Spring is upon us and with it thoughts of shorts — and swimsuits. If you feel unprepared for baring some skin, you’re not alone. Two out of three American adults are now overweight or obese, and the health effects are grim. And the typical prescriptions for losing weight aren’t much cheerier: eat less, exercise more, read labels, and the like. They’re all good advice, but they don’t inspire anyone because they sound like drudgery.
But what if you could trick yourself into losing weight? That’s a practical joke we’d all like to play on ourselves.
Ludwig notes that there has not yet been a long-term human study of diet drinks and body weight. “I have some potential concerns about the effect of diet drinks,” he says. Among other problems, artificial sweeteners may eventually sabotage weight loss by distorting the systems that keep our appetite and body weight in balance. “They may also change our taste preferences so that we seek highly sweet, processed foods and refuse to eat less sweet foods like fruits and vegetables.”
Although artificial sweeteners are safe, it doesn’t mean that they’re good for us. “Until we have more data, I don’t think we can comfortably recommend drinking a lot of diet drinks over the long term,” Ludwig says. Exercise is good for your heart, blood pressure, and mood, but when it comes to losing weight, cutting calories wins hands down. Exercise is important role to prevent regaining weight after you’ve lost those unwanted pounds.
It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that you’ve had enough to eat. If you race through your meal, you’ll chow down extra calories while your body is figuring out whether it’s still hungry.
To slow down your eating pace, William Sears, M.D., author of Prime-Time Health, suggests using chopsticks instead of a fork. Not only will you most likely eat more slowly, you’ll also take smaller bites.
Chew on This
You’ll probably snack less if you chew gum more. When a group of men and women were offered lunch on two different days and later allowed as much snack food as they wanted, they shaved 40 calories from their afternoon treat on the day they chewed sugarless gum in the three hours between lunch and snack.
How Sweet It Isn’t
To save the calories packed in a can of sugar-sweetened soda, people often switch to diet soft drinks. But those drinks may be playing a trick on you: Some research suggests that quaffing diet drinks is linked with putting on weight. David Ludwig, M.D., of Harvard University recommends using diet drinks as a short-term transition from highly sugared beverages to minimally sweetened ones, such as a cup of coffee or tea with a teaspoon or two of sugar.
Play a Step Guessing Game
Slip on your sneakers and start walking—but first clip a pedometer to your waistband. This simple fitness tool can motivate people to walk more. “Men and women who wear a pedometer and keep track of how much they walk take an additional 2,000 steps each day,” says physiologist Barry Franklin of William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. Most people believe they walk a great deal more than they do, so before you start, estimate your daily steps. Then use the pedometer and log your number in a notebook each evening. Work up to 10,000 steps each day, about five miles.
Life in the Big City
People who live in cities tend to weigh less than those in suburbs or the country. One reason, health experts say, is all the walking they do in their daily lives. So pretend like you’re a New Yorker—walk to the farmer’s market, stroll to the movie theater, take a stylish walk with the dog.
Nissa Simon writes about health issues and lives in New Haven, Conn.