According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a half-cup of granola has anywhere between 200 and 300 calories, 12 to 16 grams of sugar, 3 to 15 grams of fat (depending on low-fat options), and nearly 40 grams of carbs. Plus, granola is usually mixed with something, like yogurt or fruit, which only increases its caloric value. “Although you may think starting your day with a bowl of granola is the healthy thing to do, the calories can easily add up to over 600 calories, just at breakfast,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD nutrition expert and author of the Greek Yogurt Kitchen.
Rather than a long and low-intensity cardio workout, try the HIIT method of cardio: intense, fast-paced intervals that leave you completely exhausted after only a 20- to 30-minute session. This form of cardio training increases the afterburn effect, allowing your body to continue burning calories long after your workout is over. You can rotate between 30 seconds of your favorite exercises, with rest in between, as long as they work different muscle groups—such as squats, push-ups and kettlebell swings.
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You know the drill: Replace refined, overly processed foods with more natural, whole foods. Sure, all foods fit, but they don’t all fit equally. Here’s why: Every time you eat, your metabolism increases as your body works to process your meal. Studies that compare the metabolic boost of calorie-matched whole foods to processed ones find that your body can burn up to 50 percent more calories after a meal made with more real food ingredients compared to a similar meal made with more processed fare. The fact is, your body has to work harder to break down whole foods in order to grab the raw materials it needs so if you exist on a lot of packaged foods and fast foods (think: chips, donuts and drive-thru fare), it’s going to be tougher to lose weight and keep those pounds from coming back.
At breakfast, go ahead and drink orange juice. But throughout the rest of the day, focus on water instead of juice or soda. The average American consumes an extra 245 calories a day from soft drinks. That’s nearly 90,000 calories a year—or 25 pounds! And research shows that despite the calories, sugary drinks don’t trigger a sense of fullness the way that food does. Find out how many calories in a pound you’ll need to shed to lose weight.
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:
Frozen meals are super-convenient. They’re cheap, easy to throw in your bag as you’re running out the door, and take just three minutes to cook. While your 300-calorie Lean Cuisine may seem like a waist-friendly option, it’s not. Most frozen meals are loaded with sodium—as much as you should eat over a full day, not just in one meal—and lots of other synthetic additives. Sodium packs on water weight, as the body needs to maintain a balance in the body, and when you’re thirsty, you could reach for a sugary beverage, which adds hundreds of more calories. Salt also makes food taste better, prompting you to shovel more of it in your mouth. Another problem with frozen meals is they frequently lack sufficient fiber to keep you full, so you’re likely to find yourself sneaking back into the kitchen shortly after you’ve eaten. If you must eat a frozen meal, consider adding a serving or two of frozen vegetables to boost the fiber and fullness quotient and dilute the sodium.
If you want to shrink your gut, get enough protein in your diet. In this case, about 25 percent of calories. Why? For starters, protein makes you feel full and helps you build muscle (which increases metabolism, thereby making it easier to lose weight). Just as important, high-protein diets have been shown to be the best way of attacking belly fat. In one study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, Danish researchers put 65 people on either a 12 percent protein diet or a 25 percent protein diet. The low-protein dieters lost an average of 11 pounds, which isn't bad. But the high-protein subjects lost an average of 20 pounds--including twice as much abdominal fat as the low-protein group.
“Starting slow and working your way up is better than overdoing it and giving up,” says Gagliardi. “I like the idea of attaching the new behavior of taking a walk to an existing behavior.” An easy way to approach it: Commit to going for a quick 10-minute walk after dinner, and slowly increase the time as you become more comfortable with daily movement.
Skimp on fluids, and your body will release an antidiuretic hormone that leads to water retention that could affect the scale, Dr. Setlzer says. While this sneaky effect is one reason why the scale is a poor measure of body mass loss, you can outsmart it by drinking more—particularly if you fill your glass with water or non-calorie alternatives like unsweetened coffee and tea.
You might feel silly, but it works. When Alan R. Hirsch, MD, neurological director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, tried this with 3,000 volunteers, he found that the more frequently people sniffed, the less hungry they were and the more weight they lost—an average of 30 pounds each. One theory is that sniffing the food tricks the brain into thinking you’re actually eating it.
Falling short on zzz’s is also a surefire way to put your waistline in jeopardy. That’s because sleep deprivation knocks your hunger hormones out of whack, leading to an increase in ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and a decrease in leptin, which signals when you are satiated. What’s more, research has shown that when you aren’t well-rested, you’re also more likely to reach for junk food (hello Ben & Jerry’s!)—and it may even become harder for you to build muscle mass.
A different way of viewing weight loss identifies the problem as not one of consuming too many calories, but rather the way the body accumulates fat after consuming carbohydrates—in particular the role of the hormone insulin. When you eat a meal, carbohydrates from the food enter your bloodstream as glucose. In order to keep your blood sugar levels in check, your body always burns off this glucose before it burns off fat from a meal.