All these years later, a lot of people still think that the only way to shed excess fat is to eat a bland diet or choke down foods they dislike. Luckily, that just isn’t true. Not only can you eat well while you’re shedding excess fat, it’s highly recommended that you do so. The more you enjoy your meals, the less likely you are to cheat on your food plan or give it up entirely.
So how do you lose weight without feeling deprived? Stick to these tips:
1. Have a regular workout plan. There are people who manage to lose weight without much exercise. But it requires them to follow a very strict, restrictive diet, and the weight loss is likely to stop or reverse itself with the tiniest caloric backsliding. And even if they’re successful, they’re likely to end up “thin but flabby” rather than lean and fit. On the other hand, when you have an effective workout plan, you burn more calories, build lean muscle, and prevent your metabolism from slowing down as the weight comes off. What’s more, working out changes the way you think about food—you’ll be more aware of what your body really needs, and start eating to fuel your muscles and keep up your energy instead of stuffing your face for the heck of it. You’ll stick to your food plan because you want to, not because you have to. And that means you’re more likely to keep it up over the long haul.
2. Go for quality. Junk foods aren’t called “junk” just because they tend to be unhealthy. They’re often made of cheap ingredients that aren’t even that tasty, with a lot of added sugar, salt, fat, and chemical flavorings to make up for it. As former FDA commissioner David Kessler points out, they’re intended to make you crave more food, not to satisfy your hunger. Less processed foods, on the other hand, tend to taste better naturally and be better for you. Of course, it would be nearly impossible to give up processed foods entirely, and you don’t have to. Just devote a larger portion of your meals to “clean” items: fresh vegetables and fruits; lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy, or vegetarian protein; and nuts, beans, and whole grains. And eat fewer foods that have more than five ingredients on the label, especially if you can’t pronounce some of them. (If you really need Doritos® now and then, buy a single-serving bag, not the large economy size.)
3. Don’t go hungry. A good food plan should keep you satisfied, even if you’re eating less than you’re used to. To avoid hunger pangs, make sure you always have access to healthy snacks when your plan calls for them, and never skip meals in an attempt to save on calories. Eat more foods that are naturally filling, like soups, salads, and steamed or roasted veggies, along with moderate amounts of healthful fats. And avoid high-glycemic foods made of sugar or starch, which can lead to blood sugar fluctuations that leave you hungry and low on energy.
4. Savor your food. No matter how good your meals are, you’re not likely to enjoy them if you’re distracted by other things or you gobble your food like there’s no tomorrow. That’s why, according to a study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, people who eat “mindfully” are less likely to be overweight. That includes eating slowly so you actually taste each bite, being aware of whether you feel hungry or full, and sitting down for meals without watching TV, working, or driving at the same time. (An added bonus: According to a study in The Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, when families regularly have meals together, the kids naturally develop healthier eating and lifestyle habits.)
5. Spice things up. There’s no excuse for eating dull, monotonous meals day after day—not when there are dozens of herbs, spices, and condiments that can perk up weight loss–friendly food in hundreds of different ways. Does a chicken breast with a side of vegetables sound boring? Then try sizzling chicken fajitas, or a paprika-scented chicken stew with root vegetables, or chicken and vegetable slices (oven roasted or grilled) brushed with garlic and olive oil. The point is, if you keep lots of herbs and spices around, you can prepare great-tasting, healthful meals without much more time or effort than it would take to make dull ones. (You can also save more time by mixing your own sauces, marinades, and dressings—they’ll have less added sugar and salt than store-bought ones, and they’ll taste better, too.) When your foods are more flavorful, and your meals are full of variety, you won’t just be eating as well as before—you’ll be eating better.