No one believes me when I tell them, but I was seriously chubby as a kid. I wore the girl version of “husky” pants, I had borderline-high cholesterol (at age 12!), and the mile runs we had to do in PE class were an exercise in embarrassment.
Thanks to the magic of puberty and rowing crew, though, in high school, I slimmed down. But in college and after graduation, the weight crept back on.
Each time I went up a size, I’d vow to get back to my healthy weight. I’d swap pizza and beer for Lean Cuisines and diet soda. And sure enough, I’d lose weight.
But after a few weeks of freezer meals and self pity, I’d call it quits. I’m not good at being hungry. So I’d give in to those pizza cravings, and the weight would pile right back on.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
In fact, I think I lost the same 10 pounds about five different times. (What can I say, I was really good at finding it! 😉 )
15 Powerful Weight Loss Hacks
Yet for the past few years, I’ve been at my happy weight. I’m never hungry, I don’t struggle, and I love what I eat. Plus, I have more energy than ever before.
I eat plant-based. I fill my plate with nutrient-dense fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, and nuts. Sure, junk food sneaks in sometimes. (I’m a dietitian, but I’m also human. 😉 ) But most of the time, I try to eat good stuff.
However, if you want to supercharge your plant-based weight loss—and your health—I’ve got some easy hacks you can use. Read on for savvy swaps, tips, and tricks!
1. Eat your salad off a dinner plate, and your dinner off a salad plate
By serving salad on your dinner plate, you’ll eat more greens without thinking about it. Then you’ll dig in to the rest of your dinner partly full, so the entree portion on your salad plate will seem just right. For more fun ways to trick your brain into eating right, check out Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, PhD.
2. Stay on track with a “When → Then” statement
So many of us get tripped up when we’re out of our routine. We’re out running errands, we feel a hunger pang, and before we know it, we’re pulling out of the drive-thru, shoving fries in our face. If only we’d had a plan!
Enter the “when → then” statement, a micro-plan to keep you on track when you’re tempted. To make one, think of a situation that usually derails you. Then make a quick when → then plan.
Example: When the drive-thru calls my name, then I’ll stop at Starbucks for a cup of coffee instead.
When/then statements give you a quick-and-easy solution in vulnerable moments, so you can run on autopilot instead of willpower. 🙂
3. Eat 1 cup (or more!) of beans daily
Beans are the world’s cheapest superfood. At just $0.06 a serving, they provide vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy carbohydrate, and prebiotics to feed your good bacteria. What’s more, eating beans helps you feel full and keep your blood sugar stable–the day after you eat them!1 I recommend starting with 1/2 cup a day and working your way up to 1 cup or more. Try easy $0.23 barbecue black bean burgers or veggie chili on the cheap. Yum!
4. Get some sleep
Skimping on sleep increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry.2 In fact, research has shown that people tend to eat more when they don’t sleep enough. Have trouble sleeping? Ditch caffeine after noon, use blue-light filters on your electronics at night (e.g. Night Shift for iPhone, or f.lux for computers), and practice good sleep hygiene.
5. Eat your greens—every day
Leafy greens are rich in natural folate, which your body uses to make feel-good serotonin in your brain. And if you’re feeling good, you’ll be much less likely to find yourself in a bakery, an empty cupcake wrapper in your hands, wondering how you got there. 😉
6. Clean out your kitchen
Keep only healthy food in your fridge and pantry–get rid of everything else. It’s just not fair to ask yourself to have iron willpower 24/7. (I know I don’t!) Instead, set yourself up for success: Donate, compost, or toss the animal products and processed junk.
7. Swap your candy bar for hot cocoa
- Chocolove dark chocolate bar = 480 calories, 36 grams of fat
- Veggie Quest 42-calorie hot chocolate = 42 calories, 3 grams of fat.
8. Replace cold cereal with oatmeal
Starting your morning with oatmeal instead of cold cereal can help you feel satisfied straight through ’til lunch. When researchers fed people the same number of calories of hot oatmeal vs. cold cereal with milk, the people who ate oatmeal felt fuller and more satisfied 4 hours later.3 But no need to eat the same boring oatmeal every day: try cinnamon banana bread oatmeal (just $0.39 per serving) or carrot cake oatmeal for a delicious change of pace.
9. Eat your smoothie with a spoon
You may have heard that eating soup can help you lose weight by filling you up, but smoothies don’t have the same effect. What’s the difference? It’s not the temperature—it’s how fast you eat!
Soups, which are usually eaten with a spoon, are consumed slowly. That gives your brain time to catch up with your stomach. Smoothies, on the other hand are normally consumed as a drink, so they go down quickly and aren’t as filling. Does eating a smoothie with a spoon help you feel fuller? You bet!4 So go ahead: Enjoy that blueberry muffin protein smoothie. Just be sure to “sip” it with a spoon.
