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8 Habits That Can Help You Slim Down

Weight loss is not about just eating less or exercising more: Try to adopt these easy habits if weight loss is one of your goals.

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 Shedding fat can be easier than you think

It seems everywhere we turn, something makes or keeps us heavier than we should be. Today's overly processed foods may trick our bodies into craving seconds and thirds, while our diets can still fall short of certain healthy nutrients, like calcium, which research has suggested might be linked to a higher percentage of body fat (although calcium supplements don't seem to help weight loss, according to the study).

Beyond what and how we eat, we also have to do battle with sneaky saboteurs in our daily environment that set the stage for fat accumulation. As part of The Digest Diet, our weight-loss plan, we combed through studies and talked to top researchers to find which foods and habits help shed fat. These simple tips are easy to adopt, and they might help reverse the scale’s upward climb.

Buy the book The Digest Diet »

man standing at his desk talking on the phoneistock/gradyreese

Fidget it off

If you’re not a natural-born mover, you can make up for it by moving around more, say experts at the Mayo Clinic. Consciously make choices that boost your burn without needing to break a sweat: Stand and pace when you’re on the phone. Wash dishes by hand. Conduct walking meetings with colleagues instead of huddling around a conference room. Here are some other easy ways to lose weight during your workday.

bowl of strawberriesistock/aleksle

Snack smartly

One of the fastest ways to derail your weight loss efforts is to be unprepared when hunger strikes. Snacking is one of the first areas where people frequently get off track. The key is to surround yourself with nutrient-dense and low-calorie snacks, even when you're traveling or working.

The best snacks, like those recommended on the Digest Diet, incorporate at least three satiety-inducing nutrients such as fiber, vitamin C, and dairy or calcium. Try these fat-burning foods that can help you lose weight.

woman waking up in bed next to a manistock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

Sleep weight off

Whether you snooze too much or too little, it’s not good for your health or your waistline. Sleep deprivation interferes with the hormones leptin and ghrelin that regulate appetite, meaning you may feel hungrier and may be more likely to indulge in poorer eating behaviors. Also, you may look for more “energy” in the form of unhealthy snacks.

Dieters who got 8 1/2 hours of sleep nightly lost 56 percent more body fat than they did when eating the same diet, but only getting 5 1/2 hours of sleep a night. Try to sleep seven to eight hours a night yourself—you’ll have more energy. To get a better night’s rest, hit the hay earlier. Experiment with what works best for you by ending your day 15 minutes to a half-hour sooner, until you get to your ideal bedtime. Here's more about how your sleep schedule can help you shed pounds.

woman walking briskly outdoorsistock/svetikd

Rethink your workout routine

Nod your head if you do the same workout over and over. Routine cardio regimens like the treadmill, elliptical, or jogging path may not be as helpful because they demand you increase your energy output. Since your body is always trying to stay in balance, this type of movement may actually act as a biological cue to make you eat more. Researchers also believe that cardio exercise may trigger additional eating because it depletes glycogen stores in the liver and muscle in order to make glucose available for fuel.

Continuous aerobic exercise isn’t nearly as effective a weight-control strategy as surprising your body with aerobic interval training (short bursts of high-intensity, heart-pounding work) or strength training (push-ups, squats, anything that builds muscle and power). Learn more about how to work out so that you burn fat all day.

black woman carrying groceriesistock/Leonardo Patrizi

Detox your life

Studies suggest that organochlorine compounds may adversely affect the body’s ability to oxidize fat—they resist being metabolized and are readily stored in fatty tissue. These compounds have been found in plastics, herbicides, and pesticides, as well as chlorine-based household products.

Go organic and avoid toxins wherever you can, whenever you can. If that means you buy organic versions of your five favorite fruits and veggies—or you fill your entire cart with them—that's great. If it can mean buying a HEPA-grade medical air filter for your home, it’s also good. Plus, nontoxic can be cheaper sometimes, particularly when it comes to household cleaning products. Baking soda, lemon, olive oil, and vinegar are all effective nontoxic cleaners—and you can cook with them, too.

man outdoors doing pushupsistock/DaniloAndjus

Don’t rely on exercise alone

Thinking you can eat whatever you want as long as you work it off later is actually a misguided mind-set, particularly if you look at the current research. Exercise alone leads to a very modest decrease in total body weight.

The good news here is that exercise reduces unhealthy visceral fat, independent of whether you lose weight. For exercise to be effective as a weight-loss agent, pair it with the right diet and eating plan.

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Laugh every day

Stress takes an enormous toll on your health, waist, and immunity. And, as Reader’s Digest has said for nearly a century: Laughter is the best medicine. But did you know that laughter actually burns calories?

One hour of laughter burns up to 120 calories, about the same as 18 to 27 minutes of weight training, 15 to 20 minutes of walking, or 40 minutes’ vacuuming. Here are some other surprising (and effortless) ways to burn calories.

woman in a boxing classistock/Mikolette

Find a workout you love

Some people don’t like to exercise. But when Swedish researchers looked into the attitudes, strategies, and behaviors important to weight maintenance, they found that one habit common to people who maintained a weight loss was that they all found the joy in working out.

According to Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology (PEP) Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “our research shows that if a new wellness behavior evokes positive emotions, people are 4.5 times more likely to be continuing with that new behavior 15 months down the road, enjoying all of its healthy benefits. Enjoyment motivates sustained change by creating nonconscious desires that are far stronger than conscious willpower. It’s best to select ways of eating and being physically active that you truly enjoy. Those are the only lifestyle changes you stand a chance of getting ‘hooked’ on, and that’s what’s needed for long-term weight-loss success.” Try using this trick to actually enjoy exercising.

Sources
  • Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD, director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology (PEP) Lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Mayo Clinic: "Metabolism and weight loss: How you burn calories."
  • Mayo Clinic: "Snacks: How they fit into your weight-loss plan."
  • Vaccariello, L., The Digest Diet, Reader's Digest, 2012
Medically reviewed by Elisabetta Politi, CDE, MPH, RD, on October 13, 2019