That cookie in the break room is calling you. You see it. You smell it. You tell yourself you shouldn’t have it. And then you eat one. (Or two. Or three.)
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If this pattern sounds familiar and you’re not losing weight, it may be time to change your approach. Here are seven suggestions from our experts:
1. Tap into your hunger cues
“Listening to your hunger works much better than relying on willpower,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD.
“When you’re tempted to overeat, have a conversation with yourself. Are you feeling hungry, or feeling emotional? Will eating right now get you closer to your goal?”
She advises patients to picture a “hunger scale” of 1 to 10 — with 1 being hungry and 10 being stuffed. “You never want to be at the far ends of the scale. Always aim to be somewhere between a 4, 5 or 6.”
Even when you can’t yet break away from unhealthy food choices, listening to your hunger can help you lose weight, she says.
2. Be mindful of how (and when) you eat
“Being mindful of what you eat gives you more control over your choices, eliminating the ‘oops-did-I-eat-that-whole-bowl?’ behaviors,” says psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD.
Love to pour cereal straight from the box into the bowl? “You wind up with two to three servings — and two to three times the number of calories,” notes medical weight management expert Karen Cooper, DO. Measure out one serving instead.
You’ll find the serving size on the nutrition label. “It sounds simple, but taking a minute to read the label will make a huge difference in your choices,” says Dr. Albers.
One study found that women in their 50s who were taught mindful eating skills reduced what they ate by 300 calories a day. That adds up over time, she notes.
Another tactic is front-loading your calories, adds Kirkpatrick. “Eat most of your daily calories before 6 p.m.,” she advises. “Sixty percent of my patients say they blow it while watching TV after dinner.”
3. Be as mindful of what you drink as what you eat
Many of us overlook the calories that come from beverages.
“Think about food as fuel for your body. Then look at the places where you don’t really need extra calories. Ask yourself if you really need that glass of wine every night,” says Kirkpatrick.
Reducing or eliminating sugary and high-calorie sodas, juices, iced tea and milkshakes can also make a real difference in your weight.
Yet one beverage will actually help you lose weight: water.
“Sometimes we respond to thirst signals by eating — when actually what our bodies want is water,” explains Dr. Cooper. “It’s easy to confuse our thirst and hunger signals, or to override thirst signals.”
If you’re unsure about whether you’re overriding your signals, try drinking some water before eating. “If the water is satisfying to you, your desire to eat will diminish, indicating that you were thirsty rather than hungry,” she says.
4. Choose foods that make you full, not hungry
Reducing or eliminating processed foods (cookies, baked goods, junk food) and high-fat foods (cheese, anything fried) will move you closer to your goal weight.
“Processed and fast foods contain enhanced ingredients that hit the dopamine in your brain and make you want more,” cautions Dr. Albers.
Shift your focus instead to nutrient-dense foods that are rich in protein and fiber.
“You can increase your protein intake with chicken, fish, and/or lean cuts of red meat and pork,” Dr. Cooper advises. “To increase your fiber content, which is good for your digestive system and will help you feel fuller, add non-starchy vegetables and/or a small salad to lunch or dinner, or both.”
Dr. Albers points out that once you return to whole foods, they taste better, and your body processes them more efficiently and naturally.
5. Burn more calories through exercise
There are no exercise guidelines for weight loss. But if you’re not exercising and need to lose 30-plus pounds, increasing your activity will help.
“Working up to 30 minutes of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise at least five days a week is generally a good starting place,” says exercise physiologist Katie Lawton, MEd, ATC.
It’s good for your heart — and what the American Heart Association recommends. “But it won’t always produce weight loss,” she says. “Sometimes you need to exercise more.”
If you currently work out, incorporating a strength routine and increasing cardiovascular intensity can help you lose 10 pounds.
She recommends high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and resistance training, which continue to burn calories for up to 36 hours after you stop.
“But they’re not for everyone, especially beginners,” Lawton cautions. “Consult a doctor or an exercise physiologist before trying them.”
6. Address your sleep and stress
Getting enough sleep is key to weight loss. That’s because fatigue increases your appetite as hunger hormone levels rise.
“No one can make mindful food choices when they’re tired. Even missing an hour of sleep can increase your appetite,” says Dr. Albers. “You need a clear, focused head to make healthier food choices.”
Your stress level is also important. She notes that 75 percent of eating is triggered by emotions rather than by hunger.
“Many of my clients have lost weight simply by reducing their stress levels and finding ways to soothe themselves without food,” says Dr. Albers.
7. Consult an expert when you hit a plateau
“When you get on the treadmill every day and your body becomes more efficient, the exercise becomes easier to do and you need to take it up a notch. This efficiency argument applies to your diet as well,” says Kirkpatrick.
That’s when a registered dietitian, physician or exercise physiologist can help you.
“We all hit a plateau when we need to do something more aggressive beyond just cutting more calories. A professional may have some other ideas,” she says.
Want to let go of routine eating habits that keep you stuck? Consider these suggestions from our experts, and you won’t hear those cookies call your name.