10. Replace mindless eating in front of the TV with mindless…anything else
I don’t know about you, but when I’ve had a bad day, nothing is quite as soothing as eating in front of the TV. Unfortunately, it can easily turn into a nonstop nosh session that only ends when I turn off the TV.
The solution? Ideally, eat at the table! But if you’re going to watch TV (hey, it happens), have another project handy for when you finish eating. You might grab a soothing coloring book, your knitting project, a bottle of nail polish so you can give yourself a mani-pedi—anything you can do while watching TV that isn’t eating. That way your brain can have the escapism it craves, without TV-induced overeating.
11. Dry-sauté for more flavor—and weight loss
Did you know that oil is THE most concentrated source of calories on the planet? In fact, 2 tablespoons of olive oil has more calories than 2 scoops of chocolate Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. (240 calories for the oil vs. 210 calories for the ice cream.)
So instead of sauteing in the equivalent of half a cup of ice cream, try dry sauteing, a trick some chefs use to concentrate flavor. Over medium heat, saute veggies in a dry pan (onions and mushrooms both work well) until lightly brown. Then, when they start to stick, add ¼ cup of wine or broth. This prevents sticking and deglazes the bottom of the pan, infusing flavor from all those lovely brown bits into your food. Continue sauteing, adding liquid as needed, until your dish is done.
12. Consider intermittent fasting
In healthy individuals, intermittent fasting (IF), or brief periods of going without food, may help with weight loss and improve metabolic health.5 Two approaches with scientific support include:
- Eating dinner earlier (e.g. no eating from 6 pm – 9 am, resulting in a 15-hour overnight fast), or
- Taking a 24-hour break from eating every 1-2 weeks
However, more research is needed, and IF isn’t for everyone. If you are pregnant/breastfeeding, taking certain medications (like glucose-lowering meds), have a history of disordered eating, or have a chronic health condition, do not fast. If you aren’t sure if fasting is okay for you, check with your healthcare provider.
13. Bust a move
Your body was meant to move! Whether you like dancing, walking, swimming, biking, skating, kayaking, or playing sports—get out there and enjoy it! Not only can being active help keep your weight in check, it can lift your mood, too. Aim for at least 30 minutes of active time 5 days a week.
14. Eat your grains whole
If you’re struggling to lose weight, don’t just eat whole-grain baked goods. Take it to the next level and eat your grains truly whole! Instead of a cornbread, eat whole corn. Instead of whole-wheat bread, eat cracked or bulgur wheat (if you tolerate gluten, of course). Eating the whole grain instead of a whole-grain flour helps keep blood sugar stable.
15. If you haven’t yet, go plant based!
Going plant based is by far the most important switch you can make. Studies show vegans are slimmer than omnivores.6 Moreover, plant-based diets lead to more weight loss than diets that include animal products.7 Why? Plant-based foods like fruits, veggies, beans, and whole grains flood your body with nutrients, but are low in calories. Moreover, the fiber in whole plant foods tells your brain when you’re full and keeps you feeling satisfied. Just be sure to take vitamin B12—it’s essential if you eat plant-based, and is also recommended for everyone over the age of 50.
There you have it—15 hacks to get you to your healthy weight—and have fun doing it.
- Which of these would you like to try?
- What’s your favorite tip for staying at your happy weight?
Let me know in the comments below!
1. Nilsson A, Johansson E, Ekström L, Björck I. Effects of a Brown Beans Evening Meal on Metabolic Risk Markers and Appetite Regulating Hormones at a Subsequent Standardized Breakfast: A Randomized Cross-Over Study. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(4): e59985. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0059985
2. Prinz P. Sleep, Appetite, and Obesity—What Is the Link? PLoS Medicine. 2004;1(3):e61. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0010061. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535424/
3. Rebello CJ, Johnson WD, Martin CK, et al. Acute effect of oatmeal on subjective measures of appetite and satiety compared to a ready-to-eat breakfast cereal: a randomized crossover trial. J Am Coll Nutr. 2013;32(4):272-9. doi: 10.1080/07315724.2013.816614. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/07315724.2013.816614
4. Greger M. Liquid Calories: Do Smoothies Lead to Weight Gain? September 9, 2015. https://nutritionfacts.org/video/liquid-calories-do-smoothies-lead-to-weight-gain/
5. Tinsley GM, La Bounty PM. Effects of intermittent fasting on body composition and clinical health markers in humans. Nutr Rev. 2015 Oct;73(10):661-74. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv041. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26374764
6. Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, Fraser GE. Type of Vegetarian Diet, Body Weight, and Prevalence of Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009;32(5):791-796. doi:10.2337/dc08-1886. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2671114/
7. Huang RY, Huang CC, Hu FB, Chavarro JE. Vegetarian Diets and Weight Reduction: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. J Gen Intern Med. 2015 Jul 3. [Epub ahead of print] http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11606-015-3390-7