“As your body’s perception of stress increases, cortisol, often called the stress hormone, is released from the adrenal glands,” explains Nana Yaw Adu-Sarkodie, MD, a board-certified family physician practicing home-based care in Baltimore. “Normal levels are released when you wake up in the morning or during exercise. Chronic stress can lead to increased cortisol and other stress hormones, leading to increases in sugar in the bloodstream, weight gain, digestive issues, depression, and a host of other health effects.”
Avoid sweetened drinks. Drinks that are sweetened, whether artificially or naturally, will have little nutritional value and add lots of empty calories to your diet. Do not drink fruit juice or other sweetened drinks. Even natural sugars will increase your daily calorie intake and prevent weight loss. If you chose to drink juice, do not exceed 4 oz per day (1/2 cup). Instead of drinking sweetened beverages throughout your day, drink unsweetened, calorie-free beverages. Some beverages to avoid include:
Drink sugar water once a day. This brain hack works by suppressing production of the hunger hormone ghrelin and is a small exception to the no sugar rule above. It was discovered by the late Dr. Seth Roberts, and tested and verified by Drs. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame. Done properly, it has a dramatic appetite-suppressant effect, making your diet much easier to follow.
That’s because strength training helps you build muscle, which will replace body fat. In fact, strength training is one of the few activities you can do to spike the amount of calories you burn, even after you’re done with your workout. Bonus: When your metabolic rate becomes faster due to muscle growth, you’ll have a little more wiggle room in your diet if that’s something you struggle with, says Dr. Cheskin.
Bran muffins sound like a healthy breakfast option—with all that cholesterol-lowering oat bran, right? But the prepackaged ones found at the supermarket aren’t nearly as fresh or healthy as they claim, and they’re almost always oversized, packing in some 300 calories—about the same as a cream-filled doughnut! Many are also loaded with saturated fats butter and oil and contain upwards of 600 grams of sodium. Homemade is key when you’re trying to lose weight, so why not try making your own? While baking definitely does take more time than going to the store, you’ll reap the benefits of all your hard work spent in the kitchen.
Plus, a 2015 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that for those who have a hard time following a strict diet, simplifying the weight loss approach by just increasing fiber intake can still lead to weight loss. Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber per day (based on a 2,000-calorie) diet, according to the most recent U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Not sure where to start? Check out our step-by-step guide to increasing your fiber intake.
It’s wise to want to eliminate sugary drinks from your diet, but replacing them with “diet” versions or drinks with artificial sweeteners is not the solution. One study conducted by researchers from Marquette University and the Medical College of Wisconsin showed that artificial sweeteners could actually contribute to weight gain in a way that does not happen with natural sugars. Other studies have shown that drinking artificial sweeteners was highly correlated to an occurrence of dementia and stroke.
Based on my experience in nutrition counseling, most of us tend to snack on foods that aren’t nutrient-dense, but are high in calories. For example, skipping sugary beverages is often the easiest way to lose weight faster. You don’t feel full from drinks — even the ones that do contain calories — so swapping those out for sparkling water or unsweetened tea and coffee is the best place to start. Other major culprits often come in refined grains like cereals, chips, crackers, and cookies.
Eat More Produce. Eating lots of low-calorie, high-volume fruits and vegetables crowds out other foods that are higher in fat and calories. Move the meat off the center of your plate and pile on the vegetables. Or try starting lunch or dinner with a vegetable salad or bowl of broth-based soup, suggests Barbara Rolls, PhD, author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan. The U.S. government's 2005 Dietary Guidelines suggest that adults get 7-13 cups of produce daily. Ward says that's not really so difficult: "Stock your kitchen with plenty of fruits and vegetables and at every meal and snack, include a few servings," she says. "Your diet will be enriched with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and if you fill up on super-nutritious produce, you won't be reaching for the cookie jar."