Painless weight loss? If you’re desperately trying to squeeze in workouts and avoid your favorite high-calorie treats, it can seem like there’s nothing pain-free about it.
Yet while eating healthier and slipping in exercise does take some work, it really doesn’t have to require heroic effort. Making just a few simple lifestyle changes can pack a big weight loss punch over time.
1. Add, Don’t Subtract
Forget diet denial: Try adding foods to your diet instead of subtracting them.
Add in healthy goodies you really love, like deep-red cherries, juicy grapes, or crunchy snow peas. Slip those favorite fruits into your bag lunch and breakfast cereal; add the veggies into soups, stews, and sauces.
“Adding in really works, taking away never does,” says registered dietitian David Grotto, RD, LDN, author of 101 Optimal Life Foods, but do remember to keep an eye on overall calories. And don’t forget to add in something physical, too, whether it’s doing a few dance moves before dinner, shooting hoops, or taking a quick stroll.
2. Forget About Working Out
If the word “exercise” inspires you to creative avoidance, then avoid it. Maybe the trick to enjoying a workout may be to never call it working out.
“There’s some truth to that,” Grotto tells WebMD, and once you start your not-calling-it-exercise plan, Grotto says you’ll discover “the way good health feels knocks down the roadblocks that were preventing you from exercising in the first place.”
So burn calories and invigorate muscles by beachcombing, riding bikes, grass skiing, making snow angels, hiking, washing the car, playing Frisbee, chasing the dog around the yard, or even enjoying great sex. After all, a rose by any other name …
3. Go Walking
Walking when the weather’s nice is a super-easy way to keep fit, says Diane Virginias, a certified nursing assistant from New York. “I enjoy the seasons,” she says, adding that even when she’s short on time she’ll go out for a few minutes. “Even a five minute walk is a five minute walk.”
4. Lighten the Foods You Already Love
One of the easiest ways to cut back without feeling denied is to switch to lower-calorie versions of the foods you crave. A pizza tastes just as good with reduced-fat cheese, and when you garnish low-fat ice cream with your favorite toppers, who notices those missing calories?
And while you’re trimming fat calories, keep an eye on boosting fiber, suggests registered dietitian Elaine Magee, RD, MPH, author of Tell Me What to Eat If I Suffer From Heart Disease and Food Synergy.
Fiber helps you feel satisfied longer, so while you lighten family favorites, you can easily amp up the fiber by adding a cup of whole wheat flour to your pizza dough, or toss a handful of red bell peppers on the pie.
Don’t forget to lighten the drinks going with that meal. Try switching from high-calorie favorites to diet soda or light beer, or maybe add a spritz of seltzer to your wine.
Hate low-cal drinks? Mix your preferred drinks with a splash of the low-cal option, then increase the ratio as your taste buds adjust. And don’t forget to keep pouring that ultimate beverage, says Magee: water!
5. Because Hydration Helps — Really!
Down some water before a meal and you won’t feel so famished, says David Anthony, an information technology consultant from Atlanta. “Drinking a glass of water before a meal helps me watch what I eat. … I don’t just hog everything, since I’m not so hungry.”
Magee, who also writes the “Healthy Recipe Doctor” blog for WebMD, adds that for the compulsive snacker it’s a great idea to keep no-calorie beverages at hand “as a way to keep your mouth busy and less likely to snack on junk food.”
Going to a party? Grab a low-cal drink in one hand and keep it there. Not only does it make it harder to graze the buffet, but you’ll also be less tempted to sip endless cocktails, too.
Finally, keeping your body refreshed with plenty of water may also help your workout, says Anthony. Staying hydrated means “I can exercise more, and longer, than if I don’t drink water.”
6. Share and Share Alike
With the massive meals served at so many American restaurants, it’s easy to go Dutch — with the dinner plate.
“When we go out, I often share a meal with my wife,” Anthony tells WebMD. “We’ve been known to split a dessert, even a pint of beer. That way, we don’t feel stuffed, and we save some money.”
You can share more than just a meal out. Why not double up on a bicycle built for two? Go halves on the cost of a personal trainer? Maybe split a gym membership?
“When you’re trying to eat better or get more exercise, you can be more successful if you do it with a partner or group,” says Grotto. “The community, the partnership, whether online or in person, it really helps.”
Twice the motivation, without twice the effort — a steal of a deal.
7. Tune In, Tone Up
The American Heart Association knows what we love: television. And they also know we need to get more exercise. So why not combine the two, they ask?
Try dancing to the music when you tune into your favorite music show, or practice some stress-relieving cardio boxing when your least favorite reality contestant is on camera.
During commercials pedal your stationery bike, walk the treadmill, or slip in a little strength training doing bicep curls with cans of your favorite fizzy beverage as weights. Or get inspired to really focus: Put in a high-energy exercise DVD and get motivated by the pros onscreen.
It doesn’t matter exactly what you do, so long as you’re up and active. Aim for at least 15 minutes, says the AHA. But who knows? If you get really engrossed, you just might outlast the last survivor.
8. Size Matters
Eating less without feeling denied is as close as your dinnerware.
That’s because while a small portion served on a large plate can leave you craving more, a smaller plate gives the visual signal that you already have more.
“People go by physical cues,” when they eat, Grotto tells WebMD. We know we’ve had enough because we see the bottom of our bowl or plate. “A smaller plate full of food just feels more satisfying than a large plate with that same amount of food on it.”
And don’t forget smaller bowls, cups, and spoons. For example, try savoring a bowl of ice cream with a baby spoon. Not only does the pleasure last longer, but your body has time to register the food you’ve eaten.
9. Get Involved, or at Least Get to the Table
When your weight loss efforts lead to boredom or too much self-focus, get occupied with something else. “I eat more if I’m bored,” says Virginias, “especially if I’m eating in front of the TV.”
So take a break from the siren-call of the tube, and get occupied with things that have nothing to do with food.
For some, that might mean becoming involved with local politics, discovering yoga, or enjoying painting. Or maybe you want to help a child with a science project, repaint the bedroom, or take a class. The key: Have a life outside of weight loss.
Already busy enough? Then at least eat your meals at the table. “The TV is distracting, and I’m just not conscious of eating,” Virginias tells WebMD. “Once I’m at the table, with a place setting, I’m much more aware of what I’m eating.”
10. Lose It Today, Keep It Off Tomorrow
Finally, be patient. While cultivating that virtue isn’t exactly painless, it may help to know that keeping weight off generally gets easier over time.
That’s the result of a study published in Obesity Research, where researchers found that for people who had lost at least 30 pounds — and kept it off for at least two years — maintaining that weight loss required less effort as time went on.
So if you crave the results reported by successful “losers” like these — improved self-confidence, a boost in mood, and better health — cultivate patience. You may find your way to sweet (and nearly painless) weight loss success.