Lasting weight loss is more about small, sustainable adjustments to how you live and eat than it is following a rigorous, intense, short-term program that completely changes all aspects of your diet. The latter might deliver dramatic losses in the short term, but we all know how quickly the pounds can return once we get back into our everyday habits. Below are a handful of tips that can give your weight loss efforts the nudge they need to succeed:
1. Forget weight. Too many people focus on pounds when it comes to measuring weight loss. Instead, focus on better measures: how your energy levels are doing, how your joints are feeling, how your attitude is faring, how your clothes are fitting, how you look in the mirror. Sure, your weight is the clearest measurement of your progress, but your goal shouldn't be a number: It should be measured by your health and happiness. If your joints are telling you your weight-loss efforts are helping, then there's no better measurement you could have.
2. Develop movement habits. Research shows that people who fidget burn 500 or more extra calories in a day. Learn the lesson: all extra movements burn calories. So develop movement habits. Some examples: Stand when on the phone; leave the room during TV commercials; walk 10 minutes after dinner; tap your foot to the music. Develop one or two such habits, and you'll burn many more calories.
3. Drink water. You've heard the health benefits of water just so many times. So finally do it: Get yourself a big, interesting, friendly cup or Mason jar or travel mug, fill it up after breakfast, and keep it with you everywhere. Refill, refill, refill. At the end of the day, wash it out and have it ready for tomorrow. Nothing will satiate your hunger as well as plentiful cool water.
4. Entertain your mouth. Sometimes all it takes to halt the snacking is a piece of gum, a slow-to-dissolve piece of candy, a toothpick, even an olive pit. While society looks down on overt mouth habits in public, if you can be subtle, there's absolutely nothing wrong with an hour-long engagement with a piece of sugarless gum, particularly if it keeps you from snacking.
5. Shop the perimeter. Big grocery stores are laid out in predictable ways. Usually, the healthiest, freshest foods are around the perimeter: produce, meats, seafood, dairy, bakery. The danger is in the aisles, with its cookies, potato chips, canned foods, boxed foods, ice creams, and such. Your food-shopping goal: Stay only along the store perimeter. Just once a month, delve into the aisles for necessary staples.
6. Spice up your meals. Add zest to food with cayenne and jalape?o peppers, ginger, Tabasco sauce, mustard, and other spices. Studies find that zingier foods have thermogenic properties that boost your metabolism's fat-burning ability -- by as much as 25 percent, in some reports.
7. Sleep better. It sounds like quackery, but you really can encourage weight loss by sleeping. Research into sleep and hormone function finds that your metabolism rises and you burn calories more efficiently when you're well rested.
8. Nix Nickelodeon. Avoid the TV programs you enjoy with your kids or grandkids -- or tune out the commercials. Children's programming contains much more junk food advertising than adult shows: 2,800 calories per hour, on average, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis. And studies find that watching less food on the tube translates to fewer fatty, sweet products in pantries.
9. Top your tank before exercise. Have a well-balanced carbohydrate/protein snack such as half an apple with peanut butter or crackers with low-fat cheese an hour or more before a workout. The carbs will keep energy high while you exercise, and the protein will slow your digestion, giving you stamina for sustained effort.
10. Skip the wine. If you sip a glass of wine or beer with meals, think about a prohibition diet. The drink isn't bad per se, but your body tends to give priority to processing alcohol, making calories from the food you eat more likely to be stored as fat, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State University.
11. Do the ring test. Should you cut back your portions of salt? Even if you don't have high blood pressure, try this test: Slip a ring on your finger. Now eat salty food, wait a few hours, and try to take the ring off. If sliding the ring is more difficult now than earlier, you're probably among the many people (mainly women) for whom salt causes bloat -- potentially grounds for several extra pounds, according to researchers at the University of Maryland. Check food labels for sodium and cut your intake to feel lighter on your feet.