I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of anyone who promises easy weight loss.
As someone who has experienced a lot of fluctuation in my weight over the years, I know how difficult it can be to lose pounds, especially those last 5 or 10 vanity pounds. I have been a number of sizes over the years and tried a number of diets. At my heaviest, I snacked all day at my grocery store job and drank all night at my favorite place to play my music. I followed no rules and gave myself no limitations until one day I stepped onto the scale and couldn’t believe my eyes.
I know that it can feel impossible or futile to even try, and I know how hard it is to keep the weight off once it’s shed, so I’ll start with that personal message to let you know that we’re all on the same page. I make no promises. I am not here to trivialize anything about the effort it takes to lose weight. I’m here to help with some tips that work.
10 Simple Weight Loss Hacks to Start Today
I didn’t say these tips were EASY, I said they were SIMPLE. And they are. Not only are they simple, they’re small enough changes that you could choose one or two to tackle each week, and in no time at all, you will have created new habits for yourself that could and most likely will precipitate lower numbers on the scale. That wasn’t a promise or premonition, but based on my experience as a person and as a professional, I think it’s safe to say that trying these out can only bring you closer to your goals, not further away.
1. Stop eating straight from the container.
This is an old trick, but it’s tried and true. If you eat your snack straight from the container, the chances that you’ll overeat are enormous. Get a small plate or bowl and portion out your snack, especially if you’re treating yourself to something sweet, salty, or crunchy. Those three properties in food are the trifecta that create a bottomless pit in your stomach. As humans, we evolved to gravitate toward sweet and salty for the calories and crunchy for the freshness, but these days most things with a crunch aren’t always fresh (chips, crackers, etc.). Be smart about your portions and don’t go back for seconds.
It’s easy to make a bad decision if you’re totally depleted by the time you notice your hunger. With nothing in your car or bag to satisfy you until your next meal, of course those 99 cent tacos from Jack in the Box sound like a good idea. Have a few nonperishables in your glove box or purse for times like these. Protein bars, turkey jerky, nuts, or even a few pieces of fruit (as long as you eat them regularly) all work as emergency snacks. Check out some great tips on this front from Dr. Mark Hyman.
3. Take a walk.
Your walk can be whatever you need it to be each day, as long as you do it. Maybe on Mondays you’re stuck in meetings for most of the day and only have time to walk once around the parking lot at work. Great. Do it! Maybe on Tuesday, you have time to walk the whole block once or twice. Great. Do it! Just commit to doing a little something small every day. Studies have shown that short walks throughout the day can do more for our heart health than one long workout. Start small, but start.
4. Wear a pedometer.
The simple act of wearing a feedback device can really do wonders for our behavior. Just knowing where we stand actually has the power to influence subsequent behavior for the better. If you wear a pedometer, you’ll know where you’re starting on your journey, and you’ll have the data that you need to measure your improvement over time. If you have a competitive spirit, you might not even notice that you’re ramping up your steps each day to try to beat the day before. This same feedback phenomenon works for food journaling. The simple act of writing down what you’re eating has the power to change it for the better.
5. Stop drinking your calories.
This is a big one. It actually might be the most important thing on this entire list. Maybe I should have put it first … and last. STOP drinking your calories. Drink water. Drink infused water. Drink a cup of coffee or tea in the morning. But please stop drinking soda and fruit juice and sugary teas and energy drinks and sports drinks and frappuccinos and anything laden with sugar. The impact it will have not only on your waistline but on your energy level, your liver health, your cardiovascular health, your pancreas, your complexion, your gut health, your overall sense of wellbeing, EVERYTHING, will be massive. Stop it. And diet counts too. Stop it. I recently attended a lecture in Berkeley that was focused on the impact of sugar (especially soda) on our young people and wrote about it on my work blog. Check it out here for more details on the health impacts of sugary beverages.
6. Drink plenty of water.
Related to #5, drinking water is far preferable to drinking anything else to quench your thirst. Water is essential for every function in our bodies, and a huge percentage of our population walks around chronically dehydrated without even realizing it. We often confuse thirst for hunger, which means we’re eating when we really just need a glass of water. It’s a good practice to drink some water in response to a hunger pang before reaching for a snack. Then, if you still want the snack a few minutes later, go for it.
Additionally, if you’re not dehydrated, your body won’t hang on to water for deal life, allowing you to release water weight. If part of your weight loss strategy involves a low-carb plan, you will need extra water to make sure you’re not overloading your kidneys and liver with too much protein to process.
7. Eat at a table with the TV, phone, and computer off.
This hack is about mindful eating and training yourself to alert your brain to what your body is doing. If you are eating with distractions around you, your brain isn’t focusing on your food, which means it’s not focusing on when you’ve had enough to eat. Those who eat in front of the TV or standing in the kitchen playing with their phones tend to consume more calories than those who sit down at a table and focus on their food.
8. Stop hitting the snooze button.
You’d be surprised at the impact that avoiding the snooze button can have on your energy throughout the entire day. We cycle through various stages of sleep throughout the night, and each stage takes a certain amount of time to get through. When your alarm goes off in the morning, hitting snooze allows you to fall back to sleep and start a new cycle, only to be interrupted 11 minutes later, part-way through the first stage. This can be pretty disorienting and has a negative effect on our energy level for the whole day. The less-rested we feel, the more caloric energy we will crave in the form of carbohydrates and sweets. Have you ever noticed that when you’re exhausted, all you want to eat is junk food and sweets? This is why. (It also helps to get enough sleep in the first place, which we talked about last week here and here.)
This one might be the simplest and most challenging of everything on this list. Breathing is something we do all day every day, but how we breathe can make all the difference in how we process the world around us. It’s physiologically impossible for our bodies to engage in the fight or flight stress response while we are practicing deep breathing. I’m going to try to keep this explanation as simple as possible for brevity’s sake, but I want it to make sense to you. Here goes: Typically, when we’re stressed, we take short, shallow breaths. This engages the sympathetic nervous system and kicks the stress response into gear. When we’re stressed, we release cortisol (a stress hormone) into the blood stream, which takes the blood out of our organs and sends it to our limbs so that we can fight the lions and tigers our ancestors fought. Except now we aren’t fighting lions and tigers, we’re sitting at a desk freaking out because our computer crashed in the middle of a big report that’s due in 20 minutes. This relocation of our bodies’ resources causes a halt in digestive function and slows down our metabolism so that we can conserve our energy (stored as fat) for all this fighting we’ll be doing (that we’re not actually doing), causing weight gain (especially in the middle). I hope this makes sense. Please ask questions in the comments if you need more on this one. I could write a whole post just about breathing.
The point is that when we practice deep breathing, we stave off that whole cascade I just described, which prevents stress-induced weight gain.
10. Congratulate yourself.
I saved this hack for last, because it’s the one we often forget to do for ourselves. If you’re taking strides in your life to create positive change, be proud of yourself! Write down your accomplishments, no matter how small. Find non-food-related ways to reward yourself for all the wonderful things you’re doing for your health. Notice the small changes and celebrate them. A great way to help you notice is to take “before” pictures. You’re seeing your body every day, so you might not notice the changes as much as you would if you had a baseline to compare them to. I was very happy I took pictures of the changes in my face over the years so I could truly see how far I’d come. It feels good to acknowledge the work you’ve done and how far you’ve come.
Make time for this one every day, and it will set the stage for the next day to be even better.