As part of an eight-year study that included nearly 50,000 women, Harvard researchers tracked what happened when people either slashed their intake of sweetened drinks or started consuming more of them. Not surprisingly, the participants who raised their sugary-drink intake gained weight and increased their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. In fact, the more people's sweet-drink intake increased, the more weight they gained and the more their disease risk went up.
Those who curbed their intake did not see those negative results.
So the next time you're looking for something other than water to drink, try seltzer or unsweetened tea. Even diet soda is probably a better choice. Every time you pick one of these over a sweetened beverage, you'll also be cutting anywhere from 150-400 calories.
Swap the white bread and rice in your meals for whole grains.
One of the least healthy components of most American diets appears to be refined carbohydrates, a category that includes white bread and white rice. Refined carbs can also be found in lots of other processed foods — they appear on nutrition labels as "refined flour" or just "flour."
Whole grains, on the other hand, get digested slowly and fill you up for hours. The key difference is that whole grains still have their nutritious, fiber-rich outer shells, such as the germ and bran. Those parts get stripped off of refined carbs in a factory before you eat them.
Roxanne B. Sukol, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic's Wellness Enterprise, said people should think of refined carbohydrates simply as "stripped carbs" and avoid them whenever possible.
Several studies suggest that curbing your carb intake is an easy way to help stabilize blood sugar levels as well. And having steady blood sugar levels — also known as tight glycemic control — has been linked with beneficial health outcomes including weight loss, better energy levels throughout the day, and a reduced risk of chronic disease.
"Tight glycemic control is necessary to maintain health and to prevent disease," Ellen Blaak, a professor of fat metabolism and physiology at Maastricht University, wrote in a review of studies published in the journal Obesity Reviews. Her study found links between poorly controlled blood-sugar levels and obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
"You've got to give yourself two, three, four years of consistent behavioral changes. That is hard work. You're building new habits. And that takes time," Bellatti said.
Move around more.
Exercise is not a shortcut to weight loss for two reasons: First, when we amp up our activity levels, our hunger levels tend to increase in tandem. Second, it's far easier to eat hundreds of calories in a single sitting than it is to burn them off in one gym session.
That said, regular movement of any kind is a key component of any healthy lifestyle — and it's especially important if you're looking to slim down and keep the weight off for the long haul.
If you normally drive to work, try walking, cycling, or taking public transit when possible. If you're used to taking the elevator, hit the stairs next time. And make regular gym sessions part of your routine — but keep in mind that your appetite may increase a bit.
Pay attention to protein.
Protein is a key ingredient that helps fuel our muscles and keep us feeling full. It also slows the breakdown of carbs into sugar, thereby acting as a sort of buffer against sharp dips and spikes in insulin levels. For these reasons, it's a good idea to make sure you're getting enough protein in every meal.
Beware of items labeled "low-fat," "light," or "reduced fat."
Low-fat products sound great — reduce your fat intake, get slim...right?
The majority of scientific research suggests it actually doesn't work this way.
One of the reasons for this is that many products labeled "low fat," "light," or "reduced fat" (things like yogurt, ice cream, and peanut butter) are highly processed and engineered to taste like their original full-fat predecessors. To accomplish this, food manufacturers typically add extra sugar — and sugar, unlike fat, has been strongly implicated as a leading factor contributing to obesity and weight gain.
Welcome some healthy fats back into your diet.
One reason many dieters curb their fat intake — besides the lingering influence of the low-fat dieting trend of the 1990s — is that it's an easy way to cut calories. Fat is high in calories. Trim the fat, trim the calories.
But research is beginning to reveal that eating fat does not necessarily lead us to put on pounds. Instead, it may help people lose weight, perhaps by making us feel full and curbing our sugar consumption. This appears to be especially true for fats from sources like nuts, olive oil, avocados, and fish.
If you choose to incorporate regular workouts into your plan, research suggests that an early-morning workout on an empty stomach helps speed weight loss and boost energy levels by priming the body for an all-day fat burn.
Plus, working out early could mean you get more sunlight, which is key to properly setting your body's internal circadian rhythm. In one study, people who basked in bright sunlight within two hours after waking were thinner and better able to manage their weight than those who didn't get any natural light, regardless of what they ate throughout the day.
However, the best fitness plan is one you can stick to consistently. So if your morning motivation is low, working out after your work day is probably a better choice.
Eliminate trans fats from your diet.
Unlike plain old fat, trans fat is created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid.
Trans fats are present in a number of processed foods, including many pre-made or packaged cakes, cookies, chips, and pastries. Some breads also contain them, along with some of the oils used to fry french fries and other fast foods. To identify trans fat on a nutrition label, look for "partially hydrogenated oils" on the ingredient list.
Know the situations in which you tend to "fall off the wagon" — and prepare ahead of time.
If you tend to stick to a pretty healthy eating plan most of the time but you're still having trouble losing weight, it might be worth thinking about the places or events that encourage you to veer away from nutritious choices.
Places like airports, drug stores, and even home-goods stores all sell food — but it's usually not very healthy. Instead of shopping until you feel famished then buying whatever unhealthy items are available near the check-out stand, plan ahead and pack a nutritious snack. Sliced apples and peanut butter, carrots and hummus, or Greek yogurt and nuts are all inexpensive and convenient options.
If traditional diets haven't worked for you, consider intermittent fasting.
There are several versions of this diet, but one of the most popular involves fasting for 16 hours and eating for eight. Most people opt for an eating window of 12 p.m. to 8 p.m , meaning that you essentially skip breakfast but eat whatever you want within the eight-hour "feeding" window.