Ever wish you could lose weight without having to go on an actual diet? With just a few small behavior adjustments, you can make that wish come true. Research shows that simple steps like checking in with our bodies to find out how hungry we are, slowing down our eating speed, choosing more nutritious foods and engaging in some well-timed exercise may be all we need to get us on the path to lean.
“We have within us the wisdom to eat well, but people have lost touch with their bodies,” says Jan Chozen Bays, MD, an Oregon-based pediatrician and mindful eating teacher. She and other healthy-eating experts believe a mental approach to weight loss is more effective than dieting. “People only lose eight to 10 pounds on average [on a diet] and then gain it back. Getting too focused on numbers is not a good way to go,” Bays says.
Here’s the inside scoop on how eating more mindfully can help you shed those extra pounds.
No. 1: Take it slow
“You can’t binge if you are eating mindfully,” Bays says. “Binging is actually a way to go mindless.” It takes roughly 20 minutes to feel full from the time you start eating, so if you eat faster than that, you may be overriding your body’s signals of satiety.
A study published in the August 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association suggests that faster eating is associated with weight gain. Researchers analyzed the eating habits of more than 1,500 middle-aged Australian women and determined that for every one-step increase in eating speed in a five-step scale, the women’s body mass index increased by 2.8 percent—the equivalent of a four-pound weight gain.
Best way to try it: Chew each bite at least 10 times.
No. 2: Beware of portion distortion
Cutting down on serving sizes can be a relatively painless way of shaving off calories while still eating the foods you love. Larger portions have become the new norm, and can add a huge amount of calories under the guise of a legitimate serving size.
Brian Wansink, PhD, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Bantam, 2010), noted in the May 2007 issue of The Journal of the American Dietetic Association that the surface area of the average dinner plate has increased 34 percent since 1960. Because people tend to be very impressionable when it comes to how much they eat, Wansink says larger portions can encourage us to eat more.
Best way to try it: Instead of super-sizing, try portion sizing. Help your meals look appropriate in scale, says Wansink, by replacing large tableware with smaller plates, bowls and glasses. Using smaller serving bowls and serving spoons, while also keeping large packages or containers off the table and out of sight, can also help you downsize your appetite.
No. 3: Make some smart swaps
Sometimes smaller portions don’t totally succeed in making you feel satisfied—go figure. Another way to tap into your sense of satiety? Opt for higher-volume noshes that are low calorie, such as foods with a lot of water content. According to Barbara Rolls, PhD, author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan (William Morrow, 2007) this translates as soups, salads, vegetables and fruits.
Best way to try it: When a snack attack comes on, think strategically on how to pump up your munch quota, not your waistline. Instead of fried, greasy chips, try popped or baked snacks. Air-popped popcorn can be a muncher’s best friend.
No. 4: Cut out the late-night snacking and get more sleep
Turns out you have to be mindful about not only what you eat and how much, but how late you eat it. A study done on mice that was published in the October 2009 issue of the journal Obesity suggests that late-night eating is worse, in terms of weight gain, than consuming food during normal waking hours.
This dovetails nicely with other research that shows that people who sleep more weigh less. In a study published in the January 2005 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers examined approximately 1,000 people and found a link between body mass index and amount of sleep. Typically, the people who were overweight slept 16 minutes less a night than those of normal body weight. The theory? Sleep deprivation affects how your body’s hormones regulate appetite.
Best way to try it: Instead of aiming to get energy from a late snack, aim for hitting the sack. Seven to eight hours of sleep per night is a good rule of thumb.
No. 5: Exercise before you eat
Recent studies have shown that exercise may help curb hunger. Research published in the October 2008 issue of The American Journal of Physiology suggests that intense physical exercise can lower levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, and raise levels of peptide YY, a hormone that suppresses appetite, says lead study author David Stensel, PhD.
Best way to try it: Aerobic exercise has more impact on appetite than weight training, so try to break a sweat before you tuck into your meal.