If your goal is to lose weight and exercise more, forget the deprivation diet and marathon workouts. Research shows that taking baby steps—not giant leaps—is the best way to get lasting results.
A study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that participants who made one small, potentially permanent change in their food choices and/or physical activity each week (such as drinking one fewer can of soda or walking 5 more minutes each day) lost more than twice as much belly fat, 2½ more inches off their waistlines, and about 4 times more weight during a 4-month program, compared with those who followed traditional calorie-restriction and physical-activity guidelines.
“When you focus on just a couple of small changes at a time, you begin to ingrain some healthy habits that last for a lifetime, rather than trying an all-or-nothing approach that more often than not fails because it’s too hard to follow,” says Lesley Lutes, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at East Carolina University.
We’ve uncovered 15 simple steps (with proven results) that will show you exactly how to lose weight by helping you move more, eat less, and look and feel better than ever. Add just one or two a week to your regular routine and you can lose nearly 3 inches off your waistline and be about 10 pounds lighter in a few months. Even better: Once these healthy habits become second nature, they’ll benefit you for a lifetime.
Mindlessly munching on a bag of chips could result in easily polishing off the whole thing; write down how much you’ve eaten and you’re more likely to practice portion control—and see how to lose weight fast. Keeping a food log helps control extra calories in two ways: the combination of plain old reality check (I just ate 30 minutes ago!) and awareness that what you’re putting in your mouth will soon be recorded for posterity. In a recent study, people who kept a food journal lost twice as much weight as those who didn’t. When they combined it with a moderate diet and exercise plan, they lost an average of 13 pounds in 6 months. Journaling also gives you insight on your eating habits, says Dr. Lutes. Do you skip meals? Eat the same during the week as on the weekend? Binge when you’re feeling stressed? “Knowing your routine helps you figure out what changes are right for you,” she adds.
Get moving during your favorite TV shows. Skip, dance, go up and down some stairs, run in place—anything that gets your heart rate up so you feel somewhat breathless, says Geralyn Coopersmith, senior national manager at Equinox Fitness. Do it for each 2-minute break (forget the TiVo) during a typical 2-hour TV night and you’ll burn an extra 270 calories a day—which can translate to a 28-pound weight loss in a year.
Tag the high-fat/high-calorie foods that are typically your favorites (our top five: cookies, candy, ice cream, potato chips, and fries) and gradually downshift. “If you’re eating six of these foods a week, try to go down to five,” says Dr. Lutes. Each week, drop another until you’re at no more than one or two; at the same time, add in a good-for-you choices like baby carrots, sautéed broccoli, oranges, and other fresh fruits and veggies.