAKE IT FUN
You’ll never stick with a workout routine if you dread it every single time. Your fix: Find something that makes you want to move more (a new hobby or team sport) or pair your workouts with something you look forward to (like podcasts and TV series with multiple seasons).
SPEED UP YOUR SOUNDTRACK
Upbeat songs can make pressing through a tough workout easier. What’s more, upbeat music can help you walk faster, which is better for burning more calories and boosting longevity.
PICK UP WEIGHTS
Strength training can be a great way to boost your metabolism, fuel weight loss, and maintain your new weight, research shows.
GO FOR NO-GEAR WORKOUTS, TOO
No access to a gym or track? Only got a few minutes? Guess what: That’s no problem. Use your own body weight, a set of dumbbells or even a playground down the street to get creative with your workouts.
ADD A LITTLE CAFFEINE
A little caffeine before your workout could help boost your endurance. Just don’t overdo it (since everyone has a different caffeine tolerance, start with a few sips of coffee or tea and listen to your body).
FIND A WORKOUT BUDDY
When you workout with a friend (especially in team sports and fitness classes), you get a greater mood boost than you would if you were sweating it out alone — and that might help you keep showing up to your workouts even when you’d rather skip.
DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU SEE
Sometimes, workout monitors on cardio equipment like treadmills or ellipticals would have you believe you scorched a load of calories in one workout. And while you may very well have, these displays are (sometimes) misleading or outright incorrect. Pay attention to how you feel and your own metrics (like how far or how long you’ve gone), as these are more reliable ways to track your progress anyway.
High-intensity interval training (aka HIIT) alternates brief bouts of intense effort (Think: sprinting, jumping or running) with periods of moderate to low effort (like jogging or walking slowly). Research shows this is a great way to burn calories and increase your metabolism, especially if you’re short on time for workouts.
TURN UP THE HEAT
Another way to burn some extra calories: have sex. Research shows it helps lower your blood pressure and stress levels (which are linked to weight gain).
GET UP, GET UP, GET UP
SPLIT UP YOUR LUNCH BREAK
One simple way to move more during the day: Use half of your lunch break to eat, and half to walk. Taking it outside can give you some much-needed fresh air and a boost in mood to push through a long workday and counter cravings.
Time and again, research shows walking is one of the best exercises for weight loss. It’s easy to stick with, and your chances of injuring yourself are low. Whether you’re a beginner or a novice, we’ve got a walking plan that can help you increase your step count.
REMEMBER: EVERY STEP COUNTS
NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) activities include everything you’re doing beyond eating, sleeping or working out. And moving more (by taking the stairs, playing with your kids, doing chores and even fidgeting) can help support your weight-loss success.