If you’ve ever struggled to lose weight and keep it off, you know that the battle of the bulge can be challenging. Surprisingly, a few simple tricks and lifestyle changes may represent easy ways to shrink your waistline.
Studies into the factors that influence your weight have come up with some intriguing lifestyle habits that may be effective at discouraging fat cells from congregating around your waistline. Some of these tips, designed to improve your health as well as help you lose weight, may seem obviously helpful, but others can be counterintuitive.
1. Eat dessert for breakfast.
For some people, eating a carbohydrate-rich, protein-packed breakfast that includes dessert may help reduce hunger and cravings.
“The goal of a weight-loss diet should be not only weight reduction but also reduction of hunger and cravings, thus helping prevent weight regain,” says Daniela Jakubowicz, an Israeli researcher who studied the effects of diet on 200 obese people.
In the research by Jakubowicz, people on a calorie-restricted diet who ate chocolate, a doughnut, a cookie or a piece of cake with a high-protein breakfast lost substantially more weight than those who ate only a combination of tuna, egg whites, cheese or low-fat milk.
Jakubowicz attributed the better results from the dessert-with-breakfast diet to meal timing and composition. She said the diet’s high protein content reduced hunger; the combination of protein and carbs increased satiety, or feeling full; and the dessert decreased cravings for sweet, starchy and fatty foods. Such cravings often occur when a diet restricts sweets and can result in eating many fattening foods that are not allowed on the diet, she said.
2. Get off the couch and move around.
It’s probably no surprise that combining exercise with a diet produces more health and weight benefits than merely dieting.
A study by scientists at the University of Mexico Health Sciences Center and the New Mexico Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System in Albuquerque shows that that a combination of diet-induced weight loss and frequent exercise almost doubles the improvement in insulin sensitivity compared with dieting alone.
“This suggests a distinct complementary effect of exercise on diet-induced weight loss,” says Matthew Bouchonville, M.D., who took part in the study.
This research demonstrated that weight loss by diet alone led to improvements in blood pressure and C-reactive protein (a sign of inflammation in the body). Combining a weight-loss diet with exercise also improved glucose and insulin response to an oral glucose tolerance test (levels of insulin and glucose trended over several time points after the sugar intake), waist circumference, abdominal visceral (deep belly) fat, triglycerides and adiponectin. Adiponectin is a protein produced in fat cells that improves insulin sensitivity.
3. Eat more fat.
While overweight people with type 2 diabetes are often urged to eat a low-fat diet, research at Linkoping University in Sweden shows that losing weight on a diet including more fat and fewer carbohydrates could have a better effect on blood sugar levels and blood lipids.
This study showed that diabetic dieters who ate more fat dropped their blood sugar levels on average from 58.5 to 53.7 mmol/mol (the unit for average blood glucose). This means that the intensity of the treatment for diabetes could also be reduced, and the amounts of insulin were lowered by 30 percent.
Despite their increased fat intake with a larger portion of saturated fatty acids, their lipoproteins (cholesterol) did not get worse. Quite the contrary — their HDL, or “good” cholesterol, content increased on the high fat diet.
4. Stay away from diet soda.
When scientists look at the overall diet of people who drink diet soda, they find that consuming these low- or no-calorie beverages apparently make you less healthy than folks who never indulge.
“[In our study]… there was an important interplay between overall diet and what people drink,” says researcher Kiyah Duffey, Ph.D. “It is important that people consider the entirety of their diet before they consider switching to or adding diet beverages, because without doing so they may not realize the health benefits they were hoping to see.”
This study gathered data collected over 20 years from more than 4,000 young adults who participated in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. People who were healthiest tended to be those who ate a prudent diet and who stayed away from diet sodas. Their waistlines were smaller, their triglyceride levels (blood fats) were lower and they suffered less metabolic syndrome.
Meanwhile, research at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and at Columbia University Medical Center has also shown that people who drink diet soda every day have an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
5. Cut the carbs two days a week.
Researchers at Genesis Prevention Center at University Hospital in South Manchester, England, have found that restricting carbohydrates two days per week may be a better dietary approach than a standard, daily calorie-restricted diet for losing pounds, preventing breast cancer and other diseases.
This study data revealed that intermittent, low-carbohydrate diets (where a low-carb diet was followed for only two days a week) were superior to the standard, daily Mediterranean diet in reducing weight, body fat and insulin resistance. Mean reduction in weight and body fat was roughly 4 kilograms (about 9 pounds) with the intermittent approaches compared with 2.4 kilograms (about 5 pounds) with a more normal, calorie-restricted diet.
6. Eat some nuts.
Studies of the effects of nuts like almonds and walnuts on overweight people show that their nutrients may help you eat less. Research at the University of Barcelona shows that nuts encourage the production of serotonin in overweight people with metabolic syndrome. Serotonin is a substance that helps transmit nerve signals and decreases feelings of hunger, makes people feel happier and improves heart health.
The scientists analyzed the broad spectrum of compounds excreted in the people’s urine and found evidence of several healthful changes connected to nut consumption. The beneficial effects of nut consumption also included reducing levels of substances in the body associated with inflammation and other cardiovascular risk factors.
7. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
When researchers at the Slone Epidemiology Center at Boston University analyzed the health records of 59,000 African-American women from across the United States, they found that women who consumed a diet high in vegetables and fruit had less of a weight problem over the course of 14 years than women whose diets were low in these foods. Women who consumed a diet high in meat and fried foods gained more weight than women with low intake of these foods. These associations were strongest for women whose dietary patterns did not change during the study period. The associations also were stronger among women younger than 35 years, who gained the most weight (29 pounds during the 14-year study period, on average).
8. Keep your diet simple.
If you follow a diet that is too complicated or requires you to make too much effort keeping track of what you eat, your chances of losing weight and keeping it off are limited, according to research at Indiana University (IU).
“For people on a more complex diet that involves keeping track of quantities and items eaten, their subjective impression of the difficulty of the diet can lead them to give up on it,” reports Peter Todd, a professor in IU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
Todd’s study shows that following simpler weight-loss guidelines improves your chances of weight-loss success.
9. Get more sleep.
Losing weight may be as simple as putting your head down on your pillow. Research shows that when you sleep less, you tend to weigh more.
“The solution [to weight loss] is not as simple as ‘eat less, move more, sleep more,’” observes researcher Dr. Jean-Phillippe Chaput of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute. “However, an accumulating body of evidence suggests that sleeping habits should not be overlooked when prescribing a weight-reduction program to a patient with obesity. Sleep should be included as part of the lifestyle package that traditionally has focused on diet and physical activity.”
Chaput’s analysis of people’s sleep habits shows that total sleep time and sleep quality predicts how much weight you can lose. Unless you sleep enough to feel rested, your weight-loss hopes may be dashed.
10. Eat more protein.
When your blood sugar cycles up and down too rapidly, you can feel awful and give in to food cravings and binge eating. Eating more protein with your snacks and meals can help control these blood sugar swings.
For instance, research at Ohio State University shows that high-protein, low-calorie diets may be especially good for people who are obese and have blood sugar difficulties. This study showed that a high-protein diet allows obese people to burn body fat for energy without endangering their health — and maintain a stable blood sugar level, which helps them avoid diabetes and hyperglycemia.
Even if you manage to incorporate all of these strategies into your daily life, your battle with your weight may still be difficult. Our modern lifestyle seems custom-made to complicate our health. But you have to strategize your meals and exercise program to fight back.