Jan Dunlap, 58, wasn’t expecting to lose weight when she adopted an energetic Labrador mix named Gracie several years ago. But in the first three months as a dog owner, the Chaska, Minnesota, author dropped 10 pounds. “I walked her miles a day just to wear her out so I could get work done in our home, because we live in a townhouse with no yard,” Dunlap says. “The walking also kept me out of the house, so I didn't find the time or opportunity to snack.”
In fact researchers from Southern California Permanente Medical Group found that only 17 percent of dog owners who walked their pets were obese, compared to 28 percent of those who didn’t. Walking a dog is just one way to lose weight without really trying. Here are other simple strategies for shedding 10 pounds or even more:
Women who cut out carbs twice a week, eating normally the rest of the time, dropped about 9 pounds on average, compared to just 5 pounds among women who restricted overall calories to 1,500 a day, according to research from the University Hospital in South Manchester in England. To put the approach into practice, eat lean protein, healthy fats like olive oil, and non-starchy vegetables like kale, mushrooms, broccoli, and tomatoes on the low-carb days, skipping bread, pasta, and root vegetables like potatoes.
“Sleep-deprived people secrete more of the hormone that makes people hungry (called ghrelin), and less of the hormone that says, ‘I’m full’ (leptin), so they eat more,” says Craig Schwimmer, M.D., a sleep doctor in Dallas. “Sleepy people also tend to reach for simple carbohydrates like muffins and bagels for a burst of energy—the last thing they should eat if trying to lose weight.” When researchers at the University of Chicago restricted healthy volunteers to four hours of shut-eye for two nights, their changing leptin and ghrelin levels increased their appetite for calorie- and carb-dense fare by 45 percent.
According to the Activity Exchange, a start-up that examines data from personal fitness devices like FitBit, the single most effective strategy for losing weight is recording one’s food intake. “People who logged their meals three times a day lost on average 20 pounds over a year,” says spokesperson Jialu Chen of the company’s research. Reflecting on what you eat creates awareness that can help change unhealthy eating patterns. Just record every meal—in a journal, on a calendar, or even a smart phone.
Taking pride in how you look helps you keep your weight goals front and center, says Katie Rickel, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in weight management in Durham, N.C. “Wearing stylish clothing that makes you feel attractive—as opposed to comfy sweats and lounge wear that hide your body—will encourage you to eat in a way that shows you care about your appearance and your body,” she says.
When researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health compared different strategies for losing weight (including cutting calories overall or all liquid calories) among a group of 810 people, only those who cut sugar-sweetened beverages experienced statistically significant weight loss. Those who cut a single sweet drink a day shed about a pound and a half over the course of the study. “I simply eliminated soft drinks and dropped two pounds in just one week,” confirms Eli Sapharti, a weight-loss coach in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Try skipping one sweet drink a day to jumpstart weight loss.
University of Toronto researchers recently calculated the average calorie count of meals at 19 sit-down restaurant chains at 1,128 calories—more than half of the recommended 2,000 calories a day for healthy adults. So just eating in could trim your waistline—while fattening your wallet!
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