Although we might have already past the New Year’s resolution window, most of us are always on the lookout for ways to either lose weight and/or eat healthier. I have some powerful strategies to recommend in that regard. First, let me qualify this by saying I’m not a nutritionist or registered dietitian. I’m a licensed psychologist. So, I’m coming at this from a psychological standpoint, and this might be a little different than those other folks. But I’m fairly on top of fitness and nutrition from both a personal standpoint and the social science research. There’s a huge mind-body connection, so physical well-being can affect psychological well-being and vice-versa. I’m a big believer in “life hacking,” which is to say using various tricks and strategies to outsmart ourselves into better living without the typical level of struggle. I wrote a previous blog on mindfulness meditation hacks that was well-received, so that inspired me to write this one. This blog about weight loss hacks and easy ways to eat healthier has been percolating in my brain for quite some time, so I’m glad to finally post it!
Don’t Rely Solely on Willpower to Eat Healthier
One of the underlying ideas behind these weight loss hacks is that if it comes down to trying to eat healthier, if we are just trying to use sheer willpower on a daily basis, it’s REALLY tough to keep that up. In fact, it’s so tough, I’m saying that we don’t want to fight that fight because we will likely lose it…eventually. By using some weight loss hacks, one can get positive results without the struggle…without feeling like we are denying ourselves something that we really want.
Some Caveats About This Blog
A few caveats that are worth mentioning. First, I’m not a big fan of the term “weight loss” per se. I prefer to think in terms of eating healthier, having a healthy lifestyle, and being fit. Second, there are many hacks out there for healthier living and eating healthier isn’t just about weight loss. However, in this blog, I’m just going to focus on ways to make healthier food choices to help us lose weight (or not to gain extra pounds). Finally, almost everything I’m writing in this blog is scientifically validated, but I’m not going the extra mile (at least at this point) to site all of my sources.
Without further ado, here are 12 weight loss hacks!:
- Avoid Shopping When Hungry – Be sure to eat first! We are much more likely to purchase unhealthy foods at the grocery store when we are famished. Being satiated allows us to make food choices with a clear head.
- Have Healthy Food Handy – When we grocery shop, we should purchase a lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts, healthy snacks, and other fresh/organic foods. If we have them handy and prepared, we can make healthy meals and have healthy snacks. When we are satiated, we will be less inclined to eat junk food. Also, if there’s not junk food readily available in the home, we don’t even have the option of eating it!
- Eat Before Going Out – Similar to the above, if you are going out to eat, going to a party, or any type of celebration, eat a healthy snack (or light meal) BEFORE going out. When we are famished, we will likely eat anything – I’m talking to you Chuck E. Cheese pizza at kids’ birthday parties! Do you have a big Super Bowl party coming up? Eat something before you go! We all know that all of those chips and junk food options at parties are too hard to resist on an empty stomach. Don’t fight that fight!
- Drink Water Before Meals – It gives the stomach a feeling of fullness and reduces our caloric intake.
- Eat a Piece of Fruit Before Meals – In addition to drinking a glass of water before dinner, eat a piece of fruit such as an apple or banana before dinner. It will also reduce overall caloric intake. Importantly, this reduction is a “hack” in that we won’t feel like we are depriving ourselves.
- Use Smaller Dishes – We are prone to eat and finish what is in front of us. Studies have shown that we eat significantly less when presented with less. Sure, we can go back for seconds. But we are still much more likely to eat less when served on smaller dishes.
- Eat All of the Fruits and Vegetables That You Desire – We can basically eat about as many fruits and vegetables as we would like. It’s much better to fill stomachs with carrots, apples, and oranges than junk and processed foods. Eating a variety of different fruits and veggies is the best way to go – there’s not just one “super” fruit or veggie we should eat to the exclusion of others.
- Go Nuts for Nuts – Nuts are great to have around at all times for snacks. They are savory, have a lot of protein and healthy fats/oils, and are quite filling. They are much better to eat for us than fried and/or processed snacks, such as potato chips and cheesy poofs. Be sure to get different varieties and try to get some with reduced or no salt. I often buy nuts from the bulk food aisle and mix the salted with the unsalted into one bag (e.g., 1/3 roasted salted almonds, 2/3 unsalted roasted almonds).
- Focus on What We Can Eat, Not What We Can’t – In Dr. Kelly McGonigal’s wonderful book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, she describes how studies have found that the most effective weight loss approaches focus on what we can eat, not what we can’t. The reason that this holds true is fascinating. Dr. McGonigal explains how when we focus on foods we can’t eat (e.g., fried food, processed foods, baked sweets, candy) we tend to think about those foods a lot. They get into our heads. In a process that is called “ironic rebound,” when we focus on foods we can’t eat, we think about them more, and must exert greater willpower to avoid eating those foods (e.g., “I CANNOT eat any of those Krispy Kreme donuts in the break room!”). Well, willpower is like a muscle. When we use it a lot, it starts to fatigue. Ultimately, we experience “willpower failures” just like we experience muscle failure when we can’t do one more push-up. Thus, focusing on what we can’t eat, which many diets do, ultimately sets us up for willpower failures; which in this case is eating the junk food. In contrast, focusing on what we can eat liberates us from that ironic rebound/willpower failure trap.
- Avoid Self-Shaming – When we do experience willpower failures and eat that Krispy Kreme, it is important not to beat ourselves up about it. Referring again to Dr. McGonigal’s Willpower Instinct book and my previous blog about it, when we beat ourselves up about willpower failures (e.g., shame ourselves, become self-critical), it actually depletes our willpower further and makes it more likely that we will experience willpower failures, not less. So, beating ourselves up about eating that Krispy Kreme makes it more likely that we will eat a second doughnut! Just as you wouldn’t brow beat your good friend for a willpower failure, we shouldn’t beat ourselves about it either. Although it might sound effective, the idea that we deserve a kick in the pants for willpower failures is actually counterproductive to our goals. Self-compassion is critical to our willpower success.
- Eat More Slowly and Mindfully – Most of the time that we eat, we are hardly aware of it. We shovel food in our mouths while we are texting, answering emails, and so on. In a sense, we are eating without experiencing the act of eating. On a related note, when we eat too quickly, our stomachs don’t have the time to send the signal to our brains that we are full. By slowing doing the act of eating and savoring the various qualities of the food (e.g., texture, temperature, saltiness, sweetness, spices), we will reduce our caloric intake.
- Use the 10-Minute Wait Rule – Related to #11, after we’ve eaten our Torchey’s Taco, pizza, cookie, or even healthy food, wait about 10 minutes before going back for that last pizza slice, taco, cookie, or turkey sandwich. Chances are, if we wait, our stomach will have time to send the signal to our brains that we are full. Then we actually won’t even want that last slice of pizza. So, we aren’t denying ourselves that last slice of pizza, which can set us up for the ironic rebound problem. We are saying to ourselves, “I can have that slice of pizza IF I still want it in 10 minutes.” Here’s the kicker – if 10 minutes passes, and we still want that last slice of pizza or cookie, we can have it guilt-free! In effect, the “10-Minute Wait Rule” allows us to have our cake and eat it too.
Eating healthy can be a challenge, for sure. We are naturally drawn to salt, sugar, and fat and the accessibility and low cost of these foods is tapping right into the primitive parts of the brain. The allure of them is like the call of the Siren. It’s so hard to fight that fight. We are going against millions of years of evolution. Using these weight loss hacks can help us win the battle of the bulge by NOT fighting it head-on.