Eliminate the Extras
Katie Dunlop’s journey began after college, as she found herself 45 pounds overweight and tired of the ups and downs of fad diets and trendy workout plans. She started to look for small changes that might add up over time. Her first mission was to search and destroy mindless munching. Every night as a pre-dinner snack, Dunlop used to nibble cheese and crackers while cooking. “I didn’t necessarily need that,” she says. Instead of banning this pre-dinner ritual all at once, Dunlop decided to cut out the cheese for a few days, and then phase out the crackers. “Food habits are the hardest thing to change, so finding little ‘tweaks’ became hugely important,” she says.
Make Smart Swaps
“I am a huge foodie—I love food,” says Dunlop, of Orange County, California. “So I had to find ways to make things I already loved healthier.” Dunlop recommends replacing taco shells with lettuce wraps or using vegetable spirals in place of starchy pasta. The U.K. National Health Service also suggests other easy food switches from ordering a skinny latte at Starbucks to replacing creamy sauces with vegetable-based toppings.
Space Out Your Meals
Dunlop used to go through the day eating virtually nothing, and then devour all her calories at night. According to a study in the International Journal of Obesity, the timing of food intake can impact the success of weight loss. Eating early in the day starts firing up your metabolism, so it runs steadily throughout the day. Eating late at night only gives your metabolism a few hours to kick in. “I feel like I actually eat more now,” Dunlop says, “and I eat more normally.”
Clean Out the Junk
An often-overlooked step of successful weight loss: organizing. Dunlop says that cleaning out old junk food in her pantries helped get her in a positive, healthy mindset. Get rid of those bags of Oreos, potato chips, and chocolate kisses. You will find that the “out of sight, out of mind” trick really does work. Research from the Cornell Food and Brand Lab shows that when food is visible, we’re more likely to grab it. The study authors also found that normal-weight women were more likely to have a designated cupboard for snack items, and were less likely to buy food in large-sized packages than those who are overweight.
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Dunlop loves her high-energy workouts—she’s now a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor, and creator of Love Sweat Fitness, a health and fitness community with some 400,000 followers, but adding yoga into her routine proved “very helpful with emotional stress and clarity,” she says. Harvard Health Publications lists numerous benefits of yoga, from achieving a better body image to becoming a more mindful eater. “Yoga is known for its ability to soothe tension and anxiety in the mind and body,” according to the website. As a bonus, it can also have boost exercise capacity.
Wake Up and Work Out
You may roll out of bed, brush your teeth, and trudge into the kitchen for coffee, but Dunlop wakes up with crunches. “I start my day focused on my body,” she explains. Even if she doesn’t have time for another workout, that one session helps her feel good about the day. You can find a link to free ab routines on Dunlop’s YouTube channel.
Don’t Go Crazy with Your Goals
Overdoing it at the gym or thinking you need to exercise seven days a week is perhaps the quickest way to derail your motivation. Instead, take baby steps. “When you start small you are able to feel more accomplished,” Dunlop says. She started out going to the gym three days a week, and then slowly ramped up the intensity of her workouts and her number of days at the gym. In fact, working out too much not only injures your body, but can also make you lazier on your non-workout days. According to the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, hitting the gym too much can undo the benefits of regular workouts. Switch it up with weight training, and try eating protein-packed foods to build more muscle at the gym.
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Upgrade Your Recipes
Dunlop is the first person to say that old favourites like cookies and pancakes are not off the table—but their ingredients could often use an update. “Instead of eating old cookie recipes that call for sticks of butter, use coconut oil and whole-food ingredients,” she says, noting there are some amazing sweets recipes that use healthy ingredients such as black beans, chickpeas, tofu, and avocado. For Dunlop, it’s all about making recipes as unprocessed as possible. “Eat the dishes you love while making them healthier and better for your body,” she says. If you are in the mood for something more processed, look for recipes with 10 or fewer ingredients.
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“You can have bites of mac and cheese, you can have a bite of cake. It’s okay,” Dunlop says. Trying to lose weight should not mean barring the joys of life—or you’ll find that it’s not sustainable. Having bits of a yummy cake at one office party a month, or enjoying fish tacos with your family, generally won’t sabotage your goals. Savour these moments with friends. Don’t beat yourself up. Just make sure that when you do indulge, you take a few bites to sample the flavour and try not to eat the entire serving.
Originally published as 9 Simple Changes That Helped Me Lose 45 Pounds—and Keep It Off on ReadersDigest.com.