You’ve heard a million diet tips, but they never seem to stick. The reason? They’re all based in the short term. Here’s the truth about how to eat and think about food so your body can maintain a healthy weight over a lifetime.
1. Don’t obsess about dairy.
Research suggesting that full-fat dairy may actually be good for your waistline is getting a lot of attention lately. One 12-year Swedish study found that participants who ate more full-fat dairy products such as butter, cream, and whole milk actually had less belly fat than their peers who opted for the low-fat stuff. But this is by no means definitive. “Before you swap your skim milk for whole, keep in mind that the research on dairy fat is still emerging,” says registered dietitian Karen Ansel. Some experts even suggest shunning dairy altogether and subbing in nut milks. The best bet? Go with what feels good and works for you, but know that may change over time.
2. When hungry, think protein first.
“We know it’s important to eat the right amount of protein every day, but many of us don’t understand why,” says Ansel. “Knowing that can help make it a priority. Research shows that eating 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal can help you build more lean muscle.” Since our muscles don’t store protein, steady consumption of it is required for optimal muscle synthesis meaning you can build more of it and burn more calories, even at rest so even when you’re having a snack, try to include protein, such as easy-to-eat-on-the-go hard-boiled eggs or a turkey roll-up.
3. Eat what you want, but only until you’re full.
Nutrition and wellness expert Melissa Halas-Liang favors the Okinawa principle derived from the people of the Japanese islands of the same name that suggests you eat until you are only 80% full, since your brain takes about 20 minutes to process satiety. “It’s easier to stop yourself at 80% if you eat slowly, and you definitely won’t miss the sluggish aftereffects that accompany unintentional overeating,” adds Halas-Liang. At least to us, it sounds a whole lot more satisfying to enjoy what you really like, even in slightly smaller amounts.
4. Chew your food.
A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that those who chewed 50 to 100% more than they usually did decreased their food intake by 9.5 and 14.8% respectively.
5. Eat lunch earlier.
Rather than making yourself wait until it’s the “right” time for your midday meal, grab something when you feel the first pangs of hunger. “If you push lunch off to the last possible minute, you’ll feel absolutely ravenous when it’s time to eat something, which increases the likelihood that you’ll pick the fastest and often least healthy option,” says Ansel. “And, if you’re ready to bite into anything in sight, you often end up eating way more than you would have an hour earlier.”
6. Actually enjoy your food.
“Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and too many of us miss it by rushing and multitasking during meals,” says Halas-Liang. Say no to the mealtime distractions that tend to lead to overeating and dissatisfaction. “And instead of thinking about what you should cut out of your diet, think about what you should eat more of,” adds Halas-Liang. “Eliminating the concept of ‘bad foods’ spins your habits more positively, and we all feel better when we eat more real, whole foods.”
7. Stop telling yourself carbs are the devil.
Paleo, shmaleo. Not only do carbohydrates provide the primary source of energy for your brain, but eating starchy or sweet carbs helps to increase serotonin levels, which naturally curbs your appetite and contributes to your emotional well-being. Here’s the science: Serotonin (the neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy) secretion depends upon the secretion of insulin, which results from consuming carbs. “Choose carbs that are high in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, or beans, since high-fiber foods take longer to digest, thus keeping you full for longer,” says Halas-Liang.
8. Stop trying to figure out which diet style is best.
Hint: They’re all basically the same. “A brand-new analysis of nearly 50 studies found that low-fat and low-carb diets are virtually identical in terms of their ability to peel off the pounds,” says Ansel. That’s why she urges people to find a way of eating that they actually like, because in the long term, it’s nearly impossible and rarely worth it to stick to one that makes you miserable.
9. Stop forcing yourself to eat if you’re not hungry.
Listen to your body for hunger and satiety cues, and let them guide what and when you eat. “If you eat mostly real, whole foods, your body will intuitively help with balance,” says Halas-Liang. “It’s much wiser than you think: It knows precisely what types of nutrients you need, how much, and how often. When you eat a ton of refined foods that are high in sugar, white flour, unhealthy fats, and salt, your intuition will be tuned out.” Try to retrain yourself to trust your body’s internal guide you’re much better off sticking to a body-, not time-interval-based style of eating.
10. To lose a lot of weight, do it in small chunks.
Taking it slow can truly make this a lifestyle shift instead of a diet. When you lose weight, you lose both fat and muscle, says Halas-Liang. “However, when an extreme diet ends and you gain weight back, you’re probably gaining mostly fat. As a result, your body fat percentage increases and your lean muscle mass decreases.” To counteract this possibility, she encourages her clients to incorporate muscle-strengthening workouts at least twice a week and remember that slow and steady wins the race. It’s best to limit the amount of daily calories you cut from your diet, instead focusing on swapping in healthier foods it makes for a more manageable strategy.